Zeke Riser couldn’t pass up an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream and play for Texas, even if that means paying his own way.
The former Houston starting defensive end will join the Longhorns program this summer as a walk-on with one season of eligibility.
Riser started 27 career games at Houston, including nine in 2013. He recorded 38 tackles, three sacks and eight tackles for loss as a junior for the Cougars and received his release from the school in February.
A Texas spokesperson could not confirm that Riser is joining the program because he has yet to enroll in classes, but the lineman said his plans to transfer are “a done deal.”
“I’m definitely pumped up about it,” Riser said. “If nothing else, I have a lot of experience to offer, especially with those younger guys. These guys are super talented -- otherwise, they wouldn’t be at Texas -- so me having already played three years, I can bring a lot of experience to the table.”
Riser attended his first Longhorns spring practice on Saturday and plans to move to Austin, Texas, in May. He graduated from Houston in December and is taking graduate courses at UH this spring.
The 6-foot-4, 255-pound defensive end is making the move because he wants to play his final season of college football closer to his family. Riser grew up in La Vernia, Texas, a town located 75 miles south of UT’s campus.
“That’s really the driving force,” Riser said. “I think I would’ve regretted it if I hadn’t at least taken the chance. It’s really going to work out best for me as a player and then after college family-wise.”
The Longhorns lose starting defensive end Alex Okafor, a potential first-round NFL draft pick, but bring back veteran starter Jackson Jeffcoat in 2013. Riser said he hasn’t been guaranteed any playing time, but he’s serious about competing for a starting job when he joins the team.
“I wouldn’t go to any place that I wasn’t expecting to compete for a starting spot,” Riser said. “I’ve never sat on the bench in my life and I don’t plan to at Texas. I’m definitely going to be fighting for a starting spot and at the very least in the playing rotation. I’m not coming to Texas just because it’s a big name. I’m coming to Texas to play.”
Riser’s head coach at La Vernia, Bo Robinson, lettered at UT from 1989 to 1992 and is friends with former teammate and current Longhorns defensive ends coach Oscar Giles. That connection helped get the ball rolling for Riser, who’d originally looked into transferring to UTSA.
“Coach Giles is awesome,” Riser said. “Seeing the way he coaches and what he expects out of his players, I can really relate to his coaching style. We’re on the same page. I think it’s going to work out real well. I’m excited to get to work.”
Connections with Jeffcoat -- whose father, Jim, coached Riser and UH defensive linemen through 2010 -- and Texas defensive end Logan Mills, a fellow La Vernia native, made the final decision even easier for Riser.
He said he’s been told a scholarship is still a possibility if the Longhorns have any roster attrition this summer, but if that doesn’t work out Riser is fine with paying to be a Longhorn for one year.
After talking with Giles and Mack Brown on Saturday, Riser knows he’ll have plenty of catching up to do when he gets on campus. He’s confident his decision will end up being worth the risk.
“They’re expecting me to come in and play,” he said. “They told me I need to be ready as soon as I get here because I don’t have time to slow down and pick up the scheme. That’s OK with me, I know how things work. Again, I’m not going there to sit on the bench, and they’re not expecting me to.”