El­liott on rise in elite safety corps

Her­man praises ju­nior’s progress as leader.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - Con­tact Kirk Bohls at 512-4453772. Twitter: @kbohls

For the first half of his col­le­giate foot­ball ca­reer, DeShon El­liott has been known for mainly two things.

There was the pseudo melee at Bay­lor in 2015, com­plete with the El­liott punches that never con­nected. And the hel­met-rat­tling play in the end zone against Notre Dame last sea­son that in­cluded the El­liott blow that did, one that side­lined Ir­ish wide­out Torii Hunter Jr.

So El­liott’s very clearly a hit­ter. That much we know for sure.

That said, we trust he’ll prac­tice a lit­tle con­trolled vi­o­lence as he at­tempts to fi­nally make a name for him­self in the Texas de­fen­sive back­field.

That first in­ci­dent was widely cir­cu­lated on YouTube and showed up on ESPN’s “Mon­day Night Count­down” dur­ing the “C’mon, man” seg­ment.

While Longhorns fans will never for­get El­liott’s shadow box­ing af­ter his would-be skir­mish with Bay­lor play­ers that has long been com­mem­o­rated as the gif that keeps on giv­ing on Twitter, El­liott has clearly been in the shad­ows for most of his UT ca­reer. Not any­more. He’s about to be front and center.

He’s not pen­ciled in as a starter yet, but he’s likely to be a start­ing safety when Texas takes the field against Mary­land for the sea­son opener.

And that’s say­ing some­thing since it’s a much-cov­eted po­si­tion in what should be an elite Longhorns sec­ondary.

“Not at corner­back, but safety def­i­nitely is,” coach Tom

Her­man said. “That’s a loaded room.”

El­liott’s no longer punch­ing air as he did coming off the side­line as a fresh­man two years ago dur­ing that ex­change of emo­tional words be­fore Texas up­set No. 12 Bay­lor.

He showed his promise last sea­son when he smashed into Hunter in the end zone, lev­el­ing him and dis­lodg­ing the ball in the most mem­o­rable play of that Sun­day night game be­sides Ty­rone Swoopes’ game-win­ning touch­down. El­liott es­caped a tar­get­ing penalty de­spite hit­ting Hunter high and giv­ing him a con­cus­sion.

You can now tar­get El­liott as a player on the rise in a UT sec­ondary that had 11 starters in 2016. Eight re­turn this sea­son.

It’s a bit of a stretch to say that El­liott’s claim to fame has been lim­ited to two games, but he hasn’t taken off as his press clip­pings at Rock­wall Heath High School — where he was a third-team all-state hon­oree — would have sug­gested.

He’s played in 19 games in his first two sea­sons at Texas but has started just one. It was a mem­o­rable one. He had a ca­reer-best six tack­les, five of them solo, but most ob­servers re­mem­ber that Kansas game for the de­feat that be­came the fi­nal nail in Char­lie Strong’s cof­fin.

While Strong’s 16-21 record over the past three sea­sons may be a Twitter punch­line, El­liott’s punches are more tan­gi­ble ev­i­dence that there is noth­ing soft about him or his game.

On the whole, though, he hasn’t stood out. That’s in part, Her­man said, be­cause El­liott’s, well, too pop­u­lar. Or wanted to be.

“When we first got here,” Her­man said this week, “I think he was more con­cerned about be­ing liked than he was about lead­ing the team, and he’s done a 180 from that. He’s a re­ally good leader right now, and the guys re­spect him.”

El­liott no­ticed what his new coaches wanted from him. And he changed.

Now, he’s lead­ing the firstyear Longhorns.

“I’m try­ing to lead them on the right path, Mon­trell (Estell), Josh (Thomp­son), Ta’quon (Gra­ham), Gary ( John­son),” El­liott said. “We’re just try­ing to show them the cul­ture that th­ese coaches have showed us. So we get them (up­dated) on the cul­ture and then they can pass it on to the fol­low­ing class.”

El­liott will be a whole lot more lik­able the more plays he makes on the foot­ball field.

He’s part of a sec­ondary that’s drip­ping with tal­ent and po­ten­tial, al­though Her­man thinks his team’s too thin at corner­back. With­out ques­tion, safety is the deep­est spot on the team, but there is also much promise at corner­back.

The ath­letic Kris Boyd fits the role of a lock­down cor­ner and could emerge as the best in the Big 12. Sopho­more Bran­don Jones didn’t get nearly enough play­ing time last year, but he could team up with El­liott as the start­ing tan­dem at safety.

An­other safety, Ja­son Hall, has been around for­ever, making 28 starts in 35 ca­reer games, and John Bon­ney has to­taled 13 starts.

But every­one will have to fight to stay on the field. Her­man can’t quit rav­ing about nickel back P.J. Locke, and every­one’s wait­ing for Holton Hill and Da­vante Davis to re­turn to their fresh­man form that ex­cited the fan base.

Her­man is open to three safeties pa­trolling the sec­ondary, say­ing if one of them is among Texas’ 11 best de­fen­sive play­ers, he and co­or­di­na­tor Todd Orlando will fig­ure out how to get that player on the field.

“I’ve had nu­mer­ous con­ver­sa­tions about try­ing to get the best 11 on the field,” Her­man said.

El­liott is likely to be among them. His team­mates rave about his progress.

“He’s grown up so much and ma­tured,” Locke said. “He’s start­ing to be­come that al­pha dog and that voice on the team that every­one re­sponds to.”

And every­one would like that.

RALPH BAR­RERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Texas ju­nior safety DeShon El­liott has one ca­reer start but has im­proved to the point that he’s likely to start the sea­son opener against Mary­land.

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