Ok, this is the year.
When we were discussing our individual picks for these categories at our annual preseason roundtable -- which you'll be able to read a transcription of in the Football Preview Edition of Inside Texas Magazine -- I was accused by IT co-publisher Michael Pearle of having a "man-crush" on Jordan Shipley. The reason for this perception is each year I'd predict a breakout season for the now-senior receiver and each year Shipley would suffer another injury, hampering his progress. At each roundtable, my assertion would become more fervent. "Ok, ok, he missed all of last year, but this is the year he'll be a big time play-maker."..."Ok, no, this year."
I made the same prediction last year and Shipley again was slowed by injury, at least to start the season. But as the season progressed and 'Ship' got his legs back under him, there was something different. First it was the TD against Oklahoma, then the 58-yard touchdown reception to start the game against Iowa State, then the 60-yard reception late in the comeback against Oklahoma State (against the same DB, Jacob Lacey, who'd picked Colt McCoy off three times in the game), then the ridiculous toe-tap in the back of the end zone grab against Texas Tech. In terms of speed, agility and moves, he was doing things he hadn't done since high school. Now, heading into the 2008 season, he's finally healthy and finally ready for the breakout season Texas fans have been waiting for.
I'm telling you, this is the year.
Defensive MVP - Deon Beasley, CB, 5-10, 175, Jr.
This year Beasley takes over as a starting corner and if his work in spring is any indication he'll be a great one for Texas. Beasley has shown great potential since he first saw the field as a true freshman, but has never quite put it all together. He's had the athleticism, just not the experience. He has that now.
Another reason I expect Beasley to become a threat on defense is because of his style of play. He's always preferred a baiting style of play, going for the big pick. He's had the athleticism to do it, but now as a junior he's got the necessary savvy to use it effectively. He'll be able to get his picks without getting beat.
As a nickel back in 2007, Beasley compiled 37 tackles, nine PBU, three INTs and three TFL. As a starter in 2008, he'll get many more.
Offensive Newcomer of the Year - Malcolm Williams, WR, 6-3, 225, RS-Fr.
Shipley will be the MVP and big-play guy, Quan Cosby will be the go-to-guy in a pinch, but just those two do not a receiving corps make. Other players need to step up and one of the most important will be Williams. The 6-3, 225-pound redshirt freshman has the inside track to take over as the Longhorns' starting split end and he looked like one of the most impressive, if not the most impressive, receivers in spring, making great catches over and over again.
It will be a competitive race for this award because there are quite a few newcomers on offense, but the biggest impact will be made by Williams.
Defensive Newcomer of the Year - Christian Scott, S, 6-1, 208, RS-Fr.
There are five players (at least, don't count out a converted corner or two) who are in competition for the two starting spots at safety, but one of those winners will be Scott and he'll end up becoming the Texas defense's Newcomer of the Year. One of the first winners of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp's "Hardhat Award," Scott has shown in practice that he brings the wood, something that his new DC values. He may be short on experience, but Texas' last commitment of the 2007 class brings plenty of speed and want-to, something he showed his senior season of high school, where be made 5A second team All-State despite only playing in six games due to injury.
The Horns are desperate to find a play-making safety and they'll find it in Scott.
Impact True Freshman, Offense - D.J. Grant, WR, 6-3, 210
With four very talented players coming in and a need for play-makers to step up at the position, it's certainly easy to pick a wide receiver as the impact true freshman, but I'm going to go with one of the ones who's getting talked about the least and may be the best of the group: D.J. Grant.
Dan Buckner and DeSean Hales are receiving a lot of attention, deservedly so, and have a great chance to contribute as true freshmen, but Grant, in my opinion has the most potential to be a great receiver for the Texas Longhorns. The reason he's not as well known is because he missed much of his high school career with injury. In fact, the Austin LBJ product wasn't well known for most of recruiting either. Texas didn't start pursuing him until very late in the process and he was the Horns' final commitment of the 2008 class, six months after the next latest (Hales) and almost a year after most in the class had given their verbals.
But in the '08 class, Mack Brown may have been saving his best for last. Because of position changes (Grant started out as a defensive end and then switched to safety before becoming a receiver) and injury (a broken collar bone forced him to miss almost all of his junior season), Grant only posted 41 catches in high school...but he those took those 41 catches for 1,142 yards and 16 TDs.
Here, I'll do the math for you. That's 27.9 yards per catch.
Grant also displayed his athleticism in the 2008 Under Armour All-America High School Football Game, where his high-flying 32-yard TD catch in traffic made Sportscenter's top plays.
Grant is one of the incoming freshmen that Longhorn fans are talking about the least, but by the end of the season they'll be talking about him the most.
Impact True Freshman, Defense - Jarvis Humphrey, DT, 6-2, 290
Much like how Scott will get an opportunity to show what he can do because of a shortage of safeties, the Texas Longhorns need a young defensive tackle to step up and Humphrey will be their guy. If there's one position at Texas where true freshmen have made an impact, it's DT and the situation has set up perfectly for Humphrey to step in and play.
As a prep All-American, all-state and two-time all-district selection, he was dominant as both a run-stopper and a pass-rusher for Cedar Hill High School. He's got the speed and strength necessary to play right away, but his strongest quality is one that's absolutely important for his position.
"His motor," said Cedar Hill defensive line coach Corey Jennings. "Very physical on the football field and he runs well for a big guy. He gets off very fast."
Kheeston Randall also has a good chance to play as a true freshman at defensive tackle, but Humphrey is the most ready to play right away.
Well, those are my picks. The preseason picks from the entire Inside Texas Staff will be available in the 2008 Football Preview Edition of Inside Texas Magazine. So what are yours?
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