Tuesday September 15th, 2015

On Texas’s fifth offensive play in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game against Alabama, Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy rolled left and, after declining to flip the ball to running back Tre’ Newton, dashed toward a thicket of 300-plus-pound men jostling for position. The outcome of the play was mundane, but it continues to haunt Texas fans today.

Alabama lineman Marcell Dareus shed his blocker and crushed McCoy at the line of scrimmage for no gain. McCoy left the game with a shoulder injury, the Longhorns lost by 16 points and their replacement for McCoy, Garrett Gilbert, looked in over his head against the Crimson Tide defense.

Nearly six years later, Texas is still in search of a viable starting quarterback—much less one who could match what McCoy accomplished during his four seasons as the starter.

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It’s no coincidence that Texas’s signal-caller drought has coincided with its worst on-field stretch since the turn of the century, a five-season run with no major bowl games yielding an average of 7.2 wins per season. The instability at the position has become such a pressing concern in Austin that many observers have already shifted their focus to a quarterback who won’t reach campus until next year.

High school senior Shane Buechele could be the next McCoy, the latest in a string of highly touted QB prospects who flopped or something in between. But until he begins his college career—and barring the emergence of one of the quarterbacks on the Longhorns’ roster this season—there will be a rush to anoint Buechele, the son of former MLB third baseman Steve Buechele, as the one who can solve Texas’s QB woes.

Is the optimism misplaced? Or is Buechele the passer Longhorns fans have been waiting for?

Buechele will tell you he’s “living in right now” and trying “not to think about the future and how exciting that’s going to be.” He is, after all, entering his third year as the starter at Arlington Lamar (Texas) High, which is expected to compete for a spot in the state playoffs. This doesn’t make Buechele unique; there are a lot of talented quarterbacks in Texas set to lead strong teams on Friday nights this fall. Yet Buechele distinguished himself earlier than many of his peers in the Lone Star State. His offensive coordinator at Arlington Lamar, Daniel Wilkinson, says he was impressed by Buechele’s demeanor and physical traits when he saw him at a camp as an eighth grader. During his freshman year, Wilkinson says, Buechele flashed a “natural” throwing motion. “He came with that.”

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After excelling on the freshman team, Buechele became the varsity starter as a sophomore. He was named to the Star-Telegram Super Team following his junior year, in which he threw for 2,504 yards, rushed for 598 yards and scored 38 total touchdowns. Along the way, Wilkinson and new head coach Laban Delay, said Buechele served as a leader and commanded respect from his teammates with his competitiveness. Delay remembers Buechele making phone calls to players who didn’t show up on time to early-morning summer conditioning sessions.

Buechele has created plenty of highlights during his high school career, but he may never top the late touchdown run he delivered in his first game back from a foot injury during his sophomore season. With under four minutes remaining in a matchup with Justin Northwest, Buechele faked a handoff to a running back, scampered toward the right sideline, shrugged off two would-be tacklers who hit him simultaneously and dove into the end zone.

[footage courtesy Arlington Lamar High School]

(For more highlights, here are ones from Buechele’s entire junior season.)

As he continued to elevate his stature in Texas high school football circles, Buechele began garnering interest from a number of high-major programs. Kentucky was the first to extend Buechele a scholarship offer in March of his sophomore year, and other programs such as TCU and Texas Tech followed suit in the coming months. One early offer, from Oklahoma, carried more weight than the others. Buechele’s brother, Garrett, was on the Sooners’ baseball team, and his two sisters attend the school. Yet Buechele, who plans to also play baseball at Texas, said the Longhorns grabbed his attention because “I was never a Texas fan growing up.” After attending a camp at the school the summer before his junior season, Buechele says he knew that if the Longhorns were to offer him, they would be heavily considered as his college destination.

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Texas followed through in July, and though he never created a “top five or anything,” Buechele says that before he issued a verbal commitment in February 2015, he knew that “the top two that I was kind of picking from were OU and Texas.”

He says he ultimately chose the Longhorns because of the coaching staff as well as the school’s academic offerings. “I really have a good relationship with coach [Charlie] Strong and coach [Shawn] Watson, and just everything put together academically-wise,” he says. “I want to major in business, and they have one of the best business schools in the nation. So, hopefully I can get my degree from there, and it’d be a pretty good degree, and see where it goes from there. So, I think, putting all parts together, I think it was the best fit for me.”

Despite his commitment to one of the biggest programs in the country, it wasn’t until this summer that the hype surrounding Buechele was turned up to eleven. He shone amongst a group of the nation’s top senior quarterbacks at the prestigious Elite 11 competition in Beaverton, Ore. After winning the “Golden Gun” target challenge for accuracy, Buechele finished second in the competition’s rankings—behind No. 1 overall prospect Shea Patterson—and showed off an uncanny ability to dribble a football between his legs (Buechele says he grew up playing basketball). Yet what most impressed those who watched Buechele at the event were his throwing mechanics. Elite 11 coach and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer likened Buechele to two standout NFL quarterbacks. “Literally, it’s Aaron Rodgers,” Dilfer told USA Today’s Paul Myerberg. “It’s Drew Brees good.”

In its latest update, Rivals.com ranked Buechele the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback and No. 98 player in the class of 2016. Jason Howell, the service’s Mid-South Recruiting Analyst, said Buechele’s “overall skill set” stands out. “He’s got a really high football IQ and he’s got athletic abilities that are hard to find,” Howell says. “He’s not one of these big, 6’4” guys, but he’s got good size and athleticism. And I think you put that full package together, and you look at him—he’s the kind of guy who can be the future of a program, and at a position where Texas has struggled here in the recent past.” Howell adds, “He’s a guy that has intangibles and is used to being put in a position of leadership. So, it’s not going to be one of those things where he shies away from some bright lights.”

Of course, Buechele is not the first quarterback in recent years to arrive at Texas with a lofty recruiting reputation. To cite two examples, Gilbert was the No. 2 pro-style passer in the class of 2009, and junior Tyrone Swoopes was the No. 13 dual-threat passer in the class of 2013, according to Rivals.com. Gilbert transferred to SMU after an underwhelming stint with the Longhorns, and redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard started over Swoopes in Saturday’s win over Rice.

Other quarterbacks Texas has brought in since McCoy haven’t panned out for a multitude of reasons, and the Longhorns also suffered from several high-profile oversights on the recruiting trail. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett all played high school football in Texas, but the Longhorns didn’t offer any of them a scholarship.

Buechele could provide Texas what his predecessors at quarterback could not, but the Longhorns’ recent track record at the position doesn’t inspire optimism. Neither does the immediate future: Texas stripped Watson of play-calling duties one game into this season, the Longhorns’ offensive line was completely outmatched in an embarrassing loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 5 and the offense lacks the playmakers that helped make McCoy such a potent triggerman.

But perhaps applying those concerns to Buechele is premature. Keep in mind that Texas’s top two quarterbacks (Heard and Swoopes) have appeared in just 23 games combined, and Kai Locksley, a four-star recruit from the class of 2015, has yet to play a down for the Longhorns.

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Still, that won’t prevent the panicking en-masse about Texas’s ongoing search for a “savior” at the game’s most important position, or the optimistic forecasts of Buechele potentially developing into some version of McCoy. In the meantime, Buechele will likely continue putting up big numbers at Arlington Lamar—he recently tossed a touchdown pass one play after chipping a tooth—and further raising expectations for his arrival in Austin.

Buechele says he does not plan to take visits to any schools other than Texas this fall and that he may want to try to add some mass to his 6’2”, 185-pound frame, but “whenever I get there, they’ll put that on me.”

His goal is to enroll early. “I’m in the process of doing it now and it’s going well, so hopefully I can,” he says. For Texas fans, early can’t come soon enough.

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