Feb. 20, 2009
Jonathan Mann, Texas Media Relations
For over 50 Longhorn student-athletes, years of focus and hard work on and off the playing surface came to fruition Thursday. The 50 honored became official members of the T-Association, a group of all athletes who have earned letters at the University of Texas.
Members from the football, volleyball, soccer and track and field squads attended a banquet in the north end zone of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, where they were presented with their letter jackets. The burnt orange and white jackets, with a block "T" on the chest, symbolize the first letter won for each player in their college careers at UT.
T-Association directors and Longhorn legends David McWilliams and Jill Sterkel led the milestone ceremony. McWilliams was an All-American nose guard on the 1963 National Championship football team and later coached the squad for five seasons. Sterkel, after her career at UT, was a four-time Olympic medalist swimmer and later coached the Longhorn women's swim team for 15 seasons.
"It means a lot," said volleyball setter Michelle Kocher, who played an integral role in the squad's final four campaign this past season. "In the volleyball program itself, there are so many people that have come before me that have built this program into what it is today. I'm fortunate enough to be a part of what it is now."
Football safety Blake Gideon, who started in every game as a true freshman, credits his teammates collectively for helping him reach the position he's in today.
"I think it's a testament to all the hard work we put in as a team, for sure," Gideon said. "I know that I wouldn't be in this position and have this opportunity if it wasn't for my teammates pushing me every day and getting after me on the practice field and in the weight room."
Though Thursday was a night to honor the first-time letterwinners, each student-athlete understands the importance of using their first years as a foundation for things to come, instead of resting on their laurels.
"It goes way back," Kocher said of the time and effort she's put into her game. "It's been a lot of years building up to this, but the work still keeps coming every day. It's never ending, but that's why I love it."
Gideon, who garnered freshman All-America honors in his first season, is looking ahead instead of behind.
"Obviously my goal is to get better not only year by year, but day by day," Gideon said. "Our coaches always tell us that you're never staying the same - you're either getting worse or getting better every day. We're going to focus on not making the same mistakes throughout the year and as the years go on. We have a lot of expectations for this next season and we're looking forward to it."
Soccer midfielder Kylie Doniak, who started in all but one of the Longhorns' games in the 2008 season, also stressed the importance of preparing for the future.
"I think we're more experienced now," Doniak said about the soccer underclassmen. "We're going to go out there and have a little more fun because we're more relaxed. Hopefully we can take the younger girls and incorporate them into the team, and go out strong."
For defensive end Eddie Jones, who had previously lettered but was being presented with his jacket, the time spent at UT is about more than just athletics.
"The people that you meet here change your life," Jones said. "Being here, you learn a lot of different things. It's all about how you take it in and use it in everyday life."