Texas senior offensive lineman Derek Kerstetter, senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger and senior defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham spoke with the media Tuesday.

Expectations were not sky high in Austin four years ago.

Texas was fresh off three consecutive losing seasons that resulted in the firing of head coach Charlie Strong. New coach Tom Herman promised change after leading an upstart Houston team to 22 wins in two years, but the Longhorns’ recruiting class ranked just 25th in the country, well below conference powerhouse Oklahoma.

Now four years later, that class has produced several mainstays in the rotation that have helped lead Texas to a Sugar Bowl win and a chance at a second Big 12 Championship Game appearance in three years.

“We came in as a class that wasn’t super highly-recruited,” Kerstetter said. “We weren’t just all big-name guys, a lot of us have come in and played, so I think that was something special.”

Kerstetter originally committed to Oklahoma State during his senior year, but as soon as he received an offer from the premier school in his home state, the San Antonio native flipped to Texas.

“I always dreamed of playing at Texas,” Kerstetter said. “When I got that Texas offer, I knew right away that was where I was going to go. Just being able to represent my home state has been something special.”

Ehlinger, on the other hand, was committed to play for the Longhorns since his junior year at Westlake High School. The top-ranked recruit of Texas’ 2017 class, Ehlinger’s legacy at Texas has only grown over the last five years.

“My mentality when I was at Westlake was, I wanted to come in and leave the University of Texas football program better than it was when I got here,” Ehlinger said.

When the 2017 class first arrived on campus, the trio of Ehlinger, Kerstetter and Graham connected. Graham said that Ehlinger was the first person he knew in the class because he had helped recruit him to Austin, but that Kerstetter was one of the first teammates he met once arrived.

“He’s still one of my good friends all the way up to senior year,” Graham said.

It didn’t take long for the freshman class to forge memories together. In just the third game that season, Ehlinger and the Longhorns traveled to Los Angeles to play in front of 84,000 fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He said that of all the plays he’s made in his Longhorn career, the drive to take a late lead over the Trojans would be at the top of his highlight reel.

“I was running around out there like a chicken with its head cut off, and somehow managed to move the ball down the field with two minutes left,” Ehlinger said. “That rollout touchdown to (former Texas receiver) Armanti Foreman would probably be the first (play on his highlight reel).”

For Graham and Kerstetter, some of their fondest memories came in Texas’ 10–4 2018 season. Kerstetter said that the win over USC at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium stands out as one of his favorites, while Graham said that the way the team rallied to make the Big 12 Championship game after back-to-back losses was most memorable memorable.

“That was something I always look back at my Texas career and say I was glad to be a part of something that was able to turn things around,” Graham said.

That 2018 season ended in a Sugar Bowl victory and Ehlinger declaring that Texas is “baaaaack” in front of a national television audience (he said he doesn’t regret his statement, but probably wouldn’t make it again). Now, heading into a senior day matchup with No. 15 Iowa State, Texas still has a lot more to play for than just ending these seniors’ careers on a high note.

If they win out, the Longhorns will make their second Big 12 Championship Game appearance in three years. Emotions will surely be high in what will be the final home game for much of the 2017 class. But Kerstetter, Ehlinger and Graham all said they’re sure the team will be locked in.

“It would be selfish of me to not be focused on the task at hand, understanding the magnitude of this game,” Ehlinger said. “I will be as focused as possible on the game plan to win for my team.”

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