Sark took Texas to Sugar Bowl thanks to five-star culture, three-star players

Texas Athletics

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AUSTIN – Iowa State running back Breece Hall chapped burnt orange cowhides across the Great State when he declared after a 2020 win over the Longhorns that, “it’s five-star culture vs. five-star players.” He was right then. He isn’t anymore. 

And not just because the Longhorns fixed that three-star culture that plagued talented Texas under Charlie Strong and Tom Herman. Hall’s saying no longer holds water in Longhorn discussions because Steve Sarkisian isn’t only winning because of five-star talent. His staff has led a revolution on the 40 Acres because of culture and development. Both kept the program from national relevance since 2009.

We won’t gaslight readers into believe Texas is the plucky underdog in the Sugar Bowl against Washington on New Year’s Day. Texas is a 4.5-point favorite for a reason – talent. The Longhorns possess the sixth most-talented roster in the sport, according to the 247Sports team composite. Washington’s roster ranks 26th on the team composite list. The Huskies don’t have a single five-star recruit on the roster. More three stars (49) are on the team than four stars (27). 

Texas fields nine former five-star recruits and 49 former four-star prospects. The same number of Longhorns checked in as three stars (27) as Washington has as four- or five-star combined. A lot of those five-star talents are still pups, however. Three of the nine are true freshman. Two more are sophomores. 

Of the 22 players who started for Texas in the Big 12 championship win over Oklahoma State, the Longhorns started seven former three-star recruits. Three of those – Christian Jones, Jake Majors, and Hayden Conner – start on the offensive line. Two others – Jaylan Ford and T’Vondre Sweat – are the leaders on defense. Starting safety Michael Taaffe is a former walk-on.

If Texas was to win the Sugar Bowl, and maybe even the national championship a week later, it’ll be because Sarkisian and his staff developed those three-star players in a five-star culture. The results are obvious. Texas is 12-1 and in the mix for a national title for the first time since Colt McCoy hurt his shoulder. 

“We’re living proof that what Sark is doing is developing players,” Ford said. “Guys like us were three stars, but look at us now? We’re all balling.”

Balling indeed. Sweat won the Outland Trophy and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Ford was a first-team All-Big 12 selection for the second straight season. Jones, the last player on the roster from the 2018 cycle, was the fifth-highest rated offensive tackle in the Big 12, per PFF. The team’s leading sacker, Ethan Burke, was a three-star prospect. As was fellow defensive end Barryn Sorrell. The duo has combined for 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. 

Sarkisian brought Texas back to national relevance by maximizing potential. The potential of players he inherited such as Jordan Whittington and Ford and Jahdae Barron. The potential of three-star diamonds in the rough like Sweat and Jones and Burke. Even the potential of five-stars like transfer Quinn Ewers or left tackle recruit Kelvin Banks. 

But mostly, Sarkisian figured out how to maximize the inherit advantages of Texas football. With recruiting. With development. With NIL and the atmosphere inside DKR Stadium. With a conference championship and the program’s first trip to the College Football Playoffs. All a year before a transition into the SEC. 

The Longhorns are assuredly back. The bigger question is if they’re here to stay. Those praying on Texas’ downfall might be in for a long wait. That’s because Sarkisian figured out a way to build a five-star culture with five-star players and a few underrated steals that help put the Longhorns over the hump. And in an age of the transfer portal, Texas is showing the importance of patience. 

“It shows the young guys who come in that you might not play right away or see the success you want to start, but if you see it through and trust the process and keep grinding, you’ll eventually reap the rewards and enjoy the fruits of your labor,” Ford said. “Trust the process and you’ll get what you want.” 

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