Malik Jefferson

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

As the NFL Draft nears, reporters, scouts and prospects alike have been busy in anticipation of the final two-month stretch. The same is true for former Texas linebacker and NFL-hopeful Malik Jefferson.

Currently pegged as a second or third-round pick by most experts, Jefferson made an appearance on the ‘On Second Thought’ podcast, hosted by Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden of the Austin American-Statesman, to share his thoughts on leaving Texas early, transitioning to the professional level and his injury status.

When asked if he had any doubts about forgoing his senior year at Texas, Jefferson admitted that the decision was more trying than many may have assumed.

“It was very hard,” Jefferson said on the podcast. “I had the opportunity to come back, be a leader of the team and help make the program great again. But I feel like we go to college to maximize our pro potential.”

Jefferson revealed that he actually received a “go-back-to-school” evaluation from a panel of NFL scouts. But ultimately, he viewed it as a risk-reward situation.

“It’s a risk,” Jefferson said. “But at the end of the day we go to school to go pro. And I have to do what’s best to support my family.”

Just three years ago, the highly-sought-after Mesquite Poteet High School product signed with the Longhorns to become the prized blue-chip recruit of the Charlie Strong era. Now he’s preparing for the NFL Combine and hopefully a nice landing on draft day.

Shooting for a high draft pick isn’t a sure thing, but returning for another year of college football also carries the potential for injury. And one might wonder if Jefferson’s past health issues — which include a concussion and a toe sprain that sidelined him for the Texas Bowl — were weighing on his mind when he declared early.

Reasons for his early departure aside, the underwhelming panel evaluation makes it even more imperative that Jefferson have a strong showing at the Combine. The difference between a 4.5 and 4.6-4.7 40-yard dash time could mean a late first-round pick instead of a third to fourth-round selection.

In regard to how his lingering toe sprain may affect his performance, Jefferson doesn’t see much cause for concern.

“It’s 95-100 percent healthy,” Jefferson said. “I expect to blow that track up. There won’t be any problem at all. I feel very confident.”

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

They say one loss doesn’t define a season, but it can sure alter one.

Right when the Longhorns thought things were figured out in a road win over West Virginia, they blew a lead late in the fourth quarter less than a week later and lost to Texas Tech, finishing the regular season 6–6.

But that’s all deep in the past now as far as head coach Tom Herman is concerned. The Longhorns have a date with Missouri in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27 in Houston to prepare for.

“We’re a resilient group,” Herman said on a bowl conference call Sunday evening. “I think the sting is gone already. We’re looking forward to this.”

The good news for Texas right now: the Longhorns are going bowling for the first time in three years, returning to the same bowl as their last appearance in 2014. Playing in the postseason also gets Texas a few extra weeks of practice — something it hasn’t experienced the past two years.

“That is critical,” Herman said. “This is a team that has not had that kind of development and for the last two winters has basically gone home for four weeks, five weeks. That development is critical in terms of staying with your competition that are going to bowl games.”

But then there’s the bad news for Texas.

It began last Monday with the announcements of junior running back Chris Warren III deciding to transfer from the program and junior left tackle Connor Williams declaring for the NFL Draft, opting to also skip the bowl game.

It continued on Thursday with junior safety and Thorpe Award finalist DeShon Elliott announcing his decision to declare for the draft and skip the bowl game. Junior cornerback Holton Hill, who was suspended for the rest of the season following the TCU game for a violation of team rules, announced on Monday that he was declaring for the draft, too.

Many people suspect that junior linebacker Malik Jefferson will be next in line to jump ship for the draft. Junior cornerback Kris Boyd could also leave early.

But as of right now, Herman said he doesn’t know what Jefferson and any others will decide. A lot will depend on the draft grades players receive from NFL scouts. Herman said players could know their draft grades this week.

“I think the rest of them are waiting to get their grades back and make some informed decisions based on some of the NFL stuff,” Herman said.

The loss of Elliott and Hill, and the potential exits of more defensive players, is unfortunate timing for Herman. The Longhorns will square off in the Texas Bowl with a Missouri offense that is ranked in the top-10 in the country in both scoring and total offense.

After a 1–5 start to the year, Missouri (7–5, 4–4 SEC) rides into bowl season on the heels of a six-game winning streak.

“They’re playing some of the best football in the country right now,” Herman said. “They’re playing really, really well offensively.”

It’s difficult to label a bowl game like the Texas Bowl, insignificant in the College Football Playoff picture, a must-win game. But the Longhorns, who sit at 6–6, can avoid a fourth consecutive losing season with a win.

A loss to Missouri and Herman would finish his first season at Texas with the same record that former head coach Charlie Strong finished with in his first year in 2014.

Asked on Sunday how critical it is for Texas to finish this season with a winning record, Herman said it’s important but not a huge difference-maker.

“I don’t think one number difference on either side is really gonna make or break anything in our program,” Herman said. “We’re gonna stay the course, and we’re gonna continue to develop our players. We’re gonna try like heck to win the thing and prepare as such.”

Injury updates

Herman said on Sunday that he expects junior nickelback P.J. Locke III and sophomore linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch will be back for the bowl game. Locke hasn’t played since the Baylor game on Oct. 28, in which he suffered an ankle injury. McCulloch injured his ankle against TCU on Nov. 4 and hasn’t played since.

Herman also said he’s “hoping” that junior left guard Patrick Vahe will be able to return from injury as well. Vahe sprained his MCL during the West Virginia game on Nov. 18.

Junior offensive lineman Elijah Rodriguez, who suffered an ankle injury in preseason camp and hasn’t played this season, was cleared for the Texas Tech game and could work his way back into the starting rotation for the bowl game, Herman said.

Other notes

Texas will be down to just graduate transfer Kendall Moore at the tight end position for the bowl game. Freshman Cade Brewer had surgery for his torn ACL, and Warren, who was Texas’ makeshift tight end the past couple games, is transferring. Herman also doesn’t want to burn redshirts on freshman Reese Leitao and senior Andrew Beck, who fractured his foot in preseason camp and has missed the entire season.

As far as the quarterback situation goes, Herman said on Sunday that he hasn’t addressed who the starter will be for the bowl game. Freshman Sam Ehlinger and sophomore Shane Buechele have “rotated reps with the ones and twos evenly” in Texas’ two practices so far, Herman said.

Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

Texas Tech players stormed the field on Friday night while one Red Raider ran across the turf carrying a bright red flag that pierced through Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Longhorn players watched on as the Texas Tech sideline celebrated after spoiling Texas’ senior night. Several Longhorn players were seen laying on their backs, some threw their helmets in frustration, but most had the same, stunned look on their face.

Head coach Tom Herman and his team left Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for the last time this season and were forced to accept that they let yet another close game slip through their fingertips.

“I’m still stunned,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “I’m just trying to get over that hump. It’s just super frustrating. I know how hard we work and everything we’ve done this whole year to achieve something and create a foundation for the future … 6–6 is not what we wanted to be. We should've won a lot more games. It’s very frustrating.”

Texas’ 27-23 loss to Texas Tech marks the Longhorns’ fourth loss by five points or less this season. But as the burnt orange look forward to bowl season, the only numbers that will be seen is their record: 6–6.

Texas Tech’s win over Herman and the Longhorns caught the Longhorn faithful off guard. The Red Raiders’ victory comes less than a week after Texas’ 28-14 victory over then-No. 24 West Virginia.

Herman was emotional following the game and during his press conference with the media on Friday night. Even he couldn’t explain Texas’ inconsistency issues and how his team went from the highs of beating a ranked team on the road and earning bowl eligibility to losing to a previously 5–6 team at home.

“I don’t know,” Herman said. “They're kids … But I don’t have an answer for you.”

Amongst the last few players to leave the stadium was junior linebacker Malik Jefferson, who has yet to announce whether he will return for his senior season or opt to enter the 2018 Draft. But he made sure to do one thing before leaving the field.

With a handful of people remaining in the stadium, Jefferson stopped and kissed the white Longhorn logo on the burnt orange carpet of the tunnel. Then, Jefferson continued up the tunnel and left Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for what many believe was the last time.

“It's gonna be a hard decision because I look in the locker room, I look at those guys to the left and right of me and I just smile because I love the things that we’ve been through,” Jefferson said. “It’s been a tough past three years and guys understand the love that I have for them … I just didn't want to take any regrets or miss any opportunities that I have for this stadium and the love of these fans.”

Although Texas won’t play in Austin until next season, the Longhorns still have one game remaining. Herman admitted it was a bit tougher to reflect on the improvements within the program after the stunning loss.

But he did find a silver lining.

“The silver lining in all of this is that it’s not the last time these seniors will put on the burnt orange and white,” Herman said. “We have an opportunity to go play in a bowl game for the first time in three years here. We are dead set in making it our mission in life to make sure that these seniors go out with a positive experience, with a win in the bowl game, wherever that may be.”

Photo Credit: Gabriel Lopez | Daily Texan Staff

It was a collapse — a catastrophic, epic collapse.

Yet, in a way, it was typical of a program that’s spent years wandering in no man’s land.

Friday night was primarily supposed to be about the seniors, who played their final game under the lights of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. But above all else, it was supposed to be about continued progress.

The footprint on this game in the end was one of disaster, though. The Longhorns suffered a 27-23 defeat to Texas Tech after squandering a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

“There's no words for it,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “To come up short, it’s super frustrating. Guys understand what was at risk at the beginning of the game and throughout the whole game.”

Texas turned the ball over four times in the second half and never could put the Red Raiders away, despite many opportunities to do so.

The Longhorns led 23-13 early in the fourth quarter after junior kicker Joshua Rowland booted a 40-yard field goal.

And then it all went south.

Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek marched the Red Raiders down the field in six plays for a touchdown drive on the ensuing possession. Shimonek fired a 13-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Vasher, who then flashed the Horns sign down which drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Texas Tech closed the deficit to 23-20 and was firmly back in the game.

But with just over two minutes to play, Texas had a chance to put the game away for good.

Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger had led the Longhorns on a promising drive that was moving well into Texas Tech territory.

Ehlinger has been an unpredictable player all season long. He’ll make the head-turning impressive play one moment and then the head-scratching play at the next.

With the Longhorns ready to shut the door on Texas Tech, Ehlinger made Texas fans scratch their heads. On third-and-2 at Texas Tech’s 37-yard line, Texas elected to throw the ball, only for Ehlinger to make a catastrophic error. His pass was intercepted by Texas Tech defensive back Justus Parker, who returned it 55 yards all the way to Texas’ 14-yard line.

“You want to learn from your mistakes and never let them happen again, especially crucial ones like that,” Ehlinger said. “For it to happen again, and let down the team again, it's awful.”                           

Moments later, Shimonek lofted a touchdown pass to Cameron Batson to give the Red Raiders a 27-23 lead with 1:47 to play.

On the ensuing drive, Ehlinger once again marched Texas down the field and into Red Raider territory. Ehlinger had his chance to redeem himself and once again learn from his mistakes.

But with under a minute to play, he made another costly mistake. Ehlinger was intercepted a second time, this time by Texas Tech defensive back Douglass Coleman III, effectively ending the Longhorns’ hopes.

Texas players walked off the field with dejected looks on their faces. Senior wide receiver Armanti Foreman was one of the last players to leave the field. He headed up the tunnel with tears in his eyes, knowing this was his last game at home.

Head coach Tom Herman sat at the podium with a stunned look on his face.

“Losing that way hurts,” Herman said.

The talk from Herman and the Longhorns during the week had been of progress. The Longhorns entered their bout with Texas Tech as 7.5-point favorites riding a wave of momentum from a road victory last week over then-No. 24 West Virginia. Texas had already clinched bowl eligibility. It had a chance to clinch a winning season against Texas Tech, too.

The Longhorns now have plenty of time to reflect on how it all collapsed on Friday night.

“We certainly felt like we had a lot of momentum — and we still will once the sting of this wears off,” Herman said. “We kept fighting. We’ll keep fighting throughout the bowl preparation.”    

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Texas players met with the media on Tuesday night after practice to preview Saturday’s road matchup against No. 10 TCU. Here are two notes from the media availability.

Jefferson named semifinalist for Butkus Award

On Monday, junior linebacker Malik Jefferson was named a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, which is given annually to the nation’s best linebacker at the end of the season.

“It’s awesome,” Jefferson said. “It’s one of my secret goals that I’m working on.”

Jefferson has finally had the breakout year this season that so many have been expecting. The junior is currently the Longhorn leader in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and quarterback hurries.

Jefferson, a highly coveted five-star recruit coming out of Poteet High School, showed flashes of his potential in 2015 in his very first game as a Longhorn when Texas got blown out by Notre Dame in South Bend, 38-3. Since then, it’s been an up-and-down couple of years for Jefferson. But this season, he has thrust himself into the national spotlight and turned into a nightmare for opposing offenses.

“I come back and look at it from where I started — from the beginning of this college career to where I ended up now — I just say thanks to everybody that’s been there supporting me,” Jefferson said. “Especially the players who have helped me make these plays and be a player on the field and for them having my back the whole way.”

At his Monday press conference, head coach Tom Herman said there were only two juniors on Texas’ roster that NFL scouts have inquired about. Those two juniors are Jefferson and injured left tackle Connor Williams.

Whether or not Jefferson leaves following this season is still too early to predict. But Jefferson has made the most of his junior season thus far and could very well be playing in the NFL come next year.

Offense gains momentum after win over Baylor

Herman said it best in his Monday press conference when he discussed the Longhorns’ defense and its role on the team at the moment.

“It’s no secret that they’re carrying us right now,” Herman said.

In a complete reverse from the narrative surrounding last year’s Texas team, it’s been the defense that has shined for the Longhorns this season, while the offense has sputtered. Texas has lacked a running game and experienced multiple injuries on the offensive line and at the quarterback position. But the players’ confidence in the offense has never wavered despite some disappointing performances.

“I wouldn’t say (the offense is) pressing,” sophomore defensive end Malcolm Roach said. “We have faith in them. We love our offense. We know they’re gonna
contribute for us.”

On Saturday in Waco against a winless Baylor team, the Longhorns finally found a little bit more consistency on the offensive side of the ball and were able to run it effectively, something that has been uncharacteristic for much of this season. Texas put up over 30 points in regulation for just the third time this season.

“Of course we pull positives out of it,” senior wide receiver Dorian Leonard said. “You go back, you watch film, you fix the mistakes and you use the stuff that you did well to help it develop your game into the next week.”

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Dominant defensive performances aren’t anything new for Texas this season, but freshmen running backs Toneil Carter and Daniel Young are.

As the Longhorns headed down the tunnel following their victory in Waco Saturday afternoon, not many people in McLane Stadium looked twice when the scoreboard read Texas 38, Baylor 7.

It wasn’t the score that jumped out. It was who did the scoring and how they did it –– on the ground. Texas’ run game, which has been absent for the majority of the season, finally gained a glimpse of traction in the Longhorns’ victory over winless Baylor.

But it wasn’t the 250-pound junior running back Chris Warren III who put the Longhorn running game back on track. It wasn’t even sophomore Kyle Porter, who sat out for the second-straight game due to injury. It was two freshmen: Toneil Carter and Daniel Young, who have seen limited playing time thus far, and even spent time on the scout team.

“Those kids get better everyday. It’s incredible how hard they work and how hard they run,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “They were scout team at one point and now they're starters and trading in and out. I commend them for everything they're doing. They've been patient with it and let the process take care of itself and you see the success they had on the football field.”

Neither Carter nor Young broke the century mark in the blowout victory, but both proved efficient. Young averaged 8.6 yards per carry after bouncing out to the sideline for a 31-yard touchdown which gave Texas its 38-7 lead in the final moments of the fourth quarter.

And he wasn’t the only freshman running back who had a breakout performance. Toneil Carter averaged 4.7 yards per carry and emerged as the Longhorns’ leading rusher –– just the second time this season a non-quarterback has led the team in rushing.

“They broke tackles, which was encouraging to see,” Herman said. “They slivered around in there when things weren't blocked perfectly … I was proud of them. They protected the football which is always a concern when you're playing true freshmen at running back but I loved what I saw.”

The Longhorn offense wasn’t clicking early, especially in the first quarter where Texas’ only points came after junior defensive back DeShon Elliott returned an interception for a touchdown.

The offensive woes peaked in the second quarter after the defense recovered a Baylor fumble inside the red zone. The Longhorn offense not only failed to get in the endzone, but also saw the field goal attempt blocked to keep the score at 7-0.

However, once Buechele and the offense found its rhythm, it didn't look back. The Longhorns went to the quick-tempo offense early and often. And it not only led to points, but also confidence.

“When we can go fast, it helps a lot with our offense especially just keeping the defense off the field,” Buechele said. “They played a lot of snaps today, they played unbelievable. It was really good to see our running backs and offensive line work the way they did. “

The Longhorn offense now looks forward to its next challenge: a road test against No. 10 TCU. But even after the win Saturday, the 4-4 record is still in the back of some players’ mind.

“It sucks,” Jefferson said. “Because we should be a lot better honestly. But we’re not gonna play like we’re 4-4. We’re still gonna play like we're contending for something.”

Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

In the northwest corner of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the only thing some Longhorn players could do was simply kneel down and process another agonizing loss.

The play that had dashed Texas’ hopes of a breakthrough victory over No. 10 Oklahoma State was just too excruciating to accept.

Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger stood bewildered and pointed in the direction of where everything came crashing down. He couldn’t believe what he had just done.

Ehlinger’s pass into the corner of the north end zone on third and four in overtime was nowhere close to a Longhorn receiver. Oklahoma State safety Ramon Richards had no trouble intercepting Ehlinger’s gift of a pass, the final play of Texas’ 13-10 overtime loss to the Cowboys.

“I feel like we're in every game,” junior safety DeShon Elliott said. “We don't know how to finish. We'll get to that point. We'll keep digging and eventually we'll get to diamonds.”

As Oklahoma State players began to storm the field, senior wide receiver Lorenzo Joe dropped straight to a knee.

Senior wide receiver Dorian Leonard crouched down in disgust, then was consoled by injured senior tight end Andrew Beck.

Junior linebacker Malik Jefferson also went down to the turf. Jefferson had said earlier in the week that the Longhorns just needed one more turn for Texas to break through. But on Saturday afternoon, Texas took a turn back into the wrong direction, dropping to 3-4 on the season and 2-2 in Big 12 play.

It was the third time this season the Longhorns went into overtime, and it was the second time they came up a play short.

“It’s tough — I have no words for it honestly,” Jefferson said.

Fellow junior linebacker Breckyn Hager was the first to console Jefferson.

Hager turned in one of the best performances of his career on Saturday. The Austin Westlake High School product set a career-high in sacks with two, tallied three tackles and had a quarterback hurry. Hager said after the game he wanted to bounce back after dropping a crucial red-zone interception in the third quarter of last week’s loss to Oklahoma in Dallas.

“I just knew there was a lot of opportunity out there for me, and I had to take it,” Hager said. “I felt real down on myself about dropping that OU (interception).”

On a day when the Longhorns held the No. 1 offense in the nation to just 10 points in regulation, Texas still couldn’t close out another game. After the loss, few words were used to describe the pain of yet another gut-wrenching result.

The one question seemingly hanging over the Longhorns’ minds after Saturday’s defeat was simple: when will things finally turn around?

And maybe that was the question so many Longhorn players on bended knee were trying to answer in the wake of another painful loss on Saturday afternoon. The upperclassmen in particular — Joe, Leonard, Elliott, Jefferson and Hager — have spent their entire Texas careers confronting that question and dealing with frustration.

And they know time is running thin.

“This upper class — it’s special,” Hager said. “We’re tired of talking about it to you guys and saying that. But we are special, and we are bringing positives out of these negative outcomes.”

But the only positives that haven’t followed are the ones that teams are ultimately judged by — wins.

“We’re very close. It’s still not over with,” Elliott said. “Because we believe in each other. The defense believes in the offense, the offense believes in the defense and we believe in our coaches. We’re a family. So eventually, we’ll rally together and get things right.”

Photo Credit: Gabriel Lopez | Daily Texan Staff

Head coach Tom Herman said he won’t announce Texas’ starting quarterback anytime soon during Monday’s press conference. He has stuck to his word so far, and so has offensive coordinator Tim Beck.

Here’s what Beck and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando had to say during Wednesday night’s media availability.

Beck discusses Ehlinger, Buechele

The foggy quarterback situation hasn’t fizzled out after five games, but it seems like one quarterback currently has a much stronger case than the other. And it’s not sophomore Shane Buechele.

Buechele’s last appearance came on Sept. 28 when the Longhorns left Ames, Iowa, with a 17-7 win over Iowa State. Texas later confirmed that the sophomore quarterback sustained a sprained ankle during the victory over the Cyclones, and Longhorn fans haven’t seen him since.

Two weeks have passed since then, and the Longhorn faithful isn’t exactly begging to see Buechele in Saturday’s AT&T Red River Showdown in Dallas. They seemingly want more of the 6-foot-2, 230-pound freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who put his best foot forward with his most recent performance in Texas’ double-overtime victory over Kansas State last Saturday.

“At this point, (Ehlinger)’s played really well,” Beck said. “I’m not down on Shane’s play. I don’t think that Shane has played bad. I think right now Sam is the hot name. I know all the media and the fans and everybody feels that he is the guy.”

Sam is the “hot name” for a reason. Throwing for 380 yards and rushing for 107 more in a double-overtime victory will do that.

“He made a lot of plays and plays with a lot of passion,” Beck said. “That’s one thing, a lot of juice, he brings that to the offense, and I like that.”

Although the majority of Austin seems to be on the Ehlinger bandwagon, don’t expect Herman or Beck to announce their starting quarterback until game time.

Jefferson continues to make strides

Junior linebacker Malik Jefferson’s job is secure. That isn’t up for debate.

Jefferson’s 10-tackle performance on Saturday night against Kansas State doesn’t even tell the full story. Orlando said Jefferson is simply carrying himself in a different way, becoming more of a vocal leader and taking pride in the physicality of the Longhorns’ new defense.

“Those are the things that I’ve seen improve the most out of him, just the way that he’s carrying himself and the respect that he’s starting to get with his teammates,” Orlando said. “When he sees something that he doesn’t like, whether it’s on the practice field or in a meeting room, he’s gonna say something, and those kids will respond to it.”

In mid-December, Texas’ recruiting class didn’t look promising. It had solid players, but nobody stood out. 

That was the case until five-star outside linebacker Malik Jefferson and his high school teammate, four-star wide receiver DeAndre McNeal, verbally committed to the Longhorns on Dec. 19.

“Anytime you’re in a recruiting process, there has to be a marquee player,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “And that is Malik Jefferson.”

Since then, Texas has had momentum on its side. Over the past few weeks, the Longhorns saw a slew of big names visiting campus: defensive tackle Daylon Mack, quarterback Kyler Murray, running back Soso Jamabo and wide receiver Damarkus Lodge. Although Texas didn’t land these four guys, their presence on campus created a positive buzz around a program that concluded its most recent campaign with a losing record.

Although signing day has come and gone, the positive buzz still remains. 

While the recruiting class is highly ranked, Strong and the coaching staff will look to use this class as its cornerstone squad.

The coaching staff will expect a lot from this class. A good portion of the recruited players will see early action. Jefferson, Texas’ highest-ranked recruit, will play at the weakside linebacker position next year and might even start, if he has a productive spring. 

Additionally, Texas may turn to its new linebackers — Anthony Wheeler, Cameron Townsend and Cecil Cherry — for help next season.

The Longhorns also added depth to the defensive backs. Texas signed five defensive backs — three corners and two safeties. All five of the signees will have an opportunity to fight for playing time from the very beginning.

Texas will also get help on its offensive and defensive lines. Four-star JUCO offensive lineman Brandon Hodges, four-star lineman Patrick Vahe and three-star lineman Connor Williams are expected to make immediate impacts on the offensive line, and three-star JUCO defensive end Quincy Vasser will see time on the field next season.

The biggest concern for Texas is the quarterback position, and the Longhorns managed to get at least one prospect by flipping four-star quarterback Kai Locksley from Florida State.

Finally, each skill position player could see playing time in 2015. As Texas attempts to open up the offense, expect wide receivers McNeal, John Burt, Ryan Newsome and Gilbert Johnson to showcase their skills. Running back Chris Warren will be the most likely freshman to get plays in 2015, but don’t underestimate the other running backs as change-of-pace backs.

Despite Texas’ awful finish to the 2014 season, the 2015 recruiting class is just the boost Texas needed. The foundation has already been lain, the cornerstone was added Wednesday, and now the Longhorns need to finish building the house in 2015.

From 1894 to 2011, the Longhorns faced off against the Texas A&M Aggies a total of 118 times, holding a record of 76-37-5 against their in-state rivals. 

Although the rivalry is often deemed one of the best in college sports, the rivalry ended before the 2012 season, as the Aggies moved to the SEC, effectively ending the annual matchup between schools. Because of Texas A&M’s conference change, the Longhorns and Aggies have completely moved their battles off the field to the hotly contested recruiting sphere. 

But the stakes are uniquely high this season in the recruiting battle between the Longhorns and Aggies, as the top-ranked linebacker prospect in the nation is currently deciding whether to take his talents to Austin or College Station next fall. Malik Jefferson, the 6-foot-2-inch linebacker from Poteet High School in Mesquite, is not only the top-ranked linebacker prospect in the nation but is the second-ranked prospect in the entire state of Texas per Rivals.com.  

On Nov. 24, Jefferson tweeted out a picture with a list of the seven schools he was still considering. Jefferson’s list of schools comprised Baylor, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, TCU and UCLA, but, according to most predictions, it is now a dead heat between the Longhorns and the Aggies for Jefferson’s services next year. Jefferson has visited LSU and Texas A&M and is currently in the process of scheduling a visit to come out to Austin to meet with head coach Charlie Strong and the rest of the Texas coaching staff.

Jefferson is touted as a hybrid defender who can play both outside linebacker and defensive end. In addition to rushing the quarterback, he was primarily used to aggressively attack the line of scrimmage. At “The Opening,” an esteemed camp for top recruits held in Oregon every July, Jefferson clocked in a 4.39-second 40-yard dash and recorded a 39.7-inch vertical leap — top marks for linebackers at the event. 

With a defense that will have five starters graduating in the spring — including linebackers Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks — the Longhorns are looking for an influx of talent on the defensive side of the ball. And many believe Jefferson, with his remarkable athleticism and playmaking ability, to be a game changer — a player who could possibly shape the Longhorns defense in years to come. But only if Texas is able to attract the young star away from College Station.