UT takes steps to bring freshmen into fold

AUSTIN, Texas -- As per NCAA rules, the Texas football coaches are not allowed on the field or in the film room with the incoming freshmen.

But that hasn’t stopped Mack Brown and company from making sure there is still some teaching going on. From sitting in the backyard of Brown’s house and listening to Fozzy Whittaker talk about what it means to be a part of the program to being enrolled in three hours of classes to get an understanding of expectations, the freshmen are still learning even without the coaches.

“One of the great things that the NCAA has done, is they let these guys come in without the pressure of football, they let them go slow in the offseason program, let them learn from [strength coaches] Bennie [Wylie] and Jeff [Madden],” Brown said. “They get to know their teammates, get to learn how to transition away from home without all the students here, without the pressure of a game (and) playing immediately.

“We think it's really, really helped them learn to play and be more comfortable and a lot less homesick when they get here.”

That’s a good thing for the program. Brown, has acknowledged retention rate issues and has taken more than step toward indoctrinating the newcomers earlier this year.

Making them feel like they are a part of the family as soon as they step on campus is the primary goal. That not only breeds allegiance to the program but also a sense that their actions will already have an effect on the program. That’s why the freshmen gather for a barbecue at Brown’s house. The same can be said, at least emotionally, for the summer workouts. Texas is investing in the freshmen so the freshmen will invest in them.

Add to that list, a tweaked big brother program.

“We made big brothers for each of the freshmen, which we've always done. But we made a big brother be a guy at his position,” Brown said. “So he will walk with him, he'll eat with him, be around him. He can talk to him about how to help in the future. We think that will be more productive than just having some guy.

“If they're working out together … they're much more likely to stay around each other more than an older one and young one that don't have anything in common.”

There are other seminars, again away from the field, where the freshmen are told the ins and outs as well as the dos and don’ts.

“They had the police department come over and talk to the whole team about respect and what we've talked about in Austin, the places you can go, the places you should stay away from,” Brown said. “They had someone come (at the start of the summer) and talk to the team about violence (and) treating females properly.”

The freshmen also learned by example as Brown made them aware of the unlawful acts of Texas seniors Kenny Vaccaro, Barrett Matthews and Alex Okafor as well as the in-house punishment that was meted out. It was a timely, even if a tad embarrassing, lead-by-example case for Texas.

It’s all about setting the right example, even if Brown and the coaches can’t be with the players. And they want to make sure that every freshman follows those examples. If the young Longhorns can do that come Aug. 2 when the team comes together it will, in fact, more easily do just that -- come together.