Texas Sooner: QB not your average walk-on

Third-string quarterback Hays McEachern isn't your typical walk-on. He's a Longhorn legacy. (Photo by Jerry Laizure)

When it came time for Oklahoma's incoming freshmen class to acquaint themselves with the rest of the team last August, Hays McEachern quickly began to rehearse his introduction.

"Hays McEachern, Austin High," the walk-on quarterback mentally repeated over and over.

Once it was McEachern's turn, he slowly rose before the team and recited his script flawlessly, only to be followed by the booming voice of Bob Stoops.

"Oh," the Sooner coach said, "we've got an Austin guy. We've got a spy in here."

Stoops was of course joking, but as the son of a former Longhorn quarterback and an ex-Texas cheerleader, McEachern has learned to take the teasing in stride.

"A couple of people have told me that they've read articles on the Internet that I was a UT spy," he said. "That's ridiculous. I've actually kind of laughed it off, hoping that of course my coaches wouldn't think anything of it or not let me in the loop, because they thought I was a spy or something."

Such is life for McEachern, a redshirt freshman, whose father, Randy, played at Texas from 1974-78. In 1977, the elder McEachern came off the bench against Oklahoma after the Longhorns' starting and backup quarterbacks both went down, orchestrating a 13-6 come-from-behind victory.

Randy nearly guided Texas to a national championship that year, but the Longhorns' undefeated season was spoiled by a Cotton Bowl loss to Notre Dame and a young quarterback named Joe Montana.

"I never felt a hatred for Oklahoma, but it was definitely the top game of the year for us," Randy said. "There's no question that it's a great football game. That whole atmosphere is incredible. I'll never forget it."

Born and raised in Austin, Hays was weaned on Longhorn football and its tradition. His parents routinely took him to weekday Texas band practices held at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium to allow him to run on the football field.

"That was kind of our way of propaganda, I guess," Randy said. "You know, trying to get him to go to Texas."

As Hays became older, he attended Longhorn baseball camps, rubbed shoulders with Earl Campbell and strived to be like Major Applewhite. "I was a religious Texas fan," Hays said. "All that I grew up on was Texas. I had Texas shirts and everything."

So exactly how does a former Texas quarterback's son end up on the opposite side of the Red River? It's a question Randy is still trying to answer.

"People always want to know why we let that happen," he said. "Yes, we do take some heat, but we're going to support him wherever he goes."

Hays' journey to Oklahoma, however, is almost as improbable as his father's ascension to stardom at Texas.

"I definitely didn't expect to be at Oklahoma two years ago," Hays said. "I actually probably didn't even consider it, but I mean opportunities come up and you try to make the best out of those opportunities."

Hays didn't start at Austin High School until his senior year and despite throwing for 1,500 yards and 15 touchdown passes that season, the then 5-foot-11, 163-pounder was generally considered to be too small to play at the Division I level.

Nonetheless, Hays still had options for playing college football, like a scholarship offer he received from the Air Force Academy. He also looked at continuing his career at St. Mary's University, a Division-III school in San Antonio.

But Hays wanted out of Austin and even Texas for that matter, so he and his dad sent out game tapes to several Division-I schools in hopes of being asked to walk on.

When the tapes went out, Randy made sure he mailed one to Oklahoma assistant coach Bobby Jack Wright. The two knew each other from Wright's stint as an assistant coach at Texas from 1986-1997.

Wright watched the tape, gave it to quarterbacks coach Chuck Long and shortly thereafter, Hays was invited to Norman for a visit. After the trip, he was sold on Oklahoma, picking the Sooners over walk-on invitations from Arkansas, Auburn, Texas and Texas A&M.

Randy had one condition though. If Hays wanted to attend Oklahoma, he had to promise not to display the mighty "Hook ‘em, ‘horns" salute upside-down. "He has to respect Texas," Randy said.

Thus far, Hays, for the most part, has lived up to his word.

"I'll do it to my mom every once in a while just to make her mad," he said. "Other than that, I won't do it. I mean, I've grown up on Texas football. I respect everything about it. I'm still a pretty big fan of UT, but I guess when it comes down to Oklahoma-UT, I'm all the way Oklahoma."

After spending last season on the scout team, Hays worked as Oklahoma's third-team quarterback during practice in August, a role in which he continues to draw praise from both Sooner coaches and players.

"He does a good job for us," Stoops said. "He throws the ball well and he helps the team in a lot of ways. He is a nifty guy. He does a great job on scout team throwing and allowing us to work our drills. He really contributes a lot and he is a neat guy. Hayes is a valuable guy to the team."

In the process of Hays' transition to Oklahoma, his Sooner teammates have all but forgotten his Longhorn roots.

"He means a lot to our team," junior quarterback/receiver Paul Thompson said. "He is always in there watching film with us and he goes through everything that we go through. He is involved with us throwing routes to our receivers, not so much in team stuff, but in individuals. He has really developed quite a bit as a passer. He's kind of surprised me, because he has been throwing great routes."

With his son playing for his alma mater's biggest rival, Randy finds himself in a difficult predicament these days.

"If I want to go over to watch the Texas practices, I'm sure they look around and they go, ‘Oh, God, there's McEachern. He's got a son at OU. He can't be over here," he said. "And then if I come over to OU, they'll look around and go, ‘Well, there's McEachern. He played at Texas. I don't know if he should be here.' It's almost like I'm in limbo. I'm kind of stuck. I'm in no-man's land. I feel a little uncomfortable at both places almost."

Last year, Hays' parents didn't attend OU-Texas, but the couple will be at the game this year, raising the inevitable question of where they plan to sit.

"I tell everybody I'm hoping my tickets are on the 50 and I'm going to be wearing white, but I'm going to be pulling for my son," Randy said. "I hope they understand that."

Although Hays says he hasn't given much thought to playing in an actual game this season, his dad insists he must be ready.

"He's got a shot just like anybody else," Randy said. "If you're third-string, you're only two plays away from playing. That's where I got my start. You just have to be patient and he knows that."

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The above article appreared in the October issue of Sooners Illustrated.


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