Several Longhorns making an unexpected impact in 2014

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Sophomore safety Dylan Haines is one of many key Longhorns who never saw the field under the old regime. New head coach Charlie Strong and his staff gave everyone a chance when they first arrived in Austin and several Longhorns who struggled under Mack Brown have taken advantage of the opportunity.

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

At the conclusion of spring camp, Texas seemed pretty set at wide receiver. Senior Jaxon Shipley and junior Marcus Johnson looked poised to be the team’s primary pass catchers.

Six months later, and more than halfway through the season, neither Shipley nor Johnson are the team’s top receiver. That distinction belongs to senior wide receiver John Harris, who has quickly become quarterback Tyrone Swoopes’ favorite target. After four largely unremarkable seasons with the program, Harris has surprisingly emerged as the most reliable weapon on a team he nearly quit. 

“I remember — he was considering not coming back because he was disappointed in some of the things that happened in his career before we got here,” said Shawn Watson, quarterbacks coach and play caller. “He was really down and had gotten heavy.”

Swoopes and the Longhorn offense are thankful he reconsidered. 

Currently, Harris leads the team in receiving yards and has caught two-thirds of its touchdown passes. In seven games this season, he has already tripled his career touchdown reception total, more than quadrupled his career receiving yardage and snagged 40 passes after only recording nine catches in his first four years on campus. 

“He’s become the poster child for what we want in our program, I think, offensively and defensively, every coach would tell you,” Watson said. “Because he’s invested himself in our program, and he’s invested himself in what he expected to get out of it.”

Another player who has experienced a meteoric rise to relevance is sophomore safety Dylan Haines. Haines joined the program in 2012 as a walk-on but didn’t see the field in his first
two seasons.

Under the old regime, he may never have even seen the field. But with a new coaching staff in town and a couple key personnel changes, Haines took advantage of an opportunity to seize the vacant safety spot.

“He was getting picks,” Harris said of Haines’ performance in the spring. “So he earned the right, so there was nothing in my mind that didn’t think anything of it. He was making plays all spring, so he deserved it.”

Before the season opener against North Texas, Haines was rewarded with a scholarship. In that 38-7 victory, he recorded the first interception of his career — a sign of what was to come in 2014.

“The kid’s a football player; it’s that simple,” defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. “He understands the game. He understands his strengths, and he understands his weaknesses.”

One of his strengths appears to be a penchant for the football. In last week’s 48-45 victory over Iowa State, Haines picked off his second pass of the season and proceeded to return it 74 yards for a touchdown.  

Harris’ and Haines’ impact have certainly been a surprise but not quite as shocking as the Hughes brothers’ contributions.

In last weekend’s victory over the Cyclones, sophomore offensive tackle Camrhon Hughes earned the first start of his collegiate career, debuting at right tackle. The move was a surprise because he didn’t even step on the field in his first two-and-a-half seasons on campus, but the older Hughes played well enough to be considered for a starting spot again this weekend.

Younger brother Naashon Hughes, a redshirt freshman defensive end, has played in all seven games for Texas this season. In its two most recent contests, however, he has earned the starting nod over junior Shiro Davis and sophomore Caleb Bluiett.

That’s not bad for a kid who was initially only offered a grayshirt when it appeared the Longhorns would only sign one linebacker in his class.