Seniors Can Leave Legacy, But Is Benson Leaving?

With Senior Day on tap at DKR this Saturday, how do we size up the Longhorn Graduating Class of 2004? And is Saturday&#146;s game the last home stand for future NFL draft picks RB <B>Cedric Benson</B> and LB <B>Derrick Johnson</B>.

Last September, Benson said his decision would be based more on his individual performance than team accomplishments. Obviously, his stock (and stats) have risen considerably the past three games and he probably would have had 1,000 yards by now if he played against Baylor. But this is what Benson had to say following Tuesday’s practice about jumping to the NFL:

"The thought hasn’t really crossed my mind at all. I’m still focusing on trying to come out on top and have the best season I can have, the way things are going. I’ll think about that kind of thing when it’s (season) over."

Johnson told me earlier this season that he would likely return, but will defer giving the decision full consideration until after the season.

Head coach Mack Brown, of course, wants the spotlight to remain on his fourth (and fifth) year players during the last home game against Texas Tech (6 p.m., CST, Fox Sports Net broadcast).

"We never talk about our juniors and the possibility of them going out until the season’s over because we have an Agent Day in December before our bowl game," Brown said. "We talk to them before the season, but it would be really selfish for any one to talk about whether they might be leaving a team when you’ve got two games left and a great regular season and a bowl game. We’ll talk about it at the end."

Underclassmen aside, how should we assess the Longhorn Class of 2004? Frankly, it depends if your Burnt Orange glass is half-full or half-empty.

On one hand, the group represents another dripping-with-talent senior class that still did not win a conference championship. They are also the first squad since the Class of ‘88 never to beat Oklahoma.

On the other hand, the seniors are two victories shy of finishing as the winningest four-year class in Longhorn history. A win Saturday against Texas Tech would equal the program-best 40-win mark that seniors set just last season. Other than OU, the seniors will graduate having lost only to one other Big 12 South team (Texas Tech) during their stint.

The group has won 20 of 21 at home. In addition to going 2-0 against both Nebraska and Kansas State, they have a chance to go 4-0 against Texas A&M and finish in the Top 10 for the third consecutive season.

The senior class, of course, will always be noted for its Triplet receivers: SE Roy Williams, FL B.J. Johnson, SE Sloan Thomas.

"A lot of times in high school recruiting you have guys who don’t live up to their billing before they get here," Brown said. "Those guys have more than paid their way to school here and they’re the most productive receivers in school history. They started in that first game against USL. It seems like 100 years ago, and we’d still love to have them back."

Before they leave, the group is in prime position to give Brown his first BCS Bowl and the school’s third in the nine-year history of the Bowl Championship Series (and its predecessor the Bowl Alliance). The Horns earned two BCS-level Bowls (Sugar, Fiesta) under John Mackovic but have yet to notch a BCS Bowl win.

"This bunch has become very, very unselfish," Brown said. "Whether you call it ‘blue collar’ or whether you call it giving up their individualism for the team -- and that’s everybody -- it’s helped us get back on track here."

While Williams is the most celebrated of the Longhorn seniors, Brown praised senior OG Tillman Holloway for his leadership and toughness and said he is representative of the offensive line’s improved play.

"He’s a guy that’s played for us a long time and he was a really good player for us last year," Brown said. "It was a little difficult for him in that he lost his (positions) coach and lost of all his buddies. He’s the only senior in the offensive line, and you weren’t sure how he would respond to either one. He was the only redshirt with Robbie Doane and Mike Williams. He’s come back and has been a good a leader as I’ve ever been around."

Senior Day, of course, lends itself to high drama and can occasionally weigh heavy on the emotions. One recalls Ricky Williams run to glory during his last home game against A&M, as well as Major Applewhite chunking the ball into the student section after his final snap. I was heartened to see fans in the east stands chanting Chris Simmsname at the end of the Aggie game last season, and how the lanky, towhead fought back tears when he saw his mother shortly afterward. Heck, I am old enough to recall Earl Campbell’s last carry at Memorial Stadium back in 1977.

"I told them to cry after the game because they’re happy and don’t cry before," Brown said. "If you cry before, you may be crying afterwards because you’re sad."

Reporters asked Brown how emotional he expects to be Saturday.

"I cry all the time; I cry every day," he quipped. "I sleep like a baby (because) I wake up crying about every two hours."

INJURY REPORT: Part of the buzz around the practice field is that Texas Tech QB B.J. Symons is hobbled (knee injury) but that he expects to play Saturday.

Horns Digest Top Stories