By Steve Habel, Senior Contributing Writer
AUSTIN, Texas — The sweltering heat gripping Central Texas in the first week of August was illustrated Friday by the sweat rolling down the face of Texas football head coach Tim Herman as he conducted his first press conference of 2019 season in the aftermath of his team’s initial preseason practice of the year at the Wright Whitaker Sports Complex.
Yes, it was stifling. What would you expect? It’s Austin in the summer. But under the heat-induced perspiration, Herman was a cool as a cucumber, thanks to his knowledge that the Longhorns are miles better in their preparation and “buy-in” this preseason than they were last year and the year before that.
These Longhorns, who head to the season off a 10-win campaign in 2018 that ended with a win in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, are ranked 10th in the preseason Amway Coaches’ Poll that was released Thursday.
Texas can be a team of destiny, and perhaps challenge for the national championship if the cards fall right, and the air around the team is one of excitement and anticipation ... and while Herman is quick to stick to his “1-0” mantra (“we want to in every game, every practice, every snap, every drill”), he understands the honor, expectations and responsibility that comes with being ranked in the top 10 in the country, even if this Texas team hasn’t played a game yet. The coach, in his third year on the 40 Acres, said he voted his team “ninth or 10th.”
Herman said he was so pumped to get going Thursday that he woke up before his alarm clock went off.
“I was excited to see them, get around them, meet with them and then obviously today to get them out there running around,” Herman said Friday.
“For practice one, the effort level was outstanding. Certainly, there were some missed assignments and poor technique here and there, and we’re OK with that. As long as they’re sticking their foot in the ground and running and going as hard as they can, that’s a successful practice in practice No. 1.”
Herman said the top three aspects for his team to focus on over its 25 preseason practices were, in no specific order, “finding two cornerbacks that are trustworthy, getting the best 11 guys on defense on the field at the same time even if it is in different personnel packages, and running the football better with our tailbacks.”
The UT coaches and players Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, the preseason Big 12 offensive player of the year, to pass more (and better) and run less to lessen his chances of injury. Herman said a point of emphasis in the offseason has been to build more run/pass options into the playbook. “So instead of a run/run option, it’s a run/pass option,” he said.
Herman reported that 61 out of 80 eligible players on the team qualified for the Champions Club dinner held Thursday. He’s satisfied, if not completely so, with the attitude, work ethic and offseason preparation of his team as it works toward its season opener on Aug. 31 at home against Louisiana Tech.
“Saying that every (player) has bought in is probably a bit of an overstatement,” Herman said. “The majority of the team is, and they understand our expectations. The few that aren’t, they get exposed by their peers, and they’re learning every day on the importance of it. This group is a joy to coach right now.”
The Longhorns will spend their first two weeks of preseason drills at the Wright Whitaker Sports Complex before returning to the familiar confines of Frank Denius Fields.
“We went to Whitaker Fields for some of our preseason practices to change things up last year and really liked how that worked out,” Herman said. “So this year, we decided to do the first few weeks out here. It gives us much more of a training camp feel, gets everyone out of their comfort zone, and things like the 15-minute bus ride over are great for building relationships and helping the team get even closer.”
When the Longhorns move Aug. 20 back to Denius Fields for practice, the game-planning stage of fall camp will commence.
“It's nice to come to Whitaker because it feels a little like you're getting away,” Texas senior center Zach Shackelford said. “A lot of teams will go to other locations, so that everything's not routine. It's good to get off campus and train as a team. You go play different places throughout the year, so it's good to get out here in a different environment.”
The college football season is a marathon, not a sprint, and there will be plenty of twists and turns, and highs and lows between now and the National Championship game in New Orleans on Jan. 13.
Texas looks the part of legitimate contender, but game are not played on paper and football is not a beauty contest.
“It’s way too early to go there,” Herman said when asked if Texas is as good as its ranking. “I do know that we’re a good-looking team that works out hard and goes hard each and every day. It’s way too early to answer that. I do like what I see.”