defensive player

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.

Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro’s name has found its way on numerous preseason awards watch lists, including the Thorpe. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

The only question surrounding the Texas defense this summer is just how good they can be as an overall unit. A lot of that expectation comes from a star-studded returning cast that includes seniors safety Kenny Vaccaro and defensive end Alex Okafor.

Okafor and Vaccaro are expected to lead a high-powered defense this season. In 2011, Texas finished 11th in total defense and is expected to finish higher this year.

The public will get to hear exactly what to expect out of this year’s defense from head coach Mack Brown and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz at the Big 12 Media Days this week in Dallas. However, the public will not get to hear from defensive leaders Okafor and Vaccaro.

Due to an offseason incident, the seniors are banned from addressing the media until September and will not make it to Dallas this week. In May, Okafor and Vaccaro, along with senior tight end Barrett Matthews and former Longhorn Eryon Barnett, were arrested in downtown Austin for failing to obey a lawful order.

The four athletes refused to leave a downtown pizza establishment after being asked by several individuals, including police. The incident led to their arrest and charges of class C misdemeanors.

“They are paying hard for really being disrespectful to authority figures,” Brown said. “It’s our job to make sure that we all keep the respect of the authority figures that we have. Our police department has a very, very difficult job. If they ask you to leave, you should leave, and you should leave quickly.”

All charges in the case against the players were dismissed, and the Longhorns will not face any serious legal ramifications because of the incident, but other penalties were handed down by the Texas coaching staff. Although they will not miss much, if any, game time when the season starts, the three players will not represent the team in public until school starts for the 2012 season.

“These guys will be able to address it when we start back in the fall but not until that point,” Brown said. “We want them to earn that right from their teammates to represent our team publicly.”

Vaccaro, four-year defensive back, was chosen to the All-Big 12 first team in 2011 and was honorable mention for Defensive Player of the Year. In 2011, Vaccaro started at safety in 13 games and posted two sacks along with two interceptions. For the 2012 season, Vaccaro has been named to the Thorpe watch list for the nation’s best defensive back, the Bednarik watch list for the defensive player of the year and the Nagurski watch list for most outstanding defensive player. Vaccaro was also named to the preseason All-Big 12 team for 2012.

In 2012, Okafor started in all 13 games, finishing with seven sacks and one fumble recovery. He was also named to the 2011 All-Big 12 first team and was a 2011 AFCA FBS Coaches’ All-American. In addition to also being named to the Bednarik and Nagurski watch lists, Okafor was named to the 2012 Lombardi Award watch list for the lineman or linebacker of the year and the Walter Camp Player of the Year watch list. Okafor is a preseason All-Big 12 team member and preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

“These are three leaders on our football team,” Brown said of the trio and their roles on the field.

Okafor and Vaccaro may not be on hand in Dallas, but the success of the Longhorns’ defense this season is strongly tied to their ability to disrupt opponents’ offensive game plans and lead the Texas defense. The hope is that barring the pair, along with Matthews, from speaking with the media until the fall will allow them to focus on offseason preparation and be fully-focused once the season begins.

Four Longhorns on All-Big 12 football team

Okafor started 13 games at defensive end in 2011.
Okafor started 13 games at defensive end in 2011.

After tallying all media votes, the Big 12 announced its 2012 preseason team Tuesday afternoon. Four Longhorns found their names on it and senior defensive end Alex Okafor is the preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

 

Safety Kenny Vaccaro, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and running back Malcolm Brown were the others honored.

 

Here's a link to the full team.

 

And heres' the very wordy press release (you have been warned), courtesy of the UT athletics department:

 

 

Okafor is a three-year letterman who has appeared in 39 games on the defensive line, including 21 starts. He was a 2011 AFCA FBS Coaches' All-American and a unanimous first team All-Big 12 selection (Coaches). Also in 2011, he was named first team All-Big 12 (AP, Kansas City Star, Fort Worth Star-Telegram) and was on the 2011 Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award watch list. Okafor transitioned back to full-time defensive end from defensive tackle in spring 2011 and has registered 110 tackles (49solo), 9.5 sacks, 20 TFL, 36 pressures, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery for his career. Last season he started all 13 games, posting 58 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, seven sacks, three pass breakups, 17 pressures, two caused fumbles and one fumble recovery. He is a two-time member of UT'sAthletics Director's Honor Roll (Spring 2010/Fall 2010).

 

Okafor and Jeffcoat are also on the 2012 watch lists for the Lombardi Award (college lineman or linebacker of the year), Bednarik Award (college defensive player of the year), Nagurski Trophy (most outstanding defensive player) and the College Football Performance Awards Defensive Awards.

 

Jeffcoat is a third-year defensive lineman who has appeared in 21 games with 15 starts. He was a 2011 second team All-Big 12 selection (Coaches, AP, Kansas City Star, San Antonio Express-News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram). Jackson has 86 tackles (43 solo), 27 TFL, 10.5 sacks, four PBU, one fumble recovery and 16 pressures for his career. He tallied 71 tackles, 21 TFL, eight sacks, nine pressures and three pass breakups in 2011. He was named honorable mention Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2010 when he posted 15 tackles (eight solo), six TFL and 2.5 sacks, one PBU, one fumble recovery and seven pressures. His father, Jim, was a standout defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys (1983-94) and Buffalo Bills (1995-97) and is the current defensive line coach at San Jose State.

 

Vaccaro is a fourth-year defensive back who has appeared in 38 games with 19 career starts. He was chosen to the All-Big 12 first team (Coaches), second team (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) andhonorable mention (AP) in 2011 and was honorable mention for Defensive Player of the Year (Coaches). Vaccaro has posted 157 tackles (102 solos), two interceptions, 12 TFL, two sacks, two forced fumbles and 16 PBU for his career and has also registered 14 tackles (10 solo) and two blocked kicks on special teams. He appeared in all 13 games at safety, starting 11, while registering 82 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions, eight pass breakups and seven pressures in 2011.

 

Vaccaro has also been named to the 2012 Thorpe Award watch list and joins Okafor and Jeffcoat on the watch lists for the Bednarik Award (college defensive player of the year) and the Nagurski Trophy (most outstanding defensive player).

 

Brown, who was named to the 2012 Maxwell Award watch list awarded to the nation’s outstanding collegiate player, begins his second season after having played in 10 games with seven starts as a true freshman in 2011. He was named second-team Freshman All-America by Yahoo!Sports, the 2011 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year (AP, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram) and the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year (Kansas City Star). Brown is one of 13 Texas freshmen to rush for over 500 yards in a season, ranks seventh on the single season rushing yards (742) list for freshmen and is tied for ninth for rushing touchdowns (5) as a frosh. In 2011, he tallied 172 carries for 742 yards to lead the team and had five rushing touchdowns while catching three passes for 17 yards. Brown ranked second among true freshmen in the NCAA and was eighth overall in the Big 12with 74.2 rushing yards per game. He was the first true freshman to lead Texas in rushing since Cedric Benson in 2001 and was the team's leading rusher ineight of the 13 games. Brown has three career 100-yardrushing performances, tied for third most by Longhorn freshmen. He was on the College Football Performance Awards National Freshman Performer of the Yearwatch list and was a prep All-American who played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.