PROVO — Perhaps nobody on BYU’s roster is looking forward to the upcoming showdown against No. 15 Texas more than wide receiver Ross Apo.
For the junior from Arlington, Texas, Saturday’s game (5 p.m. MDT, ESPN2) at LaVell Edwards Stadium is personal.
Apo verbally committed to Texas before changing his mind and de-committing in order to play for the Cougars.
And in 2011, when Apo was a redshirt freshman, BYU traveled to Austin to take on the Longhorns. He led the Cougars with three receptions for 40 yards, including a six-yard touchdown catch that lifted BYU to a 13-0 lead in the second quarter.
However, Texas rallied to defeat the Cougars, 17-16, that night at Texas Memorial Stadium.
Apo can’t wait for another shot at the Longhorns.
“I looked forward to it the last time we played them. I wanted to beat them so bad,” Apo said Tuesday. “I have the same approach this year. I just want to beat them, whatever it takes, however we can beat them. I just want to beat them.”
Like a lot of kids that grow up in the Lone Star State, Apo dreamed of playing for the Longhorns. He knows all about the aura and mystique attached to University of Texas football.
The Longhorns boast four national championships, a historic 100,000-seat stadium, the iconic Longhorn logo, the distinctive burnt orange uniforms, a catchy fight song and the “Hook ‘Em Horns” hand signal that’s ubiquitous in Austin.
“It’s a big school — everybody knows them. A lot of history to their school. The logo — Longhorns. Nobody (who grows up in Texas) really wants to go to Texas A&M or SMU or schools like that," Apo said of why he was attracted to the Texas football program. "Everybody wants to go to Texas. That was the main thing.”
It appeared Apo was going to be a part of it all, and he committed to the Longhorns.
However, Apo’s friendship with quarterback Jake Heaps “had a big influence on me coming (to BYU),” Apo said, explaining that there were other factors as well.
“I just had a good relationship with all of the coaches here," Apo said. "BYU was the first school that offered me. I came back to (football) camp every year after that. I loved it here.”
Finally, Heaps, who played for BYU for two seasons before transferring to Kansas, convinced Apo to call Texas coach Mack Brown — who now is one win away from tying Woody Hayes to move into 10th place on the NCAA all-time coaches victories (237) list — and let him know he wasn’t going to play for the Longhorns.
It was the toughest phone call Apo has ever had to make. It took him a long time to get up the nerve to call Brown. He practiced in the mirror over and over again.
“I didn’t want to do it. Jake kept telling me to do it,” Apo said. “He sent me like 50 texts. ‘Did you call him?’ I finally called (Brown) I think he was golfing. He just got quiet and said some things I probably shouldn’t repeat. That was it. It was short and sweet.”
After Apo committed to BYU, Brown joked with Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall. “You stole one from us,” Brown told Mendenhall.
While Brown and Mendenhall are good friends, “most of the time when something like that is said, there’s a little sting behind it,” Mendenhall has said.
Of course, if BYU is going to spring an upset against Texas Saturday, it is going to have to improve dramatically on the offensive side of the ball. The Cougars got off 93 plays in last weekend’s 19-16 loss to Virginia, but punted 11 times and scored just two touchdowns in a contest that was delayed for two hours due to lightning. Much of the second half was played in a rainstorm. The Cougars completed only 13-of-40 passes for 175 yards.
“I don’t think that was the best performance we’ve put on,” said Apo, who hauled in a 52-yard pass on the final play of the game. “We weren’t sharp or solid. There were a lot of passes on the ground. I think this week’s focus is a lot higher, I guess (Texas is) going to watch what Virginia did and try to do the same thing. But it’s going to be different. We’re not going to be playing in a hurricane and whatever else was coming down from the clouds. It will be better.”
Texas’ defensive secondary is “solid,” Apo said. “We’ll have our work cut out for us. We have to prepare better than we did last week."
Apo believes that Texas will be affected by the elevation in Provo.
"I think it’s going to be different for them, the elevation,” he said. “When I came here from Texas, I was dying. I was on the ground, trying to get air. It’s a big difference. I think it’s going to be good to have them out here.”
Many Texas opponents enjoy making the “Longhorn down” (“Hook ‘em Horns" upside down) sign when they play the Longhorns.
“If we win, after the game, I’ll do it,” Apo said. “I think I did it my freshman year and bad luck came after that. I’ll wait.”