With USC lined up for a 50-yard field goal attempt last Saturday, Fox cameras caught Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando yelling what just about all Longhorns must’ve thought. “Block this (expletive)!”
Texas summoned the wolf.
Freshman Caden Sterns broke through the line with ease and held up his two tattooed forearms featuring wolves. On Sterns’ left wrist, there’s one wolf in black silhouette howling in the moonlight. The Texas safety blocked his first field goal at any level, and Anthony Wheeler returned it 46 yards for the score.
“The block,” Sterns’ mother, Brandi Biddy, said, “it happened so fast, it took me just a second, then I’m losing my mind.”
Sterns, a five-star recruit, has shown five-star talent thus far. The standout from Cibolo Steele enrolled in January, earned a starting job by August and now has an interception, 10 tackles and one terrific block on his ledger.
Recruiting director Bryan Carrington is already calling Sterns “the wolf of DKR.” Sterns loves what the animal represents. Wolves can be loyal and savage at the same time, he said.
“They know how to lead,” Sterns said. “They come together. They have teamwork to get the job done, which is to eat. As a defense, that’s what you’ve got to pride yourself on.”
Wolves can be alone or travel in packs. Sterns said he can chill by himself or connect with his older brother, Jordan, who was an All-Big 12 safety at Oklahoma State from 2013-16. Jordan Sterns was the first OSU player since Keith Burns (1992-93) to register back-to-back 100 tackle seasons.
Typically, Texas does not allow freshmen to meet reporters at the weekly press luncheons. They normally only talk in post-game settings. But Sterns was allowed upstairs in Bellmont Hall for lunch Tuesday, and he’s played only three games with the Longhorns. It’s an acknowledgement of maturity and trust from the coaching staff.
“I’m very taken aback, I guess,” Biddy said. “Not that I doubted at all for a second he could do it. He’s always been a little bit more mature, I feel like. I have certainly noticed just in the time he left in January to go to Austin that he is really, really grown up.”
It takes Biddy, who works in the healthcare industry, about 45 minutes to an hour to drive up from Cibolo, so she’ll be at every home game henceforth. “It beats that eight-hour drive to Oklahoma State any day,” she said.
Sterns wouldn’t have it any other way.
“She calls me probably 122 times. An hour. But other than that, it’s worth it,” Sterns said. “Just find what’s important to you, which is family. The only opinion you should care about is family, the team and your coaches. First person that I really care about seeing after the game is my mom.”
Sterns’ maturity reveled itself in the post-game interview room after USC. One reporter teased Sterns by asking if he was upset that Wheeler scooped up the blocked field goal and scored and not him. “He scored, I scored,” Sterns said Saturday night. “We’re on the same team. We put points on the board. That’s all I can ask for.”
Sterns was your typical do-it-all athlete growing up. He stopped playing basketball after junior high, his mother said, but kept playing football and track.
At Steele, Sterns’ talent was unmistakable. He tallied up 235 tackles and 11 career interceptions and became the No. 1-ranked recruit in Texas, as judged by Rivals. He was second on the American-Statesman’s Fabulous 55 list. Every recruiting service labeled him as legitimate.
“I think even legit may be an understatement. The kid is elite,” Steele defensive backs coach Adam Harvey said.
Harvey drove up for UT’s first August practice just to watch Sterns in action. Afterward, Sterns asked Harvey if the coach had any plans. The two went and watched practice film.
At Steele, Harvey said players are judged on three As — alignment, assignment and aggression. Sterns watched himself and evaluated everything. Next thing they knew, senior cornerback Kris Boyd walked into the film room. Another player walked in. Pretty soon, almost all the defensive backs were watching film together.
Sterns battled tendonitis in high school because he was so active. His mother pleaded with him to get off his feet. Finally, Harvey laid down an edict: Sterns had to rest for two weeks in the summer and just watch film.
“I’m not kidding, there’s not a day that went by where he didn’t pull up sophomore film or junior film,” Harvey said. “I’m getting texts from him at 11 at night. This kid just can’t get away from the game.”
Sterns committed to LSU in November of his junior season. But he flipped to UT the following May. In a Twitter post, he said he grew up in Texas and spent his childhood “dreaming of becoming a Longhorn.”
Momma knew best, too. She was sold when Sterns first put on the UT uniform during an official visit, something that’s now a part of every recruit’s weekend.
“I had seen him in the purple-and-gold Tiger get-up,” Biddy said. “I was like OK, that’s cool. When we went to visit, they gave him the (Texas) stuff to put on. He came walking into the room with that burnt orange on, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I was speechless.
“God, look at that. He looks so good. I really wasn’t expecting that from myself.”
A wolf in burnt-orange clothing? The Longhorns never dreamed it’d look this good, either.
“We came here for that reason, a lot of us did,” Sterns said. “To come here and get it back on track is what we kind of owe to the dudes who played before us and this state in general. I love this state. I rep it all the time. I want to get it back to where it used to be.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.