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Walk-on Haines rising in Texas fall camp

AUSTIN, Texas -- If you'd told Alan Haire years ago this is how it would play out, he would've chuckled.

Dylan Haines, a walk-on legacy from little Lago Vista High, pushing for a starting job on Texas' defense?

"I would've said, 'Aw, come on now ... that's going to be a stretch,'" Haire said.

The Lago Vista head coach couldn't help but marvel Thursday at the fact Haines even got this far. But indeed, this is getting real. When the Longhorns took the field Monday for their first fall practice, Haines was a member of the No. 1 defense.

The sophomore, once a do-everything talent at the Class 2A school, is trying to do just enough to prove Charlie Strong should trust him with a job. He stepped out of the shadows in Texas' spring game and hasn't looked back since.

"He's made plays," Texas senior safety Mykkele Thompson said. "That's the name of the game. You make plays."

Haines was the surprise name of the Orange-White game in April, when he picked off Tyrone Swoopes' first pass attempt of the day and picked up 23 yards on the return. That eye-opener earned Haines first-team reps in the scrimmage.

When you're a third-year walk-on, and the window of opportunity cracks open ever so slightly, you better jump through it. Haines did just that. Then Strong blew the window wide open with his recent suspension of senior safety Josh Turner and dismissal of redshirt freshman Chevoski Collins.

Turner's suspension of at least one game means that, when Texas opens the season Aug. 30 against North Texas, it's entirely possible Haines could get the call to start.

"He has the chance of a lifetime there," Haire said.

In Lago Vista, a town of 6,000 located 35 miles northwest of Austin, Haines was known as a good four-sport athlete who played a little bit of everything -- corner, safety, receiver, running back, left-footed kicker. But he was better known as Dakota Haines' little brother.

"You know how big brothers are. He was in the shadows," Haire said. "Once Dakota graduated and Dylan became a senior, it became evident that, hey, Dylan might be just as good an athlete or better."

The brothers were raised by a pair of Longhorns. John Haines was an All-Southwest Conference defensive tackle at Texas in the 1980s who played four years in the NFL. Their mother, Sandra, was on the Texas track and field team from 1976-78. Her father and uncle both ran at UT, too.

After Dakota followed in their footsteps, enrolling at Texas in 2011 as a walk-on receiver, Dylan took over. His finest game came against San Saba, when he scored on receiving, rushing and interception-return touchdowns in one night.

"He took games over," Haire said. "He's the type of kid who took it over. He's what they call a baller now. If it's up in the air, he's going to go make a play."

And yet, the only other college that showed interest was Lamar, an FCS school in Beaumont, Texas. But Haire knew Haines could play. The level of weekly preparation he learned from his father and brother set him apart.

"He's the type of kid who would come in on Tuesday and tell you the other team's favorite routes and, with the kid he was covering, what his routes were depending on splits and alignment," Haire said. "He was a student of the game. I think he's a late bloomer if you ask me. He didn't reach his full potential until college. To me, he's still developing."

Surely his head coach can appreciate that. After all, Strong was a walk-on defensive back in his days at Central Arkansas. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford tells his players he couldn't care less if they were five-stars or two-stars.

"Coach Bedford made that clear when he came here -- there were no starting spots," defensive end Cedric Reed said. "Everybody had to work for it. Dylan was one of those guys who went in there, went to the weight room, watched film, did everything he could to get on the field and it's working out for him."

Haines was back in Lago Vista a few weeks ago for extra workouts before the start of fall ball. He looked bigger to his old head coach, at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, and he sounded confident. He told Haire he's going to get a chance.

Strong cautioned Wednesday it's "just so early right now" to predict whether Haines can become a starting safety. But even if his chance is just one game, one shot to prove he belongs, the walk-on will take it.

"I think it's one of those feel-good stories," Haire said. "You'd have to have a smile on your face."