Colt McCoy hasn’t played in a college game since January of 2010, but his heart still resides at Texas.
He isn’t the only one.
Texas’ early-season wave of success has brought with it a burst of pride from players who won big regularly over the last decade plus and beyond. It’s obvious that the old guys are buying in to what this new crew is doing. The alumni are not only supportive in a fan role, but actually putting in some work on the ground floor.
Before the pre-game meal on the day of the Notre Dame game, Texas coach Charlie Strong handed out an open letter written to the team by McCoy, who had penned it for The Players’ Tribune website. In it, McCoy described his feelings before the much-anticipated No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown with Ohio State in 2006, the second start of his career.
“It was a great letter,” Strong said. “To hear a player that already walked that walk and had been in the locker room … for him to say it — and they have so much respect for him already — all of sudden you see them reading how he had gone through it all.”
McCoy also encouraged players to embrace the pressure that comes with playing at Texas.
“If you go out there and play to the very best of your ability, that’s all you can ask of yourself,” McCoy wrote. “And more times than not, it will be enough to win.”
Texas had it going during the Vince Young and Colt McCoy eras. With Ricky Williams as his starting point, Mack Brown built a college football power that was putting together 10-win seasons in rapid-fire fashion. Plus the alumni were involved. You would see Butkus Award winner Derrick Johnson one week, All-America wideout Roy Williams the next.
That’s the thing. When a program has it working at a high level, the people who helped build it take pride and ownership even when they’re gone.
After Strong was tossed into the air by his team after the Notre Dame win, I spied Tony Hills, who played eight seasons in the NFL, taking a picture of the celebration. Not 20 feet away stood newly retired Aaron Ross, who won the Thorpe Award and a pair of Super Bowls with the New York Giants.
“Coach Strong has these guys believing in themselves,” Ross said. “It’s like we passed the torch to them tonight. It’s time for them to take it and run with it.”
Said Williams, who was standing next to Ross: “They have the potential to get it going now. This was that little spark that could get it started.”
The Horns, one win away from starting a season at 3-0 for the first time since 2012, are eager to move this needle even further north. One of those players, senior defensive tackle Paul Boyette Jr., realized this preseason that he could be better in his preparation.
Enter Michael Huff.
The Texas legend was known as one of the biggest bookworms ever to play here. He was the quarterback on defenses that went 26-1 his last two seasons and produced a bushel load of NFL players. He has been a fixture on campus, having fun interviewing players for the football team’s website while also lending a free hand to players like Boyette who are looking to take their game to the next level.
The two have been meeting up a couple of times a week in the film room, with Boyette bouncing questions off Huff, a veteran of eight NFL seasons.
“I’m trying to see what he sees and he’s trying to see what I see,” Huff said. “He’s a guy who wants to learn. He’s very hungry to get better on the field and he wants to be a leader out there. I’m up here every day, so why not?”
Boyette doesn’t have class during the week, so his schedule is definitely film-friendly.
“We spend a lot of time together and we text a lot,” said Boyette, who also corresponds with former Texas great Cory Redding. “He was a great player here and he has been a great teacher as well.”
The Horns are miles better than they were in Strong’s first two seasons, and despite the youth on this roster, Texas appears to be heading for great things.
With an able assist from some familiar names.