Senior night has a different feel for the Texas Longhorns this year. With only nine scholarship seniors set to play their final game at Darrell K Royal Texas-Memorial Stadium on Thursday against Texas Christian, it's no surprise that safety Kenny Vaccaro labeled his class "the proud few" on Monday.
Texas signed 20 players from the 2009 recruiting class. Only nine of those players are still with the program and three are in their final year of eligibility. That trio includes Vaccaro, defensive end Alex Okafor and tight end Barrett Matthews. Receiver Marquise Goodwin signed a scholarship to run track in 2009 and is also a senior.
UT also has five seniors from the 2008 signing class: tight end D.J. Grant, offensive lineman Luke Poehlmann and running backs Jeremy Hills, D.J Monroe and Ryan Roberson.
"The classes of '08 and '09 are kind of torn apart, a lot is missing," Okafor said. "Just for us to still be here I think it's a lot more special for us than other senior classes because we've fought through so much. Just to see so many of our teammates go down just shows that we've put that work in and I'm proud of it."
Vaccaro and Okafor are likely to continue their football careers in the NFL next season as high draft picks, but Thanksgiving will mark the final time they play in Austin.
"It's crazy, I feel like I got here not too long ago," Vaccaro said. "I feel like everything has just passed by so quick. A lot of older guys come back and always tell you to cherish every moment because you don't have moments like these the rest of your life. It's going to be an emotional night for me."
With few veterans on a young team, the seniors learned how to become leaders the hard way this season. They took plenty of criticism for a 4-2 start, but helped changed the mentality of a team that's rebounded to win four straight games to climb to 8-2.
"It makes it a lot harder, especially with me and Alex being the only [seniors] on defense," Vaccaro said. "If something doesn't go right, everybody says that Kenny and Alex are horrible leaders. But whatever. I think me and [Okafor] tried our hardest this year, especially Alex. It's our responsibility and that's something we were willing to face."
With two regular season contests and a bowl game remaining, the senior class is 34-15 at Texas with a Big 12 title and an appearance in the BCS National Championship game. Of course, they were also a part of the 5-7 debacle in 2010. But they still have an opportunity to win another conference title if things go their way
"They have a chance to finish really strong and put Texas back in the mix next year," coach Mack Brown said. "We appreciate what they've done and how they've done it."
By Austin Laymance/Special to the Star-Telegram