TAMPA — The photo is from about seven years ago, when Mack Brown was coming off a season that ended with a national title and Andrew Beck was a brawny 10-year-old with a buzz cut.
Brown stared ahead at the camera with a wan smile and both hands on his knees. Little Andrew wore a burnt-orange No. 28 Horns jersey and flashed the school’s famous “Hook’em Horns” hand sign. Between them was the school’s BCS national championship trophy.
It was a poignant reminder of Beck’s foundation, the place where he made a childhood connection to a team and school that never really waned even when his family moved to Colorado, then Tampa.
Tuesday, the Plant linebacker told everyone he was going home.
Beck announced that he was orally committing to the University of Texas, choosing the Horns from a list of 16 college offers that included Florida State, Miami and USF.
“When you get to the right place,” Beck said, “you just feel it in your stomach.”
The rising senior said he made the decision a couple days ago, after taking an unofficial visit to Stanford over the weekend.
Beck received the scholarship offer from Texas while on a swing through the state about three weeks ago, when he also visited Baylor and SMU.
The return to the massive Austin campus was a big deal for a boy who spent five years in Harker Heights, where his family lived while his father was stationed at Fort Hood.
During those childhood days in Texas, Beck and his family became fans of the Horns and even made a few trips down to Austin — only about an hour away from Harker Heights — to see a few of the games.
“When we were there, we really liked watching UT play,” said Chris Beck, his father.
Andrew Beck remembers going to a game at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in 2007, when he and his mother sat high in the stands and soaked in the game-day atmosphere. He was, ahem, hooked.
“They looked like ants down there,” Beck said of the players. “The experience was just awesome.”
His visit as a top linebacker prospect left him similarly impressed, as he hit it off with the coaching staff and linebacker corps and even reconnected with former Plant quarterback Trey Holtz, now a redshirt freshman on the team.
Beck also got assurances from the 61-year-old Brown, who has been rumored to be nearing retirement after three straight disappointing seasons, that he planned to be around for a long time.
“He told me that he was bleeding orange that he’d be there another 10 or 11 years, at least,” Beck said. “He has a renewed energy and that was a big part of my decision.”
In the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Beck, the Horns made a rare foray into Florida for one of the state’s top prospects. Beck has been active on the recruiting circuit in recent months, earning praise for his size, athleticism and smarts.
Last fall, Beck had 126 tackles, 32 for a loss, six sacks and eight passes defended for the Panthers, who had six players from last year’s defense sign with colleges on national signing day in February.
“It’s an amazing combination that he gives you,” Plant coach Robert Weiner said. “There’s a full package of things that he can do on the field.”
Around the time of Beck’s announcement, Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz tweeted out “#TexasFight.”
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jdhometeam.