Senior Vacarro steps up

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Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro looks to snap Texas back to the sharp form of his freshman year and serves as a leader for younger team members.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Kenny Vaccaro isn’t afraid to call out his teammates. The senior safety has a lot of experience under his belt.

With linebacker Jordan Hicks’ hip injury keeping him off the field the past two games, Vaccaro’s leadership is needed now more than ever.

The Longhorns’ young linebackers struggled against West Virginia on Saturday and gave up 207 rushing yards to Andrew Buie — five more than Texas gave up to any team last year. Although Vaccaro doesn’t mind yelling at his teammates, he understands the position that the inexperienced linebackers are in.

“On the field, I just give them praise and tell them to keep their head up and just keep fighting,” Vaccaro said. “I remember when I was young, I was making mental mistakes in the game, I wasn’t perfect.  People get down on those guys, but the game is hard.”

It is difficult to be a young defensive player in the Big 12, the conference with the top three scoring offenses in the country. West Virginia and Oklahoma State are two of those teams. Their up-tempo offenses challenged the young Longhorns the past two weeks.

In the second quarter Saturday, the coaches had Vaccaro covering West Virginia running back Tavon Austin. During the game, the two were joking around with each other and talking about “making money.” They were feeding off each other throughout the game. Vaccaro earned the Hard Hat award for being the hardest hitter on the team.

This Saturday, the Longhorns take on Landry Jones and Oklahoma. The Sooners beat them the past two seasons, including last year’s 55-17 rout.

Those losses aren’t sitting well with Vaccaro. The defense’s struggles this season aren’t sitting well with him either.

“It’s little things that are making a big difference,” Vaccaro said.

Saturday was an improvement for the Longhorns and they only missed seven tackles, said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. But the inexperienced linebackers, who are missing Hicks, were unable to stop the run game.

Vaccaro is one of the many seniors who have taken it upon themselves to leave this team the way it was when they arrived on campus. That goal for him makes Saturday’s Red River Rivalry game even more important.

Manny Diaz said while the younger players are struggling, the experienced players like Vaccaro are leading by example. Defensive backs coach Duane Akina compares Vaccaro to the best safeties he’s ever coached, including Michael Huff, Michael Griffin and Earl Thomas.

“Kenny’s been the key,” head coach Mack Brown said. “Kenny’s played great. He’s tough, he’s smart, he and Alex [Okafor], Jackson Jeffcoat, have been really special players to try to help everybody on defense hang together.”

He had 11 tackles during the game Saturday and has two interceptions so far this season. There is no double standard with Vaccaro. He knows he has to perform well in order to be a leader of this defense.

“The fact is, in the DB room, we have our own problems,” Vaccaro said. “Until I start playing perfect games, which will probably never happen, I’m not going to yell at anyone. We have a lot of leadership in each group from d-line to linebacker to secondary.”

Against Landry Jones and the Sooners, Vaccaro will need to step up as both a defensive back and a senior leader.

Printed on Thursday, October 11, 2012 as: Kenny Vaccaro steps up