“What’s been the highlight of your career?”
“You know, it’s kind of hard to say,” Hicks said. “I think my best moment was that A&M game. I think everyone who experienced that game would say the same. But personally, it’s tough. I haven’t been out there in a long time. It’s hard.”
He’s referring to the win in 2011, but the senior linebacker is one of two Longhorns left who actually played against the Aggies twice. He jokes that he’s been around so long, he even played for Will Muschamp.
After the two years he just got through, after the crutches and boots and the many games spent on a couch or a sideline, Hicks is smiling again. The two-season detour that could've derailed his playing career is over, and he’s still standing.
Hicks came to Texas as a five-star gem from Ohio with immense promise. This is Year Five. Had his career gone according to plan, he’d be gone by now.
“It’s been very, very difficult. Very emotional,” Hicks said. “But I’ve learned a ton about myself and who I am, what I bring to the table. If I go back and think about those times, it makes this year that much more precious to me.”
He played as a true freshman on that Muschamp-coached defense in 2010 and showed flashes of potential. He played through hamstring issues for much of 2011 but capped the season with a Holiday Bowl performance against California (eight tackles, two TFLs, a sack and a pass breakup) that suggested his big break was next.
Three games into 2012, Hicks’ progress halted with one painful pop. Doctors were hopeful the groin and hip injury he suffered at Ole Miss would only keep him out a few weeks, maybe a month.
He didn’t play another snap, and worse, he watched Texas’ defense give up the most yards in school history without him. But he rallied back, received a medical redshirt for his time lost and saw 2013 as a chance for a do-over.
Then came chaos. The BYU game. The Manny Diaz firing. The 1-2 start. And, soon after, more heartbreak.
His season-ending injury in Texas’ Big 12 opener against Kansas State was as random and inexplicable as they come. While running to cover a K-State tight end, he felt another pop.
“I do it every day in practice,” Hicks said of the play that caused his torn Achilles. “I do it every day in a game. It just happens. It’s something you can’t control.”
When his mother, Kelly Justice, told him she was coming down from Cincinnati for the surgery that following week, Hicks said no thanks.
“He’s like, ‘I’m fine, mom, you don’t need to come down,’” she said. “And I said, ‘Are you kidding?’”
The physical pain wasn’t really what bothered Hicks. Sure, he hated the crutches and vows he’ll never touch them again. But it was the mental aspect -- the task of trying to understand why -- that got to him.
“I’d never had an injury before I got here,” Hicks said. “I don’t know what it is, don’t know what happened to me. Maybe one thing led to another. Honestly, I have no clue. Achilles is one of those deals where it just happens. What are you supposed to do about that? I did everything I could to stay healthy. The year before, my groin, I did everything I could.
"I think about it all the time. What else could you have done?”
He was in a boot for more than four months, a spectator for the wild ride that ended in Mack Brown’s ousting. He couldn’t affect anything he was witnessing. He could only heal and wait.
“There was a period when he was pretty down and frustrated,” Justice said. “Anybody in that situation gets kind of angry. It’s out of your control, nothing you can do. You have to accept it and get busy getting better.”
As unfathomable as Hicks’ injuries have been, so is the constant state of change around him. He’s now on his fourth defensive coordinator and his fourth linebackers coach at Texas.
“When we talked to Coach Brown and Coach Muschamp way back during the recruiting days, it seemed like they were a very stable kind of program,” Justice said.
That was 2009, when Texas was chasing a national title. How much has Hicks’ world changed since? Well, during his senior year at Lakota West High School, he took an official visit to Florida.
He came away surprised and impressed by their defensive coordinator, Charlie Strong.
“We both really liked him,” Justice said. “Jordan even said, ‘I’d like playing for him.’ They had an instant connection.”
Strong still sees plenty of potential in Hicks. He’s confident everyone else will if he can just stay on the field. Vance Bedford, the fourth defensive coordinator, says Hicks can be one of the Big 12’s best linebackers this fall. He’s playing like it so far in fall camp.
“You can tell that he’s hungry,” new linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary said. “You can just tell by the way he carries himself and the way he’s practicing.”
Hicks shed 10 pounds to get to 235 and vows his speed and strength are back. He already got his first few hits out of the way in practice and sees no reason to play with any hesitation.
If he wants it, Hicks can push the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility in 2015. But he’s already working towards his Master’s in advertising. Most of the guys he signed with in 2010 are gone. When he’s back in Cincinnati, he says some folks are surprised to learn he’s still playing. Mom is trying her best to not be nervous.
“He definitely has that passion again. He has a fire burning,” Justice said. “I honestly don’t know what the future holds. We’re just hoping and praying for a healthy season.”
Hicks is ready for another redo. This time, he just wants to go out with a few good memories. He still needs an answer for that career highlight.
“I understand the pressure I’m under,” he said. “I’ve got to go out and handle my business. I plan on doing that."
Vince Young has been hired by the University of Texas to work for its Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.
Young, who retired from the NFL in June after six seasons, will serve as a development officer for program alumni relations, raising money for programs that help first-generation and low-income college students.
"The position with DDCE is a great way to stay connected to the university and help make a difference in the lives of underserved kids across the state," Young said in a statement.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Young's position will pay him at least $100,000 a year. He begins work on Sept. 1.
"Vince's passion for the educational success of young people and his experiences as a first-generation college graduate make him a perfect fit for this role," Gregory J. Vincent, UT's vice president for diversity and community engagement, said in a statement. "We are excited about the enthusiasm and skill set he is bringing to our team and look forward to working with Vince."
Former Texas coach and current ESPN analyst Mack Brown posted his excitement on Twitter.
I'm excited VY will be back @ work @ Texas!
- Mack Brown (@ESPN_CoachMack) August 14, 2014
The last time a Big 12 team won a national championship, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was still in junior high. And the last national title game that merely included a Big 12 program, Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight had just passed his driver's test.
Yet with the BCS era dead and gone -- and conference realignment in the rearview mirror -- the Big 12 is out to re-establish its legitimacy in the debut season of the College Football Playoff.
And, most importantly, get back to contending for national championships again.
"We have excellent programs in the Big 12," said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. "Is there any reason why this conference couldn't play somebody in the national championship?
"I don't see why not."
At the turn of the millennium, the Big 12 forged an identity on playing for BCS national championships an almost annually. Between 2000 and 2009, in fact, the Big 12 pushed a team into the national title game seven times.
But since Vince Young led Texas to that thrilling Rose Bowl win over USC nine years ago, the league has gone without a national title. And since Colt McCoy quarterbacked the Longhorns to the BCS national championship game five years ago, the Big 12 has not played in one.
After hitting grand slams with Young and McCoy, Texas whiffed in its quarterback recruiting, and has failed to reach double-digit victories since 2009 as a result.
After winning six Big 12 titles early in the Bob Stoops era with dominating defense, the Sooners softened on that side of the ball and consequently have won only one outright conference title since 2008.
But there are signs the league could finally be breaking out of its recent malaise. None bigger than Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl smashing of Alabama behind a resurgent defense under coordinator Mike Stoops and the emergence of quarterback Trevor Knight, who torched the Crimson Tide in just his fifth career start.
Texas also took steps to revive its program by bringing in Charlie Strong, who already has installed a no-nonsense approach his first year in Austin.
But unlike the early 2000s, the conference flagships won't have to carry the Big 12 banner alone in the playoff era.
Oklahoma State has won 59 games over the past six years. Kansas State was ranked No. 1 in the polls at one point late in 2012. And Baylor ascended under coach Art Briles, who last season delivered the program its first Big 12 title.
"Name me two leagues that are better," said Briles. "You might could name one. But on a week in, week out basis, name me two. I ain't got them."
The Big 12's mettle, however, will be put to the test in the playoff era. With five major conferences and only four playoff spots, at least one league will be left out every year.
But the Big 12 believes its unique, nine-game, round-robin league schedule -- the same format that doomed the conference during the BCS -- will be a strength in the eyes of the playoff selection committee.
"I think we're in great position," said Bob Stoops. "When you play nine conference games, it's challenging. The more you play, the more you knock each other out. That's what happens generally. That's why it's difficult playing nine conference games. No matter what, it's easier to play eight conference games."
Kansas State was also undefeated two years ago heading into its fifth Big 12 road game, but ran out of steam at Baylor. Those same Bears went on to win 13 straight, but fell at Oklahoma State last November.
"If those other [conferences] round-robined it, there'd be a bunch more bruises on some bodies," Briles said. "I can tell you that right now."
Even though Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor each won 11 regular-season games in those seasons, none wound up playing for the national championship. All three Big 12 champs, however, might have been strong contenders for a playoff spot.
"I think people across the country have a lot of respect for our league," said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. "I think they're aware that teams that come out of this league at the top ... not only can compete, but they can win."
The Big 12 sent such a message during the last bowl season.
Baylor lost to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. But on top of the Sooners defeating Alabama, Kansas State destroyed Michigan while Texas Tech manhandled Arizona State.
Fresh off its banner bowl season, the Big 12 will have several more opportunities to send a message this nonconference season.
Oklahoma State will take on defending national champ Florida State in the opener. That same day, West Virginia will play Alabama.
Later in September, Kansas State will get reigning SEC champion Auburn in Manhattan. Texas will meet seventh-ranked UCLA. Oklahoma will face Tennessee. And Texas Tech will host Arkansas.
"Those games are big," said Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters. "To be able to play those teams and beat them would really solidify the Big 12.
"We're a great conference. We just need to get over the hump."
Previewing the 2014 season for the Texas Longhorns:
Key returners: DE Cedric Reed, RB Malcolm Brown, CB Quandre Diggs, DT Malcom Brown, RB Johnathan Gray.
Key losses: DE Jackson Jeffcoat, K/P Anthony Fera, WR Mike Davis, OG Trey Hopkins, QB Case McCoy.
Most important 2014 games: Sept 6. vs. BYU, Sept. 13 vs. UCLA (AT&T Stadium), Oct. 4 vs. Baylor, Oct 11 vs. Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl)
Over/under Vegas odds: 7½ wins
Instant-impact newcomers: RB Donald Catalon, WR Armanti Foreman, DT Poona Ford. Texas will count on several freshmen to shore up depth in key spots. Foreman should be one of several young wideouts who play early on, and Catalon is the clear No. 3 option at running back. QB Jerrod Heard isn't listed here simply because, as the current third-string QB, there's no guarantee he plays.
High point from 2013: Defeating Oklahoma 36-20 last season in the Cotton Bowl. The Longhorns were two-touchdown underdogs, a loss away from 3-3 and facing an undefeated, No. 12 Sooners squad that had whipped them for three consecutive seasons. But Texas owned the line of scrimmage, Brown and Gray each rushed for more than 100 yards and Mack Brown got the last laugh.
Low point from 2013: Losing to Oregon 30-10 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Ducks didn't bring their "A" game that night, but Marcus Mariota was masterful. After a crazy, emotional final month, the Longhorns failed to send Brown off with a victory in his final night in burnt orange.
Best-case scenario for 2014: Texas figures out it's really good at two things -- playing defense and running the ball -- and Charlie Strong coaxes more toughness out of his team, especially up front. The Longhorns get 12 healthy, solid games out of David Ash and the pieces all come together. They rally and regroup after a tough loss to UCLA, beat either Baylor or Oklahoma and win five of their final six games to finish 9-3, good for a share of the Big 12 title.
Worst-case scenario for 2014: A few injuries to critical veterans (including Ash) and some tough breaks in tight games makes 2014 a rebuilding year. Strong gets the buy-in he demands and this team isn't lacking for talent, but the schedule does no favors and an oh-fer against the trio of top-10 foes is a real setback. Road losses in nail-biters against Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State leave the Longhorns at 6-6.
X factor: Coaching. What advantages can Strong and his staff create for this team? The head coach and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford are fine-tuning their aggressive defensive philosophy to fit their personnel and their conference. Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline must mesh their respective styles to create a cohesive plan on offense while also sharing play-calling duties. How quickly can this staff begin to maximize the potential of a roster full of former four-star and five-star recruits?
They said it: "It's all about each and every day just getting better and working hard. Just staying hungry and staying humble. That's what we have to do. That whole attitude has to change; we know that as a football team. This program will never change -- the culture won't change -- until the attitude of the players change. That's what we're seeking to do each and every day." -- Strong
Here are some must-get 2015 recruits who will help bolster each Big 12 school’s recruiting class.
"I tell you what, that bed is not what my bed is at home," he said. "Want you to know that. That bed is wearing me out."
Defensive line coach Chris Rumph had to agree: "I miss my Tempur-Pedic."
But if that's what Charlie Strong demands, they're all for it. The first-year head coach moved all of his coaches and players into the dorms one week ago for the start of fall practice, in a concerted effort to further bond them together.
This is an annual Strong tradition, dating back to at least his Florida years. Last August, Louisville players slept in a hotel during fall camp. This year called for more humble accommodations.
"It's about teamwork and being together and just getting guys together where they can find out who one another really is, because we don't really get that opportunity," Strong said. "A lot of older guys don't get a chance to know who the freshmen are, and now the freshmen can feel comfortable where they can walk into an upperclassman's room and feel good about it."
Offensive players on one floor, defensive players on another. And yes, the $5 million head coach is staying in the same 200-square-foot rooms as everyone else.
"You guys don't think I'd stay in the dorm?" Strong said. "There's no suite over there. Our room is just the same as the players' room. Two beds and a bathroom down the hall."
Defensive end Cedric Reed said moving to the dorms had made this first week of fall ball feel like a true NFL-style training camp. The 6-foot-6 lineman barely fits in his bed, and said he's almost rolled out a few times, but he's not complaining.
Neither is Kent Perkins, the sophomore guard who's trying to earn a starting spot. Having offensive coordinator and line coach Joe Wickline on his floor has proved valuable both for his development and their relationship.
"It's different, very different," Perkins said. "But when you're in the playbook in your room, it's really good if you have a question. You can go down the hall and talk to your coach about it. It's all right to me."
So far, no stories of hallway hijinks or pranks have emerged. There's been no time for that.
"I'll be quite honest with you: When we get there after meetings for curfew, there's not a lot of funny going on," Wickline said. "We've been going since 6 o'clock that morning. They pretty much hit the sack, get up the next morning and go."
That lights-out curfew, usually 10:30 or 11 p.m., hasn't been a problem for players, either. Reed said a curfew is almost pointless; most of his teammates are exhausted and asleep well before the deadline.
"You go to the dorms to sleep," quarterback David Ash said. "Pretty much all the other hours of the day, you're meeting, eating, working, studying. So you might pass them in the hallway on the way to bed or see them in the dining hall, but it's not like it's a ping pong party on the ninth floor with the coaches."
What about the coaches' wives and kids? Strong said his assistants didn't object to the dorm plan. They'll stop by their homes from time to time if necessary, but once August hits, they all know it's time to go to work.
This routine is nothing new for running backs coach Tommie Robinson. He's coached in six NFL training camps and lived out of a hotel last year while an assistant at USC. His family knows not to wait around for him during this hectic month.
"The wives know that once camp comes, most of them go out of town. Most of them aren't here," Robinson said. "The families are gone. They're on their vacation. They take advantage and get out of here."
Wickline said Texas coaches will check out of the dorms this Sunday. So will the upperclassmen. But if you aren't a junior or senior, you're staying in Jester this year. There are few better ways to build up the kind of camaraderie these Longhorns need.
"We're just trying to make sure the team chemistry and the togetherness is there," Strong said.
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Manor (Texas) defensive end Erick Fowler, ranked No. 192 in the ESPNJr300, visited Baylor this week. His offers include Baylor, Nebraska, Oklahoma and UCLA. The four-star prospect has the ability to play defensive end or linebacker at the collegiate level.
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones landed a commitment from receiver Denver Johnson (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma/Casady) last week. At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, the three-star playmaker would bring terrific size to ISU’s receiving corps. After a slow start, the Cyclones have secured nine commitments since June.
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Former Maryland receiver Nigel King joined the Jayhawks and is eligible immediately. He has the ability to help KU’s passing attack after 33 receptions for 450 yards and four touchdowns for the Terps in 2013. A graduate transfer, King will be a junior this season.
Total commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats have entered the chase for Rancho Santa Margarita (California) Catholic High School prospect Austin Maihen with an reported offer to the 6-foot-5, 285 pound tackle. KSU joins Northern Arizona and San Diego State on his offer list.
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: ESPN300 safety Jamile Johnson Jr. (Dallas/South Oak Cliff) decided to decommit from the Sooners and re-open his recruiting last week. The Sooners no longer appear to be in the race for his services with Johnson after finding themselves on the outside looking in when he released his top 5 schools later in the week.
Total commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Cowboys joined TCU and Baylor as stops for elite 2017 defensive end Anthony Hines (Plano, Texas/East) last week. Currently committed to Mississippi State, Hines already has around 50 offers and spent the week making stops at several schools in the region.
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Gary Patterson’s desire to switch offenses to, in part, help recruiting is paying off for the Horned Frogs. TCU’s commitment list is tied with West Virginia as the biggest in the conference and features at least five receivers as it looks to add firepower to its new up-tempo passing attack.
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 7
The latest: Texas joined Oklahoma as one of five teams that are scheduled to get an official visit from ESPN300 receiver Ryan Newsome. The Aledo (Texas) standout plans to visit UT on Oct. 4 and the Sooners on Nov. 8. Newsome is the No. 173 player in the ESPN300.
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Red Raiders continued to make a statement on the recruiting trail with the pledge of Arlington (Texas) Bowie tackle Madison Akamnonu. The No. 248 player in the ESPN300, Akamnonu picked Tech over Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU.
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: Dana Holgorsen’s program continues to have success in Florida, earning a commitment from Miami (Florida) Norland cornerback Antonio Howard. A three-star prospect, Howard picked WVU over offers from Clemson, Penn State and others. Seven of the Mountaineers’ 17 pledges are from Florida.
I took Twitter questions for this mailbag. But you can always submit a mailbag entry the traditional way by clicking here.
On to the 'bag:
Trotter: I have a bunch of favorites. Hideaway Pizza in Stillwater. Spanky's in Lubbock. Vitek's BBQ in Waco. They have a Primanti Bros. in Morgantown now. I always hit the Pappasito's near TCU's campus on the way out of Fort Worth. There are 20 places I like to eat at in Austin. I've never been to Hickory Park, but that's on my bucket list next time I'm in Ames.
@Jake_Trotter best place to eat at while visiting BIG XII schools?— Dane Hernandez (@Dane4theGospel) August 8, 2014
Trotter: Can we wager on this?
@Jake_Trotter what will your reaction be when petty goes in the 4th round or later?— Allen OU (@THEREALALLENOU) August 8, 2014
Trotter: Not even a little. He's one of the main reasons TCU is even in the Big 12 with a new stadium. The last couple of years have been ugly, on and off the field. But two mediocre seasons while transitioning into a new conference do not wipe out Patterson's previously sterling track record.
@Jake_Trotter Is Gary Patterson on the hot seat?— Ben. (@ROTHENbenRG) August 8, 2014
Trotter: No chance. Officials at both schools would be nervous of what might transpire in the stands and out in the fair (where beer is served) between the burnt orange and crimson fan bases if that game were played at night.
@Jake_Trotter any hope ou/texas will be a night game in the future?— Tony Henson (@oufannnashville) August 8, 2014
Trotter: I'm going to guess zero. If Joe Mixon indeed hit a woman and broke bones in her face, he should have to sit out this season at the very, very least, regardless of the circumstances. But, the longer this Norman police investigation lingers, the more it makes you wonder...
@Jake_Trotter how many games does mixon play?— Zac Tidholm (@TIDHOZ) August 8, 2014
Trotter: The Cowboys really, really want J.W. Walsh to be their guy. He's the leader of this team, and brings the toughness that you crave from your quarterback. But Daxx Garman's skill set is a better fit for the scheme Oklahoma State wants to run. Unlike Walsh, he has the arm strength to get the ball downfield to the receivers, which is the strongest position group on the entire team. Walsh is the quarterback. But if the offense bogs down again, as it did early last year, I think the staff will have no choice but to give Garman a chance.
@Jake_Trotter Do you think Dax or JW ends up playing more for OSU this season?— Kyle Smith (@kyledsmith79) August 8, 2014
Trotter: All four players would help the Sooners, but the answer is Dorial Green-Beckham. He's an NFL talent, and brings the one thing the Sooners really don't have right now, which is a big, physical receiver who can go up, make the catch and get the ball downfield. He would complement the rest of this offense really well. That said, the Sooners could use Baker Mayfield. Trevor Knight only started and finished three games last year. He has a tendency to get nicked up, and with Blake Bell now a full-time tight end, the current backups are inexperienced. Having the reigning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year as a backup quarterback would be a nice insurance policy to have.
@Jake_Trotter who do you think is more important for OU's success: Mayfield, Mixon, Shannon or DGB? Who is most likely to play?— Cooper Simon (@coop_simon) August 8, 2014
Trotter: Actually, there has been no signal whatsoever that the league has any interest in expanding. It will be interesting to see how the league fits into the playoff era. If the Big 12 struggles to get a team into the playoff, then I believe that would prompt the league to rethink the status quo. But one reason why the Big 12 has no interest in expanding is the lack of viable free agent options out there that would bring more to the revenue pie than they would take out.
@Jake_Trotter Is it a matter of if or when for the Big 12 to expand now with the new rules. Who gets let into the Big 12 if they expand?— Matthew Gruda (@matthew_gruda) August 8, 2014
"I would've said, 'Aw, come on now ... that's going to be a stretch,'" Haire said.
The Lago Vista head coach couldn't help but marvel Thursday at the fact Haines even got this far. But indeed, this is getting real. When the Longhorns took the field Monday for their first fall practice, Haines was a member of the No. 1 defense.
The sophomore, once a do-everything talent at the Class 2A school, is trying to do just enough to prove Charlie Strong should trust him with a job. He stepped out of the shadows in Texas' spring game and hasn't looked back since.
"He's made plays," Texas senior safety Mykkele Thompson said. "That's the name of the game. You make plays."
Haines was the surprise name of the Orange-White game in April, when he picked off Tyrone Swoopes' first pass attempt of the day and picked up 23 yards on the return. That eye-opener earned Haines first-team reps in the scrimmage.
When you're a third-year walk-on, and the window of opportunity cracks open ever so slightly, you better jump through it. Haines did just that. Then Strong blew the window wide open with his recent suspension of senior safety Josh Turner and dismissal of redshirt freshman Chevoski Collins.
Turner's suspension of at least one game means that, when Texas opens the season Aug. 30 against North Texas, it's entirely possible Haines could get the call to start.
"He has the chance of a lifetime there," Haire said.
In Lago Vista, a town of 6,000 located 35 miles northwest of Austin, Haines was known as a good four-sport athlete who played a little bit of everything -- corner, safety, receiver, running back, left-footed kicker. But he was better known as Dakota Haines' little brother.
"You know how big brothers are. He was in the shadows," Haire said. "Once Dakota graduated and Dylan became a senior, it became evident that, hey, Dylan might be just as good an athlete or better."
The brothers were raised by a pair of Longhorns. John Haines was an All-Southwest Conference defensive tackle at Texas in the 1980s who played four years in the NFL. Their mother, Sandra, was on the Texas track and field team from 1976-78. Her father and uncle both ran at UT, too.
After Dakota followed in their footsteps, enrolling at Texas in 2011 as a walk-on receiver, Dylan took over. His finest game came against San Saba, when he scored on receiving, rushing and interception-return touchdowns in one night.
"He took games over," Haire said. "He's the type of kid who took it over. He's what they call a baller now. If it's up in the air, he's going to go make a play."
And yet, the only other college that showed interest was Lamar, an FCS school in Beaumont, Texas. But Haire knew Haines could play. The level of weekly preparation he learned from his father and brother set him apart.
"He's the type of kid who would come in on Tuesday and tell you the other team's favorite routes and, with the kid he was covering, what his routes were depending on splits and alignment," Haire said. "He was a student of the game. I think he's a late bloomer if you ask me. He didn't reach his full potential until college. To me, he's still developing."
Surely his head coach can appreciate that. After all, Strong was a walk-on defensive back in his days at Central Arkansas. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford tells his players he couldn't care less if they were five-stars or two-stars.
"Coach Bedford made that clear when he came here -- there were no starting spots," defensive end Cedric Reed said. "Everybody had to work for it. Dylan was one of those guys who went in there, went to the weight room, watched film, did everything he could to get on the field and it's working out for him."
Haines was back in Lago Vista a few weeks ago for extra workouts before the start of fall ball. He looked bigger to his old head coach, at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, and he sounded confident. He told Haire he's going to get a chance.
Strong cautioned Wednesday it's "just so early right now" to predict whether Haines can become a starting safety. But even if his chance is just one game, one shot to prove he belongs, the walk-on will take it.
"I think it's one of those feel-good stories," Haire said. "You'd have to have a smile on your face."
Today, Vince Young and Barry Sanders are squaring off in the finals of our greatest season bracket. (You can vote for either by clicking here).
While some old-school stars like TCU QB Davey O’Brien made the list, the majority of players highlighted for delivering the best season at their school in ESPN.com’s The Season played after 1960.
But there were some big-time seasons that came before 1960. Here are a few of the best that came from Big 12 schools:
Bobby Layne, QB, Texas (1947): Layne notoriously liked to have a good time off the field, but he was lethal on it. He finished sixth in the Heisman voting in 1947 and was a consensus All-American after leading the Longhorns to a 10-1 record, including a win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Tommy McDonald, HB, Oklahoma (1956): McDonald led the ’56 Sooners in passing, rushing and receiving and might have won the Heisman had teammate Jerry Tubbs not split the vote with him. With McDonald leading the way, the Sooners won the national championship as part of their famed 47-game winning streak.
Sammy Baugh, QB, TCU (1936): Baugh finished fourth in the Heisman voting after completing 50 percent of his passes and throwing 12 touchdowns. He would go on to have one of the most decorated careers in NFL history with the Washington Redskins.
Jerry Tubbs, C/LB, Oklahoma (1956): Tubbs became the first Sooner to win the prestigious Walter Camp Award. Despite playing center and linebacker, he also finished fourth in the Heisman voting.
Bob Fenimore, RB, Oklahoma A&M (1945): Before Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas, there was Bob Fenimore. The “Blonde Bomber” led the nation in rushing in 194, and finished third in the Heisman voting behind only Army’s “Mr. Inside” (Doc Blanchard) and “Mr. Outside” (Glenn Davis).
Billy Vessels, RB, Oklahoma (1952): Vessels became the first Sooner to capture the Heisman Trophy. He scored 18 touchdowns and rushed for 1,000 yards at the advent of Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma dynasty.
Ray Evans, HB, Kansas (1942): Evans led the nation in passing in 1942 and once owned the NCAA record of 60 passes attempted without an interception. After the war, he came back to Kansas to star for the Jayhawks again in football and basketball.
Jack Crain, RB/DB, Texas (1940): Crain helped resurrect the Texas program under coach Dana X. Bible. The “Nocona Nugget” was the first Longhorn to show up in the top 10 of the Heisman voting.
Larry Isbell, QB, Baylor (1951): Isbell was an All-American in football and in baseball. He led the Bears to the Orange Bowl and placed seventh in the Heisman voting.
Dwight Nichols, QB, Iowa State (1959): Nichols became the first Cyclone to place in the top 10 of the Heisman voting. He finished his career as the all-time Big Seven leading rusher.
Now it's time to decide who was the best. Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders in 1988? Or Texas quarterback Vince Young in 2005?
Sanders broke 34 NCAA records on his way to rushing for 2,850 yards and 44 touchdowns. Young quarterbacked the Longhorns to their first national title in 35 years, dashing for the game-winning touchdown on fourth down in the national championship game.
But who had the best season?
Vote here in the final matchup of The Season to decide.
Texas RB Foreman Cleared To Play
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET North Dakota State Iowa State 3:30 PM ET West Virginia 2 Alabama 7:00 PM ET Louisiana Tech 4 Oklahoma 7:00 PM ET Samford TCU 7:00 PM ET Central Arkansas Texas Tech 7:10 PM ET Stephen F. Austin 20 Kansas State 8:00 PM ET North Texas Texas 8:00 PM ET 1 Florida State Oklahoma State