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Gunnar Helm: "I'm trying to win a championship."

Joe Cookby:Joe Cook04/12/24


With Ja’Tavion Sanders off to the NFL, the role of Texas’ TE1 now belongs to Gunnar Helm.

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Helm, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound senior, played in all 14 games and started six contests during the Longhorns’ 2024 season. He tallied 14 catches for 192 yards and two scores, and recorded at least one reception in each of the Longhorns’ final four games. That included a 31-yard touchdown against Iowa State.

Helm has big shoes to fill, but Steve Sarkisian believes the senior from Colorado can handle the job.

“Gunnar, a year ago, had a really good season for us,” Sarkisian said on April 9. “There was about a months’ span in there where JT was really nicked up with the ankle sprain, he was limited.

“We put more on Gunnar’s plate, and he really responded at a high level. You could feel his confidence this spring. He’s got a great understanding of our offense. He’s extremely smart. He’s tough. He made more player last year in the passing game. I think we’re seeing that more this spring.”

Texas’ propensity to use a lot of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) resulted in a lot of playing time for Helm. He saw about 40 standard down plays per game, with a high-water mark of 75 non-special teams snaps against the Kansas Jayhawks. He followed that up with 63 snaps (plus a touchdown reception) a week later versus Oklahoma before returning to his second tight end role.

Ahead of a season where he’s slated to be Texas’ starting tight end, Helm isn’t worried about workload, targets, or touchdowns. He’s focused on doing whatever Texas needs.

“My role is to put myself in the best position to help our team win football games,” Helm said Thursday. “I think that’s the best way to describe it. Whether that’s catching the ball, whether that’s blocking all game, it doesn’t really matter to me. I’m trying to win as many games as I can. I’m trying to win a championship.”

Sarkisian has often described quarterback as the most important position in sports. He’s quick to follow that belief with another of his personal tenets about offense. He states that behind quarterback, tight end is the second most important position in his offense.

That has to do with the multifaceted role in the running and passing games that tight ends have to take on. That role is one Helm is familiar with and ready to excel in during the 2024 season.

“We like to be known as sponges in this offense,” Helm said. “We’ve got to really absorb everything. We’ve got to pass block. We’ve got to run routes. We’ve got to run block. We get checked. We motion around a lot. We’ve got to know everything. We’ve adapted to that, and we attack that every day. If there’s something they want to do, maybe we have to memorize and maybe not signaled, we’ve got to memorize it.”

Areas of offseason emphasis for Helm include working on the various aspects of route-running. His hands have proven reliable as he was not charged with a drop last season by Pro Football Focus. In fact, he hasn’t been credited with a drop during his entire Texas career.

Another focus for Helm has been leadership. Describing himself as a player that leads by example, Helm has stepped out of his comfort zone entering his final season on the 40 Acres.

“I’ve definitely been trying to work on being more vocal, being more of a leader now that we’ve got some of these former captains gone,” Helm said.

That task begins in his position group. With him in Jeff Banks‘ tight ends room are Juan Davis, Amari Niblack, Will Randle, Spencer Shannon, and Jordan Washington. Of that bunch, there is one total reception at Texas and it belongs to Davis. It also took place in 2021.

Helm has seen a lot of progress from his teammates during Texas’ spring practices.

“We’ve got a lot of dudes that are hungry and ready to work,” Helm said. “Jordan Washington is going to be a beast. Spencer Shannon is getting better every day. Will Randle is getting better every day. Juan has been a very pleasant surprise.”

And on Niblack?

“His speed, he’s really fast,” Helm said. “He’s really smooth. He’s got great hips and great in-and-out breaks.”

Personal development has been one of Helm’s main short-term focuses. His long-term goal, however, stems from experiences from the entirety of his career.

Helm’s first season in Austin was the 5-7 2021 campaign. Things improved in 2022 before Texas were on the doorstep of the national championship in 2023.

Being that close last season has Helm ready to do whatever it takes to get himself and his teammates back to the sport’s greatest stage.

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“I’ve never been more hungry in my life for anything,” Helm said. “I know most of our team is and we’ve got to bring the rest of the guys that aren’t yet along with us.”

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