During preseason camp in August, head coach Tom Herman asked his leaders one question: What’s different this season?
Before the back-to-back wins over then-No. 22 USC and then-No. 17 TCU, and even before Texas’ loss to Maryland, the answer was eye-opening.
“Breckyn Hager, before anybody could say anything, was like, ‘We’re happy,’” senior tight end Andrew Beck said. “And it’s true. It’s a big difference from last year.”
Herman announced members of what he calls Texas’ “leadership council” during Monday’s press conference. He started off by listing obvious players such as Collin Johnson, Kris Boyd and Breckyn Hager. Then he listed the team captains, both quarterbacks and several offensive and defensive linemen before eventually naming every single member of the group.
“I hope I didn’t forget anybody,” Herman said.
Herman meets with members of the group to discuss anything from the tone of the locker room to possible turmoil the squad might experience in the near future.
“Those are the guys we really lean on in terms of having a voice in the locker room and conveying our message, but also conveying any messages that the players,” Herman said. “The players in the locker room know that they can go to them with anything, and it will get back to us, too.”
The issues at the beginning of the season were simple. Herman spelled it out for anybody who listened, exhausting the term “playing too tight” and emphasizing the importance of having fun. This all came after Texas struggled to put together an inspiring performance against lacking opponents in the first two weeks.
After two consecutive wins over ranked opponents, that doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore. Winning has its way of doing that.
“I think winning is intoxicating. And it feels really, really good,” Herman said. “But I think the key that I’m proud of this group of guys, this team, is they understand that you don’t beat TCU on Saturday. You don’t. The three and a half hours on Saturday is the reward for how hard you prepare and the sacrifices that you make.”
The team hasn’t only bought into Herman’s belief system of the game’s result being decided during the week, but Texas fans can finally see what Breckyn Hager told his coach back in the preseason.
“You just get out there and play freely, just having fun,” freshman safety Caden Sterns said. “Guys are out there smiling, before games and during games. It’s understanding that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to play at a university like this.”
Over a month and a half after Hager admitted this team is finally having fun, Beck announced a similar sentiment during Tuesday's availability, saying this season “just feels different” from his previous four seasons at Texas.
While Beck is joined by numerous players in displaying excitement regarding the program’s culture, Texas’ offensive leader continues to remain levelheaded when it comes to the team’s early season accomplishments.
“We certainly have not arrived,” sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “We certainly have not reached our peak of what we can be. … We have to keep working. There’s nothing that we’ve done that has been incredible. I think we understand that. We know what we’re capable. We see it and know that we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.”