Texas players stand by Strong discipline

AUSTIN, Texas -- The first nine questions Charlie Strong faced Sunday, in his media address to kick off fall camp at Texas, centered on a burdensome topic: The Longhorns who got in trouble.

The first-year coach had to announce, and then explain, why he'd dismissed five Texas players and suspended three more. He had to reiterate his five core values and dedicate more time to talking about players that, for the most part, are no longer his problem.

But that talk is for the public. It's hard to imagine Strong needed to give lectures on the topic of discipline inside his locker room and meeting rooms last week.

His punishments delivered his message loud and clear, to an audience of 80 remaining scholarship players who by now understand what's expected.

The Texas players who stay out of trouble and go to class don't need an explanation from their new coach.

"The players, they see it," Strong said. "When you have that number of players, they know what is going on. They know a lot more than we know, so for them it's nothing unusual."

They've witnessed their peers' missteps. They've paid for them, too. Just ask Johnathan Gray.

The junior running back practiced Monday for the first time since tearing his Achilles in November. He's returning to a field that is now missing dismissed backs Joe Bergeron and Jalen Overstreet. Gray is one of three scholarship running backs on the roster at the moment.

"It's one of those things that, it sucks," Gray said. "They're your teammates and your friends, but they made their choice and Coach Strong said he wasn't dealing with it. There was a time and a place that he was going to catch them and he did and kicked them off."

But Gray was not naïve to the fact that Bergeron and Overstreet were, in the words of Strong, "repeat offenders."

When a Texas player got in trouble this spring and summer -- even for mistakes as simple as ditching class early -- he and everyone else at his position paid the price. If a receiver screwed up, for example, strength coach Pat Moorer made sure his fellow wideouts all showed up for early-morning sprints as punishment.

The intended purpose is obvious: Strong was rebuilding a system in which Texas players held each other accountable. So, no, the exploits of Bergeron and Overstreet were not news to the guys in the running backs room.

"We paid for it for a while," Gray said. "When those guys keep constantly messing up, it becomes an issue with them and the coach, and that's when they need to step in and tell the kid, ‘Hey, you've got to get your act right and if not you're off the team.' So that's just one of those things that Coach Strong doesn't tolerate, and he deals with it."

Granted, Gray was still rehabbing his Achilles this summer during the discipline, but as a player who's completely avoided trouble in his two years at Texas, he was understandably unhappy to watch as the good guys paid for the sins of the problematic players.

"It hurts the team, me and all of our players," he said. "Everybody that's on the team, we need them. It kind of hurts to see guys that really don't care about football or really don't care about the team do that type of stuff. What has to be done has to be done."

Of course, we should've seen this discipline coming weeks ago. Quandre Diggs proudly told reporters at Big 12 media days that he supported Strong weeding out players who'd taken being a Longhorn for granted. Mission accomplished.

"I'd say Coach Strong weeded out the people that shouldn't be here," defensive end Cedric Reed said Monday.

What remains is a group that, in time, should be able to better police itself. Texas' veteran players seem to recognize that's the next step.

"If you want to be a part of this team, you are going to have to follow the rules, you are going to have to be committed and do things right," quarterback David Ash said. "If you don't want to do that, you can't be a part of this team. That doesn't mean we can't still be friends with them, doesn't mean we can't be buddies with them. But if they can't be all-in, they can't be a part."

The message couldn't be clearer nowadays: Texas players know Strong's rules, they know the score and they know more discipline is coming if they don't learn from the departed.