Roddrick Muckelroy sat up in his bed in a cold sweat.
“Oh man, it's just a dream,” he said, slowly wiping his hand across his face.
The junior, who should be one of the top players on the Horns' defense this season, had just experienced the most frightening nightmare a Texas linebacker can go through. He dreamed he was at practice running through a drill, as he had been in reality just hours before, only this time he messed up. This time a visage of Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was screaming in his face.
“I've had a couple of those dreams,” said Muckelroy with a laugh as he retold his nightmare.
During the Longhorns' preparations for the 2008 season, if a player takes a lazy step or makes a dumb mistake or isn't paying attention, the nightmare becomes a reality. There's more urgency in practice nowadays and Muckelroy says a big part of it is the addition of Texas' new defensive coordinator.
“He just brings a lot more fire. He wants it done one way and if you mess up he's going to be right there with you,” said Muckelroy.
But as much of a nightmare as Muschamp can be, Muckelroy said he's actually fun to play for because, even through the fiery DC drops the hammer on players who under-perform, he also rewards and celebrates with those who do well.
“You do something good he's going to be right there with you, side-to-side. He's just a good person to look up to,” said Muschamp.
Nowadays, defensive players are also looking up to Muckelroy. Along with Muschamp's fire, the defense feels different now because there is a lot more trust than last season and the calm, soft-spoken -- off the field, anyway -- Muckelroy has emerged as a guide of sorts for young players. While not as outwardly vocal as fellow linebacker Rashad Bobino, Muckelroy has become a trusted veteran that some of the underclassmen will go to with their questions.
Given that this eason the Horns will likely play at least a handful of redshirt freshmen and true freshmen who have yet to see playing time in a college game, one of the more common questions he's received is how to deal with the pressure of the big stage.
“The young guys will ask questions and say, 'Oh I'm going to be nervous.' I tell them, 'Once you get out there with the fans and the crowd you're not going to hear anything like that. Just calm down and play the game,'” said Muckelroy.
A couple of the players he's taken under his wing are safety Christian Scott and linebacker Emmanuel Acho. He's talked a great deal with Acho specifically because the true freshman is working behind Muckelroy at the 'WILL' (weakside) linebacker spot.
“(Acho) wants to learn. He asks me things outside of the huddle. 'Muck, how do we do this? Muck, what do we do here?' Somebody helped me when I was young, I want to do the same in return,” said Muckelroy.
That familiarity between older and younger players is a far cry from last season, when key veterans told Inside Texas that the older and younger players just didn't know each other that well and there was a lack of trust. According to Muckelroy, the older players have made it a point to hang out with players outside of their cliques and the results are quite apparent.
“We're more of a team,” said Muckelroy. “We all get along with each other. On and off the field we all have fun together and it's more of a team atmosphere.”
Muckelroy also said that this has directly resulted in greatly fewer off the field issues. Last summer the Longhorns were worried about, among other things, the program's public image after multiple player arrests. This year the Horns have stayed off the police blotter and Muckelroy believes it's because of that connection and leadership on the team. After all, the coaches can't be with the players all the time.
“As a team, we kind of police ourselves,” said Muckelroy. “We tell the guys, 'When you go out, take somebody with you. Make sure nothing happens. Stay out of trouble.' We've just been preaching that, preaching that, preaching that all summer long. Nobody's gotten in trouble so far. Hope it continues that way.”
The lack of distractions has allowed the Horns to stay much more focused on their goal, something that was tough to do last season.
“The biggest difference (between last year and this year) is we're all focused on the goal, we're all focused on one thing,” said Muckelroy.
But what is that goal? What are the Horns focused on? According to Muckelroy, the focus is on themselves.
“The goal is just to be the best team we can be. Everyone's is staying focused, not getting in trouble and just taking one game at a time. Don't focus on too much, just take every day, every game one step at a time and everything will play out,” said Muckelroy.
That first step, Game 1, is less than two weeks away, when the Texas Longhorns open the season against Florida Atlantic on August 30th. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.