Ohio St. Showdown Adds Urgency To Summer Workouts

"Anybody who wants to beat Ohio State, meet me to throw at 8 o'clock tonight."

The message, scrawled on a Moncrief-Neuhaus chalkboard, recently greeted what has been record number of Longhorns participating in voluntary summer workouts. The author left his signature, but he really didn't need to. QB Vince Young is just that hungry. So is preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Rod Wright. So are the nearly 70 (70!) players that Wright estimates have been gathering weeknights at Denius Field.

Coaches, of course, are prohibited from participating in the sessions but the directive on the chalkboard was not lost on head coach Mack Brown. Call it the writing on the wall or call it Young's emergent leadership on a team returning 17 starters, but it is indicative of the state of the Longhorn union with August camp just around the corner.

"There's more subtle messages like that when there's a game of that magnitude to start the season," Brown said, before adding, "Ohio State has changed summer because there's a little more urgency for the team."

Ideally, there would be just as many guys out there even if, say, it was North Texas rather than the Buckeyes sandwiched between games against Louisiana-Lafayette and Rice. But when you've got college football's biggest game of the year at the forefront of what portends to be a season for the ages at the Forty Acres, those summer sessions become just a little more compelling for a team determined to win one more game in 2005. At the same time, there is another group of seniors on the UT campus who (even though they may not state it publicly) still can't believe they don't already own at least one Big 12 championship ring. That sense of urgency is not limited to upperclassmen: true freshmen such as WR Quan Cosby, DT Roy Miller and RB Jamaal Charles have also been on hand.

On more than one occasion, Wright spoke of the type of team chemistry (missing on the 2003 squad that got rolled by Oklahoma and dropped the only home game of this millennium) that helped forge the 11-1 Rose Bowl championship that finished No. 4/5 nationally. This time last year, high profile players such as Wright, Butkus Award winning WLB Derrick Johnson and Doak Walker winning RB Cedric Benson took it upon themselves to contact teammates and encourage more of them to spend the summer in Austin. Now, players are all but coming out of the woodwork. And the difference is not just quantitative, Wright added.

"Last year, it was more of an attendance thing," Wright told me. "We had a big attendance. A lot of people came. This year, there is bigger attendance and we've pushed everybody to the max. A lot of people got stronger; a lot of people got faster. We're all in great shape."

His teammates have assumed so much initiative that Wright isn't sure how much of a motivator he needs to be.

"This year, as one of the leaders on the team, I haven't had to say much," Wright told me. "Sometimes I'll even second-guess myself: am I not being hard enough? But the guys are working hard. They know what they're supposed to do. There's really no need to speak more since everyone's really trying."

Brown speaks, however, of the team needing to "come down to earth" a little. It's obviously not a one-game season and, despite the local adrenaline and national hype already surrounding the Ohio State game, Texas first needs to take care of business against the Rajin' Cajuns in the home-opener on Sept. 3. He referenced Texas' near-disaster at Kansas last year (he could also have mentioned the Aggies' embarrassing loss at Baylor) as evidence of when a lightly regarded opponent throws you a big-time scare. Still, he knows Texas' first-ever meeting with Ohio State is big-time college football at its finest, and that's why there is so much spring in so many steps these summer nights at Denius Field. The Buckeyes are ranked in the Top Five in four of eight preseason polls while Texas is similarly ranked in six of the preseason rankings. In fact, Texas is the early choice to face Southern Cal in the BCS National Championship by Street & Smith, Lindy's Football, Blue Ribbon Yearbook and Conference Call.

"We'll know who we are leaving (Columbus)," Brown said. "That's probably a good thing because it's an out-of-conference game. We'll get really tested."

Preseason camp officially begins August 7. The 2005 Longhorn football camp, however, unofficially began six weeks ago.

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