New Lease on Life For UT Walk-Ons

Sophomore walk-on safety Dylan Haines, the mystery interceptor in the Texas spring game, did just about everything at 2A Lago Vista: played receiver, defensive back, was the kicker and returned kicks.

Haines (6-1, 195) scored more than 600 points and posted 7 interceptions at Lago Vista. The only thing he didn't do was garner much interest from schools above Division II and Division III.

So, when he decided to follow in the path of his father, John, a defensive end at Texas who had 18.5 sacks and 19.5 TFLs from 1980-83, and his older brother, Dakota, a senior walk-on receiver for the Longhorns, he didn't let go of dreams of one day stepping on the field for UT.

For the Haines brothers, however, it seemed the scout team and standing on the sidelines would be a way of life under Mack Brown.

Walk-ons rarely played under Brown, it seemed, unless they were half of a twin act in which one of the brothers was set to be drafted into the NFL (see Michael and Marcus Griffin) or a member of the military (see Ahmard Hall of the Marines, 2003-05; and Green Beret Nate Boyer, 2010-present).

A knee injury suffered last year has slowed Dakota's college career.

But when Charlie Strong, a former walk-on himself at Central Arkansas, arrived after last season, the outlook for sophomore walk-on Dylan Haines changed. The more plays he made in spring practice, the higher he climbed on the two-deep, culminating with an interception of Tyrone Swoopes on the first drive of the No. 1 offense in the spring game.

Those inside the program say Haines (No. 44) is going to play on defense for Texas this season, even if it's in a rotation at safety. He's smart, studies film, learns offensive tendencies, anticipates well, resulting in good tackling angles and is always around the football.

"Because I played at Texas, I've stayed close to the program," John Haines said. "Mack was a great person. But we needed change.

"For Dylan, in particular, change was good because walk-ons weren't getting a good look before.

"This staff didn't know anyone, and they are basing it on who makes plays. Dylan was very productive in the spring, and he moved up."

John Haines thinks back to his time at Texas, when the Longhorns nearly won the national title in 1983 with the best defense at UT in the last 31 years.

That defense, featuring names like Jerry Gray, Jeff Leiding and Tony Degrate, stuffed Auburn's Bo Jackson and Georgia's Herschel Walker. That defense limited opponents to an average of 9.5 points and 212 yards per game and 2.3 yards per rush.

"We had coaches who were so intensely competitive," John Haines said. "Our defensive line coach, Mike Parker, was a Vietnam vet who made our defensive coordinator, Leon Fuller, seem laid back by comparison.

"And the offensive line coach, Leon Manley, was a former Green Bay Packer who honestly scared most of the offensive linemen


"There were days when we had to pull Mike (Parker) and Leon (Manley) apart. They wanted to win as much as we did. And if one of their guys got beat in a drill, and some talk ensued, tempers would flare."

Haines sees some similarities between the coaching staff he played under at Texas and Charlie Strong's staff. He doesn't see fights breaking out between offensive line coach Joe Wickline and defensive line coach Chris Rumph. But he sees the intensity both men have to win up front.

"When you look at the successful programs, you see programs that understand the importance of winning up front," Haines said.

"When we went to Auburn in 1983 and stuffed Bo Jackson and didn't let them cross the 50-yard-line until the second half, it was because a great back had nowhere to go. I think Charlie Strong and this coaching staff understands that - that it all starts up front."

The appearance of Dylan Haines on the field in the spring game – as well as his production: 4 tackles, 1 INT - was not lost on fellow safety Michael Griffin, who watched from the sideline.

"Seeing a walk-on starting (on the No. 2 defense) with all the scholarship players at safety was kind of shocking," Griffin said. "That was impressive to me because Charlie Strong said, ‘I don't care if you're a scholarship player, the best players will play.'"

Griffin was proud to see his brother Marcus go from walk-on to earning a scholarship at Texas back in 2007 as well as former walk-on fullback Hall, a Marine who served in Kosovo and Afghanistan and went on to a 6-year career in the NFL.

"That's No. 1. If it's Dylan Haines, you've got to put the best players on the field," Griffin said. "No entitlement. I think Texas is going in the right direction, and I wish them well."

According to Charlie Strong and his Longhorns' teammates, Dylan Haines has continued to make plays throughout fall camp.

“Dylan was probably the biggest shock of the spring," said fifth-year linebacker Jordan Hicks. "He came on strong, playing at a high level.

"Knowing his dad (John Haines) played at Texas, you would expect him to be a player. But he’s done a lot great things in practice. He's made a lot of plays.

“I’m excited to see him play. Dylan has earned his spot and earned a lot of trust within this team.”

Haines isn't the only walk-on expected to play against North Texas on Saturday. Sophomore WR Ty Templin (6-0, 195) of Granbury Trinity Valley is also expected to see playing time.

"I don't look at guys like Haines or Templin as walk-ons," Charlie Strong said Monday. "If they come out and put in the work and they're good enough, they're going to play.

"It's about production. Who's productive? And these guys have been productive."

David Ash said the concept of a walk-on in the two-deep took some getting used to, because it just didn't happen under Mack Brown.

"It was like, ‘He’s good somehow, even though he’s a walk-on,’” Ash said jokingly of Templin. “It was like, ‘He’s smart, tough, dependable. He goes over the middle. He’s probably a lot more athletic than he’s given credit for.

"It took a minute, but Coach Strong made it clear he doesn’t differentiate between scholarship and walk-on players, because he bases everything on production.”

Added junior DT Malcom Brown, "For a lot of guys, Coach Strong coming in meant a new lease on life, a second chance. And Dylan (Haines) and Ty (Templin) are great examples of that."

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