Blake Gideon

Junior safety Adrian Phillips (17) didn't have a picturesque start to the season, but after realizing the mistakes he was making he has steadily improved and earned the trust of his coaches and teammates once again. Phillips' improvements came after working on fundamental techniques like taking better angles and wrapping up in the open field.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Adrian Phillips had big shoes to fill. He followed safety Blake Gideon, who started all 52 games he played in at Texas.

But it took Phillips more time than he thought to excel in the starting safety spot.

“It was a struggle at the beginning of the year but me and (secondary) coach (Duane) Akina, we just talked about it and I just kept working,” Phillips said. “I couldn’t get too down on myself because the more you get down on yourself, the worse that you play. I just had to identify the problem and get it fixed.”

Throughout preseason, Phillips’ coaches spoke highly of his performance and of his abilities. But early on, he, along with the rest of the defense, performed below the standard that was expected.

He struggled through Texas’ first few games and lost his spot on top of the depth chart to sophomore Mykkele Thompson after poor performaces against Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Specifically, Phillips missed two open field tackles that led to two long touchdowns for Oklahoma State. Against the Sooners, Phillips was twice hurdled by fullback Trey Millard.

Phillips worked hard and found his way back to the top of the depth chart.

“It was just missed tackles,” Phillips said. “I just have to eliminate the missed tackles and that can hurt any defense. One player can mess up the whole team and I just have to get that fixed.”

He and the rest of the defense are far from perfection. But missed tackles are gradually becoming less of an issue for them. Tackling is a basic skill for any defensive football player. So that’s what Phillips did. He went back to the basics.

He focused on taking better angles. He said he was trying to do too much at times and now he lets the play come to him. Phillips said the defense made the decision to be a dominating defense again.  Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro is a leader on the team and helped Phillips during his slump.

“I think he’s improved a lot,” Vaccaro said. “I think his confidence got down. I told him, ‘Bro, my junior year, I didn’t start out hot. Nobody was talking about me and then I got better. If you get better and better every game, that’s how you get better as a player.’ I think he really took that to heart and started playing better.”

Head coach Mack Brown noted that he has seen Phillips’ tackling improve as the season has gone on. Phillips and the rest of the defense used people’s negative criticism of them as an inspiration to play better.

“You have to take more pride in your work,” Phillips said. “You have to get it in your mind that this is what we’re going to do and we can’t allow the offense to do that.”

Phillips didn’t practice in the spring or fall due to a shoulder surgery. It is unclear if that was holding him back this season.

Alex Okafor, the other senior defensive leader, is glad to see Phillips’ improvement. Phillips and the defense used the negative criticism to inspire them to play better.

“One thing I’ll give to him, he has thick skin,” Okafor said. “He received a lot of criticism at the beginning of the season but he didn’t let it get to him.  He always kept a positive mindset. I’m just so proud of him for being able to stay on and stay confident and continue to elevate his game.”

Blake Gideon, 21, prepares to make a tackle in the Holiday Bowl against California. Gideon started 52 games in four years as a Longhorn and hopes to play in the NFL.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in an eight-part series about Longhorns hoping to be drafted into the NFL.

Blake Gideon has witnessed plenty of ups and downs during his four years at Texas and his 52 career starts as safety, from dropping an interception during Texas’ game against Tech in 2008 to catching an interception during the national championship game in 2009 to Texas’ 5-7 season in 2010.

His streak of 52 starts is the second highest in UT football history.

“It has flown by, and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it,” Gideon said earlier this season.

This season, Gideon was vital in leading the defense — which ranked first in the Big 12 and 14th in the nation. The defense was key in the team’s bouncing back from the 2010 season.

Gideon grew up on football and hopes to continue playing football in the NFL.

“I’m going to be a consistent guy,” Gideon said. “I think I’ve treated these past four years like a professional so I already know what that life is about. I can also say that I have dedicated a large portion of my life to football already so I’m not going to have any issues that they need to worry about off the field.”

During his time at Texas, Gideon posted 276 tackles, 10 interceptions, 20 pass break ups and two sacks. Although Gideon was not invited to the NFL Combine, he felt he did well at Texas’ Pro Day.

Gideon wishes some of his numbers were better, but he is relieved that Pro Day is over. He said all of the players had been working for two-and-a-half months for just one day.

“There were a couple things I wish I had done better,” Gideon said. “I didn’t look and see what everybody was writing down on their own pad, but hopefully guys were calling back to their facilities and saying that Gideon showed up today. I hope they were all good things.”

Gideon’s future is still up in the air and it is unclear whether or not he will be drafted. Still, leadership is one thing Gideon has going for him. He groomed a young UT secondary as a senior.

“He’s been in so many big games, it’s to the point that he doesn’t understand just defense, he understands offense,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “That’s very hard to get to without a lot of at-bats, and Blake has had a lot of at-bats. So he’s a calming presence.”

Texas has put out a lot of defensive backs in the NFL, a select group Gideon would like to join.

“There are a lot of guys that have come out of that room and made a lot of money and made a name for themselves pretty early in their careers in the NFL,” Gideon said. “We will see how the next few years go and see if I amount to that.”

Gideon graduated in December with a degree in physical culture and sport. After his playing career is over, Gideon hopes to be a coach. His father was a high school football coach.

“I want to coach at the college level when it’s all said and done,” Gideon said. “It’s what I love. It’s what I grew up around and what I am comfortable in. I feel like I have something to offer in that profession.”

Before that, he hopes that a team will call his name on draft day.

“Hopefully somebody gives me a chance and I run with it,” Gideon said.

Printed on Monday, April 23, 2012 as: Gideon hoping for chance in NFL

Safety Christian Scott runs drills during Texas' annual pro day on Tuesday. Scott, along with 13 other Texas athletes, performed in front of 50 scouts, head coaches and general managers. Scott had an impressive workout and, if drafted, could be a sixth or seventh round pick.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

Fourteen Texas athletes showed what they have been working toward for the past four years at Texas’ pro day on Tuesday.

For Emmanuel Acho, Kheeston Randall and Keenan Robinson, the day was to improve their stock for the NFL Draft on April 26. They, along with injured running back Fozzy Whittaker, attended the NFL combine in February.

But this pro day was also vital for players who weren’t invited to the combine, especially safety Blake Gideon, tackle Tray Allen, safety Christian Scott, running back Cody Johnson, center David Snow and kicker Justin Tucker. John Chiles also came back to Austin for pro day. A former New Orleans Saint, he came back to show scouts his potential.

Pro day was especially important for Robinson. Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith and linebackers coach Bob Babich came to Austin to see his workouts. Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was also in attendance. Robinson performed better at pro day than in the combine and said he jumped an inch higher in the vertical jump and five inches farther in the broad jump.

Robinson isn’t sure what round he will be drafted in, but feels he deserves to be wherever he will be picked. He hopes that teams will see him as a big player with the ability to move well in space.

“For me, I think I am right where I need to be,” Robinson said. “I did what I did on the field and this offseason. So now we sit back and wait and hope that I get a good situation and a good team.”

Linebacker Emmanuel Acho partially tore his quad while running the 40-yard dash at the combine three weeks ago. Trainers told him it would take three to six weeks for him to recover.

“I told them I’ve got three weeks,” Acho said.

Acho, like Robinson, hopes that scouts will appreciate his versatility. Although Acho would be excited to be a part of any team, he would love to go to the Cardinals and join his brother, Sam. Acho was impressive in his position drills despite not being 100 percent. Sam was in attendance along with other Longhorn alumni like Jordan Shipley, Aaron Williams and David Thomas. Men’s basketball guard J’Covan Brown even came to watch fellow Texas athletes while they participated in position drills.

Blake Gideon, although he is not expected to be picked in the draft, had a strong performance. He said he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 and 4.56 seconds. Although he was hoping to finish better, he was happy with his overall performance and said it was a huge weight off his shoulders now that pro day is over.

“We train for two-and-a-half months for one day so it was good to see guys come out here and compete,” Gideon said. “That’s all it is, you come out here and you compete against numbers you already put up and you’re competing against each other.”

Fozzy Whittaker was very limited in his workouts due to his injury. But he increased his reps from 20 to 23.

“That’s the kind of guy he is,” Gideon said. “He was only limited to one thing and he still improved that.”

Although Whittaker’s injury has hurt his chances of being drafted, he never lost hope of being drafted. He is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and plans to be 100 percent by late summer.

“I’ve always kept the faith,” Whittaker said. “I’ve always had it in my mind that whatever my mind tells me to do, that’s what I can do.”

He hopes to impress scouts as a running back, kick returner and punt returner.

“However I can touch the field is how I’m selling myself,” Whittaker said.

Although most of the hopefuls on the field on Tuesday will never walk onto the field as NFL players, their time at Texas is coming to an end. At the end of last season, Texas led the NFL with 40 active players. Come April 29, these Longhorns will learn their fate.

(Daily Texan File Photo)

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas defense has made a habit of forcing field goals in the red zone this year, and the Longhorns will need that trend to continue.

UT’s red zone defense was instrumental last week against Texas A&M, holding the Aggies to a pair of touchdowns and two field goals in four trips to keep the game within reach. For the year, Texas has forced 19 field goals in 36 red zone situations (53 percent), a stat the Longhorns pride themselves on.

“That’s just a mindset, that’s toughness thing,” said senior safety Blake Gideon.

It’s just standard operating procedure for defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

“He expects us to not let anyone get in our end zone,” said junior safety Kenny Vaccaro. “So that’s what we expect, too.”

Texas will face a top-10 offense for the second time in as many games Saturday, and protecting the end zone will be a major point of emphasis this week. Baylor averages 43 points per game (sixth in the nation); so holding the Bears to field goals will be paramount.

“So many games are won and lost in the red zone by forcing an offense to kick field goals,” Gideon said. “There’s a lot of times where we’re disappointed we give up big plays to let them down there, but if we can keep them out of the end zone, that’s a win for us.”

The Longhorns understand that Baylor will move the chains­—the Bears average 576 yards per game — but clamping down inside the 20-yard line will be the key.

“When you play an offense like this, you have to accept the fact that they are going to get yards, but you have to try like crazy to not let them get points,” Diaz said.

Texas has fared well this season against some of the top offenses in the country, though. The Longhorns gave the Aggies fits, frustrated Kansas State and limited Oklahoma State for the most part.

Still, the Bears and Heisman Trophy candidate Robert Griffin III pose a new challenge.

BU’s vertical passing game is unlike any the Longhorns have faced. Griffin’s 34 touchdown passes this season went for an average of 35 yards each, the best mark in the nation by far.

“That’s unheard of,” said Texas head coach Mack Brown.

But UT is the only team in the nation that hasn’t allowed a touchdown pass of longer than 19 yards.

“The way our defense and coverage are structured, it’s big play proof,” Gideon said. “There’s a lot of eyes on the ball. If there’s a few broken tackles, we still have a chance to get the guy on the ground.”

Limiting the Bear’s big play ability, though, is easier said than done. Baylor has 35 scoring drives off less than two minutes, including 18 lasting less than 60 seconds.

Still, the Longhorns have implemented a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy through 11 games, and they expect more of the same in Waco.

“If they do move the ball, we can’t panic,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson. “If they do score early, we can’t panic. We know once they get in the red zone that we have to really be stout, make sure they don’t get in and force field goals or turnovers.”

If the Longhorns want to deny Griffin a shot at the Heisman Trophy, they’ll have to keep him out of the end zone.  

Senior safety Blake Gideon prepares for a play against Kansas State this past weekend. Gideon’s sister is a Texas A&M alumnus but he says she’ll be pulling for him and the Longhorns when they take on the Aggies Thursday night.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns defense has done its job over the past two games. The same can’t be said about the offense.

Texas has allowed 17 points in each of the two last weeks, but the offense has scored just one touchdown and totaled 16 points as the Longhorns have lost twice in a row.

The players, though, said there’s no division in the locker room between the offense and defense, something that wasn’t the case in 2010.

“We experienced a little of that last year, and we’re nowhere close to that this year,” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “If anything, there’s more encouragement.”

Texas fell victim to intra-squad animosity last year during the program’s first losing season since 1997. But after two straight disappointing games with the defense clearly outplaying the offense, the Longhorns are saying they won’t return to that form.

“We saw what could happen when a team divides like that last year,” Gideon said. “As seniors, as leaders, we made a point way back in January that we’re going to build this team on one single unit.”

Brown defends Harsin

In his first year as the Texas play-caller, Bryan Harsin’s offense is scoring 29 points per game. In his final season at Boise State in 2010, the Broncos averaged 45. The Longhorns have gone into a funk offensively in recent weeks, but head coach Mack Brown defended his new offensive coordinator on Monday, citing the rash of injuries of late and Texas’ freshman-heavy team.

“He’s doing a great job,” Brown said. “We’ve got him shorthanded because of youth and inexperience anyway. He’s coaching his third quarterback in a game this season, which probably hasn’t happened anywhere else in America.”

Jaxon Shipley, who leads Texas with three touchdown catches, has not played in three weeks and leading rushers Malcolm Brown (turf toe) and Joe Bergeron (hamstring) have also been slowed by injuries. Mack Brown cited those losses when discussing Harsin’s performance in his first year in Austin.

“He and the offensive staff have had to keep working back and forth to try to scratch and claw and find a place,” Brown said. “But I’m totally convinced that he’s the right guy and this is the right offense for us to keep moving forward.”

Harsin did not address the media on Monday for the first time this season during a game week.

“I’d hire him again,” Brown said.

Snow, Gideon have Aggie connections

David Snow will play against the Aggies on Thursday, but he’s used to being around Texas A&M types. The senior left guard said he was the only person from his graduating class at Gilmer High to choose Texas.

Snow said he hasn’t heard much from former classmates since they chose College Station over Austin, though, but expects some chatter leading up to the final game of the 118-year series.

“Once they went to the dark side I haven’t really stayed in contact with them,” Snow said. “They’re lost to me.”

Gideon also has a connection to the Aggies, albeit a more personal one. His older sister, Quincee Gideon, graduated from A&M in 2009.

She won’t be rooting against her brother on Thanksgiving, though.

“She’s more of a Blake Gideon fan than an A&M fan,” Gideon said. 

Printed on Tuesday, November 22, 2011 as:Last year's frustration not returning despite offensive inefficiency

Jackson Jeffcoat (44) and Emmanuel Acho (18) makes a tackle against Texas Tech. Jeffcoat, a sophomore, wants to send the seniors off right this season.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

This senior class has been through a lot. In their first year as Longhorns, the team finished the season ranked third in the country and went 12-1. As sophomores, they went all the way to the national championship game. As juniors, there was a big change and they didn’t even qualify for a bowl game. Now this season, the seniors are leading the team through another rough patch.

With so much experience with ups and downs, underclassmen have come to respect and admire the class of 2011.

“They’ve definitely been mentors for us throughout this whole season, and you know, to play for them on senior night, it’s an honor for me,” said sophomore cornerback Carrington Byndom. “And I’ll go out there and give it all that I have for them and for the team. Definitely having those guys back there is an honor.”

With such a young team, leadership is vital. The team has been through a lot in the past couple of years and many young players admire specific upperclassmen who helped them transition to college football.

Junior safety Kenny Vaccarro said he credits senior safety Blake Gideon for getting him where he is today.

“He has been through a lot here,” Vaccarro said. “Obviously, as far as the mental side of the game goes, it’s hard to come in and learn these systems. He helps the defense glue together and puts us all in the right positions.”

Jackson Jeffcoat, who has been playing well all season, said he wants to send the seniors off on a high note — especially fellow defensive end Kheeston Randall.

“Kheeston is a great guy, and he is like a big brother to me,” Jeffcoat said. “It’s always fun having him around. He was with us last year as a junior and unfortunately we didn’t get to send our seniors off the way we wanted to.”

Sophomore offensive lineman Mason Walters said seniors David Snow and Tray Allen helped him, especially when he first arrived on campus. Walters said the team will fight as hard as they can on Saturday.

“Coming in, both those guys, they were already kind of established older guys when I was new on campus, and they’ve both helped me out in places on the field and off the field,” Walters said.

Senior linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho have both been playing well this season and leading the defense to the best team in the Big 12 in total defense. Acho has the fourth-highest amount of tackles in the conference and was named game captain for the BYU, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Missouri games this season. Robinson was named team captain for the games against Texas Tech, BYU, UCLA and Oklahoma. Unfortunately, Robinson injured his thumb in last week’s game against Missouri. Sophomore linebacker Jordan Hicks said he has a huge amount of respect for them.

“They’re both great leaders,” Hicks said. “I’ve learned almost everything I know here about this defense from them and Coach Diaz. So they’ve taught me a lot.”

Acho said this senior class has been through a lot and that they have grown together.

“I love this senior class,” Acho said. “We’ve been through a lot. We’ve been through the ups. We’ve been through the downs. I like where we are, and I like the friendships that have formed.”

Gideon agrees that the team has been through a lot of highs and lows in their four years at Texas.

Senior running back Fozzy Whittaker said the team was embarrassed by last season. He, along with the other seniors, took it upon themselves to make sure this season was different.

“The senior leaders of this team were going to make sure that we didn’t let that happen again, and we were going to find a way, brick-by-brick, build a new foundation to build up this team so that we’re stronger than ever,” Whittaker said.

Head coach Mack Brown had a lot to say about the senior leaders. He had kind words for many specific seniors. He noted Blake Gideon has started every game at Texas, Christian Scott’s athletic and academic performance, Whittaker’s unselfishness, Cody Johnson’s willingness to move to fullback, Tray Allen and Blaine Irby’s recoveries from injuries and Justin Tucker’s consistent impressive performances.

It’s pretty clear that this is a senior class with a lot of character and a willingness to lead a young team.

“This is a great senior class that’s given us a lot of joy, and that’s why I want the fans to give them their proper greeting when they come into the stadium on Saturday night for the game,” Brown said.

(Daily Texan File Photo)

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns senior class will take the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for the last time on Saturday, and they couldn’t have picked a better opponent for their send off.

Kansas State is the only team in the Big 12 to lead an overall series against Texas (6-5). The Wildcats have bested the Longhorns of late, winning three in a row. UT hasn’t beaten KSU since 2003, when Vince Young was the starting quarterback.

Senior night is always an emotional game, though, and this is no different.

“It’s going to be sad,” said senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho. “But at the same time I really despise (Kansas State). I won’t care about my emotions at that time.”

Last year, the Longhorns invaded Kansas State for the Wildcat’s home finale, only to lose, 39-14. This time around, Texas hopes to return the favor against the No. 16 team in the country.

Blake Gideon has started all 48 games in his career, and has been the lone constant on defense for four years. He’s experienced the highs — BCS bowl games, a national championship appearance — and the lows — a 5-7 season and the infamous loss to Texas Tech in 2008 — in his time on the 40 Acres. The safety, though, admitted this game snuck up on him.

“It really has flown by,” Gideon said.

Gideon succumbed to his emotions on Monday afternoon as a crowd of reporters huddled around him, asking him about Fozzy Whittaker’s season-ending knee injury. He fought back tears and choked up as he described his first memory of his fellow senior.

“He would lay down in the street for anyone of us,” he said, before pausing and apologizing as he gathered himself.

It was a rare sight to see Gideon in that state, but it wasn’t a huge surprise considering all that Whittaker meant to his teammates. Unfortunately for the tailback, he won’t be on the field with his classmates on Saturday.

So will there be more tears?

“We’ll see,” Gideon said. “It will all flash before me, those four years and everything I’ve been through. And to see my parents out there and have my name called, there will be emotion.”

Still, it’s difficult for the 22 seniors to grasp the fact that this will be their last time to run out of the tunnel with the band playing, fans screaming and smoke blowing.

“I haven’t really accepted that it’s going to be my last home game,” said senior left guard David Snow. “I really don’t know what I’m going to be feeling like. It’s going to be mixed feelings.”

Snow said it wouldn’t hit him until sometime in January, when he returns for his final semester.

“I’m kind of thick-headed anyway, stuff takes a little bit to sink in with me,” said Snow, whose 28 starts are the most of any offensive player.

Saturday’s game will end with the Longhorns walking to the south end zone to sing the “Eyes of Texas,” just as the senior’s previous 25 home games ended. The lasting image they desire?

An orange tower, shining bright.

(Daily Texan File Photo)

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

Like this season, this year’s senior class has had its ups and downs.

Texas will celebrate Senior Night this weekend, recognizing 26 players who have spent four years playing football at the 40 Acres, who have amassed a 39-12 record over those four seasons and how will play their final home game Saturday.

In this year’s senior class’ first two seasons, the Longhorns had shots to capture a national title but didn’t run the table.

Then, they were part of a team that delivered a disappointing 5-7 season but are trying to leave the program on a good note.

“This senior class has given us a lot of great plays,” said head coach Mack Brown. “They were second in the country, they were third in the country and had a chance to win the national championship. I want the fans to come out and give them a great send-off.”

Senior Night is always a meaningful moment, but facing a team that it hasn’t beaten since 2003 and who triumphed over the Longhorns 39-14 last season should provide even more motivation. The Wildcats derailed Texas’ BCS bowl hopes in 2006 and 2007 and helped keep the Longhorns from playing in the postseason at all in 2010.

“That’s probably the biggest slap in the face to any football player, any defensive football player — that a team is more physical than you,” Gideon said. “We made it a point that if nothing else goes right this week, we’re not going to be outhit and we’re going to be the most physical team on the field.”

Emotions won’t just be running high because Texas could be trying to get back at a team that has had its number over the last few years. There will also be a more sentimental feel to the festivities Saturday night when the seniors are acknowledged.

Emmanuel Acho, one of the four seniors on the first-team defense, is coming off a spectacular showing against Missouri, albeit in a losing effort. The senior linebacker made 12 tackles, four for loss, notched two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. He also forced a fumble that was recovered by fellow linebacker Jordan Hicks to end a Missouri opening drive that saw the Tigers get past the Longhorns’ 10-yard line. Acho will be looking to have a similar performance tomorrow.

“I remember when I first got here,” Acho said. “In my last [home] game, I’ll hope to end it with a bang. It’s going to be fun.”

Another senior on defense, Blake Gideon, has been the epitome of the roller-coaster ride this year’s senior class has been riding. He is the only member of the class to start every game Texas has played since he stepped on campus. But his freshman year was marred by a dropped interception in the fourth quarter of a loss to Texas Tech, Texas’ lone defeat of the season. Gideon, however, has been a staple of Texas’ secondary for the last four years and has had his moments, including logging eight tackles against top-ranked Oklahoma his freshman year, notching an interception in the 2010 national title game against Alabama and racking up 250 tackles over his career.

“[Acho] and I were talking about how back in ’08 against Florida Atlantic, both of us were jogging out on the field looking at each other coming out of the tunnel,” Gideon recalled. “We were two scared freshmen then and what we’ve developed into today, the highs and lows through four years, it really has flown by.”

This year’s Longhorns squad is a young one as seniors occupy just over one-third of the starting slots on the depth chart.

Eleven seniors are currently on the two-deep, six fewer than the number of true freshmen. The underclassmen will be looking to send the seniors off right.

“It’d only be right for them to go out with a win, so we’ll be playing our heart out for them,” said sophomore defensive back Carrington Byndom. “We’re just looking to go out and get a win, not only for Senior Night, but for the team in general. That seventh win is all we’re looking for.”

It will be tough to make the seniors’ last home game a win with Kansas State rolling into Austin, not just because of their history against Texas. The Wildcats are 6-5 all-time against the Longhorns, making them the only Big 12 team with a winning record in their series with Texas. But Kansas State, coming off a 53-50, quadruple-overtime victory over Texas A&M last weekend, is likely overflowing with confidence. But Texas will certainly try to make the most of the last opportunity its seniors have to play in front of the 100,000-plus, burnt orange-clad they’ve grown accustomed to playing for.

“It’ll flash before me: Those four years and what I’ve been through,” said Gideon. “Seeing my parents and hearing my name called, I’m sure there’s going to be a little emotion, but at the same time, there’s a game to be played.”

Blake Gideon, No. 21, and the rest of the Longhorns will be playing for more than a win this week, they will also play to honor those they know who are dealing with a form of cancer. This month is National Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Photo Credit: Tamir Kalifa | Daily Texan Staff

“I think your strongest bonds come whenever you go through the worst of times together.”

Longhorn safety Blake Gideon shared his thoughts on the coherence of the University of Texas football team coming off an unranked, losing season. However, when the team enters DKR Stadium to take on the Kansas Jayhawks this weekend, recollections of tough times in the minds of UT players will not be limited to past football defeats.

In the spirit of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Longhorns will charge through the tunnel on Saturday evening sporting colored ribbons on their helmets.

“They get to dedicate the game to the person in their immediate family who has either survived or have lost or is fighting that deadly disease,” said Texas head coach Mack Brown.

As part of his personal memorial, each player has the option to wear either a yellow, pink or purple decal. A yellow emblem signifies prostate cancer while a purple symbol brings mindfulness to all cancers. Gideon’s helmet will be adorned with a pink ribbon — the universal sign for breast cancer awareness.

Sitting in DKR after an off-season practice two summers ago, Gideon’s parents informed him that his mom, Ralene, had been diagnosed only days earlier with stage one breast cancer. Today, after rounds of radiation and medication — which she will continue to take for the next four years — Ralene is in remission.

While Ralene taught pre-calculus, her husband Steve held the position of head football coach at Leander High School — Blake’s alma mater — for more than 10 years. “[Ralene has] been a coach’s wife her whole life,” Brown explained. “When you’re talking about sports, she’s seen the highs and she’s seen the lows and you go back to work and you keep working. The c-word [cancer] is a very difficult one and she’s a great role model for people who are fighting that disease.”

Ralene is not only a role model for those battling cancer but to her son as well.

“My mom is my hero ... [she] has been amazing and inspiring,” Gideon told the Austin American-Statesman.

According to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, it is estimated that among women in the United States in 2011, there will be 288,130 new cases of breast cancer; it will also cause the deaths of 39,520 females. In addition, it is predicted that 2,140 males in America will be newly diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 — 450 men will die of the disease this year.

Currently, cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States. American Cancer Society reports that an estimated 1,596,670 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed and approximately 571,950 Americans will die of cancer in 2011.

“We asked the players how many in your immediate family have been affected by cancer, and the numbers were overwhelming,” Brown said. “I’ve had it in my family. [My wife] Sally’s had it. I know it still affects her today as far as mentally. It’s something that all of us need to be aware of and reach out to those who have it, who have had it or have lost people who have had it.”

The deadly disease has impacted UT football on almost every level. At the age of three, Foswhitt Whittaker, senior Longhorn running back, lost his father to lung cancer. Ken Rucker, director of High School Relations and Player Development, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007. Like Ralene Gideon, Longhorn team physician Dr. Andrea Pana is a breast cancer survivor.

“[This week’s game is] a chance to give back to the community. The 100,000 people that come out here and show the support, the millions of people that watch on TV on Saturday, it’s a chance for us to turn around and give back, show our support if they’re going through that situation in their lives.”

Gideon has high hopes for the efforts that the football team plans to make on Saturday. UT players intend to give back to the Longhorn community through spreading cancer awareness, commemorating people who have survived, are battling or have been lost to the disease, and hopefully by reining in a Texas win against Kansas.

It wasn’t the intent, but Mack Brown’s opening statement with the print media for his Monday press conference sounded more like a death sentence you’d hear before an execution than an actual list of statistics.

“Oklahoma State is No. 1 in scoring offense with 51 points per game, No. 2 in total offense with 577 yards per game, No. 2 in pass offense with 431 yards per game. They had 409 against us last year [in Texas’ 33-16 loss in Austin]. They’re No. 10 in pass efficiency, No. 5 in third-down efficiency. They’re successful on 56 percent of their third downs. They’re 13th in the country in the red zone — 26 touchdowns and eight field goals.”

In fewer words, hold on tight.

The Cowboys will invade Austin this weekend with a quarterback older than last year’s Super Bowl MVP and a receiver who’s better than anybody else in the country.

All that means is that, for the second straight week, this will be a game won or lost in the Texas secondary. No, the Longhorns cannot afford to turn the ball over again five times again and yes, some pass protection would be nice. But this is the defense’s turn to prove it is in fact the strength of the team.

“It’s important to get back to what we’ve been doing,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson. “As a defense, we want the turnovers to come and have to play better on third down. [Against OU] we did things on defense to win the game and help the offense, but a few plays prevented us from playing at the level they want to.”

The Longhorns abide by a 24-hour rule, meaning that, after Sunday, they were no longer thinking about the 55-17 loss to Oklahoma. And here’s some good news: The players seemed upbeat and confident.

“Last week was a fluke,” Robinson said. “Things happened so quickly and snowballed.”

Heck, maybe even too confident. But there’s nothing wrong with that this weekend. Texas is going to have to believe it actually has a chance in this game. That begins with members of the torn-apart secondary having a short-memory — cliche as it sounds.

“You have to have that,” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “You can’t let one game or individual play affect the next.”

That’ll be big. The age and experience gap between OSU’s quarterback Brandon Weeden — a 27-year-old former minor league pitcher for the New York Yankees’ organization — and the Longhorns’ green secondary is wide. Mistakes will be made. Coverages will be busted. Touchdowns will be scored.

“They’re incredibly prolific on offense,” said senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho. “They do a great job schematically and in execution, they have great talent and they’re going to be hard to stop. We have to get in the film room and be mentally prepared.”

Weeden, who has thrown 15 touchdowns this year and is completing 76 percent of his passes, even has three months on the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.

“That’s pretty good,” Brown said with a laugh.

And his favorite target, wideout Justin Blackmon, puts up 100 more consistently than my dear mother does at Nordstrom: The Biletnikoff Award winner has failed to record 100 or more receiving yards in only three of his last 17 games.

“Blackmon plays hard, blocks hard and will be a real challenge,” Gideon said. “He’s one of the best players in the country so you have to respect him.”

So there’s your first look at the No. 6 Cowboys. Sorry if it was a painful one.

Printed on October 11, 2011 as: Cowboys bring lethal passing attack to Austin this weekend