Sophomore full-back Alex De La Torre made the most of his opporunity against West Virginia last weekend, catching the game-winning touchdown in Texas' 47-40 overtime win.

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

For most of his football career, sophomore fullback Alex De La Torre was in the forefront.

In high school, De La Torre played linebacker and was often in the spotlight for the 385 tackles, 20 sacks and four interceptions he recorded through his last three seasons. But after being recruited on defense, he became a fullback for the Longhorns and, like most in that position, moved to the background.

“I was a little surprised at the very beginning, but my dad is a head coach, so I’ve been told to be a team player and sacrifice,” De La Torre said. “So I said I was all for it.”

“Day-La,” as his teammates call him, learned to embrace his new position. He said he plays about an average of 14 plays a game, but he’s learned the in-and-outs of his new spot and how to make the most out of the limited action.

De La Torre has also used his defensive skills to his advantage. The tough and gritty linebacker attitude he learned to play with didn’t diminish once he stepped over to the offensive side of the ball.

“It’s a real blue collar [position],” De La Torre said. “You just have to keep on grinding in practice. You’re pretty much just a small O-lineman. That’s how it is really. I’ve really embraced that type of blue-collar mentality, and I’ve tried to take that linebacker mentality and bring it to offense.”

Embracing that mentality has worked out so far for the 6-foot-1-inch, 233-pound athlete. After apprenticing under Ryan Roberson his freshman year, De La Torre learned the trade and gained the fullback role this season. He recorded his first career rush for 19 yards on a fake punt against Kansas State, and his first career reception could not have come at a better time. 

Last Saturday, he snatched a goal line pass from Case McCoy against West Virginia for an overtime touchdown.

“I was really excited for him,” senior offensive guard Mason Walters said. “Alex, playing that fullback position, doesn’t get a lot of recognition, and I know he’s a guy that works extremely hard, so I was really excited to see him score not only the touchdown, but [it was] a big point in the game too. [It] really helped us out and [I was] excited for him.”

The new fame he gathered came fast and caught De La Torre by surprise. Since he had never experienced a college press conference, when his name was called for the post-game interviews, he had a few things backwards.

“He went to the media afterwards, and you never think about this, but what do you do?” head coach Mack Brown said. “I said, ‘They’ll tell you what to do when you get in there.’ He said, ‘Do I ask them?  What do I–.’ I said, ‘Just go out there and sit, and they’ll ask you questions.’”

Although he is in the background on the field, De La Torre has become quite the star in the Twitter world. The Denton, Texas, native enjoys his time on Twitter so much that his teammates had to limit the amount of action he could spend on the social media site after grabbing his first career touchdown.

“We gave him a hard time,” Walters said. “He likes his Twitter, so after the game, we told Alex to limit it to one [tweet] tonight, and then we’ll [lift] that restriction on a later day. It’s just all in good fun.”

Sophomore fullback Moss to leave team

The Longhorns lost another player this spring, this time in the form of sophomore fullback Chet Moss.

Moss played in four games during his 2011 freshman campaign. Texas head coach Mack Brown officially stated that Moss, a Cedar Park graduate, will take off from spring drills to direct his attention towards school.

“Texas sophomore FB Chet Moss will not participate in the remainder of the Longhorns’ spring drills to focus his attention solely on academics,” head coach Mack Brown said Thursday.

Moss ended the fall semester on rocky terms. He was arrested in November on public intoxication charges, and he was not present at the Holiday Bowl. His mug shot from that November arrest recently surfaced on the Texas sports fan forum, Orange Bloods.

Texas lost defensive tackle Calvin Howell earlier this spring after he made the decision to transfer. Brown cited “personal reasons” as the explanation for his departure. Howell was arrested on Jan. 29 in San Marcos on charges of marijuana possession.

Senior Cody Johnson (11) faces off against Baylor (Daily Texan file photo from December 3, 2011).

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Not many players that lead their team in a rushing as a junior suddenly switch positions before their senior season. But that’s what Cody Johnson did.

Johnson rushed for a team-high 592 yards in 2010 when Texas turned in its first losing season since 1997 before making the move to fullback before his final season as a Longhorn. Head coach Mack Brown and former offensive coordinator Greg Davis had unsuccessfully attempted to adjust the offense to emphasize the running game more. But when Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were set to join Texas as freshmen last season, the Longhorns gained the personnel necessary to focus on its rushing attack more.

“When [Malcolm Brown] has the ball, he’s going to finish all the way to the end zone,” Johnson said of the rookie tailback last year. “For a freshman to come in and do what he’s doing, and as for Joe too, it’s just phenomenal.”

Johnson stepped aside and didn’t just help Brown and Bergeron by showing them the ropes when they arrived on the 40 Acres, but moved to a position where, at fullback, he’d be literally paving the way for their success.

Now Johnson, who is listed as the fifth-best fullback NFL Draft prospect by ESPN guru Mel Kiper Jr., is set to embark on a professional football career. Considering the fact that less than five fullbacks have been selected in three of the last four drafts, Johnson has a chance to not get picked this week. But if he signs with a team as an undrafted free agent, he’ll have a good shot to make an NFL roster, especially now that the 5-foot-11, 250-pounder is at a position that has maximized his draft stock.

“You help block for someone to score. You’re scoring with them,” Johnson said. “We’ve all got to be strong. You can’t break down.”

Johnson’s decision to switch spots on the football field should pay dividends for him as he pursues a professional career and paid off last year, as evidenced by how productive guys like Brown and Bergeron were in their first year at Texas. The Longhorns’ run game wouldn’t be poised for a great 2012 year and Johnson wouldn’t have as good of a chance to get drafted. This was not lost on Johnson.

“I think [my role] has been increased,” Johnson said last year. “I’ve been put in a new spot. I don’t think it’s been decreased at all. I’ve been given a better opportunity.”

Brown, before suffering from a turf toe injury for most of the second half of the year, was on pace to run for 1,000 yards last year at one point. When Bergeron filled in for the ailing Brown, he nearly ran for 200 yards, breaking out for 191 and three touchdowns in a 52-20 rout of Texas Tech. Texas rushed for a whopping 439 yards that game but, incredibly, wasn’t as many as the 441 the Longhorns racked up the week before in a 43-0 victory over Kansas.

Johnson didn’t get a single carry in either of those contests but was instrumental in allowing Texas to put up those gaudy numbers.

“That was a great move by the offensive staff putting him there,” said running back Fozzy Whittaker, who was also a senior last year. “He’s a smart player. He knew what to do and he knew how to get it done. Having somebody like that blocking for you always makes you more confident.”

As he spent most of last season blocking, Johnson had a career-low 48 carries, nearly three times as less than the previous year. One of his best came against Kansas State, when he broke through the line of scrimmage on a third-and-one play in the fourth quarter. With Texas trailing 17-10, Johnson had nothing but green grass in front of him but was caught from behind and settled for a 55-yard scamper. The Longhorns settled for a field goal on that drive and fell to the Wildcats, 17-13. But thanks in large part to Johnson, were able to run for more than 200 yards per game last year for the first time since 2007, 50 more than they averaged in 2010.

“We’re going to run the ball. That’s what we’re going to do no matter what,” Johnson said. “We try to control the clock. We try to keep our defense off the field. We want to be able to run it. That’s what we concentrate on. We have to run the ball to win.”

Thanks to Johnson and his move to fullback, Texas’ run game is better heading into next season (especially with Brown and Bergeron fully recovered from the injuries they suffered last season) and Johnson’s prospects of a professional career are in a better place.

Printed on Thursday, April 26, 2012 as: Johnson transitions to fullback, NFL

Houston TexansÂ’ Brice McCain, left, and Torri Williams, right, head back to the locker room along with teammates after a team run at their training facility on Tuesday in Houston. NFL teams opened their facilities to players Tuesday after a four-and-a-half-month lockout.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

HOUSTON — Many of the Houston Texans didn’t want to wait until Sunday to begin training for their season.

More than 30 players showed up at Reliant Stadium on Tuesday morning and immediately started conditioning drills and meeting with their coaches. Houston officially opens training camp Sunday, 15 days ahead of the preseason opener against the New York Jets.

“It felt really good to actually come back through these doors and have a set place to work out,” said defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, beginning his second season.

Mitchell was one of several defensive players who got their first official taste of new coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 alignment, a switch from last year’s 4-3. But Mitchell, expected to play nose tackle in the defense, got a jump-start during the lockout by studying film of last year’s Cowboys, who played the 3-4 when Phillips was head coach. He also contacted Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, who has started at the same position in Dallas since 2007.

“I looked at a lot of Dallas Cowboys’ film, and looked at a lot of things that Wade Phillips was looking for in this defense,” said Mitchell, a third-round draft pick in 2010. “I think I’ve got a pretty good head start on what he’s looking for.”

Defensive end J.J. Watt, Houston’s first-round pick out of Wisconsin, also studied the Cowboys’ defense. Rookies across the league missed out on valuable offseason workouts because of the lockout, so Watt was peppering coaches with questions about the scheme Tuesday.

“We all need to learn quickly,” Watt said. “As a rookie, there are a couple more things I need to learn, just about being an NFL player. But I consider myself a quick learner, and I consider myself a guy who’s going to study as hard as I can to get that defense learned, so when that first game rolls around, I’m going to be ready to go.”

The day wasn’t all about work, more like “the first day of school,” according to tight end/fullback James Casey. The Texans were barred from talking with coaches during the lockout, and they spent much of Tuesday simply reconnecting.

“A lot of talk about families and what’s been going on in our lives,” tight end Joel Dreessen said. “It was tough from a personal standpoint because, yeah, we work with these people, but they’re also our friends and colleagues. We know them, and it’s kind of weird when you’re not allowed to speak to them. It was a lot of catching up.”

The Texans will go through daily workouts and meetings leading up to Sunday, when they’re scheduled to report to camp and due for physicals. In the meantime, the team will be an active player in free agency, possibly making a major bid at Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to shore up their porous secondary.

Another priority is re-signing Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach, an unrestricted free agent. Ralph Vitolo, Leach’s agent, said Texans vice president of football administration Chris Olsen contacted him early Tuesday morning.

“We talked a little bit,” Vitolo said in a phone interview. “He wanted to get together and see if we couldn’t banter some numbers around, and I told him we could. There are no numbers or anything yet, we just wanted to touch base. That’s all we’ve done so far.”

Leach was the lead blocker for Arian Foster, the NFL’s leading rusher in 2010. Vitolo said Olsen told him the Texans want Leach back, but he says his client wants to test his market value after his first All-Pro season.

“We’ve just got to kick around some numbers,” Vitolo said. “We’ll just have to wait and see how that plays out.”

Casey is particularly interested in Leach’s decision, because it will determine where he’ll play. He was Houston’s third-string tight end in 2010, but also took practice reps at fullback.

“They haven’t told me anything,” Casey said. “I’m just ready to do whatever. I’m just trying to get on the field any way I can, whether it’s tight end or fullback stuff, they haven’t mentioned to me whether I’ll be doing either or. They kind of just said, just like last year, know both of them.”

Another Houston free agent is receiver/kick returner Jacoby Jones, who caught 51 passes for 562 yards in 2010, both career highs. Kennard McGuire, Jones’ agent, said in a phone interview that the Texans have contacted him as well.