- Carter Strickland, Reporter, HornsNation
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The question was simple and Dusty Renfro wanted an honest answer.
"Who is the toughest player here?" Renfro asked. "The toughest guy, who is it?"
Renfro was in front of 10 Texas scholarship seniors. He held all their eyes. The former Longhorns linebacker wanted to know who would stand. Which player was the leader? Which guy would step out in front of the Longhorns and be the face of Texas football in 2012? Who could gain the respect of each and every one of his Texas teammates, not just the seniors present?
Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro stood.
"It's time for you to step it up," Renfro told him.
"I called him out," Renfro said a week later. "If he is the toughest guy, and they all believe he is the toughest guy, then he should be a leader for this team."
It's leaders that Texas needs more than anything right now. The Longhorns have talent. And, despite only having three reliable senior starters, they have experience as well. What they lack is leadership.
"… it's going to take leadership from within to really help this football team, and that's something that's real important to us," Texas coach Mack Brown said.
Leadership is so important Brown referenced it 12 times on the opening day of fall camp. Then he brought Renfro, the captain of a Mack Brown's first Texas team, to his house that night to address the seniors on that very subject.
"You have the best facilities in the country. You have the best coaches in the country. You have the best of everything," Renfro told those players. "Now it is up to you. Players win these games."
Not without a leader on the field. Right now, Texas doesn't have that. Not yet.
Maybe it could be Vaccaro on the defense. But is his voice enough to reach the entire team?
Texas players say they have leaders all over the field. They have said that putting all those voices together will be enough.
"I was here in '09 and I knew there were a lot of good leaders on that team and I didn't see any conflict in that team at all and they did really well," junior Mason Walters said. "So the more leaders we can get, the more guys we can get to do the right thing, the better off we are."
Colt McCoy just happened to be on that team. Enough said. The same cannot be said for this year's team, one that hasn't named its starting quarterback yet.
"That (quarterback) position will not define this team," Case McCoy said. "We have athletes and strong-willed leaders all around this group. Whoever is on the field, we are going to pack around them and make it work."
But the thing about leadership is you don't make it work. Instead it should come naturally. Right now, for the Texas offense, that is not the case.
For the defense, as has been the case for the last two years, the solution seems much more clear, even if it did take Vaccaro a moment to stand when Renfro called him out.
Then again, Vaccaro has yet to prove himself. His spring brush with the law didn't help matters.
"I know he is one of the two guys (the coaches) are wanting to step up," Renfro said.
Defensive end Alex Okafor is the other. But Vaccaro is better suited to be the face of this team.
The senior has the capability to lead by example on the field. He has also started to understand what it means to be a vocal leader. Not always posturing with hollow words but putting meaning and work behind those words. Plus he has recognized the importance and significance of his role.
"I want to represent this program as well as I can," he said. "I took summer by storm."
He also took to telling his teammates about what it takes to win. Not just games, but championships. Vaccaro had spent part of May in New Zealand. A friend played for the Blues, a rugby team connected with the famed All-Blacks. Vaccaro sat, watched, listened and learned from that team.
He came back and told the stories to his teammates.
"They really do care about the guy that's next to them," Vaccaro said. "In rugby each player is really, really important.
"I don't think guys always understand that as a team. They don't understand that offense, defense and special teams have to come together to win a championship."
What Texas understands, because it has had leaders like Colt McCoy, Vince Young, even back to Major Applewhite and Renfro. Now, to reach its goals, Texas needs someone such as Vaccaro who can not only face the public, but more importantly, turn and face the Longhorns when they need it most.