There is a moment in life, regardless of who you are and what you have achieved, that you feel small and alone.
The adult in us may deny it, but the child that is within us all whispers it is true.
And so it was when Nathan Vasher arrived at the Texas campus and his high school coach dropped him off on reporting day, 2000, he was alone, and admittedly afraid.
There he was, a skinny kid from Texarkana, meeting the teammates with whom he would spend the better part of the next four years. There was Roy Williams from Odessa and B. J. Johnson from Grand Prairie and Sloan Thomas and Tony Jeffery from Houston, all of them with impressive high school resumes that had cornered the market on the recruiting publicity.
When Williams lined up at receiver for the first time against Vasher as a defensive back, the Longhorns eventual all-time leading receiver watched him harmlessly tumble to the turf in mid backpedal. The West Texan has said he thought to himself, "This guy will never make it."
A long time ago, Roy admitted he was wrong in his initial assessment.
Friday in College Station, as the Longhorns finished a remarkable run by sweeping the six games in the second half of their season, Texas was struggling to stop an inspired Texas A&M team dead set on an upset. Somebody had to make a play, as the Aggies had seized the momentum in the second half, and were at the Texas nine-yard line.
And, as he has done several times in his star-studded career, Nathan Vasher made a momentum-swapping play.
The Longhorns held a 28-15 lead, but a Texas A&M score would cut the lead to less than a touchdown midway through the third quarter. Quarterback Reggie McNeal lofted a fade route pass to the left side of the end zone. Vasher won the battle for position, and caught the ball, flashing his receiver skills from another life in Texarkana as he touched his feet just in bounds.
And with that one play, he turned the tide of the game, and tied a record that had stood for 62 years with his 17th career interception. It was Texas' oldest-standing record on the books, held by Noble Doss (1939-41).
Eighty yards, five Cedric Benson carries (including a two-point conversion), and one minute and twenty-nine seconds later, the score was 36-15, and the game, for all practical purposes, was decided. While Vasher's interception may have been the turning point, this day--perhaps more than any of the other wonderful days of Texas football recently--was totally and entirely about "team."
Rivalry games produce that. We saw it in the way the Aggies fought. That is why it is so difficult to win those games, and why Texas had won in College Station only five times in 29 years and twice in 19 going into the game. Turf wars are about claiming space, and Friday Texas laid claim to some very special space.
A team and a coaching staff maligned and given up on at 4-2 through the first half of the season, made a statement in the second half. Not only did they win six straight games, they faced just about every challenge you can in football. They won convincingly, they battled from behind, they handled adversity and they held off those who would defeat them.
In an evolving offense, a coaching staff adjusted to personnel, using its immense experience to craft something that not only worked, but became a juggernaut. The offensive line gained confidence with every game, and despite losing a main player in Will Allen to injury prior to the A&M game, it blew away Texas A&M as Benson led almost 400 yards rushing with a personal best of 283 yards on 35 carries. It was the most yards ever rushed for by a player against Texas A&M and surpassed his hero Ricky Williams (259 in 1998) as the UT's top rushing performance against the Aggies.
A stomach virus felled Chance Mock, the hero of the Texas Tech comeback, but Vince Young continued to prove why he is arguably the best freshman in the country. With every game, no, make that every snap, he becomes more and more confident and assertive. He has emerged not only as a threat with the football, he has become a leader.
The receivers, Roy, Sloan and B. J., checked their egos at the dressing room door. When Roy told the media that the Longhorns could win out after the loss to Oklahoma and still earn a bid to a BCS bowl, it was met with great cynicism. Regardless of statistics, the guy we know is the nation's top threat at receiver never wavered in leading the squad in quest of that goal.
As did Mack Brown and the Longhorn staff.
It is easy to coach in the good times, when your only challenge is to get the ball to the right guys and tackle and block and win. The test of a coach is not what he does then. It is what he does when he has a team of young people hurt and crushed because dreams seemed to have died. And that challenge is twice as challenging when you consider the immense attention that the Texas football program receives. At every turn, a critic could be found to write-off the Horns.
It is then that the coach, and that includes the leaders of the strength staff, the trainers and the entire football family, tests the mettle of their trade. For the game has never been about the coaches, it has been about the kids who play it.
In that window of time, everyone associated with Texas had a choice. In that space, you are what you choose to be. And Texas, its coaches and most importantly the students that play the game chose to fight.
There is one more game remaining, a bowl game somewhere, and that destination is out of the Longhorns' control. They have made their statement, they have done all that they could do and with virtually every bowl representative in attendance at one time or another.
Whatever happens, wherever they play and however they do, this team will be remembered in a very special place in Texas history. They proved that you can get knocked down, and get up. Most of all, they proved what Nathan Vasher would learn in that growing-up time that is a college experience.
Faith and Fear both begin with the same letter, and in time, we will have them both. And at some point, you get the choice to cut and run and give up, or to believe.
That is the lesson of sport, and the lesson of life.
And it is the legacy of this 2003 Longhorn football team.