AUSTIN, TX — Texas football has gotten a lot of attention this offseason, such as quarterback Sam Ehlinger making it on the cover of Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine.
But, we can't forget to give credit to the big men up front who protect Ehlinger, giving him a chance to make the big plays that get him on covers, and one of them happens to be from Central Texas.
"Every place I've been has been a stepping stone to where I am now. So, I love 254. I love Belton. I love the people in Belton, the small town atmosphere, the BBQ's really good," Zach Shackelford, Texas' senior center, said.
Shackelford played for the Belton Tigers before becoming a Longhorn, and throughout his three years in Austin, he's quickly risen to the top and is now the starting center.
When you ask Head Coach Tom Herman about him the words bigger, stronger, and disciplined immediately leave his mouth, which is why he refers to his center as a tremendous leader both on and off the field.
That, combined with the NFL style center- QB relationship between Shackelford and Ehlinger, is what Herman says propels the Texas offense forward.
"It reminds me of some of the NFL films where you see Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday and they're sitting there literally having an argument, in the middle of the field. They have that relationship. They trust each other a lot, and you have to playing those two positions," Herman said.
"It's really awesome to see how far we've come, but also how far we have to go. And so, it's encouraging both to see the progress, but to know that we still have a lot of things left to achieve and we haven't arrived by any chance," Shackelford added.
But as the Longhorns continue to find success, the noise picks up. There have been lingering comments regarding Ehlinger's "Texas is back" comment following the Longhorns' 28-21 Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia, differing opinions on if horns down should be a penalty or not, and most recently an ESPN report stating 11 different schools view Texas as a rival.
But whether the buzz is good, bad, or indifferent, Texas coaches find themselves having to teach their athletes to block it all out, telling them listening is a choice and they're in control.
Coach Herman says that's key for his team to have another College Football Playoff pushing season.
"At the end of the day, I don't care. Sam doesn't care. It's irrelevant to how we're gonna play this season. Again, I think it's really, someone asked me about the horns down, I mean it's flattering to know that we're on people's minds even in the offseason. You know, that people, even our rivals wanna talk about Texas football," Herman said.
"You just have to completely shut it out, and that's kinda been my main objective: to shut out the positive and the negative noise and focus on what's truly important and what's truly gonna make us better. Because ultimately, listening to that type of stuff doesn't benefit us in any way," Ehlinger said.
Texas opens their season at home against Louisiana Tech on August 31. Kick off is set for 7 p.m.