When asked, over dinner at an outdoor cafe in Austin this summer, about his reason for returning to Texas for his senior season—a decision that cost him a top five slot in the 2003 NFL draft—Roy Williams skipped the typical scripted speech about devotion to team, desire to win a championship or value of a degree. "I wasn't the best receiver in the nation last year; [ Michigan State's] Charles Rogers was," said Williams. "I gotta make it right."
Last year, with Williams and quarterback Chris Simms highlighting a wealth of talent, Texas notched an impressive 11-2 record. But those two losses—a third-straight defeat to Big 12 South nemesis Oklahoma in October and a sloppy loss to Texas Tech—relegated the Longhorns to the Cotton Bowl (or, as far as they were concerned, the Consolation Bowl). Williams, nagged by a September hamstring pull, felt he underperformed, despite his 64 catches for 1,142 yards and 12 touchdowns. At the end of the regular season he had a talk with receivers coach Darryl Drake, who didn't sugarcoat the problem. "I don't know if there are guys out there who are better than you," Drake said. "But I think there might be guys who work harder."
Williams admitted to himself that at times he relied too much on the quickness and size (6'4", 210 pounds) that had led some analysts to anoint him the nation's best pure athlete. He responded with an inspired Cotton Bowl performance that included a 51-yard touchdown catch, another reception of 75 yards and a 39-yard TD run, almost single-handedly turning a 10-point Texas deficit into a 35-20 win over LSU. Less than a week later, he returned to campus and made the Longhorns athletic complex his second home. He pestered Drake for game film and, as he watched, took special note of how he needed to improve his run-blocking. As the summer progressed, socializing was put on the back burner; when he went to see the street-racing flick 2 Fast 2 Furious, he left early to be home at a decent hour. "Roy is craving discipline," says Drake. "He's always worked hard, but this is a whole different attitude."
Williams isn't the only Longhorn taking a hard look at himself. Poised for his sixth season as the coach at Texas and dogged by criticism that he's been too conservative, Mack Brown reshuffled his staff and mapped out a plan for what he calls "a face-lift" for the program. Brown says fans can expect more running and play action from the offense (which features a deep pool of talented running backs and receivers but is breaking in a new quarterback) as well as improved tackling and more zone coverage from a defense anchored by a speedy secondary. "We had all-out fights on the practice field during spring ball," says Brown approvingly. "That shows me an element of toughness we really haven't had."
Chance Mock, the hard-nosed, hard-throwing junior quarterback who has the difficult task of replacing Simms, agrees. "It's more competitive in workouts than I've ever seen around here," he says, noting also that Williams's return and rejuvenated work ethic have contributed to the edgy atmosphere in Austin. He's watched Williams working in particular on the tough plays that occur in games when the ball may be behind him or off to the side. "Roy's been doing things like placing himself in odd positions when catching balls during practice," says Mock, who since mid-June has held near nightly throwing sessions with his receiving corps, which also includes seniors B.J. Johnson and Sloan Thomas. "His method is to make things as hard for himself as possible."
The Longhorns hope the hard work pays off down the road. If they play with the passion they've shown in the off-season, Texas has a good shot at upending Oklahoma and earning its first BCS bowl bid under Brown. "It has to be our year," says Williams. "Some of us don't have another chance."
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