Ask Kenny Vaccaro what he hopes the outcome of this week’s NFL draft will be, and the answer is quick, confident and smoothly spoken.
“I want to be the first safety taken,” Vaccaro said. “I don’t care if it’s the first or second round, I just want to be the first safety off the board.”
The draft prospects are looking bright for the Brownwood native, who played for four years and started at safety in every game during his junior and senior years. In his four-year career, Kenny Vaccaro managed 264 tackles, five interceptions and four forced fumbles. Many analysts have listed Vaccaro as a first-round pick, citing his size, speed, hard-hitting grit, flexibility and instincts on the field.
“I think I was explosive on my breaks,” Vaccaro said at Texas Pro Day, where he went through drills but skipped the 40-yard dash due to a hip flexor injury. “I was really happy with how my hip held up. I thought I did a good job today.”
Vaccaro ran through private workouts for the Dallas Cowboys and the Tennessee Titans, though a bevy of other coaches seem to have their eyes on him too.
“I’m fired up to go anywhere,” Vaccaro said at Pro Day. “This has been a dream my whole life. Wherever I go, I’ll excel at that team.”
Even if that team isn’t in his home state.
“I’m from Texas, I played for the best university in Texas,” Vaccaro said. “To play for America’s team would be great, but I just want to have the opportunity to play for any organization.”
Despite last season’s often listless defense, Vaccaro shined, leading the team in tackles and earning lauds including a first-team All-America selection by Pro Football Weekly and a first-team All-Big 12 selection. He duked it out in October with West Virginia’s speedy receiver Tavon Austin and tallied 11 tackles during the game.
Beneath Vaccaro’s tattooed skin, football runs deep in his blood. Vaccaro’s uncle, A.J. Johnson, played in the NFL with both the Washington Redskins and the San Diego Chargers. He aided the Redskins in claiming a Super Bowl victory in 1991.
“Kenny is tough,” head coach Mack Brown said. “Kenny is like [Seattle Seahakws safety] Earl Thomas. He’s like a [Tennessee Titans safety] Michael Griffin. It’s easy to compare Kenny to the great ones. He plays with passion every day and he practices with passion.”
Vaccaro was invited to New York City to attend the draft, one of only 23 players asked to attend. The draft will begin Thursday night.
“We have had a lot of guys that are invited to New York for the draft and it has always been a highlight,” Brown said. “It obviously means that you are going to be a first-round pick and very high on people’s list. It’s a great compliment to not only Kenny and not only [defensive backs coach] Duane Akina, but to our entire program.”
Despite the recognition and flurry of praise he’s received heading into the draft, Vaccaro is quick to give thanks for his talent, his accomplishments and his future.
“I never thought I’d be at this point,” Vaccaro said. “I’m so blessed. I thank God everyday that I got the opportunity to play this game.”