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Texas DE Charles Omenihu says he was ‘on the fence’ about returning in 2018

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NCAA Football: Texas at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Before Malik Jefferson became the Tim Tebow of the 2015 Texas Longhorns recruiting class, it was Charles Omenihu who was doing the recruiting.

The Rowlett product was rising quickly when former head coach Charlie Strong secured a pledge from him in late February of 2014. About a month later, another Metroplex product, Rockwall-Heath safety DeShon Elliott, joined the fledgling class.

The two quickly got to work trying to convince Jefferson, the state’s top player, to join them in Austin. It worked, and the three remained inseparable for three nearly years on the 40 Acres, until Elliott and then Jefferson opted to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft.

All of a sudden, Omenihu’s best friends were moving on to the next level, along with several other teammates.

The reality took some time to settle in. First Elliott departed following the regular season. Then Jefferson announced his decision after the Texas Bowl win over Missouri. While Omenihu was still trying to process their decisions and contemplate his own, their lockers stood empty.

“For a while I was so on the fence of coming back, you know?” Omenihu told Cory Redding in a recent Longhorn Network interview. “You go in the class with guys and you see your friends — particularly Malik and DeShon — leave, and you’re like, ‘This is going to be weird coming back to school if I do without those guys around.’ My locker was right next to Malik’s and diagonal from DeShon’s.”

Ultimately, however, it was a sense of unfinished business that caused Omenihu to officially declare on January 9 that he’s returning for his senior season. He believes that he has more to accomplish and more to put out onto the field.

Omenihu also wanted to avoid the mistake of tying his decision to the decisions of his friends — an “immature thing to do,” in his own words.

Perhaps the most critical element Omenihu had to consider for himself was his draft stock. Neither the NFL nor the school reveals publicly the feedback given to prospective early entrants from the NFL Draft Advisory Committee, but it’s not a stretch to assume that Omenihu either would have or did receive a return grade.

Seeing Elliott and Jefferson leave was a “motivational thing” for the 6’7, 280-pounder. He was also honest enough in his own self-assessment to realize that he has areas for improvement before he’s fully ready to play in the NFL.

There’s some fuel in wanting to match the All-American honors received by his two close friends and former teammates, but what really drives Omenihu is an even loftier personal goal — breaking the school’s 36-year-old sack record of 22.5 held by Kiki DeAyala.

Considering that no Longhorn has had more than 13 in a season since DeAyala and that Elvis Dumervil’s 20 sacks in 2005 stands as the highest number since then, that’s a lofty goal indeed.

All the more so considering that playing largely heads up or shaded inside of the offensive tackle doesn’t provide the same opportunities as screaming off the edge, as Dumervil did in 2005 and other sack-masters like Von Miller did more recently.

Despite that reality, there’s no harm in lofty aspirations — Omenihu offers his goals without a hint of cockiness.

“I want to be recognized as one of the best defensive linemen to ever come through UT,” Omenihu said.

Since Omenihu has a strong appreciation for the successes of previous players like Brian Orakpo and Redding himself, to name a few, he understands the significance of his statements.

Now the rising senior just has to turn that motivation into increased success on the field after registering 28 tackles, seven tackles for loss, four sacks, and two forced fumbles last season.