When Texas junior safety Kenny Vaccaro announced on Twitter following the Holiday Bowl that he was planning on returning for his senior season without seriously exploring his draft possibilities, it seemed like an interminable wait for January 15th to see if he would indeed make good on his promise.
To a much lesser extent, the same was true for fellow junior Alex Okafor, the Pflugerville product who significantly raised his level of play during the second half of the season.
For Texas fans, then, no news was good news on Sunday night, the deadline for underclassmen to declare their intentions to enter the NFL Draft. It passed with no declarations from either, so both players will return to help bolster a defense that loses only Kheeston Randall, Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho, and Blake Gideon, and was among the best in the country near the end of the season.
For the artist formerly known as Machete, his desire to compete for a national championship and a Thorpe Award helped keep him at Texas. The presence of his younger brother Kevin, a recent commit in the 2012 class, no doubt played at least a small role. He will return as the leader of a secondary with tremendous upside and should continue to build on a junior campaign that saw him improve in coverage and continue to deliver the vicious hits that have defined his career, all with fewer of the mental mistakes that plagued him in the past. Version 4.0 should be a bona fide monster and one of the top safeties in the country.
And unlike with Vaccaro, who had rumors circling for months about a possible departure, there was never much indication that Okafor was even remotely interested in pursuing his NFL options at this time, likely a good decision for a player who only has one year of extensive experience after playing sparingly his freshman season and spending most of his sophomore campaign out of position at defensive tackle. Another season should increase his draft stock considerably, especially if he can continue the trend of improvement he demonstrated throughout the bulk of Big 12 play.
Even though it was expected, the return of both keeps expectations at an extremely high level for Manny Diaz and his defense entering the 2012 season. Consider it a dark day for Big 12 offenses.