Senior class prepares for final Thanksgiving day in front of home crowd

Chris Hummer

There are only seven listed as starters on the depth chart, and their contributions are just as scattered and spotty. But on Thanksgiving, the 2012 senior class will take
center stage.

Thursday evening’s game against TCU is the Longhorns’ senior night, and each member of the senior class, which includes only nine scholarship players, will stroll onto the field for their final game at Darrell K Roya-Texas Memorial Stadium. There are only nine, but the number is appropriately representative of the up-and-down journey they took to this point.

“A lot of guys didn’t last in our class,” safety Kenny Vaccaro. “We’re the lone few.”

They may be few, but they couldn’t be more proud. When this group of seniors started at Texas they competed for a national title, but the tide turned from there. In 2010, Texas finished 5-7, the team’s worst record in the Mack Brown era. Then in 2011, they laid the foundation for a turnaround with an 8-5 season.

Now, the senior class is leading Texas on a resurgence. Vaccaro and Alex Okafor have become the pillars of the defense, holding the unit up despite its poor start in Big 12 play. Offensively, the seniors haven’t made as much of an impact, but hard-working role players like Luke Poehlmann, Ryan Roberson and D.J. Monroe epitomize the rugged attitude of the group. Receiver Marquise Goodwin has hauled in two receiving touchdowns, but his leadership and experience on the field aren’t as easily measured.

The dogged work ethic of this senior class helps explain its desire to restore Texas football back to the expected level of success.

“When we’re done with this place, it’s like mamma says ‘got to put it back the way you found it,’” senior running back Jeremy Hills said. “We found it and it was undefeated, and we’re trying to put it back in a BCS bowl.”

It’s been an emotional ride for the seniors. Some came in as a part of the 2008 recruiting class, some in 2009, but the group has blended well. They’re no longer teammates or even friends; they’re brothers on and off the field.

“We’re tight,” Hills said. “We always hang out and go out to eat. It helps us a little on the field because I don’t know that guy just as a player. I know that guy, and I trust he’s going to do his job.”

Trust is the key word.

In 2010, the chemistry wasn’t there for a prosperous season, resulting in a five-win effort. In 2011, the team inched closer. Senior leaders like Emmanuel Acho and Blake Gideon kept the team in check and pushed Texas on an upward path. In 2012, Vaccaro and Okafor have transformed into the glue of the team and have the Longhorns rising as a result.

“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.”

A big aspect of the turnaround has been helping the underclassmen to adjust to the pace of the college game, as freshmen and sophomores make up a huge chunk of the roster. Whether it’s answering football related questions or just ‘how the heck do you get to this building?’ they’re there to assist. 

The questions seem simple to the seniors, but in reflection they know they were in that position only a few short years ago. A fact, even as the season embarks on the home stretch, that remains surreal.

“I’m just now getting used to it,” Hills said. “As an older guy there are a lot of people asking you questions I feel like they should know. But they’re the same questions I was asking early on … . It’s giving back.”

The seniors still can’t quite comprehend the ride is nearing its end. But like always, they’re taking the schedule one game at a time. They don’t want the moment to overwhelm them, but it won’t stop each of the seniors from taking a second in the tunnel leading into DKR, to soak in the moment one last time.

“You hear the fans and you hear the Hellraisers right above you,” Hills said. “Then you come out of that smoke and look and see 100,000 people … it’s the most exciting thing there is.”