AUSTIN, Texas -- Dalton Santos arrived a tad early into the Texas spotlight.
The linebacker wasn't supposed to be the breakout freshman. That was a role for running back Johnathan Gray. Or maybe wide receiver Kendall Sanders. But instead it was Santos making a sudden impact on Wyoming kick returner Shaun Wick and the 101,142 people watching at Darrell K. Royal Stadium on Saturday night.
The play came on a return in the third quarter when Santos, all 250 pounds of him, came screaming down the field, dismissed one would-be blocker and slammed into Wick -- wait, make that steamrolled over Wick -- at the 10-yard line.
It was clearly the most visible play made by a true freshman. But it wasn't the only play. Nor was Santos the only freshman to play.
In keeping with a tradition that is now all of one year old, Texas didn't hesitate in playing its newest players. Last season, a Texas record 18 true freshmen played. There were 12 freshmen and three transfers who saw time Saturday night.
After it was done, Texas head coach Mack Brown lamented the freshmen didn't play larger roles.
"A lot of freshmen played tonight that didn't play prominent roles, but those will expand each week," he said.
Gray most likely will be the one freshman whose role expands the most from week to week. A confluence of circumstances prevented Texas from getting him more snaps. First there was the fact the game was closer than expected. Plus Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were doing just fine. And Gray still needs to work on his third-down, pass-protection assignments.
Another freshman who would have played but didn't was hybrid back Daje Johnson. He was suspended for violating teams rules. Instead of getting the ball to Johnson, Texas fed his touches to senior D.J. Monroe, who came through with five carries for 36 yards and a 15-yard catch.
That type of production from Monroe might slightly stifle all the talk that Johnson has to get in the game to give Texas explosive plays.
As for blowing up plays, that was clearly Santos' intent on every kickoff coverage team. He finished with two tackles and clearly showed why the coaching staff and players have raved about his ability through fall camp. Not too bad for a guy who was offered by Texas only at the last minute.
As for the other freshmen, walk-on Nick Rose drew the most praise for his leg on kick offs.
"The kicking game I thought we dominated. I love Nick Rose kicking off," Brown said. "It's the best we have ever covered kickoffs."
A lot of that has to do with the height that Rose gets on the ball. Plus he has the leg to carry the ball into the end zone.
The leg of Nick Jordan was a slight concern. The freshman missed 46- and 44-yard field goals. He made it from 31.
"He didn't miss a field goal for about the first two and a half weeks, and then the last week he pulled a couple, and then tonight I thought he tried a little bit too hard," Brown said.
A couple of freshmen who didn't get in against Wyoming but might against New Mexico include defensive end Shiro Davis and tackle Kennedy Estelle. While Texas has depth on the defensive line and doesn't have to play Davis or Malcom Brown, Estelle could become a part of the rotation at tackle due to depth issues. Since that is a possibility, it could behoove Texas to get him some time now instead of throwing him into the spotlight against a Big 12 opponent.