Summer Schooled: UT Title Hopes Start Now

The Texas Longhorns know what they did last summer. They jelled as a team during voluntary workouts on the way to an 11-1 Rose Bowl championship. It's also how a solid nucleus of team members will spend their summer vacation between now and August camp, beginning in three months.

"That's (summer workouts) where we became a team last year," LDT Rod Wright said. "We had the biggest turnout that we ever had last year. When you're out there running and looking across and seeing all your boys out there, that just makes us a team. So, it's very important for us older guys to get the younger guys in and let them know this is an important time. We don't have the coaches yelling at us that we have to be here, so it's up to us to jell as a team."

The Horns have spent the past four weeks drilling with strength and conditioning coach Jeff 'Mad Dog' Madden. The weeklong Final Exams period begins Tuesday for UT students. In about a month's time, Texas coaches will host the program's annual summer camp for prep stars (allowing staff to not only teach fundamentals but also the chance to establish relationships with future all-stars, invariably including several future Longhorns, while evaluating some of the Lone Star State's top underclass talent.)

Otherwise, you can expect to see Wright and company most week nights at Denius Field preparing for what many believe will be one of those magical seasons for the ages. Texas is listed in the Top Five in all of the earliest preseason polls and, while critical matchups at Ohio State and against reloading Oklahoma loom as season-defining, the Horns should be solid favorites to win the remaining games on the schedule.

For now, the mantra is "just keep working," says QB Vince Young.

"That's what it's all about when a coach is not around," Young said. "All the work you can get in as an individual, that helps out a whole lot. That's like getting a head start on the season."

Summer workouts are especially beneficial for receivers, head coach Mack Brown said.

"One of the things you can really improve is your ability to throw and catch between now and the fall because they can do that every day, if they want to, without us out there," Brown noted. "And we've got the same crew that we had last year. They can throw three days a week, and they usually do in the summer, to get their timing down."

SE Limas Sweed is determined to have a breakout year. The RS-sophomore says he is committed to being an integral part of voluntary workouts with an eye toward a return trip to the Rose Bowl, the site of the 2006 BCS National Championship. Seven-on-seven drills can go a long way toward augmenting the timing between quarterbacks and receivers, not to mention the camaraderie that is established between teammates who remain in Austin. For Sweed, the commitment goes beyond weeknight sessions of pass-and-catch.

"Between now and two-a-days, I'll work on my footwork with the ladders and with the ball machines," Sweed said. "There's route-running and cone drills that (WR) Coach (Bobby) Kennedy assigns to me. Basically, it's just catching a lot of balls."

Sweed expects to catch a lot more balls in 2005 than last year's 23 grabs for 263 yards. Texas must produce the kind of consistent deep ball threat that it did not have last season, and Sweed believes it will be there when the season kicks off September 3 against Louisiana-Lafayette.

"It all goes back to practice, with (Young) throwing it more to us and us feeling more comfortable with him," Sweed added. "The more you work on something, the better you feel about it."

Young already feels good about his role on the team, especially now that the Rose Bowl MVP has transitioned from a super-talented underclassman to a super-talented leader with three years experience and two years of eligibility remaining.

"I feel like the team looks up to me," Young said. "They see me having fun and smiling, making plays and being a quarterback. I want to show the guys they can do the same thing as well."

Spending the bowl season in the same place as well is the ultimate goal of the 2005 campaign. Simply put, a group of Longhorns who can't wait to get back to Pasadena won't wait until August to prepare for a return trip.

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