The Longhorns’ highly touted freshman class offered its first glimpse of things to come in the season opener, and for now, it looks like the program is in good hands.
Texas played 18 true freshmen and seven redshirt freshmen in Saturday’s win over Rice, the most of any team in the country.
It did not take long for them to make their presence felt.
Jaxon Shipley hauled in the year’s first TD pass, a 36-yard connection with redshirt freshman receiver and former high school quarterback John Harris, on a gadget in the third quarter. The receiver said his first score in a Texas uniform certainly didn’t go the way he envisioned it.
“I thought about if I were to score, what it would be on, but it was nothing like I expected,” Shipley said.
Jaxon, the younger brother of former Longhorn and current NFL wideout Jordan Shipley, finished the game with two catches for 54 yards and rushed for 25 yards on three carries. Shipley, the first freshman receiver in Texas history to catch a touchdown in the season opener, was named the game’s most valuable player on offense by the coaching staff.
Although his older brother watched closely from the sidelines, and a large contingent of family and friends traveled from Brownwood and Abilene to soak in his first game, Shipley said the butterflies left his stomach once the first whistle blew.
“I was more nervous when I woke up than I was before the game started,” Shipley said. “Once I got out on that field, it was just kind of natural for me. I felt like I was supposed to be there.”
Malcolm Brown, the Longhorns’ prized tailback who may have more hype surrounding him than Shipley, had to wait for his moment in the spotlight.
When he finally got his chance, though, Brown showed why he was the No. 2 running back prospect coming out of high school. He finished with a team-high 16 carries and powered his way for 86 yards, the fourth highest by a Texas freshman in a season opener.
He broke loose for a 20-yard gain and consistently moved the pile, displaying the powerful running style that had scouts drooling.
While Brown may emerge as the best runner in the Texas backfield this season, he was the fourth tailback to come into the game not seeing the field in the first half.
Fellow freshman Joe Bergeron entered the game before Brown and carried six times for 26 yards. Head coach Mack Brown pointed to the 10 days of practice Malcolm missed in the fall with an injured hamstring as the reason behind the wait.
“I knew I wasn’t just going to pop in there and be the starting guy right off the bat,” Malcolm Brown said. “You’ve got to gradually work your way up to that.”
Yes, it’s too for early for the coaching staff to name Brown the starter, considering senior tailback Fozzy Whittaker’s two-touchdown performance. Still, Whittaker said he was impressed by what he saw from the freshmen.
“They had to get those first game jitters out. For them to go out and perform the way they did was very encouraging,” Whittaker said. “Those young guys are going to have a big, significant role for us this year.”
Should Texas fans be cautious about the amount of hype and lofty expectations being heaped on these freshmen so early in the season?
“There is a little pressure, but the coaches talk to me sometimes and tell me not to worry about all that,” Brown said.
Get used to this bunch, they are likely to see the field more than any other freshman class in the Mack Brown-era.
Printed on Wednesday, September 7, 2011 as: Freshmen make huge impact on field for Horns.