Bill Little commentary: In search of yourself
Sept. 12, 2010
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
There is a great chance that Virginia S. Thatcher and Alexander McQueen are not exactly authorities on the game of college football. They are the editor and advisory editor, respectively, of The New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of The English Language.
But their insight into words gives us a good beginning to the understanding of the odyssey young football teams encounter as they search, very simply, for their "identity."
Philosophically, it says on page 420, "identity" is "the principle that a thing is what it is and not another." Personal identity is defined as "our being the same persons from the commencement to the end of life while the matter of the body, the dispositions, habits, thoughts, etc., are continually changing."
Mack Brown has made the point many times that the life of a college football team is a limited span which includes 12, 13 or 14 games until it passes forever into the history books. Its year begins when the last one ends. Its "identity" has its metamorphosis in the early season. And that is where our story begins.
The young Texas offense of 2010 entered Saturday night's game with the Wyoming Cowboys living in the subjective. You don't play on national television in a stadium full of 100,000 people consciously saying, "Okay, today we need to find out what our identity will be." Coaches spend hours studying every play of practice and discussing every facet of personality. The generals in Iraq told Mack that you not only search for leaders; you must create them.
The evolving nature of college football means that about the time you get used to having somebody around, they finish their eligibility and move on. And suddenly in the shoes filled by fifth and even sixth-year seniors like Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley, respectively - sophomore Garrett Gilbert and freshman Mike Davis stand.
That was the scene Saturday night late in the first half of Texas' 34-7 victory over Wyoming in DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium. The Texas offense spent almost 25 of the first 30 minutes of the game trying to figure out what it was. And, challenged by a sudden 7-6 deficit, it decided to provide a glimpse of what it can be.
A unit with only a handful of seniors on its depth chart, it got some on-the-field spark in words and deeds from one of its few veterans, running back Fozzy Whittaker. A redshirt junior who has already achieved his college degree in three years, Whittaker gave Gilbert a boost when he told the offensive huddle, "Offense, we have to go answer the bell."
The alarm sounded loud and clear. Gilbert hit tight end Barrett Matthews for 19 yards on a key play in the 69-yard drive that followed the Wyoming TD. Then, Whittaker turned in the run of the year for the `Horns with a 39-yard scoring jaunt that put Texas ahead for good at 13-7. The defense gave UT good field position at the Cowboy 45-yard line four plays later, and Gilbert hit Mike Davis for a 45-yard touchdown pass. In the time span of 1:48, Texas had a 20-7 lead--and perhaps a glimpse at what its "identity" can be.
The Longhorn defense continued to play dominating football, even though a rash of penalties and an effective scrambling Wyoming quarterback skewed the numbers statistically. Kicker Justin Tucker teamed with holder Cade McCrary to account for a perfect night in placements. He gave the Longhorns a 6-0 lead with field goals of 45 and 36 yards, and was particularly effective with his kickoffs.
The end result of Saturday's victory was a continuation of the Longhorns' outstanding home record, which now stands at 40-4 since 2003, and another week of improvement coming on the heels of the 34-17 season opening victory over Rice at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
"I felt like we were able to find what we wanted as the game went on," said Gilbert.
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis articulated what most observers had seen on the evening.
"I see flashes of things that are extremely exciting," he said, cautioning, "but inconsistency is the thing we have to work on this week."
"Flashes" of things that can be.
They are part of the road map of why football is so like life.
In the Longhorn dressing room after the game, on the first night that the Longhorns have played on 9/ll since the terrorists attacks in 2001, Mack Brown asked his team to remember those who died, and those who had lost loved ones on that day. Then he presented two game balls to American soldiers who served their country 65 years apart. The first went to Frank Denius, a World War II hero of the Normandy invasion on D-Day in 1944.
The second went to one of the newest Longhorns, U.S. Army special forces Staff Sergeant Nate Boyer, who has returned from nine years of active duty to get his degree. The presentation to the popular Boyer drew applause from his younger teammates. And when they asked him for a speech, this is what he said:
"As soldiers we have a saying, `I fight for the guy on my right, and for the guy on my left.' What I saw tonight from you guys who played was that kind of thinking."
To determine "identity," you first have to figure out who you are and then what you want to be, and finally, if you are willing to pay the price to get there. And when challenged, if a band of brothers rallies together, then it becomes a team. First, perhaps in flashes--and finally as a consistent beacon, showing the way to where you want to go.