Freshman playmakers key in Longhorns’ improvement

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Freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson, 46, sees playing time in the Orange-White scrimmage April 18. Texas’ highly touted freshman class is set to make an impact this year.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

It’s rare that a team can improve after losing a double-digit number of starters. Yet, the Longhorns have the chance to break that mold with a talented freshman class.

Coming off a cringeworthy 6-7 season, head coach Charlie Strong brought some hope to Longhorn fans this winter with one of the nation’s top-10 recruiting classes, according to 247Sports. While true freshmen usually do little more than provide depth, the Longhorns will rely on several of those young playmakers to make an impact.

“I’m really happy with how the freshmen have come in and worked,” senior center Taylor Doyle said. “Everyone has come in to work and is positive, and it’s really exciting to be around.”

In particular, freshman receiver John Burt stands out as a candidate to have a breakout year. After losing their top two receivers in John Harris and Jaxon Shipley, the Longhorns are thin on the outside and will look for playmakers to help junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. An all-around athlete at 6-foot-2, 184 pounds, Burt has impressed his team and appears to be ahead of
the curve.

“[Burt’s] grown so much … I love his demeanor, his work ethic and the way he’s carried himself,” senior receiver Marcus Johnson said. “For him to be so young, he’s done a great job, and you will definitely see a lot of him this season.”

While the Longhorns will need Burt to make plays on the perimeter, they will also rely on multiple freshmen to anchor the offensive line and improve last year’s shaky unit. Freshman tackle Connor Williams has been a favorite to win a starting job since joining the team last spring, and freshman guard Patrick Vahe has been especially impressive in camp.

“[Vahe’s] just big and strong and physical,” Strong said. “[He] loves it. Comes out, smiles all the time, but just love his overall attitude.”

Texas’ freshmen will be heavily involved in the team’s offense, but the defensive recruits will also play a large role. Freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson has already emerged as an instrumental piece in the Longhorns’ defense, while freshmen defensive backs Kris Boyd, Holton Hill and Davante Davis are not far behind.

All three freshman corners are more than 6 feet tall, giving them the size to cover the Big 12’s variety of big and talented receivers. With star cornerback Quandre Diggs’ departure, all three freshmen will see the field early and often, playing as both nickel and outside corners.

“They are talented. Holton Hill, Kris Boyd and Davante [Davis] ­— all of those guys are making plays,” senior cornerback Duke Thomas said. “There’s no such thing as a fade ball against our guys. They are up there making big plays.”

Accumulating a talented recruiting class is just the first step in Strong’s attempt to revamp the program. While he will need more top recruiting classes to field a legitimate contender, the young Longhorns will have an immediate chance to make Texas better this season.

If the freshman class lives up to the hype, it may be a preview of big things to come at The University of Texas.