June 18, 2012
The first lady of Texas Football, Sally Brown, made her way from table to table, chatting with each group of freshman as they ate their steaks and macaroni and cheese under a temporary tent-building in the backyard of Mack and Sally Brown's home.
It had all the markings of a family reunion as smiles and hugs were passed around freely, with Sally acting as the loving matriarch checking on her extended family. The tender feelings exchanged were as warm as the breeze on this early June evening.
The freshman had been invited to the Brown's home to visit with their coaches, the coaches' families and each other, in a casual, home-type setting. It was an atmosphere where the players could be themselves as they were given a big welcome as the newest members of the Texas Longhorn football team.
"You just get to know them so much better when they're in your home, especially eating a meal," Sally said of the gathering. "They'll tell you just about anything when they're eating. And I just like to talk to them about their families, and their brothers and sisters, and their personal life, especially with the freshman, so I can get a good base of them and understand them."
"We love having them," Coach Brown added. "It's what you love the most about being a college football coach. They're relaxed, you know something about every one of their backgrounds, and to watch them mesh together in a group, especially with the staff that we have, is so much fun for Sally and I."
The Browns recognize and cherish the familial qualities of a football team and a football organization like the one at the University of Texas. They strive to engender that "we are family" atmosphere to make the players as comfortable as possible as they leave home and take this new step in their lives.
"We can't do a lot with the freshmen in football, so we really need to do a lot with them personally in the summer," Brown said. "They need to be comfortable. They've all been highly recruited [and,] they trusted us with their future. It's the first time away from their families. It's the first time they've had the pressure of college with their classes in the summer. They're working out with older, more experienced, stronger guys, so they're going through a weight program, and they've all got dreams and goals and aspirations for the fall.
"So sometimes it's better to let them get here for about ten days when they do have some questions and then bring them out with all the coaches and let them sit down and visit at each table with each coach."
"I think it's important for them to see the wives and the children [of the coaches] that are involved so they feel like they're a part of the family," said Sally. "And I think that when the time comes - and it will come - that they need advice or they get a little homesick, they'll feel much more comfortable asking for [help.]"
While the players were finishing their dessert of peach or blackberry cobbler a la mode, Coach Brown stood before them to explain what to expect in the fall, reiterate some team rules and then opened the floor to questions.
"What we told them tonight is all of you are here for a reason and all of you can do something to win all of the games," Coach Brown said. "It'll be the ones that prepare properly. It'll be the ones that stay out of trouble. It'll be the ones that go to class. It'll be the ones that get some sleep and eat the right stuff and don't break rules and have great work habits in practice and compete. Those will be the ones that move forward, and you that don't, will slip back. But right now everybody has a chance to fulfill their dreams."
One former Longhorn who did fulfill his dreams of playing and succeeding at this level was running back Fozzy Whittaker. The staff asked Whittaker to speak to the freshman about what to expect in the coming years and how to achieve success on and off the field.
"I was really honored and privileged to have this opportunity to speak to the young guys," Whittaker said. "I see these guys around working out in the weight room and at seven-on-seven practices since I'm still rehabbing. Just seeing those guys and being a mentor to them is truly a blessing."
Whittaker offered his help and advice to the players and spoke about the importance of getting an early start in the classroom and how to avoid the pitfalls of college life.
"Staying on themselves and having character and staying out of trouble," Whittaker said was the thrust of his message. "And not getting lost in college life or the party life that's perceived to go with college. Just being responsible and accountable for themselves."
"Fozzy is a guy that did everything right while he was here," said Brown. "I think he's a shining example of graduating after only three years of college and having a master's degree after only five years. And he's also a guy who in his career was unlucky and didn't get to play all the time he wanted to because of injuries. And then all of a sudden he's having the magical senior year, he's gonna be a high draft choice because of what he's done on special teams and on third down, and it was all taken away on one play where he didn't get hit.
"He still has that dream out there, but it's not going to happen like he planned on it to happen. So he is a guy who has overcome adversity, a guy who prepared for life after football if it was cut short for him like it was. And he's an example of what everybody should be like for the next four years or five years of their life. If pro ball happens for him, fine, but it's not gonna happen for long. Make you some money, prepare for the rest of your life, but don't make pro football your life because it can be cut short or you may not even make it. Fozzy has answered all of those questions."
"We're never always promised tomorrow, and I can attest to that as far as with my knee injury," Whittaker also told the young players. "You never know what's going to happen. You never know what turn God wants you to make, but in the end no man can take away what you've learned in school. Your education. Your degrees. You can always fall back on that because they can never be taken away from you."