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AUSTIN, Texas -- There are moments, more than a few, that Kenny Vaccaro feels he made a mistake.
|Kenny Vaccaro (4) is expected to be the leader of what could be the Big 12's top defense in 2012.|
Money, a career, the NFL -- it was all there for him.
"Some guys were saying late first (round). Some guys were saying second," the Texas safety said about his draft position.
With his first son on the way, the NFL was a way to insure not only his own future, but also the future of that son, Kenneth Dwayne Vaccaro III.
"Some guys were pulling me to come out," Vaccaro said. "I actually I thought I probably should've."
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz actually thought Vaccaro might declare for the NFL draft.
"When he jumped over that guy in the bowl game, I thought that might have been it," Diaz said. "I was like, 'That was great.' Then I was like, 'Oh man.' "
One single play in the Holiday Bowl had shown Vaccaro's athleticism and that he was a next level player. But less than two hours later, Vaccaro took to the postgame podium and stated he would be back, much to the relief of Diaz.
"I want to win the Thorpe, that's it," Vaccaro said.
Hold up, there was just one more thing: "And go to South Beach."
The trip to Miami for the BCS national title game hinges on much more than Vaccaro. And those things are much less reliable than Vaccaro. But the Thorpe, given annually to the nation's top defensive back it's possible. Perhaps even likely.
As a senior on what should be a top 20 defense, Vaccaro is poised to emerge as one of the top safeties in the Big 12 and the country. His big-hit ability, combined with increased cover skills, make him one of the more versatile players at his position. His speed and reckless style make him one of the best weapons Texas has, not just in the secondary, but on the entire defense.
"He has that aggression on the field that you need as a defense," defensive end Alex Okafor said. "Just having him back there to control the secondary is a great thing."
Vaccaro will be forced to control just about everything in the secondary. He is one of just two seniors on the defense. (Okafor is the other.) Two of the three linebackers in front of him will be first-time starters, as will the safety who plays next to him.
"Coach [Duane] Akina told me if I was going to come back that I needed to practice hard and set an example for the whole team," Vaccaro said. "I've put it on myself to learn the whole defense this year, kind of put everybody in place, just in case something goes wrong in different parts of the game maybe I can help those guys out."
"I do think what you sense from your seniors, which is normal, is that heightened sense of urgency that this is my last time," added Diaz. "You do sense it with him. And because we are so young in the secondary and really young in our back seven, he looks around and says, 'Wow there are not a lot of guys that have been here as long as I have.' "
Aside from maybe Okafor, who never seriously entertained leaving early, there are no players who have the perspective on the upcoming season that Vaccaro has. He gave up money and recognition to come back, go to school, live under the NCAA's thumb and play for Texas.
"It might have been a smart decision for me to come out, and it might not have," Vaccaro said. "But I'm going to make the best of my decision and increase my game."
Carter Strickland covers University of Texas sports and recruiting for HornsNationFollow HornsNation's coverage on Twitter: @ESPNHornsNation