Senior running back finds motivation for new season

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Senior running back D. J. Monroe (26) evades a Wyoming defender on his way to a 13-yard touchdown run.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

D.J. Monroe is the biggest enigma on the Longhorns’ roster. Again.

Each fall his name gets tossed around as a potential breakout star and weapon. Then every winter, the media and fans question why Monroe didn’t receive more touches – he only had 94 career rushing attempts entering this season.

For the Texas coaching staff it has always come down to a number of small issues that have kept him off the field. In spite of his speed Monroe is not the most durable runner because of his 5-fot-9, 175-pound frame and he doesn’t have the hands to excel at receiver either, a role players of his stature and skillset usually excel in.

However, Monroe, a fifth-year senior, has worked doggedly this offseason to improve upon his weakness, including some interesting methods to upgrade his pass catching ability.

“I tried to catch 100 tennis balls with [strength and conditioning coach] Bennie [Wylie] a day,” Monroe said. “He would not throw a football; he would throw a tennis ball to me while I ran my swing routes and my slants. It helped me focus, and I had to make sure it was one of the things I got better at.”

Those improvements were on full display in the Longhorns’ season opener against Wyoming. Monroe had 36 yards rushing on five attempts, including a purposeful 13-yard touchdown run on a reverse, and even contributed to the Texas aerial attack with a 15-yard reception.

But the most notable improvement in Monroe’s game was his toughness.

In year’s past Monroe would often be taken down easily when he went head-to-head against a safety or a linebacker. But against Wyoming Monroe seemed to run with renewed determination. On three of his runs he collided with a Wyoming defender and either bowled past him, or carried them forward for an extra few yards.

“D.J. had a great game,” wide receiver Jaxon Shipley said. “He was driven, especially on the one where he came around to the end zone to score, he had to force his way there because there was a guy on him.”

His aggressive mindset on the field this year can be traced to his senior status. This is Monroe’s last season in a Longhorn uniform and he’s going to do whatever he can do to assist his teammates in accomplishing their goals.

But it’s personal, too. Monroe has always been highly-regarded as a running back, but he’s never truly found a way to capitalize on his gifts. Because of this he’s been labeled a disappointment by many, a fact that’s not lost on him, according to Shipley.

“I’ve talked to D.J. several times, and obviously he’s looking to go to the NFL,” Shipley said. “He’s looking to prove something to some people, so when he gets his chance he’s going to make the most of his opportunities.”

If he continues to perform at the level he did last Saturday, the chances will continue to come to Monroe. He may not be the most complete football player, but his elite track-level speed is an asset the Longhorns will never overlook.

“D.J’s got a place and he’s is really trying,” head coach Mack Brown said. “He’s been positive, he’s been upbeat and he’s working hard trying to help our football team win. And I thought he looked really fast on Saturday night.”

Monroe may never live up to his limitless potential, but he’s been a blessing for Texas.

“D.J. is one of those guys who always gets the job done when his name is called,” Shipley said. “Even though it may not be called as much as he’d want it to be, he still manages to get the job done. That just says something about his drive.”