If and when the 2020 college football season ultimately kicks off, the Texas Longhorns’ defense will feature two talents who are expected to be among the nation’s elite at their positions in junior safety Caden Sterns and junior linebacker Joseph Ossai.
On Monday, those expectations materialized in the form of Sterns being named to the Jim Thorpe Award Watch List, which honors the nation’s top defensive back annually, while Ossai was named to the Butkus Award Watch List, which honors the nation’s top linebacker annually.
Following a Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and First-Team All-Big 12 campaign in 2018, Sterns was limited by injuries in 2019, seeing action in only nine of Texas’ 13 outings. Nevertheless, Sterns nearly matched his freshman tackle total with 62, including three tackles for loss, but he resisted only one pass defended and zero interceptions after boasting four picks and eight passes defended as a freshman.
Of course, when healthy, Sterns is considered and expected to be one of the nation’s premier defensive backs, as evident by his prolific freshman efforts and placement on the Preseason All-Big 12 Team and the Jim Thorpe Award Watch List.
If Sterns does ultimately take home the hardware, he’d become the third Longhorn to earn the Jim Thorpe Award, as Michael Huff (2005) and Aaron Ross (2006) did so in back-to-back years. Quentin Jammer (2011), Earl Thomas (2009) and DeShon Elliott (2017) were each named as finalists for the award, as well.
Also a Preseason All-Big 12 selection, Ossai became a force for the Longhorns in 2019, tallying 90 total tackles, Including a monstrous 13.5 tackles for loss and five sacks; this all in addition to two picks and three passes defended, displaying the versatility that’s led to such hype surrounding Ossai’s third season in Austin. Most recently, Ossai’s sophomore season went out with a bang, as he captured the Alamo Bowl Defensive MVP behind nine total tackles, six tackles for loss, and three sacks.
Ossai’s efforts last season largely came through his work as an edge rusher, but with Todd Orlando no longer in Austin, Ossai will be featured as a JACK linebacker in first-year defensive coordinator Chris Ash’s defense in 2020. If Ossai ultimately proves to be the nation’s best in this new role, he’ll become just the second Longhorns linebacker to win the Butkus Award, joining Derrick Johnson (2004).