Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Eyes on Texas: Working in silence is Alfred Collins’ mantra, but time to raise the volume

Collins’ big interception in the Alamo Bowl was last year; New coaching staff moving him into starting role vs. No. 12 Oklahoma State

Anybody checked on Alfred Collins lately? We haven’t heard much from the Texas defensive end. Nothing at all, come to think about it.

The sophomore from Bastrop hasn’t uttered a peep publicly since he came to UT, at least not to the Fourth Estate.

“His dad tells him all the time, ‘People don’t have to know everything you do,’” Collins’ mother Benita said this week. “You’ve just got to show up.”

Benita Collins, a former Texas athlete herself, once asked her son what he wanted to be known for. What’s your mantra? Alfred had the perfect answer: Work in silence. It’s catchy, too, by the way. T-shirts are $26, hoodies $36.

“We don’t know what he’s doing,” Benita Collins said. “He just shows up and sacks the quarterback.”

Texas' Alfred Collins, left, celebrates his interception against Colorado during last season's Alamo Bowl victory. The Bastrop product will start  this week against Oklahoma State.

Eyes were popping all over Longhorn Nation last December when Collins made a spectacular one-handed interception in the Alamo Bowl. OMG. It was incredible. Phenomenal! But that’s all it was — one play in one game in one disappointing season.

Now, halfway through the 2021 campaign, Collins gets a new opportunity. A.C., as he’s known, is projected to make his first start of the season Saturday against No. 12 Oklahoma State. The Horns (4-2, 2-1 Big 12) are shaking up both the offensive and defensive lines. Time for Collins to start working at full volume.

Lineup changes:Texas coaches reshuffle the offensive line going into Oklahoma State week

“The guy who's probably made some of the best progress for us defensively has been Alfred Collins,” UT coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday. “He’s really played well the last two weeks. So, I think this is a great opportunity for him to get more playing time on that front.”

Collins’ fellow lineman, Moro Ojomo, is an old soul with elevated thinking on just about any subject. Ojomo said he watched Collins “strike and apply using his hands like I haven’t seen” against Oklahoma. Coming off the bench, Collins had one of UT’s two sacks. 

This came two weeks after Collins had a rather important sack against Texas Tech when the Horns lined up in a three-man stack near the goal line.

More:In Red Raiders rout, Texas Longhorns pulled a sack out of Pete Kwiatkowski's 'old bag of tricks'

Texas defensive end Alfred Collins sacks Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler during last Saturday's 55-48 Sooners victory at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Collins will replace the injured Jacoby Jones in Texas' starting lineup.

“When I look at Alfred, he’s the guy who has all the tools necessary,” Ojomo said, “and he just recently started putting it together.”

The previous coaching staff knew what raw talent they had. Before the Alamo Bowl, former coach Tom Herman said Collins may have freelanced a little too much early in the season. But Collins had learned to play with a lower pad level and held his gap. “That explosiveness for a guy that size is very, very impressive,” Herman said last December. 

But things change with a new staff, and everybody goes back to square one. Bigger expectations bring a bigger spotlight, and thus, bigger criticism. So why hasn’t Collins been a bigger factor this season?

“This is a hard place to play at,” Ojomo said. 

Playing defensive tackle?

“No, this place,” Ojomo added, referring to UT. “When everyone’s telling you how great you are, that can beat on your head and understand when there's a bigger target on your back.”

Texas defensive end Alfred Collins will make his first start of the season on Saturday. “You never know when you’re going to be called,” said his mother, Benita Collins. “We just told him to perfect your craft, and you adapt to whatever position they put you on that defensive line. Use your strengths, use your quickness. He’s getting larger every time I see him!”

Few parents understand the rigors of playing at Texas better than Benita (Pollard) Collins. She was a four-year letter winner playing for women’s basketball coach Jody Conradt from 1990-94. During those years, Texas won a share of the Southwest Conference title in 1993 and spent most of the time in the Top 25 rankings, a burnt orange bull's-eye.

Benita even hit the game-winner in a 71-69 thriller over Texas Tech to win the 1994 SWC tournament. Graybeards will remember that the ball sort of froze on the rim before falling in, taking down Marsha Sharp’s defending national champions in the process. The whole team mobbed her on the Reunion Arena floor.

Now, she's 16 years into her teaching career, helping middle schoolers dunk on math homework.

As for Texas’ new coaching staff, Benita counseled her son that there may be a transition period. 

“It’s like changing jobs. It’s like me being a teacher for different principles,” she said. “The essentials of the job don’t change. The pads are the pads. There’s a 50-yard line and two end zones. But you definitely want to focus on their vision.”

Benita and her husband, Bernard, hammer home one major point. “Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,” she said.

A banner previewing Cedar Creek High School football star Alfred Collins' top three schools he was considering hung in the school's hallway on the morning of Feb. 5, 2020, which was national signing day. Collins chose Texas.

“You never know when you’re going to be called,” she said. “We just told him to perfect your craft, and you adapt to whatever position they put you on that defensive line. Use your strengths, use your quickness. He’s getting larger every time I see him!”

Collins has the statistics that jibe with that of a backup. He’s made only six solo tackles. But be honest, you walked away from the Texas Tech and Oklahoma games wanting to see more of him, didn’t you?

Clearly Sarkisian and the defensive staff must’ve felt the same. Sure, losing Jacoby Jones to a foot injury helped Collins’ depth chart ascent. Watching OU's pulling linemen take out UT’s undersized ends removed any remaining doubt.

The Horns need more beef on the field. Collins, listed at 6-foot-5, 302 pounds, will get a full-time role going forward.

More:Texas needs to ramp up defensive pressure, create more backfield havoc for Big 12 games

“He’s bringing force, effort,” defensive tackle Keondre Coburn said. “If you watch him every play, he’s going to get to the ball. I have to beat him if I want to get a tackle or something like that.”

Whenever reporters do get to talk with Collins, maybe he’ll talk about that Alamo Bowl interception. Maybe he’ll talk about the two previous sacks. Or, maybe he’ll say nothing at all. Composure speaks volumes, too. 

“When I put UT with any sport, we operate with excellence,” Benita Collins said. “There’s a way you hold your head when you walk with that UT across your chest. I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s just excellence. There’s just a respect that comes with that.”

That’s how you work in silence.

“People have big expectations for you,” the Texas ex added, “and if you are not prepared and equipped to be a University of Texas Longhorn, then you will not be.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email or @BDavisAAS.

Saturday's game

12-Oklahoma State at Texas, 11 a.m., Fox, 104.9