There’s no guarantee it’ll continue in 2016, but through two seasons Charlie Strong has had a nice little run of producing senior success stories at Texas.
First, it was John Harris, who went from almost quitting the team under Mack Brown to topping 1,000 receiving yards in 2014. Last year, linebacker Peter Jinkens, a career reserve, stepped to the spotlight and made a case as being the team’s best player.
So who can take the baton from Jinkens? Frankly, to this point the senior class has been underwhelming. Thus, there are several candidates.
Here are six:
Jacorey Warrick, WR
Career stats: 23 games, 16 catches, 129 yards, zero touchdowns.
Every offseason Strong raves about the man they call “Petey,” recently going as far as to say Warrick’s summer was “unbelievable.” Yet once the season begins, Warrick tends to be thrust to the side, drawing comparisons to another Longhorns offseason stalwart, DeSean Hales. Over the weekend, Warrick had some nice catches down the field, which he’ll need to continue in order to win the job at slot receiver and withstand prized freshman Devin Duvernay.
Caleb Bluiett, TE
Career stats: 33 games (five starts), eight catches, 167 yards, two touchdowns.
Those stats are somewhat misleading; Bluiett played offense for the first time in 2015 after transitioning from defensive end. Considering tight ends can be forgotten in Sterlin Gilbert’s spread offense, Bluiett shouldn’t be anyone’s top choice to join Club Harris or Club Jinkens. Yet he’ll be on the field enough to make an impact and could emerge as a reliable goal line target.
Sheroid Evans, CB
Career stats: 27 games, 27 tackles, one forced fumble.
Anyone who enjoys a good comeback story should be pulling for Evans, who last played in a game Oct. 3, 2013 at Iowa State when he tore his ACL. After spending 2014 in recovery, Evans suffered the same injury last spring. Now a sixth-year senior, he looks as good as ever, dominating multiple lightweight competitors in this summer’s Battle for the Belts series before relinquishing the title to freshman safety Brandon Jones in the final week of competition. Lagging behind sophomores Davante Davis, Holton Hill and Kris Boyd, Evans is without a direct path to serious playing time. But considering the obstacles he’s overcome to this point, it would be unwise to count him out.
Paul Boyette, DT
Career stats: 30 games (six starts), 68 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, three QB hurries, two fumble recoveries.
By far the most decorated player on this list, it might be unfair to include Boyette. However, he gets a nomination because he’s yet to earn All-Big 12 accolades, and at this point is probably on the bubble to make the NFL. Observers have noticed an ornery Boyette this preseason, a departure from the playful funny man of the past. One theory is he’s fatigued with talk about the team’s five freshman tackles and is determined to show he’s the alpha dog.
Kevin Vaccaro, S
Career stats: 32 games, 27 tackles, one pass breakup, one forced fumble.
Though listed at just 5-8 — seriously — Vaccaro packs one of the heaviest punches on the team. Just ask Shane Buechele, who was none too pleased after Vaccaro violated non-contact rules on quarterbacks and leveled the freshman to the ground in the spring game. Most of Vaccaro’s production has come on special teams, but given a rare shot for extended playing time following Dylan Haines’ ejection for targeting against Cal last year, Vaccaro came up big and registered nine stops and a forced fumble inside of UT’s 10.
Bryce Cottrell, DE
Career stats: 32 games (eight starts), 39 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, seven QB pressures.
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, Cottrell, or at least the defensive end position as a whole, is as critical to Texas’ success as anyone on the team. Unable to disrupt the pocket during the Strong era, this group has been a disappointment and last had success in 2013 when Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed combined for 23 sacks. Cottrell has the speed to win individual battles, but coaches question his attitude, suggesting he’s too meek and relaxed. If he can develop some fire, Cottrell could be due for a breakout season.