Golden

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS -

round­ing the com­pet­i­tive gene of fresh­man QB Shane Buechele. This sum­mer has been about swanky lock­ers, team-build­ing ex­er­cises that re­ward winners with steak and losers with some­thing less ap­pe­tiz­ing. Her­man has al­ready in­stilled a fear of los­ing and a fear of fail­ure in his pro­gram. It re­mains to be seen if that fear equates to wins. The guess here is it will.

Of course, we’re at that time where all col­lege foot­ball teams are un­de­feated and hope is gush­ing out of the pores of ev­ery coach and fan in the coun­try. That said, Texas is in an elite pro­gram when it comes to draw­ing power and mer­chan­dis­ing so Her­man’s ar­rival has un­der­stand­ably brought with it some re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions of bowl games and im­proved play after the worst three-year stretch in pro­gram his­tory.

The first thing I’ve no­ticed is the play­ers sure seem to be in bet­ter shape, both phys­i­cally and men­tally. This time last year, they were talk­ing about avoid­ing Pat Moorer’s in­fa­mous Pit, but now we hear the new head coach re­port­ing his team has lost a com­bined 500 pounds of body fat while adding 380 pounds of lean mus­cle un­der the di­rec­tion of new strength and con­di­tion­ing coach Yancy McKnight. On the sur­face, that sounds like a near-900pound turn­around, and if we’re tak­ing Her­man at his word, it should equate to a much more well-con­di­tioned group.

All-Amer­ica of­fen­sive tackle Connor Williams, the bell­cow up front, hasn’t been one to voice strong opin­ions in the past, but some­thing he said after Fri­day’s first day in pads gave cre­dence to Her­man’s num­bers.

“It’s crazy how much stronger we are, and it was a hot day, but it was noth­ing com­pared to how tired we were last spring,” he said. “It’s just crazy how much more dura­bil­ity we have and how much more strength.”

“The strength and con­di­tion­ing pro­gram kicked in today,” de­fen­sive back P.J. Locke said Fri­day, re­mark­ing that the sound of pads crash­ing against one an­other got him hyped.

The Horns were a cou­ple of steps slow too of­ten last sea­son, es­pe­cially on de­fense — you can’t un-ring the bru­tal bell that was the first half at Still­wa­ter — and the con­cern still has to be depth up front. Her­man made no se­cret of his de­sire to re­duce the fat on this ros­ter and he has ap­par­ently achieved that goal. The big’uns have a leaner look to them.

And about that men­tal shape that’s im­proved: Her­man has im­plored his play­ers to com­mu­ni­cate more. When I asked Locke who was call­ing the de­fen­sive sig­nals in the sec­ondary, he said, “ev­ery­body.”

That’s what Her­man wants. Noise and lots of it.

More than once over the last week, Her­man men­tioned the word “vo­cal” when dis­cussing lead­er­ship, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to the most im­por­tant po­si­tion in team sports: quar­ter­back.

Buechele has never been known for his deci­bel level, but he’s ap­par­ently reg­is­ter­ing bet­ter num­bers in the pre­sea­son. Her­man ac­tu­ally heard him scream after Satur­day’s scrim­mage, once in en­joy­ment and once in dis­ap­proval. Maybe the coach won’t need to show him those Tom Brady train­ing tapes after all.

“It can have a dra­matic ef­fect on the way that we re­spond, whether it’s to suc­cess or to fail­ure,” Her­man said. “What you say and how you say it has an ef­fect and so I think he’s re­ally taken that to heart and done a good job of, and it’s not forced ei­ther, just ex­press­ing what he was feel­ing inside. Where be­fore, I think he kind of kept it all to him­self.”

Her­man says he’s get­ting some good vo­cal lead­er­ship in this camp from Williams, tight end An­drew Beck, line­backer Naashon Hughes, Locke, guard Patrick Vahe and line­backer Ma­lik Jef­fer­son, who is the most in­trigu­ing study en­ter­ing this sea­son, given his dip in pro­duc­tion and Q-rat­ing his sopho­more year.

The opener is still sev­eral hot prac­tices away and Her­man be­lieves he is get­ting that buy-in he was hop­ing to see from all those meet­ings so many months ago.

RALPH BARRERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATESMAN

Texas strength and con­di­tion­ing coach Yancy McKnight (left) is the man be­hind the Longhorns los­ing a com­bined 500 pounds of body fat.

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