Michael Huff

Former Longhorn safety Earl Thomas will be suiting up for the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday as they face off against the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

When Super Bowl XLVIII concludes on Sunday, at least one former Longhorn defensive player will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. 

This year’s game features Seattle’s Earl Thomas against Denver’s Michael Huff and Quentin Jammer, continuing a tradition in which a former Longhorn has made it to the Super Bowl every year since 2007. 

Texas junior cornerback Quandre Diggs, who is Jammer’s younger brother, is excited for the matchup and to see the trio represent Texas as “Defensive Back University.”

“It means a lot just to know that pretty much every year for a long time there has been a DB in that game,” Diggs said. ”No matter who wins, we know a DB will get the Super Bowl.”

 

Earl Thomas, safety:

Thomas was drafted No. 14 overall by the Seahawks in the 2010 NFL draft, following a sensational redshirt sophomore season in which he was a Jim Thorpe Award finalist.

Thomas is regarded by many to be the best safety in the NFL and is a crucial piece in the Seahawks’ secondary. If the Seahawks are going to win, they will need their defense to step up, which means Thomas playing at a high level. Though it wouldn’t be a surprise if he makes a game-changing play, Thomas is focused on just doing the little things right.

“You see a lot of guys that aren’t tackling as well; they’re not doing as well as they started,” Thomas said. “That’s what it’s all about — sticking to your core beliefs, sticking to who you are and everything else will take care of itself.”

Of the three Longhorns in the game, Thomas has the most potential to decide the game with a decisive interception or pass breakup.

 

Michael Huff, safety:

Huff was drafted seventh overall by the Oakland Raiders in the 2006 NFL draft, following the 2005 season, in which he became Texas’ first Thorpe Award winner while helping the Longhorns to their first national title in 35 years.

Huff’s best season was in 2010 when he recorded career-highs in tackles, sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions en route to being named a second-team All-Pro safety. He spent his first seven seasons in Oakland before being cut in March 2013, he was later picked up by the Ravens before being cut again mid-season. Now Huff is on the verge of winning the Super Bowl, having been picked up by the Broncos in November. With the humbling experience of losing in Oakland behind him, he realizes the need to seize the moment now.

“Those years in Oakland, getting cut by two teams this year,” Huff said. “To know nothing but winning in college, struggle for seven years and never even get to the playoffs, all of those losing seasons, just makes what I’m feeling right now extra special.”

 

Quentin Jammer, cornerback:

Jammer was drafted fifth overall in 2002 by the San Diego Chargers, after being named a unanimous All-American in 2001.

In 2009, Jammer was named to the Chargers’ 50th anniversary team as a cornerback. After 11 seasons with San Diego, the Broncos picked him up and he is now primarily cornerback Champ Bailey’s backup. Like Huff, Jammer probably won’t have much impact in the game, though he should see some important playing time.

“I am excited to be able to share it with him and go up there and be by his side through the rest of the weekend and hope they go out and get the win,” Diggs said.

Tarell Brown instructs at his football camp in Mesquite, which was free for all participants. A national champ at Texas, Brown started in the Super Bowl last season and is one of many former Texas defensive backs to be drafted recently.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

It seems like everyone knows him here.

Tarell Brown shakes dozens of hands and signs hundreds of autographs after running his sixth football and cheerleading camp in Mesquite since beginning his NFL career. He’s joined by former Longhorns teammates Michael Griffin, Michael Huff and Aaron Ross – four of the 13 Longhorns defensive backs that have been drafted since 2002.

“It’s a fraternity,” Huff said. “At Texas, us DBs pride ourselves in being a family and keeping the tradition going. Any time one of our DBs have something going, we’re going to be there.”

After spending an hour signing autographs for the throng of adoring young campers, Brown, Huff, Ross and Griffin proudly put on shirts that proclaimed: “Texas Football is the new DBU.”

Brown has done a fine job upholding that “DBU” legacy but his path to success hasn’t always been a smooth one. He partially tore his ACL after his rookie season and spent his first four years in the NFL as a backup.

But possibly his most painful setback came while he was still playing for Texas, who he helped win its first national championship in more than three decades in 2005.

One of two Heisman Trophy winners for USC, Matt Leinart went into the fourth quarter of that season’s national title game without a touchdown pass.

That changed with 6:42 left, when he threw a dart between Texas safety Michael Griffin and cornerback Tarell Brown. Dwayne Jarrett rose over Brown and Griffin, plucked the ball out of the air as the two defenders collided and his outstretched arm crossed the goal line.

USC took a 38-26 lead over Texas while Griffin and Brown lay limp next to each other at the 5-yard line. Griffin was fine, but Brown, who made a career-high 10 tackles in that game, had suffered a broken right forearm. He was forced to watch Vince Young lead the Longhorns to a scintillating 41-38 victory on the television in the locker room.

“I was going for the ball and I just got hit. That’s all I really remember,” Brown said. “I remember breaking my forearm and my whole right side going numb. I knew something was broken. We did a great job finishing the game off.”

Eight years later, Brown had a much different championship experience. After earning a starting spot at cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers before the 2011 season, Brown had helped them reach their first Super Bowl in nearly two decades.

Brown, who the 49ers drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft, was part of a secondary that boasted the fourth-best pass defense in the league. But Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had picked it apart to the tune of three first-half touchdown passes.

The 49ers picked apart at a 28-6 Ravens lead in the second half and got as close as 28-23 after Brown forced a Ray Rice fumble, which led to a David Akers field goal. But San Francisco was never able to break through, falling to Baltimore, 34-31, in Super Bowl XLVII this February.

“There’s nothing like playing in the Super Bowl,” Brown said. “It’s all about winning. I remember the national championship a lot more because we won. The Super Bowl was great, getting the opportunity to represent your team, yourself and your family. We had a great run. We just couldn’t finish it at the end.”

Brown has come a long way since since starring at North Mesquite High School, where he rushed for more than 3,000 yards in his last two years and established himself as one of the top cornerback prospects in the country.

He returned to Mesquite last weekend for his camp, which he doesn’t charge for because he couldn’t afford to go to such camps as a child.

“I always thought it was something important for my community,” Brown said. “This was always big for me, always something I wanted to do, just to give something back to the kids.”

Maybe next year, he’ll come to the camp wearing a Super Bowl ring.

Stat Guy: It's 2004, all over again

Michael Huff returns an interception against Texas A&M in the Longhorns’ 26-13 win over the Aggies on Thanksgiving in 2004.
Michael Huff returns an interception against Texas A&M in the Longhorns’ 26-13 win over the Aggies on Thanksgiving in 2004.

Playing in the secondary is like running a track meet. Playing in the secondary against Oklahoma? An Olympic track meet.

As a cornerback or safety lining up opposite Landry Jones and his battalion of receivers, the game play can be somewhat intimidating.

Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles has already hauled in 38 receptions for 476 yards and six touchdowns. Add a recently healed Kenny Stills, and the Longhorns could possibly be facing the most talented wide receiver tandem in the country.

The Texas secondary is a mix of both veterans and inexperienced players. Sophomores Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips, junior Kenny Vaccaro and senior Blake Gideon anchor a defense allowing 14.75 points per game. Not only will they have to deal with Broyles and Stills, but there’s also a pretty good quarterback looking to pick them apart: Heisman Trophy candidate Landry Jones. Interestingly enough, Texas faced a similar situation seven years ago.

In 2004, sophomore Aaron Ross, juniors Cedric Griffin and Michael Huff and senior Phillip Geiggar were members of a Texas defense that was allowing 11.75 points a game. Oklahoma quarterback Jason White, who won the Heisman in 2003, had multiple all-American receivers backing him. The Sooners were ranked No. 2 at the time, while the Longhorns sat at No. 5 in the USA Today rankings.

And who said history doesn’t repeat itself? Let’s take a look at how the 2004 Longhorns performed in the passing game.

White completed 14 of 26 passes for 113 yards and two interceptions. While the end result — a 12-0 loss — wasn’t what the Longhorns were hoping for, the defensive backs showed promise.

Huff led the Texas secondary with fifteen tackles, including an impressive eleven tackles unassisted. He also picked off White. Griffin added eight solo tackles including one tackle for a loss. Ross compiled five tackles, four of which were solo, and deflected a pass. Geiggar, the Blake Gideon of the 2004 secondary, racked up 11 total tackles, including six solo stops. Geiggar also wowed fans by forcing and recovering a fumble. Overall, it was a solid performance by a secondary not expected to have a great showing against White and future NFL receivers Mark Clayton and Travis Clayton. In fact, Oklahoma’s only touchdown on the day came from the team’s backup running back, Kejuan Jones, in the fourth quarter.

“We knew that Jason White wanted to go to Clayton,” Geiggar told the Texan. “OU had the No. 1 offense in the country, and we held them to only six points until late in the fourth quarter. What was key for us was that we all were on the same page in the back. Huff and I had our best games in this game, we had a good connection back there, and we trusted each other.”

There are many similarities between this weekend’s Red River Rivalry and the one in 2004: the age spread, the combined talent on each squad and the teams’ records and rankings. Safe to say, we’ve seen this before.

“The secondary now is not only athletic, but they are smart too,” Geiggar said. “They played well last week, so I’m sure that will carry over to this week. Duane Akina is a great [defensive backs] coach, and he’ll have those guys ready this week. I’m looking forward to watching my Longhorns play and definitely rooting for my DBs.”

They match up well. Age is not a factor. It all comes down to knowing what Oklahoma wants to do and making plays.  

Printed on October 6, 2011 as: Sooners will test Longhorns defensive backfield

Photo Credit: Texas Athletics | Daily Texan Staff

Free time: “I’m a relaxed guy, don’t do too much. I watch a little TV or do some studying.”

Favorite place in Austin: “My room, for sure. That’s where I spend most of my time. I don’t get out too much.”

Role model: “My dad. He taught me a lot about life in general and being a football player.”

Player you pattern game after: “I’ve started watching Michael Huff.”

Carrington Byndom (23) tackles Texas Tech wide receiver Austin Zouzalik in the Longhorns' recent 52—20 victory over the Red Raiders. Byndom has quickly become one of the Longhorns' best defensive backs this season.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Carrington Byndom isn’t much of a talker. But the cornerback sure knows how to listen.

Of course, it helps to be around people who know what they’re talking about.

Byndom’s postion coach, Duane Akina, has sent dozens of defensive backs to the NFL, with 10 currently in the league.

“He hangs on to every word that Akina tells him,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “He’s not brash and boisterous but at the same time he exudes a quiet confidence.”

Byndom spent his summer working out in Austin with Akina’s pupils, including Michael Huff, Aaron Ross, Cedric Griffin and Michael Griffin. He picked their brains and soaked it all in.

So far, it’s paid off. The sophomore has started all eight games and leads the Longhorns with 11 pass breakups.

“You’re around them and around their presence and they teach you their little secrets to improve your game,” Byndom said. “That was another key for me. They just give you their insight because they’ve been through this. They’re helping us prepare our game and get that much better for the future.”

His future certainly is bright. Give Byndom another year in Akina’s system, and he’ll be lining up at corner on Sundays.

The defensive backs room at the football complex is home to the “Money Wall,” homage to the former Longhorns who have gone on to the NFL. It’s also a constant reminder of the high expectations that come with being Akina’s latest pupil.

“Every DB wants to be on the money wall when they leave here,” Byndom said. “That’s another goal, another milestone for us, to have you picture up there on the wall so every DB who comes after knows he made the money wall.

“I definitely aspire to be like one of those guys that came through our defensive back room. Being like them is a goal for me, maybe even going beyond that.”

Byndom’s certainly gone above and beyond expectations in his first year as a starter.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Akina said. “I knew he was going to be a good player, but he’s really ahead of schedule, much more physical. He’s really just seeing the game. He’s an outstanding athlete and now the game is really beginning to slow down. All those reps are starting to catch up."

Byndom routinely draws the assignment of covering the opponent’s best receiver and has done well in that role. He held his ground against Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles and shut down Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon.

“He’s now one of the best corners in this conference, and his goal is to become national,”
Akina said.

Byndom may not be a big talker, but he let’s his game speak for him. And while his 6-foot, 180-pound frame might not be all that imposing, he’s not afraid to mix it up and hit somebody.

“He’s just a class act, much like Aaron Ross, Michael Huff and yet, on the field, very competitive,” Akina said. “Don’t let that demeanor fool you a little bit. He’s a physical, tough guy.”

On Saturday against Missouri’s 37th-ranked pass offense, Akina will need to make adjustments on the fly and shout instructions between plays. You can be sure that Byndom will be listening.