Football may be a team sport. But, for the Longhorns, success begins with one player. He’s been doubted over and over but keeps bouncing back and surpassing the expectations of his critics.
The man is Tyrone Swoopes. The 6’4’’ sophomore quarterback from Stephenville, Texas. He was highly recruited out of Whitewright High and was expected to make an immediate difference once he stepped on campus, but it didn’t go exactly as planned.
The quarterback position at the University of Texas holds a special place in fans’ hearts with the likes of James Street, Vince Young, Bobby Layne and Colt McCoy leading the program to some of its most successful seasons. The most memorable stretch of players under center came between the mid-90’s to late 2000’s when the Longhorns were competing for conference and national championships.
James Brown led his teammates through a transitional period when the team left its longtime home, the Southwest Conference, for the new upstart conference, the Big 12 Conference. His famous “Roll Left” play on fourth and inches not only set up the game winning score against the team of the 90’s in the inaugural conference championship game, but began a divide between two of the nation’s most successful college football programs. Nebraska felt disrespected from that moment on and left for the Big Ten in the next line of conference realignment.
Major Applewhite followed in Brown’s footsteps and also left lasting memories as a Longhorn. He lost his starting job to the son of a Super Bowl champion. But, the only justice he ever received was the opportunity to play the Longhorns’ final two games as a senior. He was not given an ideal situation, yet he made the most of it. Chris Simms handed him a 29-10 deficit, and Applewhite nearly pulled off the impossible, falling just short 39-37 to Colorado. Following the loss, the chance to play in the program’s first ever BCS National Championship Game was for naught, but the opportunity to overcome a 19 point deficit would be around again. Applewhite earned the starting job for the Holiday Bowl a few weeks later, but knew how to seal the deal this time. The Longhorns fell behind by the same margin, but he finished with 473 passing yards and four touchdowns in the 47-43 win over the Washington Huskies.
The era’s final two standouts redshirted but would continue to exceed expectations for themselves and the program itself. Vince Young redshirted during Simms’ senior season in 2002, but eventually got the chance to shine. He became the most recognized athlete to come out of the University in a long time after trading snaps with Chance Mock in 2003 and taking the starting reins the following season. The Madison High product led the program to its greatest two year stretch since the national championship seasons of ’69 and ’70. With Young at the helm, the Longhorns went 24-1 en route to two BCS bowl wins and a National Championship. He declared for the NFL Draft four days after triumphing over the mighty USC Trojans in the BCS National Championship Game, But, good news for Texas, the program had another QB in their back pocket.
Colt McCoy started all four seasons at the position and won at least ten games each year. McCoy’s best remembered for knocking off #1 Oklahoma in the 2008 Red River Rivalry, his game-winning pass to Quan Cosby in 2009 Fiesta Bowl and getting knocked out of the National Championship Game in 2010. He never returned and the Horns lost 37-21.
It started a long line of bad luck with the most important position on the football field. The highly touted Garrett Gilbert from local power Lake Travis never panned out, and eventually transferred to SMU. Case McCoy and David Ash traded snaps the next three seasons, but neither was the answer. McCoy found his way to HPI Corporate Services after graduation and practices real estate today. David Ash couldn’t stay healthy and had to retire earlier this season with two years of playing eligibility remaining.
That brings us back to square one. With the position he’s in, Tyrone Swoopes has nothing to lose. There is no controversy at the position he plays like in past years and can make something out of a lost season. The Longhorns had their worst start to the season since 1956 and have a long hill to climb. But, Swoopes has shown signs that he can be the long-term solution to the half-decade long problem in Austin. He has greatly improved from his first career start against BYU; his performance last Saturday is a testament to that.
Fans described his spectacular day as a breakout party, especially when compared to his performance against UCLA earlier in the season. He totaled 227 passing yards by halftime, which surpassed his game highs against Baylor, BYU, Kansas and UCLA, and finished with 416 yards. His heaves to teammate Jaxon Shipley in the fourth quarter defined his night and set up a go-ahead touchdown late, and later the game-winning field goal. He led the Horns to their highest scoring effort since the 2013 season opener against New Mexico State and moved his team down the field so fluidly that he looked like one of the greats in their day. Anyone would be excited to watch a player’s growth after a performance like that and he’ll be tested with three more ranked opponents on the schedule.