Throughout this series on Horseshoe Huddle, one of the common themes for the Indianapolis Colts’ 2021 rookie class has been overcoming adversity.
There have been constant trials and challenges for these young men as they have worked towards their dreams.
This shows a testament to the character that these young players possess, and it is no different with the young quarterback out of Texas.
This is the story of Sam Ehlinger, the next player featured in the Indianapolis Colts’ Rookie Files. From overcoming a family tragedy to living out a childhood dream, it has been an incredible journey for Ehlinger. Unfortunately, he will be facing a similar situation as he looks to realize his dream in the NFL.
Ross Ehlinger: Gone Too Soon
Sam Ehlinger was born on September 30, 1998 in Austin, Texas. Being born and raised in Austin, it’s more likely than not that you’ll be a Texas Longhorns fan. It didn’t take long for this to be the case with Ehlinger.
As a toddler, Ehlinger became a huge fan of the Longhorns. He dreamed about being the Longhorns quarterback and flashed the ‘Hook’em Horns’ symbol whenever given the chance.
With the help of his parents, Ross and Jena Ehlinger, they became a passionate Longhorns football family.
Ehlinger’s parents took him, along with his two younger brothers, to many Longhorns’ games growing up. It became more than a tradition on Saturdays throughout the fall, it became a way of life as Texas football created a tight-knit bond with the Ehlinger family. Unfortunately, those gamedays as a full family were halted far too prematurely.
In March of 2013, when Ehlinger was in eighth grade, his father Ross died from a heart attack while competing in the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon. He was only 46 years old. A man with a love for coaching youth sports and always helping others was gone way too soon.
After losing his father at a young age, Ehlinger wanted to make sure he made his father proud.
"It's just like I want to make him proud and I want to do the things he wanted me to do, exceed his expectations," Ehlinger said when speaking to The Dallas Morning News in 2017. "I know he's watching. That's kind of how it plays into my motivation, that if he was here, what would he be making me do and how could I get better?"
A Texas High School Legend
After the death of his father, Ehlinger set out to make his father proud and accomplish his life-long dream of playing quarterback at Texas. Ehlinger enrolled at Westlake High School, the high school of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Drew Brees and Nick Foles, and set his sights on the starting quarterback position. It didn’t take long for head coach Todd Dodge to notice.
Ehlinger became the starter for Westlake as a sophomore and did not look back. He tallied 2,543 passing yards, 876 rushing yards, and 42 total touchdowns on his way to being named District Newcomer in 2014. This was a precursor to one of the most impressive high school seasons you will ever see.
As a junior, Ehlinger dominated the competition. He finished the 2015 season with 4,041 passing yards, 1,325 rushing yards, and 71(!) total touchdowns (50 passing, 20 rushing, and one receiving.) He was named 6A Offensive Player of the Year and led Westlake to the 2015 state championship game.
Even after missing most of his senior year due to injuries, Ehlinger ended his career at Westlake with 125 total touchdowns and as the all-time leader in passing yards (7,491) and total yards (9,886.) He accumulated all of these stats all while only throwing 10 interceptions in his high school career and boasting a 23-6 record. Ehlinger’s excellent play and winning ways firmly solidified him as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.
As a four-star recruit and the fourth-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2017 class, Ehlinger had interest from a variety of schools. The first offers came from Houston and SMU, but then came the one he had been waiting for his entire life. The Texas Longhorns offered Ehlinger a scholarship, and he committed immediately.
Part of the dream had been accomplished, as Ehlinger was going to play for his favorite team. But as his father had said, now it was time to go out and exceed expectations.
Longhorn for Life
For Ehlinger, it wasn’t about just playing at Texas. He wanted to go out and be one of the best Longhorn quarterbacks of all time. This was evident from the moment he set foot on campus, and he began to make his mark almost immediately.
Ehlinger took over as the starting quarterback for the Longhorns during his true freshman season and lead the team in both passing and rushing yards despite the fact he only started six games. He proved he had arrived as a sophomore with 3,292 passing yards, 482 rushing yards, and 41 total touchdowns, becoming the second Texas quarterback to have 40+ total touchdowns in a season. His junior season was more of the same, as Ehlinger displayed more of his dangerous playmaking abilities with 3,663 passing yards, 663 rushing yards, and 39 total touchdowns.
After a solid senior year, Ehlinger finished his Texas career as one of the best to ever do it under center for the Longhorns. He stands second in Longhorns’ history in passing yards (11,436), passing touchdowns (94), and total touchdowns (127) to his childhood hero Colt McCoy. He also leaves as one of only seven players in Texas football history to be a two-year team captain and with the fourth-most wins as a starting quarterback with 27.
Ehlinger not only achieved his childhood dream of being the Texas Longhorns’ starting quarterback but will be remembered as one of the best on and off the field, something his father would surely be proud of.
From the Highest of Highs to the Lowest of Lows
Even with the stellar career he had at Texas, Ehlinger was not projected to be a top draft pick. Most draft pundits had Ehlinger going in the sixth or seventh round, with some going as far as saying he would go undrafted. He didn’t have to worry about that, as the Colts selected him in the sixth round.
Ehlinger celebrated at home with family and friends, all of which were ecstatic when he received the call from a 317-area code. It was the best day of his life, and he got to spend it with those he loved. Sadly, the happiness and joy from that day did not last very long.
On May 6, 2021, just five days after Ehlinger was drafted by the Colts, his brother Jake was found dead in Austin, Tex., about two miles from campus. Jake, a redshirt sophomore linebacker for the Longhorns, was only 20 years old. The death was not considered suspicious.
Another tragedy for a family that had gone through the sudden death of their father just eight years earlier. Both men were huge supporters of Ehlinger and wanted nothing more than for their son and brother to succeed. As Ehlinger begins his NFL career, he will now have two angels atop his shoulders guiding him along the journey.
How Ehlinger Helps the Colts
The Colts got an up-close and personal look at Ehlinger at the 2021 Senior Bowl. Their conversations with the young quarterback along with his tape sold general manager Chris Ballard on taking a shot with this kid.
“Whatever ‘it’ is, he has it,” Ballard said after the draft. “He’s been highly productive at Texas, and he’s won a lot of games as a starting quarterback.”
High-level character and being a proven winner are two of the uncoachable traits the Colts look for in their players. Leadership ability and competitiveness are also characteristics that Ballard and the Colts love to see. Ehlinger possesses all of these.
Looking at his play on the field, Ehlinger has great toughness in the pocket and has the arm to zip balls anywhere on the field when given the time and ability to step into his throws. He is always a threat as a runner and can make things happen when the play breaks down. He does need to improve his anticipation as a thrower and work on becoming more accurate, which can be improved with coaching.
Overall, Ehlinger comes to the Colts looking to compete for the backup quarterback spot with Jacob Eason. There is a chance we see head coach Frank Reich use Ehlinger in specific packages to utilize his running abilities if he can impress enough to make the roster. Ultimately, he will look to improve and make the team as the third quarterback on the Colts’ roster, with the potential to develop into a backup option down the line.
Ehlinger proved once before that he can overcome a family tragedy to achieve his dream. He looks to do that once again, with father and brother watching over him and beaming down with pride every step of the way.
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