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Golden: It took Texas long enough to honor Julius Whittier, but we’ll take it

Without Julius Whittier, we would not have gotten a star like Roosevelt Leaks at the University of Texas.

In this 1999 file photo, former Texas football player Julius Whittier poses in his Dallas office. Whittier played under Darrell Royal in the 70's and was one of the first black football players at Texas. He passed away this week at age 68. (Michael Mulvey/The Dallas Morning News)

Without Leaks, there is no Earl Campbell.

Without Campbell, there is no Ricky Williams.

Without Williams, there is no Vince Young.

Without Young, there is no 2005 national championship.

It all started at the top with Whittier, who helped pave the way for some of the greatest players in program history to walk onto campus without fear of prejudice, bigotry or mistreatment because of the color of their skin. He was a pioneer and Friday’s unveiling of a 12.5-foot statue at the North end zone to eternally honor UT’s first Black football letterman is a long time coming.

And we’ll take it.

It’s wonderful to see him getting the recognition he deserves, joining the legendary Darrell Royal, Texas’ Heisman Trophy winners Campbell and Williams and longtime program benefactor Joe Jamail as prominent figures who have had their likenesses immortalized at the stadium.

Athletic director Chris Del Conte would have liked to have put on a more lavish production to honor Whittier in front of a packed house at Royal-Memorial Stadium, but the pandemic understandably limited his options. But it’s the thought — and the statue — that counts.

The late Whittier lettered three times (1970-72) under Royal and changed the complexion of Texas football forever. His legacy came in not what he did on the field but in the bravery he showed by daring to be first.

Whittier endured unspeakable abuse and bigotry not only from opponents and fellow students on campus, but at times even in his own locker room. He told me as much at an event in Dallas years before he passed.

Those were the times, and not everyone was on board with the changing face of America’s schools, businesses and, yes, even our college football teams.

Decades later, the country is in a better place. Yet one glance at the news provides proof that much work remains. Still, Whittier’s recruitment and his on-field and social contributions are a great example of things working together for the betterment of not only a football program, but society at large.

“It’s long overdue, but we’re super-excited,” Del Conte said Monday. “Beyond the dedication, it’s also a symbol of what Texas has become.”

The unveiling will take place in pregame ceremonies and Whittier’s 1970 team will also recognized on the 50th anniversary of the program’s third national championship.

Ehlinger’s legacy

If Texas can knock off Iowa State on Friday and win its remaining two games — road contests against reeling Kansas State and comatose Kansas — there is a possibility the Longhorns could get their hands on the Oklahoma Sooners for one last time in the Sam Ehlinger era.

Ehlinger will presumably walk onto the field at DKR for the last time, and while he has to be lauded for his role in helping get this well-funded train back on the tracks after three consecutive losing seasons, his résumé will be lacking if the four-year starter leaves without a conference title.

“He deserves a lot of credit for that, and his steadfastness, his leadership ability, his belief, in not just the University of Texas, not just the University of Texas football, but in our program and our way of doing things,” said coach Tom Herman, who called Ehlinger one of the greatest to ever don a Longhorns jersey.

Quarterbacks often get too much credit and way too much blame, and Ehlinger is no different. But after the two horrible losses to Oklahoma and TCU, he has helped steer the Horns back on course with a chance to be exactly where they had hoped at the beginning of the season: in the Big 12 title game.

Shaka has the weapons

The buzz word for this season of Texas men’s basketball is "connected” or other derivatives like “connection” and “connectivity.”

It’s what coach Shaka Smart has been preaching in the preseason and what his veterans will be taking on to the court with them for Wednesday’s opener against UT-Rio Grande Valley, that is, if they have been taking his teachings seriously in this most unique of offseasons.

On Monday, Smart named six players who have separated themselves from the others in preseason workouts, and the names are familiar: Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones, Jericho Sims, Kai Jones and newcomer Greg Brown.

While it should not be confused with any kind of breaking news flash, it’s just the latest reminder that Smart has one of the deepest rosters in the country and that the supporting cast — players like Gerald Liddell, Brock Cunningham and Royce Hamm — will have to scrap and claw for playing time. Most important, it will be up to Smart to provide the mesh.

“Our guys feel like we can be really good,” Smart said. “It’s certainly a season because of what we have coming back, and then adding (Brown) to our team, where we have a lot of excitement about what we can be, what we can become.”

Does it really need to be said that Year No. 6 is the most pivotal of Smart’s Texas tenure?

If not now, then never.