AUSTIN (KXAN) — Culture is supported by an unwavering effort by the team’s best players and leaders, no matter the situation. When things started to go haywire on Saturday against TCU, two of Texas’ leaders answered the bell in ways they typically aren’t asked to do.
When Millard Bradford intercepted Quinn Ewers in the first quarter, receivers Jordan Whittington and Xavier Worthy helped make one of the game’s most important plays with hustle and determination — directly reflecting the team’s current culture.
As Bradford tried to find running room during his return, Whittington came flying in from well behind the play to not just bring him down, but punch the ball loose. Worthy, the intended receiver on the play, ended up on the ground after Bradford made the pick but hopped back up and went straight to the ball. He saw Whittington pop the ball out and alertly jumped on it, creating the second turnover on the same sequence and regaining possession for the Longhorns. In a moment that could have turned the game had TCU scored with the extra possession, it was reversed by players showcasing how the team has evolved over the past three seasons.
“So many times we think about effort, we think about guys who have minimal reps or just play special teams, but to think it’s Jordan Whittington who misses a tackle and comes back 40 yards later to punch it out, and Xavier Worthy who had a guy laying on him at the opposite 20-yard line to sprint back and recover the fumble, it’s indicative of the character of the team,” Sarkisian said. “When those two guys are playing that way, it sends a pretty easy message to everybody else about what’s the standard and how we play the game.”
Receiver Adonai Mitchell, who had a crucial reception on a third-and-12 play to give Texas a fresh set of downs with about 2:00 remaining in the game, said Whittington’s play saved the game.
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“To contribute when the ball isn’t in your hands like that, it shows how complete of a player he is and how much he wanted it,” Mitchell said. “It was a big-time play, I love that dude.”
At the beginning of the season, Whittington said this year’s team was “built on love” and everybody on the team genuinely cared for and wanted the best for everyone else. That certainly explains why Whittington had the mental fortitude to stay with that play and not give up when Bradford was running away from him.
“His leadership is just hard to quantify,” Sarkisian said. “Jordan has been through a lot in his career here — from injuries, position changes, 5-7 — it has been a lot. He came back because he wanted to be part of a championship team, and he’s not consumed with catches and so many of his plays don’t show up on a stat sheet.”
That attitude is a reason Sarkisian feels Whittington is creating more value for himself in a potential NFL career. Whittington could have bolted to the NFL after graduating from Texas last year, but he felt there was more to accomplish.
“Organizations are watching this and seeing that they’ll get a player that will do everything at maximum effort,” Sarkisian said. “The team is benefitting from who Jordan Whittington is right now, but he’s benefitting from it too and hasn’t reaped all of the rewards yet. He does it the right way and for the right reasons. He’s such a great role model for our younger players.”