UT safety DeShon Elliott celebrates the win over Notre Dame at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Sunday September 4, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Out of the shadows, DeShon Elliott is fighting for a starting safety spot

Known primarily for two plays as a Texas Longhorn, the junior safety looks ready to finally shine in the secondary.

Posted August 3rd, 2017

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Story highlights
  • Elliott is ready to make a name for himself after two very memorable incidents in his first two seasons.
  • He's one of 11 returning defensive backs for Texas, eight of whom have started at least one game. He started against Kansas last season.
  • Head coach Tom Herman loves the safety depth and calls that position unit "a loaded room."

For the first half of his collegiate football career, DeShon Elliott has been known for mainly two things.

There was the pseudo-melee at Baylor in 2015, complete with the Elliott punches that never connected. And the helmet-rattling play in the end zone against Notre Dame that included the Elliott blow that did, one that sidelined Irish wideout Torii Hunter Jr.

So Elliott’s very clearly a hitter. That much, we know for sure.

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That said, we trust he’ll practice a little controlled violence as he attempts to finally make a name for himself in the Texas defensive backfield.

That first incident was widely circulated on YouTube and also showed up on ESPN’s “Monday Night Countdown” during the “C’mon, man” segment.

While Longhorns fans will never forget Elliott’s shadow boxing after his would-be skirmish with Baylor players that has long been commemorated as the gif that keeps on giving on Twitter, Elliott has clearly been in the shadows for most of his UT career. Not any more. He’s about to be front and center.

He’s not penciled in as a starter yet, but he’s likely to be a starting safety when Texas takes the field against Maryland for the season opener.

And that’s saying something since it’s a much-coveted position in what should be an elite Longhorns secondary.

“Not at cornerback, but safety definitely is,” head coach Tom Herman said. “That’s a loaded room.”

Texas safety DeShon Elliott (4) tackles UTEP’s Mack Leftwich to bring up a fourth-and-1 in the second half at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Elliott’s no longer punching air as he did coming off the sideline as a freshman two years ago during that exchange of emotional words before Texas upset No. 12 Baylor.

He showed his promise last season when he smashed into Hunter Jr. in the end zone, leveling him and dislodging the ball in the most memorable play of that Sunday night game besides Tyrone Swoopes’ game-winning touchdown. Elliott escaped a targeting penalty despite hitting Hunter Jr. high and giving him a concussion.

You can now target Elliott as a player on the rise in a UT secondary that had 11 different starters in 2016. Eight return this season.

It’s a bit of a stretch to say that Elliott’s claim to fame has been limited only to the aforementioned accomplishments, but he hasn’t taken off as his press clippings at Rockwall Heath High School — where he was a third-team all-state honoree — would have suggested.

Texas’s #4 DeShon Elliott takes down Kansas’s #31 Osaze Ogbebor during the second half in Lawrence, Kansas on Saturday, November 19, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

He’s played in 19 career games in his first two seasons at Texas but has started just one. It was a memorable one. He had a career-best six tackles, five of them solo, but most observers remember that Kansas game for the final score and it being the final nail in Charlie Strong’s coffin.

Not that anyone ever mentions that loss to the Jayhawks, give or take a million or two tweets.

While Strong’s 16-21 record over the past three seasons may be a Twitter punchline, Elliott’s punches are more tangible evidence that there is nothing soft about him or his game.

On the whole, though, he hasn’t stood out. In part, Herman said, because Elliott’s, well, too popular. Or wanted to be.

“When we first got here,” Herman said this week, “I think he was more concerned about being liked than he was about leading the team, and he’s done a 180 from that. He’s a really good leader right now, and the guys respect him.”

Elliott noticed what his new coaches wanted from him. And he changed.

Now, he’s leading the freshmen.

“I’m trying to lead them on the right path, Montrell (Estell), Josh (Thompson), Taquon (Graham), Gary (Johnson),” Elliott said. “We’re just trying to show them the culture that these coaches have showed us. So we get them (updated) on the culture and then they can pass it on to the following class.”

RELATED: Golden: To be DBU or not to be DBU, that is the question for Texas’ defensive backs

Elliott will be a whole lot more likable, the more plays he makes on the football field.

He’s part of a secondary that’s dripping with talent and potential, although Herman thinks his team’s too thin at cornerback. Without question, safety is probably the deepest spot on the team, but there is much promise at cornerback, too.

The athletic Kris Boyd fits the role of a lockdown corner and could emerge as the best in the Big 12. Sophomore Brandon Jones didn’t get nearly enough playing time last year, but he could team up with Elliott as the starting tandem at safety. Another safety, Jason Hall, has been around forever, making 28 starts in 35 career games, and John Bonney has totaled 13 starts.

But everyone will have to fight to stay on the field. Herman can’t quit raving about nickel back P.J. Locke, and everyone’s waiting for freshman standouts Holton Hill and Davante Davis to return to the form that excited the fan base.

“If one of those safeties is one of our best 11 guys, we’re going to try to figure out, me and coach (Todd) Orlando,” said Herman, who’s open to three safeties patrolling the secondary. “I’ve had numerous conversations about trying to get the best 11 on the field.”

Elliott’s likely to be among them. His teammates rave about his progress.

“He’s grown up so much and matured,” Locke said. “He’s starting to become that alpha dog and that voice on the team that everyone responds to.”

And everyone would like that.

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