Last year at this time, Texas Longhorns defensive end Charles Omenihu was contemplating his future with the knowledge that his two best friends on the team, Malik Jefferson and DeShon Elliott, and several other classmates from 2015 were headed off to the NFL. Fame, fortunate, all of that.
“For a while I was so on the fence of coming back, you know?” Omenihu told Cory Redding last February in a 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.”
And yet, as Omenihu continued to weigh the positives and negatives about both of his choices, he realized that it would be immature to tie his decision to those of his former teammates and that he had unfinished business on the Forty Acres.
“A lot of that was being able to feel this,” Omenihu said of his decision after the Sugar Bowl victory. “Winning this game with these guys with this class that I came in with was a big reason why, to be honest with you.”
Mission accomplished in that regard.
The flashes from that 2017 team, the first of the Tom Herman era, were often equal parts tantalizing and frustrating — the talent and potential was there with the players and the coaching staff, but there wasn’t enough depth and Herman’s culture wasn’t fully installed.
When Herman and his staff signed the majority of what became the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class, which included key early enrollees like safeties Caden Sterns and BJ Foster, Omenihu saw the foundation for a much-improved team.
“I knew in the offseason what we were going to come in as far as freshmen and what was already here, that this team was going to be an amazing squad,” Omenihu said. “And that was a personal dream of mine to play on a stage like this and to win a game. This was a huge part of why I decided to come back to school.”
Omenihu had some significant personal goals, too — not just to improve his game in order to improve his draft stock, but in order to write a final chapter that would place his name among the best defensive ends in school history.
After finishing fifth on the team in tackles for loss in 2015 (7) and tied for first in sacks (4), Omenihu needed some fairly significant improvement to accomplish that feat. So he spent the offseason training with former Texas and NFL defensive end Tim Crowder, who now owns and directors Nuclear Athletes.
When the season started, Omenihu didn’t quite come firing out of the gate — by the time that Texas traveled to Manhattan to face Kansas State for the fifth game of the season, the senior only had one sack, which also accounted for his only tackle for loss.
And then Omenihu finally broke free in the second quarter. On a first down from the Kansas State 9-yard line, he broke through the line for a sack. Two plays later, he chased down Delton in the end zone for a safety.
From that point forward, Omenihu was a consistent force, recording at least a half sack in six of the next nine games to end his Texas career and managing at least a half tackle for loss in each of those games. Against Georgia, Omenihu had two tackles for loss.
By finishing the season with 45 tackles, 18 more than this junior season, 18 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, five quarterback hurries, and a forced fumble, Omenihu earned recognition as the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year. Those 18 tackles for loss were the most for a Longhorns player since 2013, when Jackson Jeffcoat won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation’s top defensive end.
Particularly as an edge rusher, the 6’6, 275-pounder showed tremendous improvement with his explosiveness and understanding how to use a significant arsenal of pass-rush moves to beat opposing offensive tackles.
So not only did Omenihu help achieve his personal dream of playing on a stage like the Sugar Bowl, he also accomplished his individual goals while improving his draft stock.
Consider it a year well spent.
“That’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my 21 years of living, for real.”