“I would say, ‘Man, this guy is good,’” Jeffcoat said. “And to come play with him, it was incredible.”
Now, the two are considered by many to be the best defensive end duo in the country. Both are expected to be first-round draft picks in the NFL draft next April, should Jeffcoat forgo his senior season.
But until then, the two are fighting to bring Texas back into the National Championship picture with some high expectations.
“We want the No. 1 defense, I’m not going to lie to you,” Okafor said. “We want to be the best defense in the nation and that’s what we’re working towards.”
Okafor and Jeffcoat have both been named to the Bronco Nagurski Award watch list, given to the best defensive player in the nation. Okafor was also named preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. With the preseason accolades and national attention the two have received, it’s time for them to live up to the expectations.
“You never really want to listen to the hype,” Jeffcoat said. “That’s how you get beat. You take it all, like I said, with a grain of salt and then you keep working.”
Okafor finished last season with 58 tackles and seven sacks. He already registered his first sack of the season during Texas’ win over Wyoming. Though the line aims to sack quarterbacks, the group has been focusing on pressuring the quarterback and not necessarily sacking them. This mentality led to two interceptions from Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith. The Cowboys were only allowed just 69 yards on 30 carries.
“We played well, we didn’t play our best obviously,” Jeffcoat said. “But you don’t want to play your best, I guess, at the beginning. We showed signs of being a great defense but we have a long way to go.”
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said the team had six or eight missed tackles. Jeffcoat said that number is too high. Though Okafor believes there were some technical issues on the line, he knows that the team can build upon that and be ready for New Mexico.
The expectations and standards that Okafor and Jeffcoat hold themselves to are the same as those of the media and nation, but the two defensive ends are unaffected by what others say.
“Everything they say in the magazines is what we want to do for ourselves,” Okafor said. “Those are our personal goals and group goals of the whole defense... That’s what we expected out of ourselves.”
Diaz said the defense played much better in the season opener this year than last year. Although the defense allowed Rice just nine points in 2011 and gave up 17 points to the Cowboys, like Okafor and Jeffcoat, he is confident the team will play better against New Mexico. And he is confident expectations will be met.
“When you have a football team, and this affects us or anybody else and there’s so much talk about you before the season, the only thing that you can control is just the next play,” Diaz said. “Things will happen over the course of a game and for sure over the course of a season, the one thing you know that happens is that there will be adversity.”
Jeffcoat considers Okafor to be like a big brother. If they can live up to the preseason hype, their play could lead to big problems for Big 12 offenses.