Spring ball standouts Denzel Okafor, David Gbenda talk improvements, developments in practice

Carter Yates

Head coach Steve Sarkisian praised sophomore linebacker David Gbenda and senior offensive lineman Denzel Okafor Tuesday for standing out in spring ball. On Thursday, those two got the chance to divulge what’s been working and what they are looking to improve upon.

Entering his sixth season with the Texas football program, Okafor has seen three different head coaches and four different position coaches in his time. Since choosing to come back for an extra year of eligibility, Okafor said he has used his experience as a catalyst to work on being a more vocal leader.

“I’ve seen so many different things on this team. I’ve been on campus since 2016,” Okafor said. “Derek (Kerstetter) has done a good job being a leader for the last couple of years. (As for) myself, I’ve been the guy to just lead by example, not as vocal. But as an ‘ultimate’ senior, I need to step up and be more vocal.”

Similar to Okafor, Gbenda is trying to take the example of a Texas teammate to improve upon his game.

“I like to have the hustle that Joe Ossai had every day he came to practice,” Gbenda said. “That mentality of wherever the ball is just run, run, run, run. That’s really what’s been my focus.”

That mindset seems to be working so far for Gbenda. With senior linebacker DeMarvion Overshown missing spring practice with shoulder surgery and last year’s leading tackler Juwan Mitchell in the transfer portal, Gbenda made noise with his effort and play this spring.

“With the middle linebacker situation we have going on, I really want to be the leader,” Gbenda said. “I feel like, whatever the coaches want to do, I’m going to bring my best every day.”

Sarkisian said Okafor is playing as good as anyone on the offensive line in spring practice, but Okafor was quick to point out a younger prospect who is starting to turn heads.

“Our center Jake (Majors), ever since the Kansas State game last year when we lost Derek (Kerstetter), he’s stepped up,” Okafor said. “The center has to be the strongest guy on the offensive line, so he knows all the combinations we need to go to and how we need to fit it.”

For the first time all spring, Okafor provided clues as to which of the quarterbacks is getting most of the work with the first-team offense. Junior Casey Thompson, who flashed brilliance in Texas’s Alamo Bowl victory in December, is battling with redshirt freshman Hudson Card for the right to replace four-year starter Sam Ehlinger.

“They’re both good guys, know how to throw the ball (and they) have a good vision,” Okafor said. “Casey (Thompson) right now is getting most of the reps with the (first-team offense), but we see Hudson (Card) coming in, too, rotating every now and then.”

While Okafor and Gbenda were quick to compliment their fellow players, Gbenda did hint that the competition in spring ball has been fierce. At the end of the day, Gbenda said it is a result of the team trying to get better every day.

“Just among the defense and the offense, I feel like there’s a war,” Gbenda said. “Everyone’s just trying to work and get better every day with the spring period … We’re having fun out there and we’re just trying to ball.”