Jones Ramsey, who served as Texas' sports publicist for 20 years, used to call him "Weekend Willie." Whatever his reasons were, the title fit. Because Willie Zapalac's best work always was showcased on the weekends.
Zapalac, who was one of the greatest offensive line coaches ever, served on Darrell Royal's staff through much of the glory days of the 1960s and '70s. Along with Leon Manley, who worked with him and followed him during the Fred Akers era, Zapalac established a tradition of excellence with the Texas offensive line. Zapalac and Manley must smile knowingly at current Longhorns offensive line coach Tim Nunez these days.
Because if Texas is to ever "get back" to the top of the national football world, it's what's up front that counts.
For the first time in Mack Brown's tenure, depth and experience are finally complimenting talent in the trenches of the offensive line. When Mike Williams and Antwan Kirk-Hughes came aboard in 1998, they had to be thrust into battle as true freshmen. Now, as seniors, they are the leaders of a front that sports experience and ability.
If you want to win and win big, that's where it starts.
In 1969, when Texas was rolling over everybody with its wishbone offense, center Forrest Wiegand joked with star quarterback James Street and what he said was way closer to the truth than anybody realized.
"Street," he said, "You're not the most important guy in the offense and it's not Worster or Speyrer either. I'm the most important guy. You're not anything unless I snap you the ball."
Ah, the unheralded, no-names of the offensive line. They are the bulls up front and have lived with a lot of uncomplimentary nicknames like Hawgs and Grunts. Without them, however, the finest quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers become mere mortals.
Consider this. Since Darrell Royal won his first conference championship 40 years ago, Texas has claimed 16 league titles.
In each one of those seasons, there has been at least one and a lot of times more than one Texas offensive lineman that has been named all-conference. If you look to the glory years in the '60s and '70s, you will find a string of All-Americans like Don Talbert, Johnny Treadwell and Scott Appleton (when guys played both ways) and then Bob McKay, Bobby Wuensch, Jerry Sisemore, Bill Wyman, Bob Simmons and the list goes on and on.
Those are only the tip of the excellence. Players like David Studdard, Bryan Millard and Adam Schrieber played for several years in the NFL after their Longhorns career.
In 1990 Stan Thomas was named All-American. In 1994, it was Blake Brockermeyer and Dan Neil followed in 1995 and '96.
When Ricky Williams had his record-setting run against Texas A&M in 1998, video showed a massive block by 2000 consensus All-American Leonard Davis that sprung him from the line.
In an old piece of film from Sisemore's time at Texas, there is a clip of an SMU game where the three-time pro-bowler knocked down five guys with several different blocks on one play.
What does make a difference for those under publicized linemen is the chance to create a big play. If they realize that if they can hold their block just a little longer, they give the quarterbacks time. With a running back like Williams and the excitement already created by the running backs in fall practice, they see that a second-long crease may be just enough for a huge running game gain.
So when you get excited about the big play potential of this Texas team, celebrate those guys who throw long and run hard and make big catches, but understand this about the heritage of Texas football. If you want to win big consistently check out the front line of the battlefield.
Old Weekend Willie and Coach Manley and the others like them will tell you that's where the team begins.