AUSTIN, Texas -- The most interesting comments made by Texas coach Charlie Strong about quarterback Shane Buechele came before the true freshman even made his debut in the spring game.
Last week, Strong sat down for a Longhorn Network interview with Ricky Williams. He was asked whether Buechele has a chance to see significant playing time this fall. One might expect a carefully worded and prepared response, right?
"Oh, Buechele?" Strong replied. "Oh God yes. Yes. Oh yes. Oh, he will play in the fall, yes. He will play."
Strong was actually chuckling as he said this. After what he had witnessed over more than a dozen spring practices, there was no need to be vague. The kid can play.
Strong likes to fondly call his freshman passer a gym rat. After Buechele threw for 299 yards and two TDs in the spring game, Strong told reporters his players are calling the newcomer a baller. Some staffers have admiringly said he’s a "dude." You get the gist: he’s got some "it" factor.
But the reason Buechele looks like the new front-runner in Texas' quarterback race seems much easier to define. Consider another answer from that candid LHN interview, one that might have been easy to miss.
Williams asked Strong what makes Buechele so special. And here was the first thing that came to his mind: "Well Buechele, if you think about it, he's a quarterback. And he's been in this offense before, so he really understands it."
If you think about it, that response might say something about Buechele’s competition.
Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard are tremendous athletes. Each has spent the past few years trying to become a better passer and decision-maker. There have been struggles along the way. In its 14 losses under Strong, Texas’ offense has averaged 159.4 passing yards per game and 5.7 per attempt.
When Sterlin Gilbert arrived in mid-December, the new offensive coordinator wiped the slate clean. He said he didn’t watch any 2015 tape of Heard or Swoopes. They have had to prove their capabilities all over again while learning a new offensive philosophy. For Buechele, this scheme isn’t all that new. He learned run/pass option concepts and tempo offense at Arlington Lamar High School.
"When he came into the system, it sunk in that he’d been accustomed to it," Strong said after the spring game. "It wasn’t hard for him to come in right away and make those throws and put the ball where it’s supposed to be put."
It’s fair to say Buechele became this team’s most advanced passer as soon as he arrived on campus. Not that Gilbert totally knew what to expect. Former offensive coordinator Shawn Watson was the one who had evaluated and landed Buechele a year ago.
"I didn’t meet Buechele until right when I got here," Gilbert said. "I look up and I’m in his home. Three days later, he’s on campus."
The teacher had a lot to learn about the student over these past four months. And from an X’s and O’s standpoint, the student caught on quickly.
"The way he’s processing and understanding, he’s a guy that’s savvy about football," Gilbert said. "He understands what we’re doing and what we’re trying to get accomplished."
Still, Gilbert points out Buechele should be going to prom in two weeks. He’s an 18-year-old with a lot to figure out. Few understand Buechele’s current situation better than Malik Jefferson. Both arrived at Texas as early enrollees with big-time hype. Both became instant fan favorites. Both will try to live up to insane expectations.
So Jefferson made sure to approach Buechele before the scrimmage Saturday, just to see if he was OK.
"The first thing I said to him was, 'Don’t be nervous. Are you nervous?'" Jefferson recalled. "He told me, 'I’m nervous.' I was like, 'It’ll go away after your first pass. After that, just be smooth.'"
In an ideal world, Buechele would get to redshirt and strengthen his 6-foot-1, 191-pound frame while mastering Gilbert’s system in a low-pressure environment. But he chose the Longhorns. The search for the Next Great Texas Quarterback Savior is going on its seventh year.
Strong and Gilbert aren't calling off that search just yet. Swoopes and Heard will keep battling. But for the first time in a long time, this program might have finally found the right quarterback for the right scheme at the right time.