AUSTIN, Texas – When Texas linebacker Dalton Santos ran onto the field for practice last Sunday wearing a pro wrestling-style title belt, naturally, there were going to be questions.
While the belt and its origins remain shrouded in mystery, some key details have emerged.
The Texas Takeaways belt was introduced this fall as a method for inspiring the Longhorns' defense to take more pride in forcing turnovers, something it didn’t do too much of in 2013.
Every day, Charlie Strong’s defenders are graded by a point system for every interception, fumble, strip, rip and poke. There might be more criteria, but even Texas’ veterans are hesitant to reveal the criteria and point values.
“It’s just a fun thing we’ve got going on so everyone competes on defense,” defensive end Cedric Reed said.
The points reset every day, and it’s not just about which unit -- defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs -- scored the most in a given practice. If your unit won the day but didn’t meet the coaches’ required number of points, Reed said, no belt for you.
“Whoever wins the most days at the end of the week -- which will be the DBs this week -- will get that belt,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said.
The belt has a Longhorn logo and the word “WARRIOR” printed in the middle of its silver plate. Players say they don’t know where it came from. Cornerback Duke Thomas claimed defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn brought it in to work one day. Texas’ defense has been battling ever since.
Last season, Texas finished with 10 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and 16 fumble recoveries. Its 26 takeaways tied for 26th-best nationally, but the turnover margin was a mere plus-four. Only three FBS schools recovered more fumbles, so that’s a positive, but Texas’ interception total ranked eighth in the Big 12 and 82nd nationally, and the 12 forced fumbles tied for fewest in a single season in school history.
Strong’s defense at Louisville put up relatively similar numbers last year, but did have 16 interceptions and the No. 2 turnover margin in the nation at plus-17.
“Whatever you emphasize and whatever you put in, you get out,” said Thomas, whose three interceptions led the Longhorns last year. “That’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
The linebackers evidently won the belt for the first week of fall camp. Three days after Santos ran onto the field to show it off, Texas’ defensive backs earned it back.
And yet, as is the case with most wrestling and boxing belts, this one comes with dispute.
“Just to let y’all know, the D-line is winning it,” Reed said. “We run out there with it pretty much every time.”
Diggs frowned in disgust when told Reed had claimed domination of the belt.
“Look at my face. Ced has told y’all a big, flat-out lie,” Diggs said.
Added an outraged Thomas: “The DBs are going to have the belt regardless. Aww, man, we had like 35 points [on Friday]. Ced doesn’t know what he’s talking about. They didn’t get no points out there.”
After Texas’ first scrimmage on Saturday, the defending champ entering the weekend was holding on tight to his prize. He was confident the DBs were ahead in the points race.
“It’s meant a lot,” Diggs said. “If you go in the locker room right now, it’s in my locker. So that can tell you who’s winning that belt.”
On Monday morning, Reed fired back the best way he could: with a photo of the belt's new true owners.