It’s quiet, and Texas likes it that way.
The Longhorns have gone about their preparations for the upcoming season with little fanfare. There are no major scandals to speak of, and Charlie Strong is spending more time talking about football than about the latest player to fall short of his core values, which was the case on many occasions this time last year.
One need only take a look up the highway in Waco to appreciate the serenity of a relatively quiet summer on the Forty Acres.
On the surface, the Horns appear to be a united front. The offseason was spent undergoing some important team-building activities in addition to the normal strength and conditioning routine.
Better production through better chemistry is the hope.
It started off the field earlier in the year, when defensive tackle Paul Boyette Jr. invited everybody over to his Austin condo for brisket and ribs. Nothing extravagant, just a little BBQ laced with camaraderie that can only benefit this team, which was admittedly split at times last year by several locker room cliques. Strong hammered at that senior class to take on more of a leadership role, but the cohesiveness never developed.
Along with the good eats at the Boyettes — Paul married Texas basketball player Imani McGee-Stafford earlier this year — there were several trips to the bowling alley. Strength and conditioning coach Pat Moorer also insisted that every player call five different teammates every weekend to encourage a family concept, something Mack Brown perfected when he was here.
“I think this year’s camp is different because we came together more as a team,” Boyette said. “It’s not just about ‘I.’ It’s about ‘we.’ We take care of each other. We did a lot of things this offseason truly as a ‘we.’ We did a lot of extracurricular activities together and bonded as a family and a brotherhood.”
I know. You’ve heard these preseason proclamations before:
“This is the closest team I’ve ever been on.”
“We’re don’t have any selfish people in the locker room.”
“Everybody’s on the same page.”
Those words are thrown around in every locker room in America, usually by teams that didn’t perform as well as expected the previous year. Only time will tell if the Longhorns’ commitment to togetherness adds up to more wins and an ascent in the Big 12.
From these eyes, Strong is having a lot more fun in his second preseason camp. Last year at this time, most of the questions revolved around players who had run afoul of team rules, core values or the law. Add to that, he actually believed his arrival in Austin would be followed by a seamless transition on the field.
“I thought when I walked in, I was just going to push a button and it was just going to go,” Strong said.
It went, but not in the right direction.
Safety Jason Hall said words can’t describe the anger and frustration behind the 6-7 finish and the team’s desire to silence the critics.
In retrospect, Camp Strong 2014 turned out to be a rush job because the new coach had to cobble together a recruiting class after replacing Mack while trying to figure out how to get the most out of players who had been doing things a certain way under the previous regime. Losing quarterback David Ash after one game didn’t help because Tyrone Swoopes clearly wasn’t ready for a full-time gig.
The current camp has been much easier in many departments, including at quarterback, where Swoopes seems much more comfortable, though we won’t know for sure until the bright lights come on. Either way, the fan base is understandably nervous. Only Swoopes can change that nervousness into confidence.
With the season opener at Notre Dame two weeks away, Swoopes and his teammates will get the chance to prove that this brotherly love thing can actually lead to wins.
“I think we have a year of experience in knowing what the expectations are,” fullback Alex De La Torre said. “We know within ourselves that we have a huge burden on our backs to get the train on the tracks and get this going the right way.”
Leadership and chemistry are important factors in any turnaround, but playmaking is tantamount to winning. Strong can only hope that the work he and his coaches put in this offseason will result in something fans can get behind this fall.