Editor’s Note: The Daily Texan will introduce one important Longhorn football player each issue. Here is No. 8 of the Texan’s 10 Most Important Longhorns.
Being tabbed a five-star recruit and regarded as the best at your position coming out of high school can sometimes be more of a burden than cause for excitement, but Jackson Jeffcoat is making sure he realizes his potential.
After racking up 259 tackles and 25.5 sacks in high school, Jeffcoat earned a spot on the Parade High School All-American squad and was considered the nation’s top defensive end prospect. With his father coaching defensive linemen at Houston and twin sister having already committed to play basketball at Oklahoma, it was never a sure thing that Jeffcoat would play for Texas. But he eventually decided to suit up in burnt orange, announcing his intentions less than a week before Signing Day.
Jeffcoat had 15 tackles, six for loss, and 2.5 sacks last year and would have had more if he hadn’t missed four games with a high ankle sprain. Now that Jeffcoat begins his first season as a full-time starter, Texas will need him to stay healthy.
“[Jeffcoat] was playing great,” said head coach Mack Brown. “He was so good in the [Texas] Tech game until he sprained his ankle, and he just wasn’t effective the rest of the year.”
The Longhorns will need Jeffcoat to be effective this year, especially because he plays the position most responsible for making a quarterback’s life difficult. Five of the other nine Big 12 squads brought back their starting quarterbacks, with those five gunslingers having combined for more than 20,000 career passing yards.
“It’s a glamour position in this defense and for sure in this league,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “The first thing that they can do is rush the passer. It’s a hard duty. It’s a special skill. Everybody can’t do it. The second thing ... is that they have got to be able to drop into coverage. Our defensive ends can stand up. They can play
Even though Jeffcoat started only two games in 2010, he managed to display his ability when it mattered. When Justin Tucker hit a 22-yard field goal against Oklahoma, he made it a 21-10 ballgame. On the ensuing possession, Jeffcoat stripped Sooners signal-caller Landry Jones. Eddie Jones fell on the loose ball to set Texas up in the red zone but was called for offsides, negating the play.
“I think [Jeffcoat] has improved,” Diaz said. “His strength and condition level has gotten better, which is what you’d expect.”
Jeffcoat will have plenty of chances to make plays this season. His athleticism and playmaking ability will come in handy after the Longhorns recorded only 31 sacks last year, 17 coming from players who aren’t returning (with last year’s starting defensive ends Sam Acho and Eddie Jones responsible for 15 of those 17). Like Jeffcoat, Alex Okafor was a highly touted high school prospect and embarks on his first year as a starter. Together, they make one of the best pair of defensive ends in the nation.
If not for Jeffcoat’s pedigree, Texas might not have the luxury of such a dynamic duo. Jeffcoat’s father, Jim, was a first-round pick out of Arizona State before enjoying a dozen seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, recording over 100 sacks while helping Dallas win Super Bowl XXVII, a contest that saw the elder Jeffcoat notch 1.5 sacks. It’s no wonder his son was athletic enough to be a three-sport star at Plano West and an immediate and reliable contributor on the Longhorn
Tons of blue-chippers fall by the wayside as they fail to live up to expectations brought on by stellar, accolade-filled high school careers. Many were responsible for Texas’ lackluster 2010 season. Jeffcoat might not end up with 25 sacks over 250 tackles before his Longhorn career is over like he did in high school, but Texas can count on him to be a spectacular pass rusher and not be disappointed.