Dalton Santos

Longhorn defensive end Cedric Reed has struggled to live up to expectations this season. He’ll have to be better in order for Texas to knock off the Wildcats on the road this weekend.

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

Safeties

Safety Jason Hall may only be a freshman, but his presence was sorely missed against Iowa State. The patchwork rotation of sophomore Adrian Colbert and senior Josh Turner struggled against the Cyclones.

Hall is listed as day-to-day, so even if he does play against Kansas State, it’s unlikely that he’ll be at 100 percent. The Longhorns will need better production from Colbert and Turner if Hall is out or not at full strength. On the opposite side, senior safety Mykkele Thompson had issues against Iowa State, too.

The Longhorns will have a challenge in defending Tyler Lockett, Kansas State’s deep threat, so they can’t afford to have troubling safety play to plague an otherwise solid secondary. Colbert, Hall, Thompson and Turner must step up in order for Texas to upset the Wildcats.

Linebacker Dalton Santos

Junior linebacker Dalton Santos started at middle linebacker in place of senior Steve Edmond against Iowa State. Dalton appeared a step slower than the Cyclones, and Edmond was forced into action as a result. 

If Edmond isn’t 100 percent Saturday, Santos will need to be ready to go against the Wildcats. He’ll need to step up and perform better than he did against the Cyclones if he is forced into the middle linebacker role against Kansas State.

Defensive end Cedric Reed

Senior defensive end Cedric Reed hasn’t had the season he was expected to have. While Reed’s presence on the field is noticeable, his season statistics show that his productivity hasn’t been great. This season, Reed only has 1.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. The Longhorns need more from Reed as they look to knock off the Wildcats on Saturday.

Running backs

While the offensive line has hampered the Longhorn running game this season, senior running back Malcolm Brown, junior running back Johnathan Gray and sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes have finally started to see success running the ball.

Swoopes ran for 95 yards and a touchdown against Iowa State. Brown and Gray added an additional 86 yards and three scores on the ground against the Cyclones.

Now that Swoopes is having success running the ball, defenses are more likely to respect him in the run game, which will open things up for the backs. If the Wildcats contain Swoopes, the running backs will need to step up in his place.

After two straight seasons being sidelined with injuries, redshirt senior linebacker Jordan Hicks is ready to return to his role as a defensive leader on the team. Hicks is set to lead his squad as one of Texas' most experienced players this season under new head coach Charlie Strong.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

There is no Longhorn position group as interesting as Texas’ linebacking corps.

From fifth-year senior starters to some of the lesser-known reserves, each linebacker has an interesting story to tell.

There’s junior Dalton Santos, who didn’t play much in his first two years on campus but made national headlines this spring when his Twitter plea went viral. Santos sent out a tweet in April to try to raise money for his mother, who didn’t have health insurance and needed open heart surgery to fix an aortic aneurysm. The fundraiser quickly spread across the country and wound up raising $66,000 to help pay for the operation. The surgery went as planned, and Santos’ mother, Vista, is doing well.

Or, how about senior Steve Edmond, who has flown under the radar in his first three years at Texas, despite having started 22 games and recording 192 tackles over that span? Edmond, a Daingerfield native, nearly had his senior season shortened before it even started after he and fellow linebacker Jordan Hicks faced possible suspensions stemming from a meal that had been paid for by an agent. In the end, Edmond was cleared by the NCAA and won’t miss any time this season. He opened the year with five tackles against North Texas.

Fifth-year senior linebacker Demarco Cobbs has started just six games since arriving at Texas in 2010. Cobbs, a Tulsa native, played sparingly as a reserve and on special teams in his first three years as a Longhorn, before missing all of last season with a knee injury. Cobbs is a backup again this year but made the biggest play of his lengthy career Saturday, recording his first ever interception and taking it to the house for a defensive touchdown.

“Demarco [Cobbs] and I sat and talked about this night for a long time,” said Hicks, who has roomed with Cobbs since they were freshmen. “Coming off of injuries — both of us — we’re both very blessed to be in the situation that we’re in.”

But of all the “backers,” as they like to be called, Hicks has had the wildest ride at Texas. Coming out of high school, Hicks, a product of Cincinnati, was ranked as the best linebacker and fourth-best recruit overall by ESPN. After an underwhelming freshman campaign, Hicks hit his stride in his sophomore season, but then the injury bug got him. He earned a medical redshirt after missing 10 games in 2012, but 2013 was hardly any better, as he continued to be plagued by injuries and missed nine more contests. 

In the middle of all that, Hicks was accused of sexual assault after he allegedly had non-consensual sex with a 21-year-old woman at a San Antonio hotel prior to the 2012 Valero Alamo Bowl. Charges were never filed, and the case was closed by the San Antonio Police Department a couple weeks later.

Hicks enters his fifth season at Texas, looking to write a storybook ending to what has been an eventful collegiate career. He’s well on his way to doing just that after recording eight tackles and his first career interception against North Texas.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” Hicks said. “It’s just awesome to be able to be back out on the field with everybody and be able to play. Playing the game — it feels like it’s been forever.”

Their stories are all different, but finally together and healthy, Texas’ veteran linebackers appear poised to be a strong unit.

Junior linebacker Dalton Santos' mother was rushed to an emergency room last Thursday with an aortic aneurysm. She will need open heart surgery, which could cost up to $150,000. Fundraising efforts have raised over $41.000 so far.

 

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

The last few weeks of the semester are usually among the most stressful. Between final exams, projects, papers and presentations, students often feel overwhelmed as the semester winds down.

But, for junior linebacker Dalton Santos, academic stress is currently the least of his worries. Last Thursday, Santos’ mother, Mary Vista Santos, was rushed to an emergency room in Tyler. On Friday morning, Santos was told that his mother had an aortic aneurysm and will need open heart surgery — news that took Santos some time to digest.

“Now it’s me looking at her,” Santos said. “She’s scared — the first time I’ve ever seen her scared, the first time I’ve ever seen her in a hospital bed.”

Santos’ mother is a single mom of three and her procedure, which Santos said could cost approximately $150,000, won’t be covered by health insurance. To help get the money necessary for the procedure, Santos created a fundraising page and reached out to his Twitter followers for assistance. As of Wednesday evening, over $41,000 had been pledged, shattering the page’s original goal of $5,000. 

“It makes me tear up,” Santos said. “It makes me feel good inside to know that people are looking after my family and just trying to help us. It’s awesome. It’s overwhelming. I’m so thankful. I’m truly thankful for it.”

Texas’ compliance page tweeted Monday that NCAA bylaw 16.11.1.8(g) permits the donations to Santos’ mother. 

Since posting the link, Santos said he frequently checks his mom’s page and is humbled by the positive responses every time he does so.

“And it’s hard, it is. It’s hard on everybody. It’s hard on my family. But the support that I’ve had in the last two days is unbelievable,” Santos said. “It kind of breaks me up inside to see how many people really, really care, and how what I do on Saturdays and everything makes a difference.”

The Texas defense walks off the field after their win against Wyoming in the first game of last season. The Longhorns look to improve after a disappointing 2012 season.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas offense may be garnering attention with its new tempo, but that doesn’t mean the defense is taking it easy in the spring.

With nine returning starters, the defense is looking to regain its stature after a frustrating 2012 season that was marred by missed tackles and overall sluggish play. The run defense was the worst in the Big 12 and 100th in the nation. 

Preparing for a better season means tough, physical play and a bit of nastiness. At least, that’s how defensive coordinator Manny Diaz sees it.

“We need to establish ourselves as fast, tough and physical as the three ways we will be described next year,” Diaz said after the Orange and White scrimmage. “What we found out is that a defense is about all 11.  What we have to do is find a way that all 11 guys do their jobs and do it with a nasty disposition.”

Key returners include junior cornerback Quandre Diggs, who led the team in interceptions last season and senior cornerback Carrington Byndom, who started in all 13 games and followed closely behind Diggs in interceptions. Senior safety Adrian Phillips, who finished 2012 as one of the top tacklers on the team, will also return for his last season. Junior safety Mykkele Thompson, who has not missed a game in his last two seasons, developed a knack for blocking punts last season. 

Younger members of the team will look to linebackers Jordan Hicks and Dalton Santos for guidance, Diaz said. Santos, who lost a bit of weight since last season, now boasts a trimmer figure and confident outlook.

“He plays with a lot of passion,” Diaz said of Santos. “He plays with a lot of fire. Your players are always going to be driven by your hardest workers. And they see that guy in the weight room just eating up the weights. You want to be around guys like that.”

Then there’s the versatile Duke Thomas, who played on defense and special teams in all 12 games last year and worked out wide receiver in the spring game. His talents are wanted on both sides of the ball. Now it’s just a game of tug-of-war.

“A guy like that can help our football team in a lot of ways,” Diaz said of Thomas. “We need to make sure we use him in the best way possible.”

The up-tempo style has also impacted the defense, head coach Mack Brown said.

“We were at a disadvantage some last year where you couldn’t practice against it very often, and then you’re out there and you’re wearing out,” Brown said. “We think that by working against tempo offense every day in practice is going to help us a lot when we get ready to play against these type offenses in the fall.”

Senior defensive tackle Chris Whaley said the team is focused on turning things around after last year’s defensive struggles.    

“Last year was a letdown for the defense, but we don’t focus on that,” Whaley said. “There is a big chip on our shoulder to come out and prove that we are still that tough Texas defense. There’s a lot of senior leaders on this defense, and we are stressing that we are going to get this thing turned around.”

Junior Steve Edmond returns an intercepted ball against Ole Miss during the Longhorns’ 2012 season. Edmond may prove to be a key player for Texas next year as he returns for his final season. 

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: Junior linebacker Steve Edmond is the third of five “Players to Watch” who will be featured leading up to the Orange-White scrimmage Mar. 30. The fourth, Quandre Diggs, will be published Thursday.

Steve Edmond won’t talk your ear off and probably wouldn’t win a screaming contest. 

The junior linebacker, known among coaches for his soft-spoken nature, has been overlooked as a leader in the past because of his shy ways.

“Steve is very quiet,” head coach Mack Brown said last year of Edmond. “He’s very bright. He’s not going to let you know he’s bright, because he’s not going to talk to you. He won’t look at you in some cases. But he’s got great instincts.”

On the field, the unobtrusive characteristics drift away, and he morphs into a powerful ax with hard hits and speed. Edmond, who won three straight state championships in high school and came to Texas as one of ESPNU’s top 150 national prospects, played in 12 games during his first year, adding 16 tackles. 

As a sophomore, he played in all 13 games, starting 12 at middle linebacker, and his numbers made him second on the team in tackles and tied for second in forced fumbles. 

But now the stakes are higher for the Daingerfield, Texas native, who will enter his junior year with the pressure of keeping his starting spot and competing against other top linebackers including Dalton Santos and Jordan Hicks

“The competition between Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond has been great because Steve’s playing much better and Dalton’s all over the place,” Brown said. “I think Steve is at a different place with his intensity than he was this time last year.”

A large part of that intensity has come with increased conditioning to trim down during spring practice. As Santos worked tirelessly to lose weight, Edmond followed suit, Brown said.

Santos, a sophomore who saw action in all 13 games last year and led the team in special teams tackles, isn’t giving Edmond an easy time. But the teammate rivalry between the two has helped Edmond as a player.

“Dalton Santos has made Steve Edmond better,” defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Manny Diaz said. “I think Steve has made some big improvements over the last week or so. It’s just a battle, and I am keeping score.”

Hicks is returning from last year’s hip injury and will provide another threat for Edmond if he can stay healthy. A fellow junior who played in every game as a freshman and in 13 games as a sophomore, Hicks brings strength, size and leadership to the field. Sophomore Peter Jinkens, who served as a reserve linebacker and started three games last season, is also vying for a starting slot. 

For now, Edmond will continue to plug away in the spring, toning his body, working on tackling and growing quietly as a leader. 

Published on March 25, 2013 as "Edmond lets play speak for itself". 

Junior linebacker Jordan Hicks plays a crucial role on the defense, both as a player and a leader.  Before he was injured during Texas’ game against Ole Miss, he led the Longhorns with 15 tackles.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

It’s been three games since Jordan Hicks hobbled off of the field with a hip injury against Ole Miss. In the three subsequent contests, Texas has allowed 147 points.

In the three games prior, including the Ole Miss game, the Longhorns gave up 48.

See a connection there?

Kenny Vaccaro does.

“Everybody just needs to understand how important Jordan Hicks is and how much his return is going to help us,” Vaccaro said. “He’s a leader, and he holds that linebacker corps together.

He’s the oldest guy in the room. He’s smart, and he’s just a great football player.”

Those qualities made Hicks the team’s most effective tackler before his injury through the first three games, when he led the Longhorns with 15 tackles.

He was all over the field for Texas. Hicks plugged up holes in the middle of the defense and had the speed to keep up with running backs and tight ends in the passing game.

Ever since he exited with his hip injury, however, the Longhorns’ defense has struggled. It has been gashed in the run game for 270 yards a contest, and Texas is now 118th nationally in opponent’s long rushing plays of more than 10 yards. Actually, the Longhorns have allowed 17 rushes of more than 30 yards a carry this season.

But perhaps the most telling statistic for Hicks’ impact is this: In the three games Hicks played, the Longhorn defense allowed 3.9 yards a carry, and over the last three Texas has been shredded for 6.1 yards an attempt.

That means Hicks’ presence on the field is good for more than two yards a rushing attempt. A staggering number, even when you take into account Texas’ level of competition has increased since it entered conference play.

“He’s a guy that it’s not one position that is affected when he’s not game. It’s four or five positions because of his ability to do the things before the play,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “And you don’t want to get beat before the play begins, and sometimes it can be six inches in your alignment that can really hurt you or hinder you in doing your job.”

It doesn’t help Texas that the players replacing Hicks had little to no collegiate experience heading into the year. The man — actually, more like kid — that has stepped directly into Hicks’ role is 18-year-old Dalton Santos. He’s a talented and imposing presence at 6 feet 3 inches and 250 pounds, but he’s still a freshman nonetheless.

And his lack of experience has shown.

Santos is not capable of making the calls and adjustments Hicks was able to before the snap, and even when the game starts flowing, Santos has been a step behind. He’s aggressive at the line, but at times Santos moves a few inches out of his lane, and it results in a big run or a missed tackle.

However, it’s not just Santos who’s experiencing issues. The pair that started beside Hicks at the beginning of the season, Demarco Cobbs and Steve Edmond, have also been caught flat-footed.

Both are first-year starters, and each has had his ups and downs this season. Their play is steadily improving, but they’ve been out of position in run and pass coverage frequently enough that it has cost Texas.

“Our youth and inexperience is showing up,” Diaz said. “We’re playing in difficult environments, difficult learning environments. Nobody has any sympathy for our plight ... Nobody is going to wait for us to grow up. We have to do it in a hurry.”

There is still no guarantee Hicks will return this week — the medical staff listed him as doubtful for last week’s game — but for the Texas defense, he can’t hit the field soon enough.
“He’s one of the best leaders we have on defense, and he’s certainly the leader in the linebacker room,” Diaz said.

Printed on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 as: Longhorns D misses Hicks 

Sophomore cornerback Josh Turner (25) makes a tackle during a kickoff in the Longhorns' 37-17 win over Wyoming.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

It happens quickly. The ball is pounded off the tee and then 10 burnt orange beasts rumble down the hash marks with one goal in mind: stop the football.

Then a few seconds later, one or multiple members of the group connect with their target, and sparks fly.

That attacking mentality has earned the Longhorns’ kickoff coverage unit the nickname the “Wild Bunch,” and it’s a perfect fit.

“We are called the “Wild Bunch” for a reason,” linebacker Tevin Jackson said. “We run down there like a bunch of wild men just ready to tackle the ball carrier.”

They’re not only wild, but effective too. Texas’ kickoff team is ranked third in the nation in yards per return, allowing 12.6 yards per attempt. Even more impressively, the longest return the unit has allowed is 15 yards.

This has put opponents in a brutal position. On almost every possession they’re starting behind their own 20-yard line, tough under any circumstance, but even more difficult against the Longhorns because opposing offenses will be forced to go at least 80 yards against one of the top rated defenses in the country. Texas’ defense is ranked eighth in the FBS allowing 8.5 points a contest.

This makes the kickoff unit the Longhorns’ first line of defense. Most of the time they get on the field the play before the defense, and it’s up to them to hold premier field position and get the team animated, roles the “Wild Bunch” takes a ton of pride in.

“We set the tone,” linebacker Dalton Santos said. “We come down there and lock somebody up, and [senior S] Kenny Vaccaro is going to go crazy. [Senior DE Alex] “AO” [Okafor] is going to go crazy. The fans go crazy. And when the fans go crazy, we feed off of it. So just that alone is really neat. We take tremendous pride in it."

Before every kick it’s the unit’s goal to keep the opponent behind their own 15-yard-line, a task it has accomplished with considerable success. However, for a team to rank among the country’s finest it takes more than a barbaric mentality. The group must also have discipline.

Every good special teams unit has players with a high motor and an intense mindset, but the best kickoff coverage teams are technically sound. This means staying in the right lanes and following the game plan to contain the return man to a particular area.

Texas has been strong in this aspect due to a heavy emphasis on special teams by Mack Brown in the offseason. But the players also put in a lot of work to balance their wild attitudes with their technical savvy.

“It is a pride thing,” Jackson said. “We are out there being wild men, but we have our keys and our assignments that we have to keep.”

They’ve found the balance this season, and the results have been evident. It seems like every quarter Santos or someone else on the unit has made a bone-crunching tackle.

But the glory hits only go to 10 members of the unit, the 11th is the unsung hero and perhaps the most important of the group.

Placekicker Nick Rose is the starting gun to the “Wild Bunch’s” race to the ball. Once the ball leaves his foot he’s overlooked, but the height he puts on the football is key to the unit’s success.

“Nick Rose’s hang time has been unbelievable,” head coach Mack Brown said. “The guys are excited about covering, because the ball hangs there up so long.”

Rose’s teammates certainly appreciate his cannon of a leg because it gives them the opportunity to do what they do best — lay opponents out.

Printed on Friday, September 14, 2012 as: A WILD BUNCH - Kickoff unit displays explosiveness with fast start

Freshman linebacker Dalton Santos (55) has quickly become a big part of the Longhorns' special teams unit. Santos leads the team with four special teams tackles.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

During the Longhorns’ game last Saturday, Dalton Santos saw something he had never seen before.

As he was running towards a player about to tackle him, they made eye contact and Santos saw him say beneath his helmet, “Oh no.”

What other reaction would you expect from someone who is about to be hit by someone the Longhorns’ players call “the crazy white boy”?

Though he isn’t sure if that descriptor his teammates gave him is true, Santos has started embracing it.

“I guess it was from starting at a young age, playing pee-wee football,” Santos said. “My dad was always like that. It was just that mentality of being the nastiest dude you can be out there.”

Santos, a freshman linebacker from Van, Texas, has made an impact on special teams already even though he has only played two games. He has posted a team-high four special teams tackles so far this season.

But, his stats don’t say everything about him. Those hits have been hard hits. Really hard hits.

Whenever kicker Nick Rose kicks the ball downfield, a switch goes off in Santos’ mind and he doesn’t think anymore. He just runs and does whatever he has to do to stop the ball.

“Every play you have to have that intention to come and just try to blow people up,” Santos said.

Santos weighs 260 pounds and runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. His power, speed and spirit have helped him become a leader for the special teams even though he is just a freshman. Both teammates Tevin Jackson and Kendall Thompson agreed Santos has had the hardest hits so far on special teams.

Thompson said if Santos was running towards him, he would “get ready.”

“Every time he runs down there my eyes are constantly on him,” junior linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “He’s full of energy, you see him run down there and nobody wants to block him. And when they do try he just absorbs it and keeps going.”

Being either the first members of the team on the field or starting the next series, the unit has taken it upon themselves to get the defense excited and ready to play. They plan on setting the tone from the first play of the game.
Santos aims to one day be the middle linebacker for the Longhorns. But, he understands that every career takes time and he will play whatever position the coaches want him to play.

He’s definitely made the most out of his role on special teams so far this season. He and the other kickoff coverage squad are proud of their accomplishments so far but they plan to continue to improve.

“I might not be playing as much … but the role I play is making an impact on them guys,” Santos said. “It’s getting them guys ready to go out there and say, ‘Santos just laid a hit on kickoff. Let’s go out there and let’s just punish people.’’

Santos and the other members of the kickoff team call themselves the “Wild Bunch.” For a guy they call “crazy,” he certainly fits in.

Printed on Friday, September 14, 2012 as: Santos shines, becomes key factor in kickoff game

Horns snag three commitments before National Signing Day

Dalton Santos, considered a jack-of-all-trades, has made a verbal commitment that he will attend Texas.
Dalton Santos, considered a jack-of-all-trades, has made a verbal commitment that he will attend Texas.

The Longhorns 2012 recruiting class swelled to 27 members with the verbal commitments of three more athletes this week. Texas picked up two defensive players in linebacker Dalton Santos and defensive end Bryce Cottrell as well as local athlete/flex back Daje Johnson. Each of the trio had previously been committed to other schools, but decided to switch their pledges to Texas after careful consideration before National Signing Day on Feb. 1.

We’ll start with Daje Johnson, a product of Pflugerville’s Hendrickson High School. While Johnson is diminutive in size at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds he runs a 4.3 40-yard dash and has been likened to a bullet train in the open field. Johnson affords Texas the option of either converting him to an able cornerback, or keeping him in the D.J. Monroe role as a running back/receiver hybrid. For Johnson’s sake, let’s hope he doesn’t fade in and out of obscurity like Monroe has the past few seasons.

Johnson had initially committed to play under head coach Gary Patterson at TCU, but once Texas offered the Austin native, he was sold on playing as a Longhorn. Johnson is a playmaker that does have the ability to make a defender or two miss, but he doesn’t have the durability to be an every down back. Texas knows this, that’s why it has a stable of stud running backs at its disposal. Johnson could be in line for more receptions than carries with the likes of Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Jonathan Gray in the backfield. With the loss of Skyline’s Thomas Johnson to A&M, Daje Johnson fills the Longhorn’s need at receiver and running back perfectly. In his senior season at Hendrickson, Johnson accumulated over 25 rushing touchdowns as well as six receiving scores. He also returned a punt for a score, showing his versatility. Johnson could very well make his way on to the field in some gadget-type plays next season. He’ll be a fun guy to keep an eye on throughout his Longhorn career.

Santos is rated as the No. 1 inside linebacker in the nation by ESPN and is a jack-of-all-trades in his own right. He had committed to Tennessee but switched after deciding Texas was a better fit for him and his family. At 6-foot-2, 250 pounds he can stop the run all the way down the line and has a great feel for the game. Santos is a very instinctual player that makes the right decision more times than not. He will vie for playing time immediately against Steve Edmond at the inside backer spot. Edmond will probably have a leg up given his time with the program, but don’t count Santos out all together. Santos could be the biggest hitter Texas has had since Nathan Vasher, who was known to lay some vicious hits on opponents as a Longhorn. The competition between Edmond and Santos this offseason will be one filled with heavy hits. Either is a solid option to anchor an improved Texas defense.

Cottrell, a former Oregon commit, comes in from Plano West. The 6-foot-3, 230 pound defensive end played on the edge in high school, but could project as an outside linebacker in college. Wherever he plays, you can rest assured he’s going to come off the line at full-speed looking to inflict pain on whoever has the ball. His pursuit off the edge is top of the line and he has the frame to add much more muscle to his already powerful physique. Cottrell has shown that he can either line up in a two or 3-point stance, or drop back into coverage if need be. He uses his lengthy arms effectively in getting around linemen and to the point of attack. Cottrell garnered interest from several schools, including a couple of SEC squads but decided to stay in-state and become a Longhorn. He’ll fit well in Manny Diaz’s scheme-filled defense and could push for playing time in the next year. Under the guidance of the Texas coaches, Cottrell could blossom into another NFL-caliber Longhorn.