When Dominic Espinosa finally got his chance to shine, he didn’t disappoint.
Espinosa has been a nice surprise for the Longhorns coming out of fall camp, and the redshirt freshman impressed the coaches enough to earn the starting nod at center for the season-opener against Rice.
A local product from Cedar Park, Espinosa sat out his first year at Texas and then missed spring practice with an injured shoulder, which required surgery. This August, Espinosa fought his way into the starting five and solidified an O-line that took a step backwards in 2010, when the Longhorns averaged a paltry 150.2 rushing yards per game.
Texas was thin along the offensive line during spring ball, and first-year O-line coach Stacy Searels didn’t have a lot to work with. But with Espinosa healthy by the time fall camp got underway, the former prep All-American wasted no time making a name for himself.
“It has really helped us,” said head coach Mack Brown. “It’s one of those deals that Stacy has felt like is such
“I kept telling Stacy in the spring that he’s a good player, and you’ll be excited about him. He’s tough, he’s smart, he just doesn’t have experience, and it didn’t take Stacy long to put him in there.”
Espinosa was a heralded recruit when he first arrived on campus, but shoulder problems derailed his development. Now, though, Espinosa will anchor the offensive line.
“He was a great recruited offensive lineman so after he got over his injuries it was time for him to step up and play,” said senior left tackle Tray Allen.
To make room for Espinosa on the first team, senior lineman David Snow moved from center to left guard. Snow started all 12 games at center a year ago.
“To make the line better, we just needed to move people around,” Snow said. “He battled back and went through a lot of tough circumstances. He just really worked hard. Nothing was given to him.”
Although the freshman replaced the senior, Snow says he’s comfortable handing off the center spot to Espinosa, who has been lauded by the coaching staff and his teammates for his high football IQ.
“He knows the calls, he’s coming along very good,” Snow said. “With more experience, he’ll get even better and more confident.”
Espinosa has embraced Searels’ smash-mouth philosophy and has held his own in one-on-one drills against the defensive linemen in fall camp. Espinosa routinely goes against senior defensive tackle Kheeston Randall.
“That’s great practice [for him]; you get no better reps than those one-on-ones,” Randall said. “He’s a shorter center, but that gives him more leverage.
“He’s very quick. He knows the offense, he can give checks, and he’s a super smart player. He’s the captain of the O-line.”
Though Espinosa has turned heads with his play so far, having a veteran group of linemen has helped the young center’s development. He made the most of his redshirt season too, soaking up all he could in the film room and on the scout team.
“He’s so smart all ready; he’s one of those guys that you can put anywhere on the line and he knows exactly what to do,” said senior running back Fozzy Whittaker. “Having a more experienced line around him helping him and picking him up has helped him become a better player.”
So, is Whittaker concerned about the freshman being able to open holes from the Longhorns’ tailbacks?
“Seeing the way he’s played this fall camp, I’m very confident in his ability,” Whittaker said. “He’s very agile; he can pull. He’s one of those guys with flexible hips.”
Texas’ motto this offseason has been a brick-by-brick approach to rebuilding the team coming off a 5-7 season. The offensive line needs rebuilding too, with only two returning starters.
The Longhorns — and the O-line — will lay the first brick on the road to redemption down on Saturday night against the Owls.
Espinosa waited a year for his chance to shine. His moment is finally here.