When Alex Okafor arrived on campus in 2009, Texas went to the BCS National Championship and its defense ranked third in the country. Things haven’t been quite the same for the Longhorns or Okafor since then.
His sophomore year, Texas went 5-7 and didn’t make a bowl game. The next year, there was improvement and Texas finished 8-5. Now, he is one of only two seniors on the defense for a team that holds an 8-3 record.
With the young defense, he was forced into a leadership role.
After Texas’ blowout loss to Oklahoma, head coach Mack Brown asked something of Okafor and fellow senior Kenny Vaccaro. He asked them to help the struggling team by being coaches on the field. They did just that.
Brown describes the two as quiet leaders, but they needed to be more than that for this young defense.
“They’re emotional, they play hard but they don’t say anything,” Brown said. “We asked both of them to help. We need to start helping on the field and encouraging guys and moving them around if they’re in the wrong place.”
Brown saw a drastic adjustment for the better from the two players. With the season-ending injuries of juniors Jordan Hicks and Jackson Jeffcoat, their role needed to expand even more to help the struggling defense.
“He was in a similar position his senior year as I was and he just basically told me that one of the things he regretted as a senior was letting some stuff slide,” Okafor said. “That’s one thing I told him that I won’t let happen this season.”
Okafor said he wasn’t going to let a poor work ethic be acceptable to this defense. That didn’t work during Texas’ early losses.
“If we don’t put that extra work and that extra bit into everything we do then we’re a very average football team,” Okafor said. “We don’t have the players from back in ‘05 to be able to get away with some of the stuff we were getting away with.”
Texas appeared to have made a turning point after its loss to Oklahoma. It rode a four-game winning streak until its loss to TCU, Okafor’s last game in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
Okafor is third in the Big 12 with eight sacks and tied for fourth in tackles for loss and third for fumbles forced.
“We [the seniors] definitely had to turn it up a lot, not only at practice but then at meetings and just take the whole game a lot more seriously,” Okafor said.
But his goal this season was to leave this team as it was when he started and with the best defense in the country.
That won’t happen. The Texas defense ranks 80th in the country. Although he is proud of the defense’s increased maturity, this isn’t how Okafor wanted to leave Texas. However, Brown is pleased with what these seniors have done in their final year in burnt orange.
“I’ve talked to them about it, you guys came in playing for national championships, then we took the dip in 10 and you fought back to a better start last year and now you have a chance to finish strong and put Texas back in the mix next year,” Brown said. “We appreciate what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.”
Okafor will play his last regular season game on Saturday against Kansas State. It’s been an interesting career at Texas for him and likely not what he expected when he committed. But he will head to the draft in the spring and will probably be a first round pick.
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster career filled with glamour and disappointment,” Okafor said. “The senior class has seen it all. We’re just trying to get this thing back right.”
Printed on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 as: Okafor becomes senior leader