The intertwined history between Sark, Ewers and Milroe converges on Saturday

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Jalen Milroe walked into a swarm of reporters Saturday afternoon, having officially cemented himself as Alabama's undisputed starting quarterback after a dominant 56-7 win over Middle Tennessee. He didn't have much time to soak in a moment earned after a grueling position battle that stretched into the first game week. After all, Alabama's contest that day was seen as a warm-up for next week's matchup with Texas.

But the former Katy Tompkins standout refused to build up the clash with the Longhorns despite hailing from the Lone Star State.  

“Honestly, it’s another opponent on the schedule," Milroe said. "And Saturday, our success on that day is going to come from our preparation throughout the week. No matter who the opponent is, we’re just going to take it one day at a time.”

Todd McVey couldn't help but chuckle. In this press conference, Milroe was regurgitating many lines that the head coach had mentored him and all other Katy Tompkins players on.

"I’m listening to him talk about (being) 1 percent better, and I’m laughing because it’s all the stuff we talk about here all the time," McVey said in a phone interview with Dave Campbell's Texas Football. "I love that he’s taking some of that. And I’m sure I probably stole that from Coach Saban anyway.”

Milroe emphasizes the importance of incremental steps and a focused perspective whenever he speaks. Nerves are a result of a lack of preparation. He's focused on getting 1 percent better every day. Texas is just another opponent on the schedule.

Except it's not. Because Texas is the only opponent Milroe can say he was once committed to. And Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers is the one who essentially forced him to walk away from his home state.

Vince Young was Milroe's first jersey, just like many young kids in the state growing up in the 2000s. In high school, Milroe became a dangerous dual-threat quarterback like Young. As a sophomore in 2018 he led Katy Tompkins to the third round of the Class 6A Division II playoffs, a year removed from an 0–10 season. That breakout year blew him up as a recruit that offseason, earning scholarships from Texas, Alabama and plenty of others. 

Alabama was at the top of Milroe's list, but the Crimson Tide had stacked commitments from five-star Bryce Young for 2020 and Drake Maye for 2021. And Texas head coach Tom Herman had worked hard to develop a relationship with him. The Longhorns were coming off a Sugar Bowl upset victory over Georgia, and Herman was all in on Milroe piloting the power spread scheme that Sam Ehlinger was excelling. So, in July 2019, Milroe committed to play college football at Texas.

But while Milroe morphed into the District 19-6A MVP as a junior in 2019, Texas fell far short of outsized expectations. Ranked No.10 in that year's preseason poll, the Longhorns stumbled to an 8–5 record. They demoted offensive coordinator Tim Beck at the end of the season, and Beck responded by taking the North Carolina State offensive coordinator job. Texas then hired Mike Yurcich as offensive coordinator.

McVey remembers that even with all the staff turmoil, Texas, specifically Herman and Yurcich, maintained its commitment to Milroe well.

"Jalen is a relationship-type guy," McVey said. "He’s going to play hard for guys that he knows have his back, like any kid. They want that support."

But Mike Roach, a national recruiting analyst at 247Sports, and Texas site recruiting editor at the time, said Yurcich preferred a more traditional pocket passer than a dual-threat quarterback like Milroe. While Yurcich still liked Milroe and wanted him at Texas, he also wanted a second quarterback in the 2021 cycle with him. That's why Texas offered Flower Mound Marcus's Garrett Nussmeier and Lubbock Coronado's Sawyer Robertson in January 2020.

“I remember talking to Jalen that spring, and he knew about the other quarterback stuff they were trying to recruit," Roach said. "I think he knew that Mike Yurcich didn’t love his style of play. And yet, I think that’s where he wanted to be and he wanted to overcome those challenges.”

Nussmeier and Robertson never entered the picture for Texas. In fact, no other quarterback from the 2021 cycle did. But Texas was heavily pursuing another quarterback a year below Milroe.

After passing for over 4,000 yards and a 45-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a sophomore at Southlake Caroll, Quinn Ewers launched himself into the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2022. Many described him as a generational talent, and Texas wanted in on the action. After months of courting, Ewers announced his commitment to Texas on August 14, 2020.

Milroe decommitted three days later.

"I think that was kind of the final straw," Roach said. "Because it felt like they were prioritizing all these other quarterbacks over him.”

And Milroe had other options. Texas had been trying to do the impossible: flirt with other signal callers while holding off Alabama's pursuit of the quarterback they already had committed. The Crimson Tide had a commitment opening after Drake Maye flipped his pledge to North Carolina that spring. They also had a well-respected offensive coordinator who'd given some coaching to Milroe at a camp in 2019. Steve Sarkisian.

“They still pursued me, and honestly, it came down to just thinking about my future and being developed by Coach Sark,” Milroe told BamaOnLine after his commitment. “He has great experience from the NFL, and learning from him and being coached by him would be awesome for me.”

Texas fans weren't upset. Sure, they'd lost out on Milroe, but this was the price you paid when you inked a commitment from the nation's best overall prospect. However, Roach and others plugged into the recruiting world starting hearing rumors a month or two into the season Ewers would decommit from Texas. The Longhorns were underperforming again, off to a 3–2 start, and Herman's future with the program looked increasingly uncertain. Ewers played his cards close to his vest, but his father tipped off some reporters when he followed all the Ohio State football staff on Twitter. 

Sure enough, Ewers backed out of his Texas commitment on October 28. Texas once had MIlroe and Ewers as the leaders of their respective recruiting classes. Now, they had neither.

"Try moderating a Texas (fan message) board on the day that happens," Roach said.

Ewers's decision and Texas's inability to win the Big 12 despite fielding the most experienced roster was the writing on the wall for Herman's tenure. The Longhorns parted ways with the coach after four years. Then, they hired Sarkisian, fresh off a National Championship run coordinating Alabama's high-flying offense to 48.5 points per game and wide receiver Devonta Smith to a Heisman.

When Sarkisian arrived on the Forty Acres, he and quarterbacks coach AJ Milwee put on the full-court press to try and win back Ewers. But the quarterback was too tied into Ohio State by that point. Ewers reclassified to the Class of 2021 late in the summer and enrolled at Ohio State, while Milroe enrolled at Alabama. Texas's worst-case scenario had come to fruition.

But Ewers entered a crowded quarterback room at Ohio State with little to no chance of winning the job any time soon. Once his freshman season ended, he entered the transfer portal and set his eyes on Texas, a program in need of a spark after a woeful 5–7 season in Sarkisian's first year.

"I think Quinn always wanted to be at Texas," Roach said. "There were so many connections for him and the program. He grew up loving that program. Once he went in the portal, I don’t think there was a question of where he was going to end up.”

So Saturday isn't another football game. It's Ewers competing head-to-head with Milroe, who would've ended up at Texas if Ewers hadn't initially chosen to. It's Sarkisian trying to gameplan against the quarterback he once recruited at the program he once coached. It's Texas looking to prove it's a national title contender, hoping the arm of the quarterback they chose outduels the quarterback they let leave.

“Welcome to the world of college football, good Lord," McVey said.

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