• Watching the watch lists [Updated]

    Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro is on a number of preseason watch lists.
    Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro is on a number of preseason watch lists.

    It's fun, really, to see every player from every team be named to the watch list for every award. While only one can win at the end of the year, that doesn't mean 100-something hopefulls can't live a pipe-dream in July.


    Rounding up the Longhorns on the watch lists, with their projected chances at winning:


    College Football Performance Awards:


    Defensive: Alex Okafor, Jackson Jeffcoat, Carrington Byndom

     

    Special Teams: D.J. Monroe, Quandre Diggs

     

    Tight End: D.J. Grant


    Because a Texas football player has won a national CFPA award each of the last three seasons, there's a decent chance one of the above could win this award. My best guess would be Okafor as the Defensive Lineman Trophy winner, at 30 percent.


    Okafor might be as talented a best defensive end as there is in the nation, but there are a bunch of really good ones, which means he'll have to do more than his seven sacks last season.


    Maxwell Award: Nation's Outstanding College Football Player:


    Malcolm Brown - 1 percent


    This is just one step down from the Heisman and considering it has most recently gone to Andrew Luck, Cameron Newton, Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, Tebow again, Brady Quinn, Vince Young, Jason White and Eli Manning -- yep, nine straight quarterbacks -- there's an incredibly slim chance that it goes to a running back, especially one who will be splitting carries. Sorry, Malcolm, that's not a knock on you, just the nature of the award and an estimation of your coming season. If a running back were to win it, it'd be Wisconsin's Montee Ball, but this will go to a quarterback.

     

    Bednarik Award: Nation's Top Defensive Player:


    Alex Okafor - 30 percent


    Jackson Jeffcoat - 5 percent


    Kenny Vaccaro - 20 percent


    Because there are more than 60 players named to this watch list, it's hard to give even a 30 percent chance for one guy to win it. But Texas' defense, which should finish in the top-5, will get Okafor some recognition. Vaccaro is among the best defensive backs, but he's not as nationally-known as LSU's Tyrann Mathieu or USC's T.J. McDonald.


    Bronco Nagurski Award: Nation's Best Defensive Player:


    Alex Okafor - 30 percent


    Jackson Jeffcoat - 5 percent


    Kenny Vaccaro - 20 percent


    Carrington Byndom - 5 percent


    (This is essentially the same award as the Bednarik, with a different name, so the percentages remain constant.)


    Outland Trophy: Nationa's Best Interior Lineman:


    Mason Walters - 5 percent


    With a ground game that should rank in the top-15, Walters is finally due for some national acclaim. But giving him a five-percent chance is almost generous -- last year's winner, Alabama's Barrett Jones, stands in the way, and defensive tackles can win this award, too.


    Jim Thorpe Award: Nation's best defensive back:

    Vaccaro - 25 percent

     

    This is one of the reasons Kenny Vaccaro decided to turn down first-round money and return for his senior season.

     

    "I wanna win the Thorpe, that's it," he said after Texas beat Cal in the Holiday Bowl.

     

    Two Longhorns -- Michael Huff and Aaron Ross -- have won the Thorpe, which has been won by eight straight first-round draftees. Because Vaccaro projects in the same group, he has pretty favorable odds in this. But he'll have to beat out ultra-popular Mathieu.

  • Catching up with Jordan Hamilton

    Hamilton averaged 18.6 points per game as a sophomore in 2010-11.
    Hamilton averaged 18.6 points per game as a sophomore in 2010-11.

     

    A few days ago, I caught up with Jordan Hamilton, a former Longhorn (2009-10) now with the Denver Nuggets. We'll have a story in next week's Texan, but for now here's a few clips from our phone interview.


    Daily Texan: How is this summer different than last, when you were entering your rookie season and locked out from organized team basketball activities?


    Hamilton: I get hands-on treatment with the coaching staff now, and I get to work out here in Denver, Monday through Friday. I go home to Los Angeles every other weekend or so, but I'm here in the gym every day, shaping my body and trying to lose some weight -- I've gone from 238 to 220 and I'm trying to get to 215. And then basketball-related, just working on all aspects of my game.


    DT: What was the hardest part about last season? [Note: Hamilton played in 26 of a possible 66 games, with two starts, averaging 4.4 points per game -- or 21.6 per 48 minutes].


    Hamilton: It was a learning experience being around guys like Al Harrington and Andre Miller, and also the mid-level veterans who have been in the league four to five years. Coach [George Karl] played the guys who he believed in in the shortened season; played the guys he knew.


    There was no training camp, we just got right into it, so [the rookies] didn't have much preparation time to show the coaching staff what we could do. The coaches knew who I was, obviously, but they weren't familiar with my game as well as they would have been if I was able to be there last summer.


    DT: What was your welcome-to-the-NBA moment?


    Hamilton: We're all playing pickup at Loyola Marymount [in California] and Kobe Bryant walks in. Kobe joins in -- and he was real good. I was guarding him some. You can play great defense on him and he'll still make shots over you.


    DT: You left school after your sophomore season. Was it hard to watch the Longhorns?


    Hamilton: There were times when I wished I could have helped them, times where I was like, 'Man, I miss Texas.' But once the season started, I kind of stopped watching college basketball because you're so busy -- either playing games or on a flight.


    DT: Speaking of that season, there was a point where the lockout was still in effect but college basketball season had started. At any point did you think you made a mistake, or any point of regret?


    Hamilton: Regrets, no, because I ended up with a great situation in Denver with the coaching staff and my teammates.

     

    DT: Thoughts on J'Covan Brown leaving early and then going undrafted?


    Hamilton: I didn't really get a chance to talk to him after the Draft, but I talked to him a few times once he declared. I know he went undrafted, but I think he has a great chance to make it. A team will see that he can play. We all know he can score and get to the rim, and shoot, but he's an underrated athlete.


    DT: Do you think J'Covan projects as a point guard or a shooting guard?


    Hamilton: I'd say point, just because of his size [6'1"]. I remember my freshman year, we were playing a closed scrimmage against Gonzaga. Coach [Rick Barnes] had him playing point and he made some really good plays, distributed the ball well. That was one of the first times I had seen him play and I was like, 'Okay, he's a good point guard, he'll get some playing time there.' But he never played too much of it in college.


    DT: From briefly watching them play last year [20-14], what do you think the Longhorns need to better compete?


    Hamilton: All the freshmen they had, now that those guys have got a year under their belts, they'll have a great shot at making some noise and fighting for a Big 12 title. They've got Myck Kabongo coming back, he's good. I really like Sheldon McClellan's game, too. He can shoot.


    DT: You know, Sheldon keeps drawing comparisons to you.


    Hamilton: [Laughs] Yeah, I think he'll have a really good shot to play in the NBA.
     

  • If the Longhorns had a Home Run Derby...

    Kevin Lusson hit 17 home runs in his four-year career.
    Kevin Lusson hit 17 home runs in his four-year career.

    In the effort to provide Texas-centric content five days a week, you sometimes have to think outside the box. And in this case, we're trying to go out of the park.


    Inspired by last night's MLB home run derby, I sent a text message out to some former Texas players, whose careers spanned from 2009 to this past season, asking, "Of all the guys you've played with, who wins a home run derby?"


    "Kevin Lusson," one responded. "He always had power."


    "I'd say Landon Steinhagen," said another.


    "Jonathan Walsh or Lusson," one more said.


    So two votes for Lusson, who makes our team of eight. A few rules:


    1. Only players in the Augie Garrido (1997-) era qualify. This leaves out some great, great hitters, like Brooks Kieschnick, Charles Bigham (a school-record .771 slugging percentage in 1941) and Scott Bryant, but whole-season records, with each pertinent stat, only go so far back, and compartmentalizing this into 15 years is easier.


    2. To qualify, a player has to have slugged better than .600 on the season. This would exclude Lusson, yes, but I'll take a teammates' word over a raw stat, just this once.


    3. Slugging percentage, while serving as our watermark, isn't everything. Home runs, home runs per hit and records broken are all taken into consideration.


    Also, a high number of strikeouts isn't considered a bad thing on this list. For this practice, we're glorifying the boom-or-bust, swing-from-the-heels whacker who aims for the fences, even if he sometimes whiffs.


    4. Small sample size won't hurt anybody, and in some cases will help. You'll see.


    One last thing: if we're choosing a team to win a derby, then the 2010 Longhorns are easily the top pick -- they smacked a school-record 81 homers. Those Longhorns also struck out a school-record 482 times. Kevin Keyes' 15 bombs that year are No. 8 in school history, but a lower slugging percentage prevents him from making the list.


    On to our All-Augie Home Run Derby Team!


    1. Kyle Russell, 2007 -- This isn't hard at all. Russell owns school records for career homers (57) and home runs in a season (28, '07). For good measure, his 19 homers a year later are third-most in Texas history.


    As for his slugging percentage: the .807 mark in '07 is the second-highest in school history.


    Stats from his best season, '07: 28 homers, .807 slugging percentage, 2.7 home runs for each hit, 64 strikeouts.


    2. Brett Loeffler, 1997 -- Loeffler gets the second spot for hitting three home runs in one game and for maintaining a slugging percentage of .710 that is the seventh-highest single-season mark in Texas history.


    Noteworthy Stats: 12 homers, .710 slugging percentage, 1 home run for each hit.


    3. Jeff Ontiveros, 2002 -- His 20 homers this season are third-most by a Longhorn and he gets props for doing it on the team that won Garrido's first national title at Texas.


    Noteworthy Stats: .621 slugging percentage, 20 homers, 3.75 home runs for each hit.


    4. Matt Simpson, 1998 -- Simpson's .738 slugging percentage this season won't appear in Texas records, because he didn't have enough at-bats (42) to qualify. But, boy, did he make the most of them.


    Noteworthy Stats: .738 slugging percentage, 13 hits, four homers, 13 RBIs (one per hit!!).


    5. Mark Cridland, 1998 -- Seventeen home runs to go with a .684 slugging percentage. His sustained success compared to Simpson, his teammate, made this tough.


    Noteworthy Stats: .684 slugging percentage, 17 home runs, one home run for 3.88 hits.


    6. Dustin Majewski, 2002 -- If we're compiling a list of best hitters in Texas history, I can assure you Majewski is much higher than No. 6. While hitting for a .406 batting average, Majewski smacked 10 homers for a championship team.


    Noteworthy Stats: .656 slugging percentage.


    7. Todd Clark, 2000 -- This Todd Clark fellow played in one game in '00, and registered just one plate appearance. So you know what's next. Yard.

     

    Sadly, his 4.000 slugging percentage doesn't qualify for any record lists, but there's no way we're leaving a literal one-hit wonder off this list.

     

    Noteworthy Stats: One hit, one homer, one RBI, slugging percentage of 4.000.

     

    8. Kevin Lusson, 2009-12 -- As mentioned, this is a write-in nomination. I was surprised to find Lusson had never slugged higher than .522, which he did in 2010, his best season. There's power in Lusson's bat. Only problem is, he had to hit half his career with a power-sapping, NCAA-mandated one, and saw his playing time cut in half.


    Noteworthy stats ('10): .522 slugging percentage, 14 homers, one homer per 3.9 hits.


    Who'd I leave off?


     

  • The life and times of Sam Stafford

    Sam Stafford, shown here after being drafted by the Yankees in 2011, had quite a year.
    Sam Stafford, shown here after being drafted by the Yankees in 2011, had quite a year.

    You have been drafted by the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers.

     

    You have, in the same season, started inconsequential Tuesday games and the postseason opening -- and in that time period have fluctuated from the most inconsistent starter to the staff's best.

     

    You are Sam Stafford, if you haven't figured it out by now.

     

    It has been a wild ride for Stafford, who was drafted by the Yankees in the second round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Concerns over a slight tear in Stafford's left shoulder cooled New York's interest, and Stafford returned for his senior campaign, but lost it to shoulder surgery in February. Despite missing a year, Stafford was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 13th round of this years draft.

     

    So, what's the talented left-hander up to now? Well, thanks to that shoulder injury, he's just waiting until next month.

     

    "I should start my throwing program at the beginning of August," Stafford said via text this week. "I'll start slow with it, and see how my shoulder responds."

     

    Stafford, one of four Longhorns drafted, doesn't expect to be "game ready" until Spring Training in February.

     

    But until then, let's recap -- blurb by blurb, quote by quote -- Stafford's last 16 months.

     

    Feb. 19, 2011: In his first action of his junior season, Stafford yields four runs in 5 2/3 innings pitched against Maryland.

     

    March 6, 2011: Earns a win with 5 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out seven, against Stanford.

     

    March 23, 2011: After giving way to Hoby Milner in the weekend rotation on March 15, Stafford is given the weekday pitching spot -- charged with stopping Houston Baptist (at the time, 1-16). It's not primetime, but Stafford approaches it as such.

     

    "We have to make sure we're focused [on weekday series]," Stafford told The Daily Texan the day before the game. "I'm not going to look at Houston Baptist any differently than I would another team."

     

    April 5, 2011: Improved to 4-0 with seven innings of no-hit ball, with seven strikeouts, against Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

     

    April 15, 2011: Texas' middle-relief is struggling, so head coach Augie Garrido moves Milner to the bullpen and names Stafford the Sunday starter. Again, same mental approach.

     

    "The dugout and the environment will be a little more intense during the weekend games, but I have to have the same approach," Stafford said on the day Garrido announced the news.*

     

    *Of all my interviews with Stafford, this remains my favorite: in the Texas training room, holding my voice recorder up to Stafford's mouth as he spins on the stationary bike.

     

    Let's skip ahead to June 2, 2011, when Garrido announces Stafford will start the postseason opener against Princeton in the Austin Regional. At this point, Stafford has five wins with a 1.70 ERA. But, evidenced by his 37 walks in 63 innings, there are some command issues.

     

    "He's had trouble being consistent from inning to inning, pitch to pitch, but he's brought most of that under control now," Garrido says at the time.

     

    It doesn't hurt that Stafford has experience facing something-to-prove teams, as he did most Tuesdays.

     

    "Princeton is going to come in with a chip on its shoulder," Stafford said.

     

    June 3, 2011: Stafford tosses seven innings, giving up two hits and one run, as Texas beats Princeton 5-3.

     

    June 6, 2011: With the season on the brink, Stafford takes the ball against Kent State in the Austin Regional Championship. The Longhorns used six pitchers in the game -- including Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green in relief scenarios -- but it was Stafford who set the tone, going 3 2/3 innings and striking out five. Texas wins, 5-0.

     

    June 7, 2011: One day later, the New York Yankees take Stafford No. 88 overall in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Stafford is definitely ready for the jump, and that's apparent to all in his same-day availability.

     

    "Who wouldn't want to be drafted by the Yankees?" Stafford said. "To go from the University of Texas to New York is awesome. I couldn't imagine myself going to a better ballclub. I've always loved the watch them play."

     

    June 13, 2011: With a trip to Omaha on the line, Stafford pitches four innings against Arizona State in the Super Regional Championship, giving up two runs, all off a home run in the first inning.

     

    June 20, 2011: In a win-or-go-home situation in the College World Series, Stafford enters the game against North Carolina in the sixth inning, with his team trailing, 2-0. He goes three innings, giving up run. Texas loses, 3-0. Stafford's last ever pitch as a Longhorn? A swinging strike.

     

    August 15, 2011: Shockingly, MLB's deadline to sign draft picks passes without Stafford inking with the Yankees. Whispers of "shoulder tear" are prevalent.

     

    September 29, 2011: The Longhorns begin fall practice, and 'ole No. 19 looks ready to fill the role as staff ace.

     

    "At first there were mixed emotions about coming back," Stafford said. "I thought I was about to start my professional career...but it's a business. I keep saying everything happens for a reason, though, and I'm excited to begin this year."

     

    February 13, 2012: A crushing blow: Texas announces Stafford will have season-ending shoulder surgery a week before the opener. Continued tightness had led Stafford to get an MRI, which told him his left shoulder -- the one the Yankees were so worried about -- had not fully healed.

     

    May 24, 2012: The Longhorns lose to Kansas, 4-2, in the Big 12 Conference Tournament, and are not invited to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.

     

    June 5, 2012: Despite being out of baseball a full year, Stafford is selected in the 13th round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers. No. 426 isn't quite No. 88, but there's no way Stafford is passing it up. Stafford signs two days later.

     

    "I'm extremely excited," he told MLB.com. "In my opinion, as a pitcher, you can't have a better boss than Nolan Ryan. He's the best one to do it. It'll be a lot of fun. I'm a Texas guy, so I'm extremely excited to be staying with a Texas team."

     

    Some things just don't change. 

  • Big 12 Preseason Football Picks and Predictions

    Sophomore quarterback David Ash doesn't need to be great, but he needs to be better than his freshman form for the Longhorns to win a conference championship.
    Sophomore quarterback David Ash doesn't need to be great, but he needs to be better than his freshman form for the Longhorns to win a conference championship.

    If last year is any indication, then this will probably be wrecked by November. Anyhow, here's how I filled out the 2012 Big 12 Conference Media Preseason Football Poll.


    First, a few thoughts:


    Yes, yes, I am well aware Collin Klein is a quarterback and not a running back. But just like I couldn't possibly put a 57-percent passer with a 13-6 TD-INT ratio in the "QB" slot, I can't leave out the player who finished with 27 rushing touchdowns -- tied for second in the nation, among anybody -- or whose 1,141 rushing yards ranked third behind quarterbacks. Klein had to make my list, and he did so as a running back.


    Is Wes Lunt a better player than Johnathan Gray? Noooo. But, Gray is going to be sharing carries in the Texas backfield, and Lunt is the new Oklahoma State quarterback. The last five seasons, the starter in Stillwater averaged 3,395 yards. So, based on statistical merit and impact, I think Lunt is the best preseason choice for Newcomer of the Year.


    A few good receiver choices, and I had Oklahoma's Kenny Stills on the list as recent as a few hours ago. But without Ryan Broyles, the passing game sputtered, and I don't think Stills should be absolved of that blame. On the other hand, West Virginia's Tavon Austin is a one-man wrecking crew.


    Offensive Player of the Year: Geno Smith, West Virginia

    Defensive Player of the Year: A.J. Klein, Iowa State

    Newcomer of the Year: Wes Lunt, Oklahoma State

     

    Order of Finish:


    1. West Virginia -- The conference's most dynamic offense, with perhaps the best homefield advantage (1,000-plus mile flight + 60,000 drunk Mountaineer fans) makes the new addition the early favorite.


    2. Kansas State -- Gets Texas at home in the final week of the season to nail down the conference's No. 2 spot.


    3. Texas -- Love the defense, love the running game. The schedule -- West Virginia, TCU, Iowa State, Baylor all at home -- is pretty favorable, too. But I don't think David Ash can beat West Virginia and Geno Smith in any sort of showdown, and I don't like Texas to beat Kansas State in the winter chill of Manhattan.


    4. Oklahoma -- Landry Jones faded last season (one touchdown, six interceptions in the final four games) and that scares me. So does his possible dearth of passing options.


    5. TCU -- The biggest thing here is the adjustment period from the Mountain West Conference. I know the Horned Frogs can beat the AQ schools -- Wisconsin and Oregon State in 2010, Clemson in '09 -- but I'm a bit skeptical as to whether they can survive a schedule that includes consecutive games at Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, against Kansas State, at Texas and against Oklahoma.


    6. Iowa State -- Paul Rhoads will take his team bowling for the second year in a row, but the Cyclones will have to do better against the conference's top-25 teams (2-5 a year ago) to challenge for anything more.


    7. Oklahoma State -- Last season's feel-good story will sorely miss its quarterback and leading receiver.


    8. Baylor -- See above.


    9. Texas Tech -- Seth Doege has proven he can win a game single-handedly (441 yards, four touchdowns against Oklahoma) but it'd be nice if his defense -- third-worst nationally -- could help him out.


    10. Kansas -- Serious thought to putting Charlie Weis' team No. 9, but the fact that the Kansas-Texas Tech game will be in Lubbock flipped the vote.


    All-Conference Team, Offense:


    QB: Geno Smith, West Virginia
    RB: Joseph Randall, Oklahoma State
    RB: Collin Klein, Kansas State
    WR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
    WR: Terrance Williams, Baylor
    TE: D.J. Grant, Texas
    OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
    OL: LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech
    C: Ben Habern, Oklahoma
    OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
    OL: Mason Walters, Texas
    PK: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
    PR: Quandre Diggs, Texas


    Defense:


    DL: Stansly Maponga, TCU
    DL Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
    DL: Alex Okafor, Texas
    DL: Toben Opurum, Kansas
    LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State
    LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
    LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State
    DB: Carrington Byndom, Texas
    DB: Nigel Malone, Kansas State
    DB: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
    DB: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
    P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
    KR: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
     

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