It was Fred Akers who first said it, and the reality of it really didn't sink in until Saturday on a sun-splashed day in Iowa.
Three weeks before, when a New York Times writer was interviewing Mack Brown for a story prior to the Kansas State game, she had asked the question, "why are expectations so high for you in what appears to me to be a rebuilding year?"
"At Texas," Brown said quoting Akers, "they say you don't ever rebuild, you reload."
Early in the first half in the 40-19 victory over Iowa State, a quick look at the Texas defense solidified what the writer had seen, and those of us so close to the scene may have missed. On the field for Texas there were three freshmen, four sophomores, two juniors and two seniors.
Fact is, the presence of high profile veterans such as the three receivers, Roy Williams, B. J. Johnson and Sloan Thomas offensively, and Marcus Tubbs, Nathan Vasher, Kalen Thornton and Reed Boyd defensively have given the impression that this is a team laden with experience. The numbers tell a different story.
On the travel squad to Iowa State, there were 21 freshmen, 20 sophomores, 12 juniors, and 13 seniors. There is one senior on the starting offensive line, and with safety Dakari Pearson out with shoulder problems, the defensive seniors could fit in a phone booth. On bus No. 2 --the defensive bus--from Des Moines to Ames, there were five seniors, including Thornton, Tubbs, Vasher, Boyd and special teams specialist Tien Van Nguyen.
The eight seniors on the offensive bus were Brock Edwards, Tillman Holloway, Brett Robin, Bo Scaife, deep snapper Cullen Loeffler and Williams, Johnson and Thomas.
When he came to Texas, Brown immediately shunned the "rebuilding" image, and declared his purpose was to win, and win with the guys you have. And that is why Brown, nor any member of his coaching staff, ever talks of youth or injuries.
"We aren't interested in excuses," Brown says. "What we try to do is to learn and to get better each week. What we want to see from our team is effort. Obviously there have been times this year when we haven't played well, but we have played hard. The results sometimes haven't been what we hoped for, but I don't fault the effort."
With almost two-thirds of his team coming from the freshman and sophomore classes, there is a learning curve that can be both exciting and tremendously painful. A young player can be confused, and a confused player can look lost. One mistake can turn a single football play into pivotal one. In 1975, Texas was playing Oklahoma in a tie game in the Cotton Bowl. A tremendous freshman defensive end, Earl Campbell's younger brother Tim, had played exceptionally well. Then on one snap, late in the fourth quarter, he bit on a fake and the OU running back burst through the hole he had vacated, going 30 plus yards for the game winning touchdown.
Similarly, concern over the accountability of teammates can cause a veteran to blow a play worrying about another guy's responsibility. In 1972, Texas installed a surprise quick kick in the Oklahoma game. Jerry Sisemore, who was as good an offensive tackle as ever played the college game, missed his assignment and let a guy through to block the kick. Sisemore was concerned about whether the guard who had moved in next to him knew what to do, and in his concern for him, he gave up a play himself.
By the end of the 1975 season, Tim was named the Outstanding Defensive Player in the Bluebonnet Bowl and was all-conference in 1977. Sisemore was a two-time all-American and is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Saturday in Ames, however, the Longhorns followed a week of pain with football that was fun and exciting.
The offensive line, which has had its share of critics in the first half of the season, led the way as Texas accounted for 578 yards of total offense, including 235 on the ground. "This was a 'hog' day," Brown joked with Holloway and sophomore tackle Jonathan Scott as they walked off the field. "It was a great day for the offensive line.
The nickname "hogs" came from the NFL, a term of endearment of the guys up front who root out the holes for the backs to run, and who pass block long enough for the quarterback to find the open receiver.
Brown and his staff came into 2003 in a state of evolution offensively. A change in staff and philosophy has had growing pains, but with running back Cedric Benson rushing for 140 yards as a workhorse on 32 carries Saturday, the running game Brown seeks was significant.
The two-quarterback system worked comfortably as well, with Vince Young hitting 11 of 15 passes and Chance Mock 7 of 10. But the offensive story wasn't just about the individual numbers. Texas maintained possession of the ball for 37:26 -- almost two thirds of the game. They showed excellent clock management at the end of the first half, using 14 seconds to travel 32 yards to set up a end-of-the half field goal.
But even more impressive was the effectiveness of the possessions. The Longhorns drove 85, 80, 62, 80 and 80 yards for touchdowns.
"I like the way we responded," Brown said. "They made a quarterback change in the second half and got some momentum, and we were able to answer with long drives both times. Then, the defense adjusted as well."
As it did following its loss to Arkansas, Texas came back to win over an opponent it was supposed to beat. Brown and his staff, and the Longhorn team, expected no less. What pleased Brown was the growth of the team. With youth, there can be individual breakdowns which make a whole unit, and a whole team, look bad. That is the reality of a sport where team play is involved. But the reverse is also true. With time, units grow and know what to expect of each other, and that cohesiveness picks each other up.
That is why Brown never talks about the youth, or the mistakes of individual players. They will see those in film sessions after the game. He is never going to hang a kid out to dry in public.
In 1989, Texas struggled defensively, and prior to the 1990 season, there was a luncheon in Dallas at the annual Southwest Conference media day. Each team prepared its highlight package. One particular Texas defensive back seemed to appear in every one of the opponents' films. He was beaten on a pass route here, flattened on a block there. Countless receivers hauled in scoring passes just beyond his desperate reach.
That, however, was his sophomore season. In 1990 he was a mainstay in the defense, and earned all-SWC honors as a senior in 1991. Darrell Royal once said talking about young players, "if a dog will bite you when its grown, it will bite you as a pup." But he could have added, "The older the dog, the meaner the bite."
Brown's philosophy entering 2003 has been that he has to build depth, so that years like this--where you get caught without experienced depth--won't happen. If Saturday is an example, the experiment is working. In a game the Longhorns were expected to win, they did. Effectively, convincingly, and with an exuberance that comes from a lot of guys getting to play and having fun.
If it is about reloading, salute it. If it is about rebuilding, don't be afraid to embrace it.