Steve Sarkisian revamped the Texas offensive line. The players recruited before him lead it.

Edit by DCTF

Share or Save for Later

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Save to Favorites

Steve Sarkisian saw a glaring problem when he took the Texas job in January 2021 - his inherited roster had more scholarship wide receivers than offensive linemen. The Longhorns couldn’t even hold a traditional spring game that year because they didn’t have enough large humans.

So Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Kyle Flood revamped recruiting in the trenches to build Texas in the mold of an SEC roster. They signed 12 offensive linemen in the 2022 and 2023 recruiting classes, including five-star starters Kelvin Banks Jr. and DJ Campbell. 

But the offensive line that propelled Texas to its first College Football Playoff berth in program history is led by guys the new regime didn’t recruit. Jake Majors, Christian Jones and Hayden Conner committed to Texas before NIL, bridged the transition from Tom Herman to Sarkisian, endured the 5–7 campaign and ultimately, set the new standard in Austin.

And their high school coaches couldn’t be prouder.

The state's largest high school soccer player

The Cypress Woods football coaches used to watch a 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound sophomore walk to soccer practice in the athletic hall and wonder who the hell he was.

Christian Jones, from a family of Jamaican immigrants, had never played football and knew nothing about the sport. In the offseason before his junior year, he agreed to give it a go on the gridiron. He decided to play defensive end because, in his mind, they got all the sacks and the glory. 

He was a good defender and even got college looks that first year. But ahead of his senior season, then-head coach Trent Faith and his staff sat him down and said they believed his future was on the offensive side. 

Jones agreed. He trusted they had his best interest at heart and trusted their analysis. Jones’s ceiling was off the charts because everything he was told about football was new. As he blossomed to 6-foot-6-inches, it became scary. 

“The Navy triple option is what we ran,” Faith said. “He’d come off the ball and just mash people. And I think, even though that wasn’t what he did in college, personally, I think that helped him develop a mentality of coming off the ball and being aggressive.”

Jones had continuously remade himself over six seasons in college football with two different head coaches and three different offensive coordinators. He said the 2021 Kansas loss broke him. His willingness to take coaching built him into a cornerstone right tackle on a CFP team. 

“That’s probably the story of Christian’s ascendency to this point - we had to completely break him down and kind of put him back together to get him to the point right now where I think he’s playing at a high level,” offensive coordinator Kyle Flood said Friday.

The man with the plan

Before he goes to bed at night, Hayden Conner will work on his pass sets in front of a mirror and place a sticky note at eye level. The next night, he’ll do his pass sets again and try to get lower than before.

Travis Sharp knows Conner is a grinder. He served as his offensive line coach as Conner became the Cal Ripken of Katy Taylor High School, starting 50-some-odd games in a row. Conner challenged Sharp because he knew his star pupil would be the first one at the field house with a question asking not just what but why they did what they did.

“He was talented enough to not have to do those things and still be successful in high school,” Sharp said. “But he did them anyway because it's who he is.”

Katy Taylor was in the beginning stages of an offensive line factory when Chad Simmons became head coach in January 2018. TCU tackle Andrew Coker was a senior, and Conner formed a stud-sophomore duo with current Texas A&M center Bryce Foster.

“Those guys were unbelievable,” Simmons said, “Dudes look like an NFL offensive line on a high school team. There were times we’d put them next to each other, and it’s like a road grader.”

Conner pledged to Texas in the summer of 2019 and emerged as one of the leaders in the class, staying loyal even as the Longhorns first rotated offensive coordinators, then head coaches. He'd committed to the University, and he'd run through a brick wall for anyone that coached it.

“He’s got a plan,” Sharp said. “He knows what he wants. He thinks about things. He doesn’t shoot from the hip very much.”

Conner's settled in at left guard as a junior, but he's played every position possible in college. Pride's been to every spring game to see him. The first year he played tackle, as he did for Katy Taylor. This past spring session, he lined up at center. His high football IQ allows him to rotate to every position and therefore provide teaching points for any offensive linemen. 

“I like to think I didn’t ruin him, right?” Sharp said.

The model offensive lineman

Under former head coach Brandon Schmidt, the Prosper football team used to wear “DYJ” on the front of their jerseys. It stood for “Do Your Job”. Jake Majors was the embodiment of that. 

“I think he showed everybody who was a part of that football program in Prosper the right way to go about doing things, the right way to work and the right way to handle your business,” Schmidt said.

He started all three seasons for the Eagles at left tackle, but would rotate to center in practice because he knew that was where his future at Texas was. 

The 2019 team, his senior year, was unproven and hit heavily by graduation from the previous year. The offense put up 37.6 points per game en route to an 11–3 season and advanced to the region finals. Majors was the senior leader who helped the team weather tough losses to Allen and Dallas Jesuit that threatened to derail the season.

In 2023, he’s the undisputed leader of the Texas offensive line at center. Flood says Majors asks next-level questions in the film room that the high-profile freshmen and sophomores Sarkisian has recruited can learn from.  

“For the first and second-year players in our program that have a role in our offensive line room, he sets the bar for that,” Flood said. “He’s a great person, a great example for me to point to on a daily basis of, ‘Hey, if you’ll just attach yourself to Jake’s hip and do it the way he does.’”

This article is available to our Digital Subscribers.
Click "Subscribe Now" to see a list of subscription offers.
Already a Subscriber? Sign In to access this content.

Sign In
Don't Miss Any Exclusive Coverage!

We've been the Bible of Texas football fans for 64 years. By joining the DCTF family you'll gain access to all of our exclusive content and have our magazines mailed to you!