They’re proudly known as the “Sh*tstain 17” because they didn’t get a cool recruiting-year nickname from Tom Herman’s creative marketing staff like the classes in 2018 (RevolUTion 18) and beyond.
On Tuesday, three members of the SS17 definitely sounded determined to outperform their nickname when Longhorn seniors play their last home game at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium Friday at 11 a.m. CT against a surging Iowa State team.
“It’s really important for this senior class, with all the ups and downs we’ve been on, to leave this football program better than we found it,” said senior defensive tackle and captain Ta’Quon Graham.
“What we mean by that is, we want to ride out on top as Big 12 champions. We obviously have to take this week by week, and we’ll meet our destination if we take care of business.”
Longhorns’ senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger was taken for a trip down Memory Lane by reporters, one of whom asked him if he regretted saying, “Longhorn Nation!! We’re baaaaaaaaack!!” after beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, capping a 10-4 season in 2018?
“I don’t regret it, because I learned from it,” a chuckling Ehlinger said. “It’s one of those things that I’ll look back and be like, ‘That was pretty funny.’ I was still a teenager, so you can expect something like that from a teenager. But it was a great learning moment for me.
“Definitely don’t have any regret about it. Now, would I do it again? Probably not. But I don’t regret it.”
Ehlinger, however, didn’t open up when was asked what was really said between him and then-Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray after Texas’ 48-45 victory in the Cotton Bowl in 2018.
Ehlinger smiled and said, “Sorry. I don’t remember.”
Several seniors who will be recognized Friday, transferred in, such as defensive end Jacoby Jones and graduate transfer receivers Tarik Black and Brenden Schooler.
Others are fifth-year guys like safety Chris Brown and offensive linemen Denzel Okafor and Tope Imade. Still others are long gone, such as running back Toneil Carter and receiver Jordan Pouncey, who transferred. A couple walked away from football (cornerback Kobe Boyce and defensive lineman Rob Cummins).
The seniors who came in as part of the SS17 followed three straight losing seasons, resulting in Charlie Strong being replaced by Herman heading into the 2017 season.
“We came in as a class that wasn’t super highly recruited,” said senior center and captain Derek Kerstetter. “We weren’t just all big-name guys. But a lot of us have come in and played. So I think that was something special – just seeing how we really wanted each other to be successful.
“We just kind of came in with our heads down, didn’t care what people said about us. So I think it was just fun seeing guys like Sam Cosmi, who was a very low recruit, come in and just do so well. So it’s been fun just seeing guys like him (Cosmi) and TQ and all those different guys become so successful.”
The remaining members of the SS17 who will be recognized on Senior Day are Ehlinger, Graham, Kerstetter, left tackle and captain Sam Cosmi and tight end Cade Brewer.
There were highs for these seniors: going 3-0 in bowl games, including a Texas Bowl win over Missouri to cap a 7-6 season in 2017; the Sugar Bowl win over Georgia; and an Alamo Bowl win over then-No. 11 Utah, capping an 8-5 season in 2019.
There were lows. Like losing seven times to unranked opponents when Texas was ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 – the most such losses in that span. Back-to-back upsets by sad-sack Maryland teams made the program feel like a deflated balloon gasping through the air to open the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
These seniors are 1-4 against Oklahoma; 1-3 against TCU; 2-2 against Oklahoma State; 2-1 against Iowa State; 3-1 against Baylor, Texas Tech and West Virginia; and 3-0 against Kansas and Kansas State.
As far as memorable moments, Ehlinger said throwing a fourth-down touchdown pass to Armanti Foreman with 45 seconds left to take a 17-14 lead on USC at the Coliseum as a freshman in 2017 is high on the list. Kerstetter said his memorable moment was beating USC the next year in Austin after trailing 14-3 early.
There are more memories to be made with three games left against ISU, K-State and KU as part of UT’s Control Your Own Destiny Tour.
With Kansas State (4-4, 4-3) having lost three in a row and now on its third-string quarterback – who happens to be a freshman – and Kansas being winless (0-7, 0-6), the most daunting challenge for Texas (5-2, 4-2) to close the regular season will come on Friday.
Iowa State (6-2, 6-1) is a veteran team on a roll that happens to have the nation’s leading rusher in sophomore Breece Hall and perhaps the Big 12’s defensive player of the year in linebacker Mike Rose, who leads the league in interceptions (four) and is second in the league in tackles.
Take down the Cyclones and these proud members of the SS17 keep their dream alive of possibly playing for (and winning) a Big 12 championship – leaving no doubt about putting the program in a better place than where they found it.