AUSTIN, Texas — Dylan Haines’ “Who me?” moment came last spring when his name was called out to join Texas’ first-team defense.
The walk-on safety looked around and pointed at his chest, wondering if Longhorns’ defensive coordinator Vance Bedford had made a mistake.
“I just kind of looked over there and was like, ‘Maybe he got the name wrong,’ ” Haines said.
No mistake, Bedford insisted. It was time for Haines to start acting like a starter. And Haines has certainly held his own.
New head coach Charlie Strong awarded him a scholarship in August training camp and Haines has been a regular on a defense that has been among the Big 12’s best this season.
— Dylan Haines
Haines’ biggest moment came in last week’s 48-45 win against Iowa State when he returned an interception 74 yards for a touchdown. The Cyclones had been driving to take the lead when Haines stepped in front of the receiver for the interception, then went on a zig-zag return that saw him barely get to the end zone before he collapsed.
“I did get tired down there near the end, but I got in the end zone,” Haines said. “The end result is all that matters.”
That Haines is even on the field is proof that Strong was true to his word when he promised his new team that everyone would have a chance to prove themselves. Haines could have easily been lost in the shuffle of the scout team under former coach Mack Brown.
A few walk-on players made their mark under Brown, but it was rare on rosters stacked with four- and five-star high school recruits. But Brown left after four consecutive seasons without a Big 12 title.
“I think with the new coaching change, it was the best thing for me,” said Haines, who had been limited to the scout team under Brown. “They made it clear when they got here that there were no superstars, there were no starters and backups … I came out and I showed that I can play at this level.”
Haines grew up in the Austin suburb of Lake Travis. His father was a defensive tackle for the Longhorns in the late 1970s and was a teammate with Bedford. His mom ran track at Texas. Even though he played at a powerhouse high school program, Haines received no scholarship offers.
And given his pedigree, there was only one college for him, whether he earned a scholarship or not.
“I was going to stay out here all four years and play, scholarship or not,” Haines said.
Haines didn’t start the first game against North Texas but still had an impact with a first-quarter interception. He has started every game since.
“It’s fun to watch him,” Strong said. “What’s happening now is everybody is taking notice. That’s the kind of guy that you like to see go play, and because he plays hard, and he gives you everything he’s got.”
Opponents are still trying to pick on him.
Iowa State tried to isolate him on matchups with tight end E.J. Bibbs, who scored twice against the Longhorns last week. Cyclones quarterback Sam Richardson was looking for Bibbs when Haines jumped the route for an easy pickoff.
Texas plays at No. 11 Kansas State on Saturday. Despite Haines’ big play, the Longhorns normally tough defense was poor against the Cyclones, giving up 524 yards, the most in 23 games.
Manhattan, Kansas, will be the toughest true road environment Haines will have played in and Wildcats coach Bill Snyder will have taken note at how the Cyclones threw at him — with good and bad results.
Haines said he expects opponents to keep testing him.
“If they do, that’s fine,” he said. “They’ll throw more balls my way.”
A photo posted by Dylan Haines (@dylanhaines) on