The 2016 football recruiting class is generating some buzz, if you haven’t read, and many of the members of the 2016 class could find themselves playing huge roles this season.
What other freshmen impressed the Longhorns’ faithful? Here are 10 freshmen, who made big impacts as freshman.
We’re not going back to ancient Texas times, just from 1972, when our own Kirk Bohls joined the Statesman staff (don’t blame Kirk for the names on this list, he has nothing to do with them).
Eric Metcalf, 1985
Before he was one of the best kick returners in the NFL, Metcalf was a standout playmaker for the Longhorns who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the No. 13 overall pick in 1989. As a freshman, Metcalf scored three touchdowns and combined for 525 yards from scrimmage. He also averaged 9.5 yards on punt returns and 19.5 yards on kick returns.
In three years at Texas, Metcalf scored 30 touchdowns from scrimmage. He returned one punt return for a score, but no kickoffs. In the NFL, Metcalf returned 10 punts for touchdowns and returned two kicks for scores in 13 years. He made the Pro Bowl in 1993, 1994 and 1997 and was All-Pro in 1993 and 1994.
He played for the Browns for six seasons.
Peter Gardere, 1989
The quarterback played in 11 games for the Longhorns in 1989, throwing five touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also had 1,511 yards passing. So he wasn’t the best Texas quarterback ever, but Gardere did do one big thing as a freshman, when the Longhorns went 5-6: He beat Oklahoma 28-24 as a starter. The Sooners were No. 15 in the country at the time.
In fact, Gardere is the only quarterback (either side) to win four-straight Red River Shootout games.
But the very next week Gardere beat another rival, No. 7 Arkansas, 24-20. In the two games, Gardere was 31-for-43 with two touchdowns and a pick.
When he graduated after four years, Gardere was the all-time leader in passing yards for the Longhorns (now he’s fourth) but also the all-time leader in interceptions with 46. He threw 37 touchdown passes as a Longhorn. Colt McCoy broke surpassed him for all-time starts by a Texas quarterback in 2009.
Gardere never played in the NFL.
Butch Hadnot, 1990
Hadnot scored eight touchdowns as a freshman in 1990 and rushed for 541 yards with a 6.5 yards per carry average. The Longhorns went 10-2 in 1990 and won the Southwest Conference with an 8-0 record (and Gardere starting). Texas lost famously to Miami 46-3 that season.
Hadnot was suspended by new coach John Mackovic after being ruled academically ineligible before his junior season in 1992. There was this newspaper story on him transferring in 1992 that also includes a tidbit about Texas Rangers outfielder Ruben Sierra having chicken pox.
Roy Williams, 2000
Yes, we skip most of the 1990s and head straight for the “oughts” for the next freshman.
Roy “Legend” Williams came to Texas a much-hyped freshman from the famous Permian High School program. He didn’t disappoint in burnt orange. The receiver caught 241 passes and 36 touchdowns in four years.
As a freshman, he caught 40 passes and eight touchdowns. He also rushed for two touchdowns on two attempts for 75 yards. He had 884 yards from scrimmage as a freshman, helping the Longhorns go 9-3 in 2000.
Williams was taken seventh overall in 2004 despite the Detroit Lions having taken fellow wide receiver Charles Rogers the year before at No. 2 overall. The Lions would take another receiver in the first round the following year as well.
While Williams was effective in the NFL, leading the NFC in receiving yards in 2006, he struggled to live up to either his lofty draft position or his mega contract. He made one pro bowl, but never caught more than 82 passes in a season or caught more than eight touchdowns in a season. The Dallas Cowboys traded first, third and sixth round picks in 2009 for Williams and then signed him to a six year deal worth $54 million dollars ($26 million guaranteed).
He didn’t see the end of the contract and retired in 2012.
Cedric Benson, 2001
Benson was one of the best running backs in school history and rushed for 5,540 yards in four seasons. He rushed for 1,053 as a freshman and scored 12 rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown.
He led the country in rushing touchdowns in 2002 with 21 and graduated as the all-time leading rusher in Big 12 history.
He helped his team go 11-2 his freshman season, defeating Washington 47-43 in the Holiday Bowl following a loss to Colorado in the Big 12 title game.
Benson was drafted fourth overall by the Chicago Bears in 2005, but didn’t have a breakout season until he was cut and joined the Cincinnati Bengals, where he led the AFC North champions in rushing with 1,362 yards. He had three straight 1,000 yard rushing seasons with the Bengals from 2009-11.
Derrick Johnson, 2001
A two-time All-American in 2003 and 2004, Johnson was a standout linebacker at Texas and started two games as a freshman in 2001. He recorded 83 tackles, 57 solo, recovered two fumbles and had 4.5 sacks with 13 tackles for a loss. His 4.5 sacks were the most in one season during his standout career.
He was drafted 15th overall in 2005 and still plays the team who took him, Kansas City. He’s a four-time Pro Bowler with 820 career tackles. After missing most of 2014, Johnson started 16 games for the Chiefs in 2015 and was named to the Pro Bowl. He was also a second team All-Pro selection. He signed a 3-year deal this offseason.
Jamaal Charles and Henry Melton, 2005
Charles rushed for 878 yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. He also caught 14 passes for 157 yards and two scores. Melton rushed for 432 yards and 10 touchdowns as a freshman.
The two were replacing Cedric Benson, who had been taken fourth overall and was the Big 12’s all-time rushing leader and they didn’t cause any let downs in the Longhorns’ running game. Charles finished his Texas career with 3,328 yards and 49 rushing touchdowns.
Obviously, many people know what happened in 2005, Valhalla. The Longhorns won the BCS National Championship and beat USC.
Melton’s career is an odd one to say the least. After rushing for 625 yards his first two seasons on campus, he made the change to defense and played on the line.
Charles went on to become one of the NFL’s best running backs before injuries started slowing him down in 2014 and 2015. He was taken in the third round by Kansas City in 2008 and is a four-time Pro Bowler, leading the league in rushing touchdowns in 2013. He has 7,220 career rushing yards and 2,443 career receiving yards.
Melton also became a Pro Bowler and grew to 6-foot-3-inches and 280 pounds. He was taken in the fourth round by the Chicago Bears in 2009. In 2012, his Pro Bowl season, he had six sacks and 31 tackles. He now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Colt McCoy, 2006
McCoy took over for Vince Young, no small feat, and led the Longhorns to a 10-3 record, the best mark a Texas freshman starting quarterback has ever had. After dropping a game to Ohio State, 24-7, McCoy reeled off eight straight wins. He also won a bowl game, 26-24, against Iowa at the Alamo Bowl. Is it the greatest freshman performance? Maybe. He threw for 2,570 yards and 29 touchdowns with seven interceptions (or as some Texas fans call’em, fluke throws).
McCoy went on to lead Texas to the BCS National Championship Game in 2009, and won more games as the starting quarterback than any passer in program history (45-8). He finished with 13,253 yards. He rushed for 1,571 yards with 20 more touchdowns.
If we need to write any more about Colt McCoy’s career, you probably don’t like Texas.
He was drafted in the third round by the Cleveland Browns in 2010 and is now with the Washington Redskins.
Blake Gideon, 2008
This is how one Longhorn observer described Blake Gideon when I asked who were the best freshmen in Texas football history: “I’ll argue Blake Gideon, even though one drop cost a chance to play for the Natty, he was starting safety that year, third in tackles.”
Yes, Gideon’s dropped interception against Texas Tech hurts and Texas probably would have gone on to play for the title against Florida, setting up a Tebow-McCoy showdown.
Didn’t happen. But Gideon, a local product from Leander High School where his dad coached, was third on the team in tackles as a freshman and started 52 games, or every game for four years, for Texas. As a freshman he had 64 tackles, seven pass breakups and eight quarterback hits. He finished his career with 10 interceptions and 276 tackles. He was not drafted.
Malik Jefferson, 2015
Is this a “recency basis” instance that is suddenly becoming a thing in the world of social media? Maybe. Maybe not. Malik Jefferson was really, really good as a freshman. He was a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week several times as a freshman and is already being called a “team leader” despite being an underclassmen. I’m not sure who the next NFL first round pick is for Texas, but Malik Jefferson is probably on that path.
Jefferson started nine games for Texas, he earned freshman All-American honors. He had 61 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three pass break-ups, a forced fumble , seven tackles for loss and a memorable defensive touchdown against Rice that gave us one of the best photos of the season:
Texas missed the bowl season after another losing season at 5-6, but with Jefferson and the incoming class, time could be a changing.
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