Texas linebacker Breckyn Hager (60) warms up before the start of the Texas Bowl NCAA college football game against Missouri in Houston, Texas, on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Football

Texas LB Breckyn Hager knows his time is running short; ‘So I’ve got to bring it’

Heading into senior season, Hager sees a complete team coming together during spring drills

Posted April 12th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • As for a haircut, Hager said, “Gotta have Sam cut it on that podium holding the trophy.”
  • Malcolm Roach getting a chance to showcase his speed as a rover linebacker.
  • Kyle Porter, Patrick Hudson both return from injuries and practice on Thursday.

Texas linebacker Breckyn Hager’s trademark blonde hair may only get longer and wilder in the coming months. The Westlake product doesn’t plan on getting his hair cut until December.

Quarterback Sam Ehlinger better get those scissors ready.

“Gotta win the Big 12,” Hager said. “Gotta have Sam cut it on that podium holding the trophy.”

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Yep, that’s Hager’s dream scenario. The Longhorns rule the Big 12 while Ehlinger oversees the barber shop. “We’ve all got goals,” Hager said.

At the end of his junior season, Hager was starting to come into his own as a pass-rush specialist in UT’s “lightning” package. He had four tackles and a fumble recovery in the Texas Bowl. It felt like he was everywhere, though.

The Longhorns lost defensive playmakers all over the depth chart. It’s a unit that desperately needs some new faces to fill the void. Enter Hager, who has morphed into a hulking, athletic speedster off the edge and won over Tom Herman’s coaching staff in the process.

UT linebacker Breckyn Hager celebrates after beating Baylor at McLane Stadium in Waco on Saturday October 28, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“Every time I hear the UT Tower ding, my time’s running out,” said Hager, who will be a senior this fall. “So I’ve got to bring it here, I’ve got to bring it with everything I’ve got, whether that’s in the weight room, practice, film room, I don’t care what it all is, I’m leaving it out there.”

Herman and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando weren’t sure what to make of Hager initially. He played two seasons under Charlie Strong’s staff and had 13.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, all coming his sophomore season.

When Texas fans talk about those who “bleed orange,” picture Hager. The son of All-American linebacker Britt Hager, a tackling machine for the Longhorns in the 1980s, Breckyn has lived his entire life wanting to excel at UT. This is the same player who was so distraught after losing at Oklahoma State in 2016, he was visibly shaking.

On Tuesday, Hager practiced so well that Herman thanked him. “I’m glad he’s on our team,” Herman said.

As for sitting on the bench early in his career, Hager said, “That was a very difficult time in my life. I would never go back and do anything different. It taught me a lot about getting through adversity and trusting in the process whenever you don’t necessarily believe in it.

“Now, I’m 100 percent brought in and that’s just in the past,” he added. “The bowl game’s in the past. I’m just focused on this year leading this team to win the Big 12 championship, and we’re going to take it one game at a time.”

Hager also sees a team coming together.

“I see a team that is different than all the teams I’ve been a part of,” Hager said. “I see an offense and defense both clicking with their chemistry. I see an offense and defense destroying each other. It’s always been one-sided in these spring scrimmages. Now it’s actually somewhat of a fight, and I’m impressed.”

Texas defensive end Malcolm Roach (32) and linebacker Anthony Wheeler (45) run a drill during a Longhorns football spring practice at the Frank Denius practice fields in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, April 3, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Watching Malcolm Roach: One of the most intriguing personnel moves this spring has been Malcolm Roach’s shift to the rover linebacker spot from defensive end. It’s the same position Malik Jefferson played last season, one that gave Jefferson the freedom to roam and make plays and boost his profile with NFL scouts.

To be sure, Roach is getting this opportunity mostly because of injuries to Gary Johnson and Edwin Freeman. Still, Roach (6-foot-3, 270 pounds) is showing serious versatility.

“He’s instinctive. He’s just a play-maker,” defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. “He’s got really good vision. It’s my best not to screw him up, to be honest with you. I’m very thoughtful about moving him around to different spots and how hard I coach him so we can teach him.”

Said Hager: “We could put Malcolm anywhere. That man, he’s got some speed. I love that kid.”

Rodriguez back: The Horns had high hopes for offensive lineman Elijah Rodriguez last season. But the projected starter got his ankle rolled in a pile-up during a pre-season practice and needed surgery. He wouldn’t play again until the Texas Bowl. “The feeling was indescribable,” he said.

Rodriguez is back working at right guard. He’ll likely be a starter there between center Zach Shackelford and right tackle Derek Kerstetter. He’s another senior that wants to finish his career on a high note this fall.

“What I learned is that I put the team before myself,” Rodriguez said, “because instead of wallowing in woe-is-me and I can’t be on the field, I started looking at how I could benefit the team, whether it’s encouraging guys or coaching guys or doing whatever it takes to help the guys out there be their best.”

Briefly: Running back Kyle Porter (ankle) and offensive tackle Patrick Hudson (knee) both returned to practice Thursday in limited roles. Both participated in individual drills but were held out of team work. … The Longhorns got to wear shorts for Thursday’s workout, not full pads, because Herman believed the team had been practicing well. … The players loved the blast of cold weather that hit the Austin area last Saturday. “Where’d that cold front come from?,” Hager said. “That’s hitting weather. That’s football weather, really.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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