The death of Sam Ehlinger’s father, Ross Ehlinger, in 2013 continues to shape the Texas quarterback. Ross was just 46 years old when he died while competing at the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon in San Francisco. Sam grew up in a Longhorns household and knows his father is watching him shine as he wears burnt orange.
“It’s just like I want to make him proud and I want to do the things he wanted me to do, exceed his expectations,” Sam explained to Dallas News. “I know he’s watching. That’s kind of how it plays into my motivation, that if he was here, what would he be making me do and how could I get better?”
Texas head coach Tom Herman often speaks of his quarterback’s maturity. It a poise that comes from enduring tragedy, and the Texas coach knows his demeanor emerged from the passing of his father.
“This [Sam] is an extremely mature guy,” Tom noted to the Dallas News. “You don’t go through what he went through in eighth grade and all of a sudden have to be the man of your household and not mature very quickly. He’s a bit of an old soul and really, really mature for a guy his age and in his position. I think that’s what has allowed him to step into this role maybe a little bit easier than most.”
Sam Went to Westlake High School in Austin Before Heading to the University of Texas
Sam’s story feels a bit like a movie, but any good narrative has tension. Sam was a standout quarterback at Westlake High School in Austin before heading to the University of Texas. Sam’s father died when he was in eighth grade just before he started at Westlake. One of the hard things for Sam is that his dad was not there for any of the major football games he would soon be playing.
“He passed when I was in eighth grade, so I never experienced playing a big football game and having him there,” Ehlinger admitted to ESPN. “[My dad is] almost like another conscience that you hear. You have those people on your shoulder, and I feel like there’s a third one. There’s the good and the bad and then him.”
Sam leading the Longhorns feels like a storybook ending, but stories are not just full of triumphs. The Texas quarterback still leans on the voice of his father even if he cannot see him in the stands.
The Cause of Sam’s Dad, Ross’, Death Is Believed to Have Been Linked to a Heart Arrhythmia
Ross died while swimming in the San Francisco Bay and a heart arrhythmia is believed to have played a role in his death, per ESPN. Like Sam, Ross was an athlete and youth football coach in addition to his responsibilities as a lawyer. Sam has a tattoo in his father’s honor, MDLXVI, the Roman numerals of Ross’ triathlon number.
Sam’s mom, Jen, and his two siblings, Jacob and Morgan, have learned to get through the pain together. Jen noted that they can collectively feel when they are thinking about Ross.
“There is almost an unspoken language moment for us when we all know we are thinking of Ross,” Jen said, per WKYC. “Even in the happiest moments, we’re just a little bit sad because he is not here.”