This spring Major Applewhite was dining with two friends at a
Tex-Mex restaurant in Austin, discussing life after Ricky
Williams, when Applewhite's belly started to burn. It's not
unusual for that topic to cause his stomach to turn, but this
time the pain felt different. When the burn became a raging
inferno, Applewhite, the Longhorns' sophomore quarterback,
excused himself and eventually went to an emergency room, where
he was found to have appendicitis. Minutes before surgery an
anesthesiologist asked Applewhite if he would mind answering one
question. Sure, Applewhite replied. "So, you think we can get
the job done without Ricky?" he asked.
"Everywhere I've gone this summer, everyone wants to know if we
can win without Ricky," says Applewhite. "Of course we can. One
guy doesn't make a team."
Applewhite is right. In spite of losing Williams, Division I's
alltime leading rusher, the Longhorns are not far from being a
national title contender. Though Texas must replace 10 starters
from last year's team, which snapped Nebraska's 47-game home
winning streak and beat Mississippi State 38-11 in the Cotton
Bowl, coach Mack Brown is hardly fretting. In his second year in
Austin, Brown has built a program that is awash with young, very
fast talent. In this year's recruiting class, which was lauded
as the nation's best by numerous publications, Brown landed USA
Today's offensive and defensive players of the year along with
seven other USA Today All-Americas.
Eight starters are back from a Longhorns defensive unit that
ranked 56th in the nation. A year of experience, along with the
addition of linebacker Cory Redding, the USA Today high school
defensive player of the year, should improve the D.
The key player this season, however, is Applewhite. Last year,
as a redshirt freshman, he passed for more than 200 yards in 10
straight games, a school record, and was named the Big 12
freshman of the year. But even though Applewhite boasts an
impressive resume, he will most likely sit on the bench once
freshman quarterback Chris Simms, USA Today's high school
offensive player of the year last season, learns the playbook.
Applewhite and Simms chatted briefly at the spring game, at
which Simms was mobbed by autograph seekers, and the two became
friends. "I'll do whatever I can to make him a better
quarterback," says Applewhite. "But I see myself as the starter."
Applewhite will be joined in the backfield by fullback Ricky
Brown, who served as Williams's blocking back the past two
years, and tailback Hodges Mitchell, who has carried the ball
just 37 times in his career. The lack of an established runner
means Applewhite will see fewer eight-man fronts and more zone
coverage. Speedy wideout Kwame Cavil, who finished fourth in the
Big 12 in receptions (51) last season, should help the Longhorns
stretch those defenses.
"Now that we don't have Ricky, we're going to open up the
offense and come at defenses from every angle," says Applewhite.
"There won't be much of a drop in production, if there is one at
For the sake of his stomach he had better hope so.
1998 record: 9-3 (6-2, 2nd in Big 12 South)
Final ranking: No. 15 AP, No. 16 coaches' poll
1998 Averages Scoring Rushing Yards Passing Yards Total Yards
OFFENSE 36.3 204.2 266.5 470.6
DEFENSE 29.6 143.5 220.9 364.4
Schedule strength: 25th of 114
Oct. 2 vs. Kansas State
The Wildcats held Williams to 43 yards in last year's 48-7 rout.
K-State's D turns its attention to Applewhite.
Nov. 26 at Texas A&M
This post-Thanksgiving treat figures to be every bit as good as
last year's game, which the Longhorns won 26-24.
The Bottom Line
Sans Williams, the Longhorns won't win any championships this
season, but it's only a matter of time before the nation's top
recruiting class turns Texas into a power.