Blalock earns first-team All-America; McCoy frosh All-America; Ross takes Thorpe Award
As the celebration was ready to begin in DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium last January saluting the Longhorns for their National Championship, there was an undercurrent of concern that one of the stars of that team would not return for his senior season.
That star -- junior right tackle Justin Blalock -- eliminated any worries among the faithful when he took the microphone and stated that he had some bad news for the Big 12 defenses in 2006.
He was coming back to anchor the UT offensive line.
Blalock's reward for the decision to return for his senior year manifested itself first and foremost in his degree, which he received in December.
"I know people think most of us big guys lift weights all day and are some kind of meatheads," Blalock said. "I'm trying to dispel that. That's my real goal in life."
His reward for returning for his senior year also manifested itself in Blalock being a unanimous selection as first-team All-America, becoming the only Big 12 position player to be selected as a first-team All-America on the Associated Press' 2006 squad.
Blalock also became the 18th Longhorn ever to be so honored with a unanimous selection. His place on the first team marked the fourth Texas player in the last three seasons to earn a spot. UT has had a first-team AP All-America in each of the last seven years.
Blalock, a former tuba player in middle school, was a finalist for the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi Award -- the two awards given to the nation's outstanding linemen.
He is projected as a first-round pick in April's NFL Draft because of his size, experience and intelligence. NFL scouts see him as being able to play tackle, guard or center on the offensive line.
Certainly, redshirt freshman Colt McCoy may some day wind up being a first-round draft choice, but today he was one of three unanimous selections for the Scripps Freshman All-America team.
McCoy, who had the unenviable job of filling the cleats of Vince Young at QB, threw for an NCAA freshman record-tying 29 touchdowns this past season.
McCoy, who also was named the National Freshman of the Year by The Sporting News, completed 217-of-318 passes (68.2 percent) for 2,570 yards -- No. 1 on UT's freshman's single-list/No. 5 on the UT single-season list. His 29 TD passes tied him for No. 1 on the NCAA single-season freshman list, placed him on UT's single-season list and landed him No. 6 on UT's career single-season list. McCoy threw only seven interceptions this season.
He also was a semifinalist for the 2006 Davey O'Brien Award (the nation's top QB) and also was named Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year by the conference coaches and the AP.
UT defensive back Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin were both selected as second-team Associated Press All-Americas.
But Ross' biggest prize came in winning the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back. It marked the second straight year that a Texas defensive back captured the Thorpe, named for one of the greatest athletes in college football history.
UT safety Michael Huff was so honored last year -- the first Longhorn ever to capture the Thorpe that was first awarded in 1986.
"I heard Terrell Buckley say my name (on the national telecast of the awards show from Disney World)," Ross continued, "and I thought 'Whoa.' So many emotions were running through my body.
"It's unbelievable to be considered the nation's top DB this season. I couldn't have done it without Michael (Griffin), Marcus (Griffin) and Tarrell (Brown) playing so well. And, I couldn't have done it without Coach (Duane) Akina. I owe everything I accomplished as a DB to him. He is the best defensive coach in America. He took a skinny corner who didn't like to hit and turned him into an all-around DB.
"When I laid down that night (of the awards ceremony), I couldn't stop thinking about it. I actually cried, thinking of what all I had been through."
What Ross had been through was two years of waiting for the NCAA Clearinghouse to decipher a clerical error on his high school transcript, delaying his enrollment at UT.
"I thought about everybody who helped me along the way," he said. "I especially thought about my mom."
Ross earned an additional reward with Texas' appearance in the Alamo Bowl, as his mom and other family members could see him play in his old hometown. Ross went to Fox Tech High School for two years before the family moved to Tyler.
He did not disappoint his faithful on the last Saturday afternoon of December.
Ross' interception in the second quarter of the Alamo Bowl halted an Iowa drive and was the key play that ignited Texas to a 26-24 come-from-behind victory in their first-ever appearance in the San Antonio bowl game.
That was particularly special to Ross, whose father watched him for the first time as a Longhorn.
And somewhat poetically, Ross was chosen the Most Outstanding Defensive Player in the Alamo Bowl.
"I feel unbelievably blessed," he said.