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Texas ex QB Sam Ehlinger wins Jason Witten Award, ready to join the NFL ranks, too

Ehlinger on his NFL Draft prep: “I plan to watch every snap from the 2020 season.”

Texas' Sam Ehlinger is leaving the program as statistically UT's second best quarterback ever behind Colt McCoy. After starting four years, Ehlinger is prepping for April's NFL draft.

Sam Ehlinger thought life in the Texas fishbowl was tough. Try navigating the run-up to the NFL draft.

“It’s been crazy,” the former Texas quarterback said Wednesday. “It’s a different world for sure.”

Ehlinger has temporarily moved to Fort Worth to train for UT’s March 11 pro day and whatever NFL scouts can dream up under COVID-19 restrictions.

“I’ve actually started to break down every NFL offense, just trying to learn systems, tendencies and personnel,” Ehlinger told reporters Wednesday on a Zoom call. “I plan to watch every snap from the 2020 season.”

Ehlinger is learning from some of the best pros around. He talks frequently with Texas ex Colt McCoy, who has now logged a decade in the league. He’s also signed with the same agent as former UT teammate Brandon Jones, who just had an impressive rookie season with the Miami Dolphins.

Ehlinger also got face time this week with future Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten and visited The Star, the Dallas Cowboys’ headquarters in Frisco.

On Tuesday, Ehlinger won the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year award, presented annually to the best FBS-level athlete “who best demonstrates an outstanding record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship.”

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger celebrates last season's 17-13 win over West Virginia at Royal-Memorial Stadium. He graduated in December and said he felt it was time to move on from UT after starting four years.

Ehlinger said he was doing a Zoom interview and heard loud banging on the door. “Not expecting Jason Witten at all,” Ehlinger said. “Definitely a great surprise.”

The official award presentation was done virtually. Ehlinger was a finalist along with Alabama’s Najee Harris and Notre Dame’s Daelin Hayes.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for some of the off-the-field leadership and on the field as well,” Ehlinger said. “That’s something my parents always instilled in me that, you know, the game of football is just a game at the end of the day. 

“I know I told you guys (reporters) that many times that I realized that, and I want to be not only a good football player, but also a good person,” he added. “And so to be recognized for that is great. It’s truly an honor. I’m glad that I was able to be a part of it.”

Ehlinger confirmed that he didn’t really give much thought to returning to UT in 2021, although the NCAA’s COVID-19 eligibility waiver would allow it. He graduated in December and figured it was just time to move on after four years as the Longhorns’ starter.

He finished his career with 11,436 passing yards, 94 touchdowns, 27 interceptions and a career completion percentage of .625. Statistically speaking, he finished as the second-best quarterback in Texas history behind McCoy.

Now, he must convert all that talent and knowledge into an NFL job. Frankly, it’s unclear how that will happen.

Ehlinger got some exposure to scouts at the Senior Bowl. But teams are not allowing draft prospects to visit their facilities due to COVID-19 restrictions. So that puts more emphasis on pro timing days at the campus level.

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Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, shown proceeding into Royal-Memorial Stadium before the Longhorns' 2019 game against LSU, has been training for the NFL draft in Fort Worth. "So much of the predraft process is so much uncertainty, because teams don't really want to show their hands or how they're feeling about certain players," he said.

Asked where he stood with NFL teams, Ehlinger said, “Well, it’s hard to say.”

“So much of the predraft process is so much uncertainty, because teams don’t really want to show their hands or how they’re feeling about certain players,” Ehlinger said. “So it’s kind of like insider trader secret. But for the most part, all the feedback has been really positive.

“From an intangible standpoint, some of the interviews are like, ‘We don’t even really know what to ask you because there’s not much to try to grill you on.’ So that was good.”

Ehlinger said he’s simply trying to develop through film study and breaking down how NFL offenses actually work. “For the most part, everything is looking really good,” he said.

Ehlinger continued to say only positive things about those he left behind, including Casey Thompson and Hudson Card. No way can you pin him down about who should be the Longhorns’ starting quarterback in 2021.

He’s heard positive reports about new Texas coach Steve Sarkisian and felt the program was in far better shape than when he arrived.

“I would say behind the scenes, and also from what I’m hearing from guys still working out, is that sense of entitlement and selfishness that a lot of guys can come into college having has started to eliminate itself,” Ehlinger said. 

The Texas ex praised the young leadership and said, “I think that the team-first mentality is really starting to take over the locker room.”

But Ehlinger can’t worry about all of that now. He’s got bigger issues ahead, like preparing for the draft and minicamp, wherever that ultimately may be.

“Four years of playing college football is a long cycle,” Ehlinger said. “That certainly played into my decision making that I have played four years of college football at Texas.”

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