Gilbert, helmet in hand, takes over at Texas

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Simms struggled to earn the full support of Longhorns fans, partly because he was given the starting role over the popular Major Applewhite, now the Longhorns’ running backs coach.

Gilbert has faced no such controversy. As a freshman, he quickly rose to No. 2 on the depth chart, spending last season studying McCoy, who won an NCAA record 45 games as a starter. Gilbert played in 10 games, most of it mop-up duty in blowouts against the likes of Texas-El Paso.

“I still feel like I have a bit to prove,” Gilbert said. “I haven’t won a game yet … I’m not Colt. I just have to be my own player.”

He never expected to do more than watch and cheer against Alabama. Brown recalled how Gilbert casually poached some of the steak the starters weren’t eating in their pre-game meals.

“You can always tell the guys that say, ‘Can I get some of your steak?’ aren’t going to play,” Brown said. “When I said, ‘Garrett, get your helmet, his eyes were as big as silver dollars.

“But it was obvious in the second half that he relaxed and played much better … And I do think his presence in the national championship game gave him instant credibility with the older kids.”

By the end of that game, Texas fans could see their future. And it wasn’t long before they started talking about how the experience would steel Gilbert for the challenges to come, games like the annual Texas-Oklahoma game in Dallas.

Slow down, Gilbert says. Let’s not make a career out of one half of a loss.

“Nothing will compare to what happened, but I’ll still get anxious and still get excited about playing in a game,” he said. “The day I don’t … is the day I should probably hang it up.”

What the Longhorns want to see now is leadership. After his freshman season, Gilbert knew the playbook and could make all the throws. Growing into a vocal leader was not so easy.

At times, his teammates have drawn it out of him. Texas has informal summer workouts with the quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs. The workouts can get pretty heated and cornerbacks Aaron Williams and Chykie Brown aimed a steady barrage of trash talk at Gilbert all summer.

“We had to get Garrett out of his shell,” Chykie Brown said.

Gilbert stood his ground. Sometimes, he fired back.

“He’s starting to be a more vocal leader, (to) become the leader and become the commander,” senior wide receiver John Chiles said.

Gilbert is also the only Texas quarterback with any experience.

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