AUSTIN, Texas – When Casey Thompson and the Texas Longhorns whipped Colorado in the Alamo Bowl, there was little talk of a coming quarterback competition, let alone any whiff of a potential controversy at the position.
Thompson looked very much like the future of the program after an 8-of-10 passing performance with four touchdowns in the second half in relief of injured Sam Ehlinger. Texas dominated, and so did Thompson.
But a January coaching change from Tom Herman to Steve Sarkisian and the ripe talent of backup Hudson Card has made Saturday's spring scrimmage, and the months leading into the 2021 season, all about one position and who will be the Longhorns starter against Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 4.
If Thompson is annoyed at having to prove himself again after waiting his turn for three years, he doesn’t show it.
“I sat for three years. It pushed me to become a better player every day. I said this right after the bowl game, (that) I'm hungry and I want to get better,” Thompson said this week when he and Card met with reporters for the first time this spring. “I’m embracing the competition."
He didn't always feel that way. After the 2018 season, Thompson briefly entered the transfer portal along with fellow freshman Cam Rising. Back then, everyone was stuck behind Ehlinger, who still had two seasons to play and had just led Texas to a 10-win season
Rising left for Utah. Thompson stayed. He also had to stay patient for two more years. He now says he's glad he stuck it out at Texas, even with nothing yet guaranteed. He said "in life you get rewarded if you go through adversity.”
“I’m glad that I waited my turn and I’m glad that I didn’t play right away,” he said. “Obviously, the competitor in me wanted to play right away as a freshman or a sophomore. But now looking back, I think my maturity is really what helped me stay here. And I think I’ve embraced a new chapter in my life and a new role.”
The new challenge is fending off Card, who played at nearby Lake Travis High School, a factory of major-college quarterbacks. Card barely played last season, but his practice throws are already legendary.
Even Ehlinger was awed by what he saw, calling Card a “special player.”
“There’s really no other way to put it,” Ehlinger said. “He came out of the womb spinning the football.”
Card seems to relish the chance to jump the line and grab the job.
“He (Thompson) has had experience, but at the end of the day you grow and learn with new opportunities like this," Card said. "I'm excited for what the future holds.”
None of this might have happened without the coaching change that upended what looked like a natural progression for Thompson. Sarkisian's arrival meant new coaches to impress and a new playbook to learn.
“I was shocked,” Thompson said of the Herman firing. “I didn't see it coming.”
Sarkisian liked what he saw from Thompson in the Alamo Bowl but that was just 10 passes. And he's not giving any hints leaning toward either player, noting after the last scrimmage that "at that position, we have too many negative plays, and that’s not acceptable.”
Eligibility changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic would have allowed Ehlinger to return next season. He instead chose instead to pursue an NFL career. He ranks among the school's career passing leaders in just about every major category.
Thompson plans to wear Ehlinger's jersey No. 11, something he's wanted since he got to campus.
“I actually wore No. 11 mostly my whole life until I got to college,” Thompson said.
The key is who will be No. 1 come September.
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