All Kenny Vaccaro wanted out of the NFL draft was to be the first safety chosen.
In a brightly lit Radio City Music Hall packed full of fans sporting jerseys of their favorite teams, he got his wish.
Hopefully he’s partial to gumbo.
The New Orleans Saints chose Vaccaro as the 15th pick during the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday. Vaccaro follows a line of six other Texas players drafted in the first round since 2006. He also makes his place among a group of 12 other Texas defensive backs chosen in the past 12 drafts.
“I got chills when I looked at my mom after my name was called,” Vaccaro said. “We’ve been through so much, and she’s been there for me all the way. It was special to share the moment with her and my family. Having [defensive backs] coach [Duane] Akina there, also, was extra special. He’s coached so many great DBs.”
Smiling and holding a black and gold jersey and wearing his Saints hat, Vaccaro looked poised to join his new team. LSU’s Eric Reid was the second safety selected at No. 18.
“I think he’s got very good football intelligence,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said. “Part of being a pressure guy from the back end is anticipation, snap count and disguise. I think he’s an instinctive player, and you see that on tape.”
Vaccaro started every game for the Longhorns in 2012 and led the team in tackles, earning lauds for his power, speed and hard hits. He was a first team All-American by Pro Football Weekly and a first-team 2012 All-Big 12 by the conference’s coaches. Vaccaro had 51 games and 32 starts under his belt by the end of his collegiate career and was one of the top safety prospects heading into the draft.
“He is very passionate about football,” head coach Mack Brown said. “He brings leadership and he brings toughness.”
He was also part of a select group of players invited to New York for the event.
For the Brownwood native, a pick by the Saints means a move outside of the state he’s grown up in, but Vaccaro has said he is open to going to any team he has the chance to play for.
“This was such a great night, and I’m so excited to be a Saint. New Orleans is a great franchise with passionate fans like Texas, and it’s still close to my family,” Vaccaro said. “The Saints were my last visit, and I had a good feeling about it. I am ready to do whatever the Saints want me to do.”
Vaccaro joins Earl Thomas, Michael Griffin and Michael Huff as Longhorns safeties to be selected in the first round since Akina was hired at Texas in 2001.
“I have been grinding my whole life, literally since I was four years old for this opportunity, and it is finally here,” Vaccaro said. “Earl Thomas told me to come in, have a chip on my shoulder and put an impact on this league. [He said], ‘Don’t just sit around and wait for someone else to take your job.’”
The Kansas City Chiefs chose Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher with the No. 1 pick of the draft, followed by the Jacksonville Jaguars snagging another offensive tackle, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel with the No. 2 pick.
2013 marked the first year since 1968 that two offensive linemen were selected as the first and second overall picks.
Texas defensive end Alex Okafor was not selected in the first round but stands a good chance to hear his name called Friday, when the NFL draft will continue with the second and third rounds.