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Charles Omenihu emerging into the star he returned to Texas to become

After bypassing an NFL opportunity, Charles Omenihu’s senior season got off to a slow start, but he’s emerged as one of the nation’s most impactful edge rushers in short order.

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

Charles Omenihu entertained the idea of spending the 2018 season playing for a paycheck, but by electing to return for one final season with the Texas Longhorns, he may ultimately earn much more money.

Four sacks and seven tackles for loss may not be the most mind-boggling feat on paper, but at 6’7, 280 pounds, Omeinihu owns the measurables that make for an intriguing NFL prospect, even if only as a project. Project players don’t always pan out though, and after receiving his NFL evaluations, Omenihu came to the realization that returning to Texas for a bit longer stay would be the better path than potentially falling victim to the NFL’s ‘Not for Long’ reputation.

“When you get a grade that isn’t as high as you want, that’s a factor,” Omenihu told to media on Tuesday, via Nick Moyle of the Express-News. “You look at the tape and you have to be honest with yourself. Those dudes in the NFL are not playing no games with you. They’re all grown, you feel me. Once you get to that level, your technique and your mental capacity and focus have to be top notch or you’ll be exposed. NFL stands for ‘Not for Long,’ so once you get in it’s either you can withstand it or you can’t. If you can’t, you’re not going to be there long.”

Upon electing to return, Omenihu took the typical steps forward throughout the offseason — trimmed down to a more sculpted 275 pounds, increased his vertical to 37.5 inches, and emerged as a senior leader within the locker room.

While those are each important steps, though, they, alone, won’t ensure that Omenihu is more revered in the eyes of NFL talent evaluators the next time around.

The fill in the gaps, he sought the council of former Longhorn greats, such as Cory Redding, Sam and Emmanuel Acho, Tim Crowder, Brian Orakpo, and Alex Okafor.

“There’s a legacy you have to live up to,” Omenihu said. “I used to talk to those guys before I even got here as a freshman and just looked up to the work that they did. I’ve watched their tape from back when they played here, so they’ve all talked to me numerous times. It’s just the lineage you have to live up to.”

At first, it seemed as if those were legacies Omenihu may not be able to live up to before leaving the Forty Acres.

After turning down a potential opportunity to play on Sundays, Omenihu’s first four appearances this season netted just one sack and one tackle for loss along a defensive line that was largely struggling to force any pressure. Then came the Kansas State game and the narrative began to alter quite significantly in Omenihu’s favor.

Early in the second quarter of the Longhorns 19-14 win over the Wildcats, Omenihu shed a would-be blocker with complete ease to get to quarterback Alex Delton deep in Kansas State’s territory. Just two plays later, Omenihu and Delton crossed paths yet again after the former bull-rushed and overpowered K-State’s right guard; this time, Omenihu’s effort led to a safety and two points added to the scoreboard. Meanwhile, the senior added three tackles for loss to his stat sheet as well.

Omenihu followed that performance up with two more tackles for loss and one sack on elusive Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, and most recently, he added another pair of tackles for loss and two more sacks, along with three critical hurries on quarterback Charlie Brewer on each of the last three plays of the Longhorns’ last-second 23-17 win over Baylor.

Suddenly, Omenihu finds himself ranked within the top 20 nationally and No. 2 in the Big 12 with six sacks, which is not only half of Texas’ team total, but already a career-best effort, as is his eight tackles for loss.

Omenihu’s six sacks are now just one shy of his career total entering the 2018 campaign, and given that Texas is already bowl eligible, the senior will have at least six more opportunities to match and surpass his previous career collection before presenting that revamped résumé to NFL scouts.

“Oh, it’s been great. Charles is a great leader, he’s a great player, he’s a great student, so this is a guy that’s going to get his degree, he’s going to improve his draft stock, he’s going to have the best season he’s had since he’s been on the Forty Acres and he’s going to help us achieve our best season that we have had around here in the last five years,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said of Omenihu’s breakout stretch. “So it’s a win/win/win/win/win for everybody. He had an opportunity, you know, another year of training with Coach McKnight and Oscar Giles and Todd Orlando. So he’s having a great year and I think it helps certainly the season that he’s having and hopefully the success that he’ll have and help our team have as well as in the success that he’ll have in April and beyond will help some of our young guys understand the value of coming back your senior year and getting your degree.”