One year ago, a true freshman ran out of the tunnel and into a sold-out Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium — he didn’t look phased.
Not even as the majority of the 102,315 fans erupted when he took the field as the Longhorns’ starting quarterback in their season-opener with then-No. 10 Notre Dame.
It was primetime. The eyes of the entire country were on Texas as well as the man leading the offense: Shane Buechele — the first true freshman to start a season-opener at Texas since 1944.
“I tell everybody, they always ask me, ‘How was that first game?’” Buechele said. “It was a weird feeling because I felt so comfortable. I think it was just all the preparation that we had and never being able to play in front of that many people.”
Buechele put on a show.
But the rest of Texas’ season didn’t go nearly as well as the 50-47 double-overtime victory that night, and the true freshman’s uglier performances were soon to come.
That includes a three-interception game in Texas’ season-defining loss to Kansas en route to another 5-7 season.
“Obviously that’s in the past,” Buechele said. “We don’t want to look back at it, but you know it is in our brain. We don’t want to go back to that.”
Whether head coach Tom Herman and his Longhorns will “go back to that” is yet to be determined, but this staff has already healed one of the quarterback’s Achilles heels from last year: lack of vocal leadership.
“Last year, it was difficult,” Buechele said. “Trying to be a vocal leader and getting guys behind me, that’s hard being a young guy. But this year I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable being a vocal leader which I think is really important for our offense and our team in general.”
Buechele’s month-long quarterback battle with freshman Sam Ehlinger just allows him to display his transformation, and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
“Shane, when he first got here, he was always a mature guy, but now he’s really in that zone,” senior wide receiver Dorian Leonard said. “I’m just looking at him and you can just see it in his eyes that he’s just bought in as much as he can and he really wants to go out there and play for us.”
Buechele’s buy-in appears to have paid off. All signs are pointing towards a second consecutive season-opening start for Buechele, but things will be a little different this year. He won’t be that true freshman running out of the tunnel anymore.
Now, thousands of fans at Darrell K Royal know his name. They know how he performed in last year’s season-opener and they won’t expect anything less. Buechele said he doesn’t think he has won Herman over yet, but quite frankly, he doesn’t seem to have a large chunk of the Longhorn faithful won over either.
However, if there is anybody who appears to be completely sold on Buechele, it’s his offensive coordinator.
“He’s worked extremely hard, I mean extremely hard,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “I’m really proud of what he’s put in to prepare for this team… I think he’s gonna play lights out. I really do. I think he’s gonna have a great game.”
The Longhorn quarterback appears to have the coaching staff and his team convinced that he’s not the quiet, inexperienced freshman he was last year. Now, when Buechele runs out of the tunnel this year, it’s up to him to prove it to everybody else, and it starts Saturday.