Dylan Haines arrived on the 40 Acres in 2012 the same way majority of the other 52,212 students did; he paid his way onto campus after being academically admitted.
But the senior safety from 3A Lago Vista High School, where he was a star player at multiple positions, remained determined to play football for Texas. His grit paid off when he walked on as a freshman.
Haines redshirted his freshman season and remained on the scout team for all of 2013. When former defensive coordinator Vance Bedford named Haines a starter at the end of the 2014 fall camp, the senior said it was worth the two-year wait.
“The mentality you have to have is go out there and improve every day as a player,” Haines said. “I knew I was capable of playing, so I looked to improve every day and reach my potential.”
Haines looked like more than a walk-on during his full first season on the active roster. He compiled 74 tackles in 13 games as a redshirt sophomore in 2014. But it’s been downhill for both Haines and his team since then.
He only totaled 47 tackles last season, and the Longhorns finished a disappointing 5–7. This year, Haines is on pace to finish far below last year’s mark — he’s only brought opponents to the ground 16 times through seven games.
His team has endured hardships, too. Texas sits at 3–4, the same mark it’s had after seven games in each Strong’s three seasons. Haines said this isn’t how he expected his experience at Texas to go when he walked on four years ago.
“Coming here as a walk-on, I thought I was going to be a part of one of the greatest football teams in the nation,” Haines said. “[I thought we’d] be in that national championship talk. Obviously that hasn’t been the way things have been going.”
Texas has been anything but a national title contender during Haines’ three seasons as Texas’ starting safety. Last year, Texas trotted out its worst defense in school history; the Longhorns gave up a staggering 5,431 yards.
This season hasn’t been much better. Texas ranks 94th in the nation in total defense, surrendering 438.7 yards per game. If that average held true through 12 games, Texas would give up 5,264 yards — close to last year’s all-time low.
“It’s just adversity,” senior defensive tackle Paul Boyette said. “To overcome adversity, you got to be willing to fight through it, keep pushing through it. Because, I mean, our season still hasn’t been written yet.”
Haines and Boyette have written most of their stories at Texas already. Both are seniors. But both have a chapter missing from their career books: what it’s like to play in and win a bowl game.
They have five games left, of which they need to win three to qualify as bowl eligible. Besides playing for the security of Strong’s head coaching position, Haines said that’s just about all he has left to play for.
“We still have a chance to make a bowl,” Haines said. “It’s something that obviously we want to do, especially that I want to do being a senior. I’m sure [it’s the same] for some of the other seniors.”
Whether Texas gets to a bowl and saves Strong’s job relies heavily on players like Haines wreaking havoc for opposing quarterbacks. That needs to start Saturday against senior Seth Russell and No. 8 Baylor.
“You want to end up with a good year,” Strong said. “You have a chance to end up with a good year. We have to take it game by game, look at it week by week. Don’t look down the road, look at what’s in front of us.”