After one sobering year at Texas, coach Charlie Strong knows what he is looking for in his team.
Some attitude. Some fight. Some want-to.
And he knows where to look — in the eyes of strength coach Pat Moorer, whom he brought from Louisville and also experienced that first sobering year in Austin.
“I always ask him, what’s the pulse of the team, how they’re doing, how they’re acting” Strong said. “And he said now you’re beginning to see more guys step up. But you know what? When you’re at a place like here, it should be like that. We shouldn’t even have to have this conversation. It should get where each and every year, we talk about competing.”
Cornerback Duke Thomas is ready to talk about it. He said he already sees it.
“Things aren’t the same as they were a year ago,” he said. “People always talk about the dogs in the locker room. We got plenty of dogs. Always had plenty of dogs. But now the dogs are willing to fight, and we’ve found that. We’ve found that these guys that we have here now, from the seniors down to the freshmen, things aren’t the same anymore.”
No one wants it to be the same as last year.
Strong and the Longhorns went 6-7 and lost their last two games by a combined 79-17. It capped a season that began with the suspension or dismissal of nine players by September as Strong attempted to counter a culture he did not expect when he arrived.
“I look back at it, that I was just thinking that because of the University of Texas and because of the tradition and the pride, the way we were going to play, and you expected so much — it felt like it had become a destination for so many of the players,” he said. “And now they’re changing their whole attitude.”
Johnathan Gray, a senior from Aledo, said he saw the same thing when he arrived on campus as a freshman.
“I think guys need to love football a little bit more,” Gray said. “That’s been a problem since I’ve been here. I think we’re starting to weed out and get this thing back on track. … The young guys stay in the weight room, stay in the film room, ask questions. I think the team has taken a turn for the best.”
Still, the Longhorns have a ways to go. It is there on paper for them — they were pegged fifth in the preseason media poll.
“I know this, that Baylor and TCU are very good, Oklahoma is a very good team, and probably Oklahoma State,” Strong said. “Where we are is probably what we deserve. And until we play better, that’s where we’re going to be.”
Gray did not mind Strong’s evaluation of the poll.
“I think it needs to burn in people’s hearts,” Gray said. “And we need to understand how people view us and understand that we need to get that perception out of people’s heads and be a better team and have a better tradition and get Texas back on top.”
It will have to start with some fight.
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407