Junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger has been called a lot of things. He’s been told to “stay in Texas” by former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, been named team captain for the 2019 season and his picture decorates magazine covers all around the United States. What he’s never been called is a linebacker.
“Sam to me is like an honorary linebacker,” defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. “That’s what Sam is. That’s the quality that we all loved about him, without ever picking up a football and throwing it or doing anything from a quarterback standpoint.”
Coaches and fans alike recognize Ehlinger’s fearlessness, the type that makes him a standout player and leader in the eyes of both defensive and offensive coordinators. During Wednesday’s press conference, both Orlando and offensive coordinator Tim Beck reflected on what makes Ehlinger a leader for Texas football.
“I dont think there’s a person in the locker room that doesnt respect Sam,” ‘Orlando said. “Better yet, on the defensive side of the ball, I mean that guy is everything about what you want out of a football player and as a human being. He shows the grit and everything that goes along with the expectation of Texas football.”
In the eyes of Texas’ staff, Ehlinger has come into his role. No longer is he the freshman who started the season on the bench behind now-SMU quarterback Shane Buechele. Orlando feels Ehlinger, now a junior, has finally come into his own.
“Sam is a unique guy,” Orlando said. “He’s got an open invite anytime he wants to come into the defensive meeting room. People listen. If you just think about all the stuff that got him to this point, the one thing he’s always had was that great quality that ‘I gravitate to you’ kind of thing.”
Beck has also seen great growth in the 6 foot 3 quarterback and said he accepts “a lot” of feedback from Ehlinger.
“If I’m calling a curveball and he doesn’t want to throw it, it’s probably not a good thing,” Beck said. “We have good communication that way. I think he’s done a great job of protecting the football, and he’s done a great job of ball placement. I think he’s learned,‘What I can fit in windows,’ ‘What I can’t,’ ‘When do I need to leave the pocket, ‘When do I not.’ His game has elevated a lot.”
His growth and leadership skills will be put on display Saturday against Louisiana Tech. Starting with his highly anticipated return to Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium this week, his face will continue to dominate the headlines for the remainder of the season. Though he is unlikely to fade into the background of the college football landscape, he remains unfazed.
“I completely ignore it, the good and the bad,” Ehlinger said. “It’s very easy to let outside noises distract you from your mission, especially at UT, because there’s a lot of good and there’s a lot of bad that goes on. I think the best way to avoid getting washed up in that is just ignoring it.”