Rose Bowl, USC vs. Texas, ABC 15 6:00 p.m.
Lyle Sendlein’s confidence filled the fall air in Columbia, Mo., where Texas was drilling a Missouri squad that was still talking too much for its own good.
With Texas inside the Tigers’ 5-yard line, the blond, bearded Sendlein approached the scrimmage line and announced that a run off right tackle was coming.
"Try and stop us!" the Longhorns’ starting center dared the Missouri defenders.
Quarterback Vince Young could barely call the signals, he was laughing so hard. Seconds later, the Longhorns’ offensive line escorted reserve running back Henry Melton off right tackle into the end zone.
Born from being the son of a former Texas standout and NFL player.
Nurtured as a four-year letter winner and two-time state champion at Chaparral High School.
Overflowing when asked if he envisioned earning a starting job and playing for a national championship on a Longhorns team that never has a shortage of talent.
"Yep," he said without hesitation. "This is why I came here, to compete for titles and rings."
Without question, the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Sendlein will tap every ounce of that trust in his abilities tonight, when he makes the snaps for Texas in the Rose Bowl against Southern California with a national championship on the line.
"Lyle knows what he can do," said father Robin Sendlein, a linebacker for the Longhorns from 1977-80 and now an engineer for the Phoenix Fire Department. "He knows the job that he has, and how important that job is. In football, if your offensive line wins, you’ll usually win the game.
"That’s what I’ve been telling Lyle, that if he and his line beats USC, then he’s going to be a national champion."
Lyle Sendlein — whose older brother, Austin, lettered for the Longhorns in 2002 and ’03 and is now pursuing a job in the oil industry — has had a dream junior season.
In August, Texas was considered a national championship contender, so the spotlight was on the team weekly.
There was a dramatic victory at Ohio State, the ending of a frustrating losing streak against rival Oklahoma, and the electrifying play of Young, a Heisman Trophy finalist. It all added up to a 12-0 mark that included a 70-3 drilling of Colorado in the Big 12 title game.
"It’s been quite a ride," Sendlein said. "We’ve taken it every week as it goes, and the goal was to get to the Rose Bowl and play whoever. But the ideal situation was playing USC. We’re glad it worked out that way."
Though the Longhorns had the Rose Bowl in their cross hairs, Sendlein never made an assumption. When asked when he felt Texas’ destiny was to make it to Pasadena, he said, "the Big 12 championship game."
Sendlein is aware of the Longhorns’ legacy of missed opportunities since their last national championship in 1970. His father was involved in one of those disappointments, the 1978 Cotton Bowl.
Buoyed by Heisman winner Earl Campbell, Texas came into New Year’s Day unbeaten and needed only to beat Notre Dame to finish No. 1. That game was Robin Sendlein’s first start, and the Longhorns lost 38-10 to a Fighting Irish squad that would be voted national champion.
"We were a great team, but one-dimensional," Robin Sendlein said. "We were down to our backup quarterback. You could say Notre Dame had its backup QB as well, but unfortunately for us, it was Joe Montana."
(Montana missed most of the 1976 season with a shoulder injury and started the ’77 campaign as a reserve. He became Notre Dame’s starter in the third game of the year.)
When the younger Sendlein arrived at Texas in 2002, it appeared that he would play his dad’s position, linebacker. But he got bigger and was soon moved to the offensive line, where he was a reserve in ’03 and split time with Jason Glynn at center.
When Glynn completed his eligibility after last season, the center duties became Sendlein’s.
"Lyle is 315 pounds with good feet," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "For a linebacker in high school, it was a great position for him to move to center, because he has the footwork of a smaller player. He’s played offense and defense, so he knows all the schemes, and he’s big enough that he’ll never get overloaded by a nose guard."
To say that Sendlein is Texas tough would be an understatement. He broke his nose early in the Oklahoma State game and went back in after trainers rearranged it. He has also played through injuries to a finger, ankle and knee.
Sendlein will be eager for another brawl in the trenches tonight, and USC will likely give it to him. However, just like Dad said, Sendlein knows what his job is.
"With it being the national championship, the (media) focus is on a lot of different things," Sendlein said. "But mine is on football."