There is one word to describe what Texas coach Charlie Strong and his staff are trying to bring to the Longhorn football program:
Texas was labeled “entitled” and “soft” toward the end of Mack Brown’s tenure, but Strong is eradicating those notions with a new sense of toughness, and that mentality starts on the front line.
“If you’re ever going to be good in this game, you have to be good up front when you look at the offensive line,” Strong said at Big 12 Media Days. “If you can’t move people on offense, you can’t stop people on defense, [and] it’s going to be very long days for you.”
Responsible for creating toughness on the offensive line are new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Wickline and his senior center, Dom Espinosa.
Prior to joining the Texas staff, Wickline spent nine years as the offensive line coach at Oklahoma State where his line anchored a Cowboys offense that led Oklahoma State to six top-20 finishes. Given the success he had with the Pokes, Wickline has great expectations for his players.
“Basically, you’re not here just to go through four or five years,” Wickline said in an interview with the Longhorn Network. “You’re not here just to play football; you’re here to get a degree.”
Wickline also stresses the importance of accountability. He wants his guys to be responsible for their actions and to grow up into mature adults. Wickline’s mentality has enabled Strong to rely on him to instill toughness on the team.
“Joe and I, we’ve coached together at two different places,” Strong said. “I’ll tell you this: When we get into conference play, he’ll be someone to just go lean on.”
Along with Wickline, Espinosa has been encouraging his linemates to buy into the new coaching staff’s tough mentality.
“Our idea of what tough was before is different than what we’re going towards now,” Espinosa said “It just one of those things that [Wickline] builds on us. Whether it be what we do in practice, going one-on-one a lot more and hitting a lot more. Those are little things that sound silly but it builds toughness over time.”
During his tenure at Texas, the Austin native has started 39 games for the Longhorns and, if he starts all 13 games this season, will fall just one start short of Colt McCoy’s record of 53 starts. This preseason Espinosa has been put on the Rimington Trophy, Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award watch lists. He was also named a 2014 preseason first-team All-Big 12 choice by USA Today.
But more important than being named to award watch lists, Espinosa has been leading the offensive line during practice, ensuring that they are more focused than they were in the past.
“It’s almost like it’s new,” Espinosa said. “It’s kind of exciting. You get to show the new coaches what you’re really made of. Now you get to compete every single day because you might not be able to start because Wick doesn’t know who I am so I have to prove it to him. It makes me a better player.”