AUSTIN, Texas -- Before the first snap of the Texas A&M game, Manny Diaz delivered a message.
This game, the last one against the Aggies, is a legends’ game, he told the defensive backs. It’s a heroes’ game.
He told them they could make a name for themselves, one that would never be forgotten. Those defensive backs, Quandre Diggs, Carrington Byndom and Kenny Vaccaro, each had an interception. And each took another step in cementing their status among the greats who have played before them at the school they refer to as DBU.
“It’s one of the great things that I really enjoy about being at this school is that guys can get that legend status here, especially when we talk about DBs,” the Texas defensive coordinator said. “We actually talked before the game, they get referred to as one name or by a nickname. Earl [Thomas] or ARoss [Aaron Ross], Ced [Cedric Griffin]. You want to be one of those guys when people talk about you five, ten years down the road, they don't even say your whole name. They can just say your nickname and everyone knows who you are. How do you get that?”
Have another few games like Texas A&M for one. Or another few seasons like 2011.
While all three won’t have another game against the Aggies, they can still have at least another season together. If they do all return -- Vaccaro could leave early for the NFL -- Texas will go into the 2012 season with arguably the three top defensive backs in the conference.
And that’s not all. Texas has Adrian Phillips and Josh Turner scheduled to come back as well. Phillips was an integral part t the five defensive back sets and saw extended time in multiple games. Turner, a freshman, proved more of an impact player on special teams -- he returned a blocked punt for a touchdown -- but also held up well in spot duty against some of the better passing teams in the conference.
All that production came from a unit that was suspect after three players were selected in the NFL Draft.
“I thought we had a chance at being good, I really did,” defensive backs coach Duane Akina said. “With the younger guys as our wildcards like Quandre and Carrington [Byndom], you always feel like they are going to make a move forward. But when you consider how we’re talking about Quandre now, we really could have been saying about Adrian [Phillips] and Carrington last year.
“They just didn’t have any opportunities because they had three NFL corners in front of them. You knew they had some stuff about them, and how they worked in the off season you knew they had something.”
Of all those players, Byndom might have been the biggest surprise, or at the very least, he has made the biggest splash. The sophomore played in six games as a freshman, but was really an unknown commodity coming into his sophomore year.
He became a known commodity when he shut down Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon. The two-time Belitnikoff winner had just 74 receiving yards against Byndom. It was his second lowest total of the season. Missouri held Blackmon to 54.
That type of effort was commonplace with Byndom and several of the other defensive backs. Only twice did Texas’ secondary really fail in its efforts -- against Oklahoma and Baylor. Even against OU, 31 of the 55 points were scored off turnovers. But against Baylor, there were few excuses to be had as Robert Griffin III clinched the Heisman Trophy with two long touchdown passes and another pair of scoring runs.
Those two touchdowns of 59 and 39 yards were the only passing touchdowns of more than 20 yards Texas gave up all season.