Steve Sarkisian jokes about Brenden Schooler's "old man in the locker room" mantra. After all, what could the Texas head coach tell him that another coach likely hasn't preached in the past?
“You end up at your third Power Five school, you’ve changed positions, you’ve changed head coaches," Sarkisian said. "I joke with him sometimes that I don’t know if there’s a speech I could give the team that he has never heard before. He’s probably heard it from somewhere, from somebody."
Schooler enters his sixth college football season come September. Two stops at Oregon and Arizona have made him well-versed in how to pick up a new offense in no time.
How about picking up the defensive side of the football? It's where he'll be playing in his final year of eligibility for the Horns in 2021.
A wide receiver for the past four seasons, Schooler like playing the safety spot in Pete Kwiatkowski's 4-2-5 approach. Back in 2016, he looked to be a name on the rise for the Ducks' defense. That season, Schooler started in 10 games and recorded a team-high four interceptions while recording 74 tackles.
The Ducks hired Willie Taggart in 2017 to replace Mark Helfrich. In the process, Taggart's staff elected to move Schooler to the offensive side of the football at wide receiver. Even then, Schooler said it wasn't the position he was recruited to play coming out of Mission Viejo High School.
“I definitely love playing receiver, don’t get me wrong. It’s pretty fun scoring touchdowns," Schooler said this past week. "But out of high school I was recruited as a safety, so I played defense all of my high school career and sprinkled in receiver. I love playing safety. I feel super comfortable back there.”
In two seasons with the Ducks' offense, Schooler recorded 13 starts, 41 catches, 477 yards, four touchdowns. He was named a team captain by Mario Cristobal in 2018 and was gearing up for a breakout season in 2019.
A foot injury cost him nearly the entire season, thus forcing him down the depth chart. Schooler elected to transfer to Arizona but quickly left to join Texas after the Pac 12 announced they would initially cancel the 2020 season due to COVID-19.
Last season as the fourth receiver for Tom Herman's staff, Schooler finished with 12 catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns — both coming in the first two weeks of the season. For most of the season, injuries cost him reps, but he remained a key contributor and tackler on special teams.
Sarkisian saw that when he arrived on the Forty Acres. A simple switch to the defensive side? Seems like a deal both parties were more than happy to accept.
"I love his approach," Sarkisian said Friday. "I think he’s a guy who appreciates his opportunity. And obviously, because of his experience on offense and on defense I think he has a really high football IQ. So all those things add up to he’s a really valuable piece of the puzzle for us defensively and on special teams.”
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That's Schooler's role Week 1 against No. 23 Louisiana. Kwiatkowski has mentioned the emphasis on creating turnovers in Year 1 of the new system. It's why he's expected to start opposite B.J. Foster when Texas takes the field at DKR against the Ragin Cajuns' offense.
What better way to beat a receiver than have a former one line up in coverage against them?
"I think what I’ve done to put myself in this position is just work hard and have faith that things will happen if you work hard and you trust the process and you come in with that, you know, lunch pail, blue-collar work ethic every day.” Schooler said.
Teammates have also taken notice of his success since the start of the spring.
“Balled all spring ball,” defensive tackle Keondre Coburn said earlier this month.
It's been a long journey back to the defensive side of the ball for the once California Large School All-State first-team defender. Kwiatkowski saw firsthand what Schooler could do as a receiver against his defensive backs at Washington.
He has a new job for at safety in 2021 — get his hands on the ball and create turnovers. That, and make hits in the open field.
Perhaps that's the thing Schooler is most excited about when someone crosses his path next Saturday.
“I think I can really get deep and protect the deep ball and also come down in the run game," said Schooler I’m not really afraid to come down and hit, so just flying in there and making plays when I can.
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