Huff Has Horns' Ears
By Habeab Kurdi
AUSTIN, Texas — When Longhorn Legend and current coach Michael Huff speaks, he’s not just blowing smoke in his players’ ears.
The current crop of Texas upperclassman in the secondary such as seniors PJ Locke III and Kris Boyd along with junior Brandon Jones use Huff’s inspiration to take hard work from the week to play happy on game day.
Jones and the Texas veteran defensive backs are also taking note from his leadership as they help usher in the next class excelling in advanced classes at DBU, like freshmen safeties Caden Sterns and BJ Foster, as well as young corners Anthony Cook and Kobe Boyce.
“I go to Huff a lot actually,” Jones said. “The game is really where I go to Huff because Huff will shoot it straight.”
Texas latest scorching-hot safety, Sterns, also looks to the former Longhorn during games to stay humble, happy and hungry.
“He’s definitely like a big brother and a mentor,” Sterns said. “What he does is encouraging us, reminding us to have fun out there, in that aspect of the game he definitely helps us a lot.”
Huff & Horns Happy For Hard Work Before Play
Huff is showing the Horns how to have fun in the moment thanks to the diligence put in practice all week.
From his days on the 2005 National Championship team to his strong career in the NFL, Huff and the Horns coaching staff have made sure the defense definitely knows practice is no time for play if they want to smile come game day.
“Guys are out there smiling, before games, during games, and understanding that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to play at a university like this and to play this sport,” Sterns added. “When you have that mindset and you have the coaching staff we do, and play freely and notice how hard we train, Saturday is the fun part of what we do.”
An eight-year pro with Denver, Baltimore and primarily the Oakland Raiders, Huff won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back and was honored as a unanimous first-team All-American in the National Title season under Mack Brown.
Locked-in, business-like practices, Locke said, have boosted confidence throughout the team and allowed the players to use their instincts and training rather than relying on their minds running in overdrive.
“In practice the atmosphere is just different. Everybody is definitely serious because we understand practice is the hardest thing ever,” Locke said. “We understand that practice makes the game easier, so if you practice hard the game just comes to you.”
Jones fully agreed. Texas has six interceptions in four games, five forced fumbles, a safety and that blocked kick by Sterns.
“When you’re having fun you just know what you’re capable of doing and know you can trust your training we’ve done all week. The games are easy compared to practice,” Jones said. “We work our butts off at practice, the games are supposed to be the fun part, and we really have taken advantage of that.”
Hungry, Hungry Horns
Takeaways are coming in bunches for Texas, especially in the last two wins over TCU and USC. The Horns held the two opponents to a combined total of three measly points combined after halftime in creating separation in what were close games at halftime.
“He knows tendencies and what you need to do to be able to get interceptions or be in on a tackle,” Jones said. “Huff is one of the best to do that at Texas. When you have a source like that you want to utilize that the best you can.”
Locke looked to the past to reach the young defensive backs, along with Boyd, as they try to instill what Huff and others who have come through DBU accomplished in order to put Texas football, and its secondary, back in the spotlight where they belong.
“We just want to keep telling the young guys, guys younger than us, to stay hungry. By the end of this year I want everybody to respect the Texas defensive backs,” Locke said. “We get grades after every single game, even if you graded at a 90 or above I want you to still find something you can critique on, anything you can work on — write it down.”
Coaching On All Levels
The elder DBs then go back and make sure the Horns are following the path and not doubling back, Locke said.
Setting the tone, Jones leads the team with 29 tackles while Locke is fourth with 22, Boyd fifth with 19 and Sterns is sixth on the squad with 15 tackles. Sterns also leads the Horns with three interceptions, and Boyd leads the team with seven passes broken up, followed by Davis with four.
“I tell my guys after every single game write down what you did wrong or whatever you feel you can work on and the next game, do the same thing,” he said. “Now we’re at game five — look back at your notes see if anything shows up twice. That will tell you if you put emphasis on it or not.
“(The coaches) tell us to always be our own worst critic.”
During games Huff has a side game going with his guys, and Jones said that little extra bit by him brings extra joy to game day and keeps the group grounded, and forces them to stay honest with themselves.
That should come in handy in Manhattan Saturday.
“Me and Huff have this thing where I wanna be on the upper hand,” Jones said. “Last week I missed two tackles which resulted in touchdowns against USC, so i was down two. This game I was trying to level up or get up one on top of him. I think that’s cool to have a challenge and keep it fun so during the game it’s not all tense and tight.”
Happiness is prevalent on this Horns team, but being happy with any perceived accomplishments this season is still far on the horizon.
“I’m happy, obviously, but satisfied? Nah, it’s not what I came here to do,” Sterns said.
Added Locke, “I don’t want to say we’re back, because I want everybody to stay hungry.”