Last spring, Kenny Vaccaro made a decision. With his first son on the way, he chose to stay at Texas for his senior year instead of entering the NFL draft.
Money, fame and security awaited him had he gone pro. But he stayed in Austin and put on a burnt orange jersey for one more year.
Though this year’s defense didn’t live up to its high expectations, he doesn’t regret his choice.
“Honestly, I played way better than I played last year,” Vaccaro said before Texas’ loss to TCU. “People might not know it, but Coach Akina sat me down and said I’m having as good a year as he’s seen, and I’m going to keep doing it.”
Vaccaro is arguably the best performing member of the defense this year and he will likely be chosen in the first or second round of the draft next April. On Saturday, he will play his last regular season game as a Longhorn. His senior season wasn’t what he had hoped for.
His goal was to win the Thorpe, the award given to the best defensive back in the country, and a National Championship. He’s not a finalist for the award, which has been won by two Longhorns, and his team obviously isn’t in the running for the national championship.
But all the while, Vaccaro has been someone the members of the Texas defense looked up to. He is a dynamic leader and a hard worker. He proudly flaunts two full-sleeve tattoos, but don’t let the ink fool you: Kenny Vaccaro isn’t as wild as he looks, especially when it comes to his relationships with his teammates.
The senior doesn’t want to yell at or intimidate the young defense. He is liked and respected in the locker room, after all he’s been around for awhile.
“I’m really trying to be the best friend I can to all my teammates,” Vaccaro said. “I think guys can come talk to me and I’ll take care of them, whatever they need. I’m a senior, I’ve been around here for a long time, and I think they know they can come to me and I can face any problem with them.”
Senior defensive end Alex Okafor and Vaccaro have experienced something that the rest of the defense has not. They have been part of a team that has played for a national championship.
The two have experienced a lot on this team and gained respect for each other in the process.
“Kenny’s mentality is different from a lot of players’ mentalities,” Okafor said. “Every time he goes on the field he knows that nobody is going to outwork him and he truly believes that he is the best player on the field and he plays like it.”
That kind of mentality forces the rest of the defense to respect him and maintain a similar work ethic. Cornerback Quandre Diggs considers Vaccaro to be like an older brother to him and one of his role models.
“Kenny is the heart and soul of this defense regardless of what anybody says,” Diggs said. “He brings so much passion. He’s just relentless ... we have a great role model in the defensive back room just watching Kenny and watching the things he does.”
Vaccaro’s son, Kenneth Vaccaro III, is now nine months old and walking. Soon, Vaccaro will leave UT and move on to the NFL.
“I feel like I just got here not too long ago,” Vaccaro said. “I feel like everything just passed by so quick. A lot of older guys come back and always tell you to cherish every moment because you won’t have moments like these for the rest of your life.”
Printed on Friday, November 30, 2012 as: Vaccaro honors 4-year commitment