There’s a certain reaction Longhorn players and coaches have when asked about Breckyn Hager.
Their eyes seem to rise, a mischievous smile running across their face. The sophomore linebacker causes the Longhorns to pause before giving their answer, searching for the right words to describe him.
“Breckyn, he’s a different type of player,” sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “He’s a mad man. He’s like the 1960’s players. When we’re not supposed to hit, he hits anyway.”
Hager has been described by his teammates in a litany of ways. Senior defensive tackle Paul Boyette bestowed Hager the nicknames “Wild Man” and “Kamikaze.” Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele seemed bewildered by Hager’s constant energy, saying “It’s his world. I’m just living in it.”
But don’t take those depictions of Hager as insults. In fact, they’re quite the opposite.
The Westlake high school product has become an energizer bunny for Texas’ defense, providing a spark from the game’s first snap. Off the field, Hager is calm, cool and collected. But between the lines, he’s a whole different animal.
“I think [Hager] has schizophrenia,” sophomore offensive guard Patrick Vahe said. “He’s really cool off the field, a really chill guy. As soon as I see Breckyn hit the field, that boy has a mean look the whole entire time.”
There seems to be no off-switch for Hager and his flowing blonde mane, even during practice. He was reprimanded earlier in the season for crushing junior running back D’Onta Foreman during drills, and is known for being a bit forceful with his teammates.
“I have to tell Breckyn sometimes that we play on the same team,” sophomore wide receiver Jerrod Heard said.
While Hager’s ferocity has always been present, it hasn’t always been effective. He struggled to see the field as a freshman, recording just 17 tackles in 12 games.
Hager was often out of position and ill-equipped to stop opposing running backs and receivers. His passion for the game was unquestioned, but he lacked the football knowledge to truly make an impact.
But those deficiencies seem to be erased two games into the 2016 season. Hager starred in Texas’ 41-7 victory over UTEP on Saturday, recording seven tackles and a sack. Head coach Charlie Strong praised Hager after the game along with freshman linebacker Malcolm Roach.
“They play with so much energy,” Strong said. “It’s like each and every play you’re going to get everything you have from those two guys.”
Hager credits Texas’ defensive coaches for his newfound success. After spending his freshman year like a young colt — reckless and out of control — Hager spent this offseason holed up in the film room, learning the exact details of the Longhorn defense.
“Those guys, they’re geniuses, man,” Hager said. “They know the game better than anyone I’ve ever met. When you look at film, it’s not like a wrong defense they call. It’s always us not executing what they’ve told us millions of times in practice. If we focus on the little details they harp about on every day, we’ll be fine.”
Those little details have vaulted Hager off the bench and into the starting lineup for his sophomore season. And while his game may be evolving, his attitude has not. Breckyn Hager is still “Wild Man”, ready to unleash his energy on every play.
“I’ve been embracing that alter-ego since day one of last year’s fall camp,” Hager said. “I just play the game the way the game should be played. Go as hard as you can, hit ‘em as hard as you can, and be relentless on every play.”