As Xavier Worthy strolled into Bellmont Hall’s Carpenter-Winkel Centennial Room overlooking the field at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Monday, he looked — and felt — like any other student. The junior wide receiver may be one of the biggest playmaking threats in the nation, but on Monday, Texas' 6-foot-1, 170-pound All-American candidate proved just another undergraduate with a backpack slung over the shoulders running late for his first class of the semester.
Albeit one with 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash who has the full attention of opposing defensive coordinators and NFL scouts.
It’s a different type of grind for Worthy and his teammates now that preseason camp has ended and the week-to-week hustle of practice, class and film study has begun. Rice visits Austin on Saturday for the season opener for both teams, and Worthy has little time for anything but schoolwork and football.
After a summer of hype, he welcomes the routine.
“It’s rough, but I'm getting the hang of it,” Worthy said, flashing a grin. “Whatever has been said, I feel like that doesn't matter. I feel like it’s all talking at the end of the day. Now I feel like we really just got to go out there and show people.”
His teammates agree. The preseason publicity hasn’t slowed for a veteran Texas team that went 8-5 a year ago and flashed the potential that has teased fans for more than a decade. The media picked Texas to win the Big 12 in its final run through the conference, the Associated Press ranked the team No. 11 entering the season, and multiple pundits see the Longhorns as dark-horse contenders to reach their first College Football Playoff.
And that buildup doesn’t even include fellow UT students, who are just now getting the opportunity to greet the players in class or on the sidewalks with unbridled optimism.
“I can tell that they have a lot of faith in us this year,” cornerback Ryan Watts said. “There’s a lot of expectations. We’ve just got to do what we do. Just us.”
But high expectations for Texas football are as much a part of campus life as cram sessions and cackling grackles. Senior offensive tackle Christian Jones arrived on campus in 2018, so he's seen the heights of the Tom Herman era, Sam Ehlinger's “we’re baaaack” proclamation after the Sugar Bowl win over Georgia, and a No. 10 preseason ranking in 2019. But this year, Jones said, the hoopla somehow seems more justified.
“The vibe is just different,” Jones said. “It's game week, so we're all super excited. We're all just ready to go out there, run out the tunnel and just worry about us. Knowing that we put in the work in the winter, we put in the work in spring ball, and we put in the work during summer for this time right now, we’re ready.”
They’re especially eager to face off against someone in a different uniform, linebacker David Gbenda said.
“We're all ready to hit someone new,” said Gbenda, who will likely see plenty of playing time Saturday, especially with fellow linebacker Mo Blackwell Jr. out with a knee injury.
Linebacker Jaylan Ford, the Big 12’s preseason defensive player of the year, hasn’t shied away from the highest of expectations for Texas. During Big 12 media days in July, he said winning a national championship remains a realistic goal for this year’s squad.
While Ford appreciates the well-wishes and high hopes he’s heard across campus, he also recognizes the importance of keeping his focus on the field. And as one of the Longhorns’ unquestioned leaders, Ford makes sure the entire squad shares that understanding.
‘We do a good job on the team of blocking out outside noise and not letting too much hype get to our heads,” he said. “But I'm really glad that everybody's excited for the season. You know, we've been working really hard, so it's finally that time for us to go out there and show the fans.”
Rice at No. 11 Texas, 2:30 p.m., Fox, 1300
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Is Texas worthy of the football hype? Team ready to show why.