Five Football Things to be Thankful For

One of the most common exercises on Thanksgiving is to sit down with family at the dinner table and discuss what we're thankful for. And few families are as tight as the Longhorn faithful. Here are five things you can sit at the tailgate table and give thanks for, as a Texas fan.

1) Fozzy Whittaker, Blaine Irby and Emmanuel Acho

Forget football for a moment, because football is simply the pulpit that allows the above trio to spread their individual messages. And all three of the above players, while excellent on the gridiron, are even more stellar off it. Whittaker is Captain America, the pulse of the Longhorn program. He's the one who, rather than worrying about losing his job, took Malcolm Brown under his wing and answered every question the freshman had. He never stopped competing, never stopped fighting. And even when a knee injury ended his college career, Whittaker never stopped smiling, telling people that he was blessed to be alive. Irby is the consummate comeback story, the person who refused to hear 'no' as an answer and who fought back from an injury that threatened his ability to walk. He caught a touchdown in the Kansas State game and is considering whether to take another year after this one is finished, via a medical redshirt. Acho is a player and person of excellent character, and he's up for basically every "good human being" award that his older brother, Sam, took home. In a way, it's almost sad that Sam was so accomplished, because if he weren't, Emmanuel's contributions would be even more highly thought of. As it is, the Acho parents deserve worlds of credit. Those three players are excellent representatives of the Texas program, and of student-athletes in general. And that's a blessing to have.

2) Manny Diaz

Diaz shrugged off an early performance against Rice, and stayed the course when the defense was giving up long runs against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. In a business when far too many coaches look at the end result, Diaz coached the process behind achieving that result, finding run fits and plugging those holes confidently and aggressively. Mission accomplished. After allowing more than four yards per carry in four of the first six games, Texas has allowed -0.1, 1.1, 3.4 and 1.0 yards per rush in its last four. Stopping the run is the first key toward building an elite defense, especially when forcing third-and-long means unleashing ends like Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, while slick cover corners like Carrington Byndom shadow opposing receivers.

3) Carrington Byndom

Speaking of Byndom, has any player grown up so quickly? Byndom could have quit in an Oklahoma game that saw the Sooners repeatedly test his coverage. Instead, he seemed to develop a feistiness that carried over into the next game against Justin Blackmon. Ever since, Byndom has often found himself against the opposing team's best wide receiver, and he has emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the league and likely the next flag-bearer of the tradition at D.B.U.

4) Youth

This one could have been titled for Malcolm Brown, or Joe Bergeron, or Jaxon Shipley, or even sophomores like Mike Davis and Jackson Jeffcoat. But the point, simply, is this: Texas has a ton to look forward to in the future because of the level of youth on this year's team. So an improvement, and the success that goes with it, can be viewed through the prism of an unfinished result, one that could be exceptional as soon as next year starts. If Texas wins six games this year, or even if it wins nine (two regular season wins and a bowl), it's a result followed by a … rather than a period. The period will come when players like the above ones are upperclassmen. But for now, with a mass of underclassmen earning big minutes, Texas is simply building for the future, and the future seems incredibly bright.

5) Mack Brown

The oft-criticized head coach had seemingly accomplished enough to ride into the sunset with his head held high. But instead, Brown had enough pride to blow up the Longhorns after a dismal 5-7 season and hire a largely new coaching staff. He vetted several candidates and picked a staff mostly consisting of young up-and-comers. And in doing so he helped to change many of the attitudes and entitlements that had been setting in the program. Looking at the Longhorns' recruiting is another example of Brown's willingness to change. Texas has picked up a few players the Longhorns might not have ordinarily gone after, held some scholarships until late and even perused the JUCO ranks a little bit. All of the above showed why Brown is an ideal caretaker of the Texas program and different from other coaches who establish a level of comfort at their long-time employers. His ability and willingness to set aside pride and comfort to try and find a winning edge is worthy of thanks.

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