On Saturday, fans decked in orange and white will flood into Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, as they do six times a year in the fall. But this time, the intrigue is not in whether the team wins or loses, but more in evaluating the performance of players on the field.
The annual Texas Spring Game kicks off in Austin at 1 p.m. on Saturday. It will be the first of its kind during the Tom Herman era, following last year’s act that was canceled at halftime as a result of inclement weather.
In the 2016 edition of the game, many eyes gazed upon quarterback Shane Buechele, who enrolled early as a freshman last spring. Even after a year of development as the Longhorns’ starting quarterback, Buechele is still young and has plenty of room for improvement.
After a full season on the field and a staff overhaul, Buechele must utilize his experience to his advantage and grow as a vocal leader in order to solidify his role as Texas’ starter.
“The players do gravitate around him,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “I think he is a competitor. He doesn’t always show his emotion on his sleeve. I’m trying to let him know it’s OK to play with passion and emotion and allow them to show.”
Herman signed another Elite 11 quarterback this offseason in Westlake High School’s Sam Ehlinger. The Austin native makes up for his lack of collegiate experience with his 6-foot-2-inch, 225-pound frame and his unparalleled confidence.
The early enrollee battled a multitude of injuries in his final season at Westlake, so he will finally earn the anticipated opportunity to showcase his abilities in front of a large audience. His performance will be meticulously studied in comparison to that of Buechele’s.
“They’re locked in, dialed in,” Beck said. “It’s part of what spring ball is — it’s throw everything at them as much as you can and see what they can handle and can’t handle. The harder we make it for them right now, the easier it’s going to be for them in the game. That’s part of the process.”
Buechele and Ehlinger will battle in the Spring Game on opposing teams, each armed with different sets of running backs and wide receivers on offense.
Texas fans will be deprived of the opportunity to witness the team’s top running backs on Saturday. After missing the majority of the 2016 season with a knee injury, sophomore Chris Warren III will not battle on the field Saturday due to a hamstring injury sustained during a practice in March. Freshman Kyle Porter will also be sidelined with a sprained ankle.
Instead, early enrollee Toneil Carter will handle the workload in the backfield. The prized 2017 four-star recruit will see his first action in uniform on Saturday, attempting to convince the coaches that he is ready to make an impact for Texas.
For every Longhorn on Saturday, this game is a benchmark — a preview of how Herman’s players have progressed since the commencement of spring practice. Half of the team will win, while the other half will lose, but the key to success on Saturday is to impress and leave an individual mark.