Texas Football: 3 true freshmen for UT who shined during regular season

Malik Muhammad, Texas football
Malik Muhammad, Texas football / Aaron E. Martinez/American-Statesman /
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No. 3 Texas football and head coach Steve Sarkisian have accomplished many of their preseason goals and more after a tremendously successful run in the final year in the Big 12 during the 2023 regular season.

For the first time since 2009, the Longhorns won double-digit games during the regular season and attained a top-five ranking in the AP Poll for multiple weeks. Texas also won its first Big 12 Championship since the 2009 season when it handily defeated longtime head coach Mike Gundy and the No. 18 Oklahoma State Cowboys 49-21 in the Big 12 title game in Arlington on Dec. 2.

Underclassmen have stepped up in a big way for Texas football in 2023

Last but not least, the Longhorns reached the College Football Playoff for the first time in the Playoff era (since 2014). Texas will battle the No. 2 Washington Huskies in the College Football Playoff semifinal game at the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, LA, on Jan. 1.

Among the big reasons why the Longhorns have found so much success this season is the rise of talented underclassmen contributing in significant ways on both sides of the ball. Texas has multiple freshmen and sophomores who have stepped up in a big way on both sides of the ball to give this team more depth on the two-deep than we've seen on the 40 in the last decade.

It inspires confidence heading into the SEC next year that Texas has so much young depth on this roster under Sark.

Here are three true freshmen for the Longhorns who shined during the regular season.

Derek Williams Jr., S

Speaking of true freshmen for the Longhorns who look the part of SEC-caliber talents, true freshman safety Derek Williams Jr. was an absolute beast for this team in Big 12 play. Once Williams started to get significant reps in the safety rotation for Blake Gideon and the Longhorns in conference play, he became a critical part of this secondary.

Williams brings a level of physicality and ranginess to the secondary for the Longhorns that no one else has in this safety room this year. He showed that ranginess and physicality for a true freshman throughout Big 12 play, as he ranked second among freshman safeties in defensive grade in conference play and led in combined tackles.

There is a good argument to be made that Williams was Texas's most consistent safety in coverage and contesting space down the stretch in the second half of the regular season. Not only did he lead all Big 12 freshman safeties in defensive grade and yards per coverage snap in the second half of the regular season, but he also led all Texas safeties in yards per coverage snap and quarterback rating allowed.

Williams certainly lived up to the expectations, and a little bit more, as a talented high-four-star recruit from Louisiana in the 2023 class. It was very impressive to see him immediately impact the secondary this fall, despite arriving on campus as a summer enrollee.

Unfortunately for Williams, it looks like he won't be playing in the first half of the semifinal game at the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 against Washington due to a targeting flag called on him on a kickoff in the second half of the Big 12 title game against Oklahoma State. At least Texas will get him back in the second half and the staff has a full month to make the necessary adjustments to the secondary personnel in Williams' absence for the first half of the Sugar Bowl.