D.J. Monroe

There are only seven listed as starters on the depth chart, and their contributions are just as scattered and spotty. But on Thanksgiving, the 2012 senior class will take
center stage.

Thursday evening’s game against TCU is the Longhorns’ senior night, and each member of the senior class, which includes only nine scholarship players, will stroll onto the field for their final game at Darrell K Roya-Texas Memorial Stadium. There are only nine, but the number is appropriately representative of the up-and-down journey they took to this point.

“A lot of guys didn’t last in our class,” safety Kenny Vaccaro. “We’re the lone few.”

They may be few, but they couldn’t be more proud. When this group of seniors started at Texas they competed for a national title, but the tide turned from there. In 2010, Texas finished 5-7, the team’s worst record in the Mack Brown era. Then in 2011, they laid the foundation for a turnaround with an 8-5 season.

Now, the senior class is leading Texas on a resurgence. Vaccaro and Alex Okafor have become the pillars of the defense, holding the unit up despite its poor start in Big 12 play. Offensively, the seniors haven’t made as much of an impact, but hard-working role players like Luke Poehlmann, Ryan Roberson and D.J. Monroe epitomize the rugged attitude of the group. Receiver Marquise Goodwin has hauled in two receiving touchdowns, but his leadership and experience on the field aren’t as easily measured.

The dogged work ethic of this senior class helps explain its desire to restore Texas football back to the expected level of success.

“When we’re done with this place, it’s like mamma says ‘got to put it back the way you found it,’” senior running back Jeremy Hills said. “We found it and it was undefeated, and we’re trying to put it back in a BCS bowl.”

It’s been an emotional ride for the seniors. Some came in as a part of the 2008 recruiting class, some in 2009, but the group has blended well. They’re no longer teammates or even friends; they’re brothers on and off the field.

“We’re tight,” Hills said. “We always hang out and go out to eat. It helps us a little on the field because I don’t know that guy just as a player. I know that guy, and I trust he’s going to do his job.”

Trust is the key word.

In 2010, the chemistry wasn’t there for a prosperous season, resulting in a five-win effort. In 2011, the team inched closer. Senior leaders like Emmanuel Acho and Blake Gideon kept the team in check and pushed Texas on an upward path. In 2012, Vaccaro and Okafor have transformed into the glue of the team and have the Longhorns rising as a result.

“It’s definitely been a roller coaster career filled with glamour and disappointment,” Okafor said. “The senior class has seen it all. We’re just trying to get this thing back right.”

A big aspect of the turnaround has been helping the underclassmen to adjust to the pace of the college game, as freshmen and sophomores make up a huge chunk of the roster. Whether it’s answering football related questions or just ‘how the heck do you get to this building?’ they’re there to assist. 

The questions seem simple to the seniors, but in reflection they know they were in that position only a few short years ago. A fact, even as the season embarks on the home stretch, that remains surreal.

“I’m just now getting used to it,” Hills said. “As an older guy there are a lot of people asking you questions I feel like they should know. But they’re the same questions I was asking early on ... . It’s giving back.”

The seniors still can’t quite comprehend the ride is nearing its end. But like always, they’re taking the schedule one game at a time. They don’t want the moment to overwhelm them, but it won’t stop each of the seniors from taking a second in the tunnel leading into DKR, to soak in the moment one last time.

“You hear the fans and you hear the Hellraisers right above you,” Hills said. “Then you come out of that smoke and look and see 100,000 people ... it’s the most exciting thing there is.”

Safety Kenny Vaccaro is among the seniors who will graduate this year. Vaccaro has been a valuable asset to the Longhorns defense since his freshman year.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Saying that the seniors have seen it all is an understatement. They went from the BCS Championship game to not attending a bowl game at all in less than a year.

While going 8-5 last season was a step up from their sophomore campaign, that isn’t the legacy they want. They want to get this team back to where it was when they arrived here — back to being a national contender. They’ll play in their last Big 12 opener this weekend against Oklahoma State.

“When I came in, it was a program going up and I would like to leave it the way I came in,” said senior running back D.J. Monroe. “The seniors take a lot of pride in that, and we take it upon ourselves to lead the team and not be selfish.”

Monroe has scored a touchdown in each of the Longhorns’ three games and is running more physically than ever. Being the smallest running back, he took it upon himself to get stronger.

He and the other running backs would work out at noon every day this summer to get stronger. He, the rest of the backs and the team had a chip on their shoulder.

”We wanted to let everyone know that we weren’t intimidated by an 8-5 season,” Monroe said. “We are going to come back stronger.”

Head coach Mack Brown has witnessed the seniors’ need to get the team back where it was in 2009.

“There’s this group of guys that said, ‘We got to get this place back on track, and we’re tired of being okay, so let’s do whatever we need to do to win,’” Brown said.

Senior tight end D.J. Grant has been a part of the movement to take the Longhorns back to a higher caliber. He said coaches didn’t tell them to step into this role. The seniors took it upon themselves.
The past three seasons Texas has started off 3-0, but these seasons all had very different endings — an appearance in the BCS Championship, a 5-7 season, a Holiday Bowl berth. Finishing the season strong is vital.

“We’ve seen a lot of things,” Grant said. “We’ve seen how the school is when it’s great and we want to be back there. Everybody knows that so we’re fighting to get it back there.”

After returning to a bowl game last season, the team is hungrier than ever. Facing off against Oklahoma State will be the Longhorns’ first tough test. The Cowboys have defeated these seniors twice during their careers at Texas, both times at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

The hostile environment in Stillwater, Okla., won’t faze the Longhorn veterans, but it will tell a lot about the progress the team has made.

The team stresses the importance of the “Texas Standard.” These seniors briefly saw that high during their freshman season. Now the bar is set even higher and they have accepted the challenge.
“You have to gain the trust of your teammates and work hard so they can look at you and be like, ‘I want to be like him,’” Grant said. “You’re going to mess up, but if you mess up, you have to show them that if you mess up, you have to get up and keep going and make a positive play.”

Texas finished the first part of its season, the non-conference slate, with an impressive win over Ole Miss. Now the true test begins, and with the guidance of the seasoned seniors, it will look to make a statement.

Printed on Thursday, September 27, 2012 as: Seniors to play in final Big 12 opener

The spring game is a chance for the team to show off what they’ve been working on in spring practice to the public, and also gives players an opportunity to show improvement -- players like D.J. Monroe who is making the switch from running back to receiver.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

The Orange and White game is upon us. It’s time to see what Mack Brown and the Longhorns have been working on since Texas’ victory at the Holiday Bowl in January.

With the offense strongly focused on the running game, the team has been working on improving the passing side of the offense.

“We are trying to prove that we can pass the ball and have an evenly split offense between running and passing,” said wide receiver Jaxon Shipley. “So I think it is definitely going to be important for the running backs, but especially for us wide receivers.”

The offense has been working on the passing game and senior running back D.J. Monroe has been making the transition to wide receiver. With Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron ruling the back field and running back Johnathan Gray arriving in Austin in the fall, Monroe will likely not get much time in the backfield.

But, he is making progress.

“The best play D.J. has for us is the speed sweep, and he is a wide receiver when he does that,” Brown said. “He will work more with (receivers coach) Darrell Wyatt the latter part of practice so we can try to get him in the game without giving it away that he’s in there only for a play that he runs.”

Brown also said Monroe needs to expand his overall package and catch better. The Longhorns are quite thin in the wide receiver position.

“He’s still not there,” Brown said. “But we feel like we’ve made some progress.”

In addition to Monroe, the wide receiver corps are welcoming back John Harris. Harris missed most of the 2010 season due to a foot injury and half of spring drills. But now, he is cleared to fully participate in spring drills.

Harris believes that he, the other receivers and the quarterbacks need to build chemistry. His and Jaxon Shipley’s injuries hindered the offense’s ability to create opportunities in 2011. But his return could provide the team with depth that is sorely needed. Harris was brought back on the field slowly and is catching up on what he missed during the season.

“John is a big target and has big hands,” said quarterback Case McCoy. “As long as we have as much depth as possible at receiver, I think that is when we are going to be at our best. We want to air the ball out, and we want to throw it. When we get fresh legs in there as much as possible, it will be nice.”

In addition to the changes at wide receiver, Texas fans will be able to compare the quarterbacks that are dueling for the starting spot. David Ash showed his improvement during the team’s open practice in March, and the gap between him and McCoy seemed to be widening. But practice is different than a game, and interception-prone Ash’s weaknesses could be displayed Sunday when there is more pressure on him.

“We feel like we’re so much further ahead off the field than we were this time last year,” Brown said. “We were still trying to get them excited, get them going, and get them to buy in. Right now they’ve bought in.”

Printed on Friday, March 30, 2012 as: Texas looks for improvement in spring game

D.J. Monroe, left, watches an Angleton High football game alongside Quandre Diggs. The former high school teammates were reunited this season at Texas. (Photo Courtesy of Angleton High School journalism department)

Talk about a reunion.

Angleton High School will be well-represented at Faurot Field on Saturday when Texas visits Missouri.

Longhorns cornerback Quandre Diggs and tailback D.J. Monroe grew up in Angleton with Mizzou running back Henry Josey, and for the first time since 2007, all three will be playing on the same field.

Diggs and Monroe circled this game on their calendars before the season started, and with MU leaving the Big 12 for the SEC next year, this will more than likely be their only chance to play against their close friend Josey.

“I’m really excited to see him,” Monroe said. “We actually have been waiting for this. I haven’t seen him in so long, I’m going to give him a hug.”

Diggs and Josey met back during their Pop Warner days and their friendship blossomed throughout high school. When they weren’t busy throwing the pigskin around, they were taking fishing trips to the Gulf of Mexico.

Back in Angleton, there was hardly an instance when the two weren’t side by side.

“We just look at each other like brothers,” Josey said. “Me and Quandre pretty much talk every day. Growing up throughout high school, we were always together. We have a real close bond. It kind of just grew on us because we were always together.”

There was a time when Diggs would have welcomed Josey finding the end zone. After all, he was the quarterback at Angleton High, where the Wildcats used an option rushing attack. Now, the freshman corner will be looking to stop the Big 12’s leading rusher.

Make no mistake, there will definitely be some chatter between the two, and Josey will be sure to have a response should Diggs tackle him.

“I haven’t planned out what I’m going to say yet, but I will say something to him,” said Josey, laughing. “We’ll joke around, stuff like that. It won’t be anything that gets us kicked out the game.”

Diggs didn’t need to watch much tape of Josey this week, though, considering he’s been following his former running mate closely. He makes sure to catch all of Missouri’s games and keep an eye on Josey. After each game, Diggs offers a word of encouragement in a text message.

“I’ve got to keep up with my brother,” Diggs said. “He’s doing such a great job. I support him with everything he does. We both support each other. I try to watch him as much as I can.”

So far, Diggs has seen nothing but the best from his dear friend.

Josey’s four straight games with more than 100 rushing yards brought about memories of his junior season at Angleton in 2009, when he led the Wildcats to an 11-2 record and a district championship.

“It was a crazy year,” said Josey, who rushed for 1,369 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2009. “You never knew who had the ball or who was going to get the ball. Each one of us had our special thing that we could do with the ball because we were all fast.”

Yes, speed is a common theme among Angleton backs.

While Josey leads the nation with 43 runs of 10-plus yards, Monroe has the same big-play ability. He averages 7.9 yards per carry, slightly less than Josey’s 8.6 average.

“It’s the Angleton running backs, that’s just how we do it,” Monroe said. “We were a running team in high school and stuff like that we live for. We expect it.”

When asked to describe Josey’s running style, Monroe summed it up shortly.

“I call him thunder and lightening,” he said. “He can turn his speed into power.”

On Saturday, the old fishing buddies won’t be talking about who had the biggest catch. The bragging rights will come down to who wins the game.

But whatever the outcome, at least one Angleton Wildcat will be victorious.

Published on Thursday, November 10, 2011 as: Purple Daze

Football Notebook

Freshman Quandre Diggs has gotten the opportunity to return kicks the last few games at a good clip of 18.6 yards a return, as team’s are attempting to stay away from kicking to Fozzy Whittaker.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Teams simply won’t kick to Fozzy Whittaker any more. Quandre Diggs is okay with that.

Diggs returned two kickoffs for 33 yards on Saturday against Kansas, who decided to let someone other than Whittaker beat them. Whittaker entered the game with 100-yard touchdown returns in each of his last two games — a school record. But as expected, the Jayhawks pooch kicked and angled the ball away from the senior.

Now the onus is on freshman cornerback Diggs to keep the return game strong. Diggs and junior tailback D.J. Monroe will get more chances for kick returns over the final five games of the season.

“It’s a great opportunity for me and D.J. to step up and try to get those guys to kick away from us also,” Diggs said.

Diggs has returned 10 kickoffs for 186 yards, including 121 against Oklahoma on Oct. 8. Monroe has four returns totaling 61 yards.

Diggs also had an interception against the Jayhawks, his second of the year.

Vertical passing game lacking

Texas has found success on the ground in recent weeks, but the downfield passing game has taken a hit.

Since assuming the starting job against Oklahoma State, quarterback David Ash has completed just three passes over 16 yards — the distance the coaching staff considers an explosive play. Only one of those completions has gone to the Longhorns’ big-play wide receiver, Mike Davis, with a 20-yard connection against OSU.

Texas steamrolled Kansas for 441 yards rushing and piled up 231 yards against the Cowboys, leaving few opportunities for Ash and Davis to complete long throws. But the two have stayed after practice to work on vertical routes and deep balls in recent weeks, typically working for 45 minutes after each day’s conclusion.

Davis and Ash haven’t established the same rapport that the wideout shared with former starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert, but they’re working on it.

“We’re on the right track, we’re clicking together,” Davis said.

Davis has seven explosive plays this season in seven games, but only two of those have come from Ash. Still, the sophomore believes he will have an opportunity to get down the field as teams start to bring extra defenders closer to the line of scrimmage to stop the run.

“Now it’s time to air it out because teams are going to start biting down [on the run],” said Davis, who has 27 catches for 418 yards.

The Longhorns’ dynamic rushing attack should open things up for Davis in the vertical passing game, but the results haven’t been there yet. He’ll have an opportunity this weekend, though, against a banged-up Texas Tech secondary.

Injured Horns expected to play

The Longhorns beat Kansas by 43 points, but several players took a beating themselves.

Jaxon Shipley left Saturday’s game with a knee injury, but is listed as a starter this week. The wide receiver felt discomfort in his knee after a collision with a Jayhawks defender while trying to catch a ball near the sidelines. The pass fell incomplete, but KU was penalized for an illegal hit against a defenseless receiver.

Shipley caught five passes for 57 yards before leaving the game. The freshman also rushed once for seven yards.

Backup cornerback Leroy Scott was shaken up on a special teams play and did not return, while starting corner Adrian Phillips was held out with a shoulder injury.

Still, head coach Mack Brown expects all three to play against Texas Tech.

Phillips is listed as an “either/or” candidate at right cornerback with Diggs and is behind safety Kenny Vaccaro at the nickel position. Phillips and Diggs lead the team with two interceptions each.

Printed on Wednesday, November 2, 2011 as: Return game gets a boost from Diggs

The top priority on head coach Mack Brown’s to-do list this week is to reinforce the importance of turnovers. Against Iowa State, Texas gave up four and only forced one.

Last year, Texas had 37 takeaways and gave up 28 in 14 games, which was the best margin in the Big 12. This year, the Longhorns have only caused eight and have lost 12, the third worst in the conference.

“Last year, they came in baskets,” Brown said. “This year, we haven’t had any.”

The lack of turnovers hurt Texas on Saturday, as the defense did not give the offense extra scoring chances.

“Turnovers stop the other team’s momentum and puts the ball back in your offense’s hands,” junior linebacker Keenan Robinson said. “If turnovers aren’t being made then the offense doesn’t have as many times to score as they would. Last year we did that a lot and the offense was able to feed off our turnovers and defensive energy.”

<strong>Mack Brown tell ‘em</strong>

Brown has done everything he can possibly think of to get his players motivated this season. He’s given countless uplifting speeches during practices and has even decked out the locker room with so many inspirational sayings and posters that you can’t see the walls. But nothing is working.

Maybe he should do what he did in 2007 — crank that Soulja Boy.

Brown said that the 2007 team played with the same sense of arrogance and entitlement as this year’s team, and in an attempt to snap the players out of it, he took a lighthearted and uncharacteristic approach.

“Before [the Kansas State game] I got a coach’s shirt torn down the middle with a camouflage shirt and pants underneath. I ripped the shirt off in pre-game, pulled the pants off [and did the Soulja boy dance],” Brown said. “I had worked hard for about a week because I can’t dance worth a lick, and I made a total fool of myself. [The team] laughed so hard that they were crying and I was so embarrassed, but I thought, ‘Wow, we’re getting some emotion, let’s go to work!’”

But as it turned out, the dance didn’t do the trick and Texas lost the game 41-21.

“We stunk,” Brown recalled. “I made a fool of myself trying to get somebody to play with passion.”

Brown feels the same way this year. Nothing he’s doing is getting through to his players, and he’s desperately searching for innovative ideas to change his team’s attitude.

<strong>Need more Monroe</strong>

Offensive coordinator Greg Davis confessed that he strayed away from the running game and rushed into the passing attack too early on Saturday. He also admitted and took complete blame for not playing sophomore tailback D.J. Monroe for more than one snap.

Monroe led the team with 65 yards on four carries against Oklahoma a few weeks ago, and how was he rewarded? With no playing time against Nebraska and only one appearance on Saturday against Iowa State. He was put in on a first down and hustled for 10 yards to move the chains, but Davis pulled him immediately and Monroe didn’t see the field for the rest of the game.

“It was my fault we didn’t use D.J. more,” Davis said. “Against Nebraska, I didn’t feel that way, but I don’t know what else to tell you. It was my fault. We’ve got to get him the ball more. I did wrong. I don’t know what else I can say. We gotta be more aware of it. There are things we can when he enters the ball game.”

Brown didn’t answer a question regarding Davis not giving Monroe more playing time, saying, “Greg can answer that.” But he did admit that he thought Monroe played well and gave the offense a spark.

Head coach Mack Brown walked into Saturday’s post-game press conference as hotheaded as any player, coach or journalist had ever seen him. With a bright red face and a mouth quivering with anger, Brown answered questions with a short-tempered tone. He looked like he was about to explode.

“I feel like screaming in the stadium,” he said.

Brown quickly plunged into his offense, saying he was “as disappointed as he’s ever been” in it. And rightfully so, as Texas ran for only 96 yards against the Big 12’s worst defense, who allowed Utah and Oklahoma to run for a combined total of 564 rushing yards the previous two weeks.

Texas didn’t even get close to half of that mark because offensive coordinator Greg Davis steered clear of the run, saying that the Cyclones’ defense liked to clog the line of scrimmage and that it would be wiser to pass.

But passing wasn’t the answer, as quarterback Garrett Gilbert was inconsistent, turning the ball over four times. He had three interceptions, one of which was in the end zone, and one fumble.

“Sometimes you can hang in there with it, sometimes you feel like you need to stretch the field a little bit more,” Davis said of the passing game. “Obviously, it didn’t work. We didn’t get the ball in the end zone.”

The offense converted just eight of 18 third downs and only scored two touchdowns on six trips inside the red zone, both in the fourth quarter. The previous three quarters, Texas had ten drives and only scored six points.

“What our offense did for three quarters is unacceptable,” Brown said.

In the third quarter, sophomore tailback D.J. Monroe made his first appearance since rushing for 65 yards against Oklahoma three weeks ago. On the snap, Monroe, who is averaging 11.8 yards per carry this season, ran for 10 yards and moved the chains. But that would be the last time anyone would see him on the field.

“We just felt like, especially as the game went on, that it was a game that we were playing from behind,” Davis said. “As we talked about before, there are some limitations there, but obviously he got in there on one play and gave us a 10-yard run. We have to do a better job of getting him the ball.”

The limitations Davis mentioned include Monroe’s small size, as he is too small for pass protection, and that he hasn’t learned the entire playbook yet. But that didn’t prevent him from being the lone spark in the running game on Saturday.

Gilbert completed 34 of 57 passes for 344 yards, 178 of which came in the fourth quarter as an act of desperation. Senior receiver John Chiles, who has suffered from a groin injury all year, was Gilbert’s best option, catching five balls for 117 yards and a touchdown.

It’s hard to imagine that the Longhorns have much more to play for after being crushed by two underdogs this season. But despite the upsets, they still have five games left.

Wanted: a go-to offensive player with killer separation speed, quick hands, smart route-running abilities who likes to wear burnt orange. If discovered, please call Texas head coach Mack Brown as he’s been searching up and down his depth chart weekly in search of a player who has these qualities.

But Brown might have actually found someone who meets his offensive needs. As of late, it’s apparent that sophomore D.J. Monroe could have the potential to fill this position.

Monroe, a wide receiver-turned-running back, has provided a spark for the Longhorns the past two games. Against UCLA, he supplied nearly the only positive in the Longhorns’ loss as he rushed for 51 yards on six carries. He was also on the kick return team and returned five for 123 yards. Then, against Oklahoma, he led the tailbacks with 65 yards on four carries (16.2 yards per carry), which included a 60-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He played on special teams again and gained 49 yards on three kick returns.

Monroe hasn’t gotten much playing time, but he has shown that he can propel the offense and deserves more snaps when given opportunities.

Monroe was an afterthought for the coaching staff at the beginning of the season, but the media kept bringing up his name.

“When will he play? When will he start? Will he play on special teams?” they asked.

Brown’s response never wavered, as he basically claimed Monroe wasn’t ready for the big stage since he had just switched from wide receiver to running back and didn’t have all the plays memorized.

But against UCLA, Brown was taken aback and decided that Monroe did need to be integrated into the lineup.

“If somebody gets hot, we’ll stick with it and use that plan,” Brown said. “D.J. was not in those plans until last week so that’s changed things for us. It’s not what we were thinking about going into the season.”

When Monroe got his chance last Saturday against Oklahoma, he was unstoppable. The Sooners’ defense wasn’t even close to tackling him on his 60-yard dash into the end zone. But after his first half display of explosiveness, he was sidelined for the entire second half.

“We were in trouble, we were behind,” Brown said. “We were having to throw so much and he’s not into pass protection yet. Hopefully, he’ll get where he can.”

Texas was indeed down 21-7 at the half. Junior running backs Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson saw playing time in the second half, but they are bigger than Monroe (5-foot-9, 170 lbs.) and are more experienced in pass protection.

Monroe didn’t appear frustrated after the game though, even if his touchdown was arguably the Longhorns’ most exciting play of the game.

“As soon as I learn the playbook, things will start opening up for me and [playing time] won’t be a problem,” Monroe said. “I’m not worried, just trying to learn the package and keep my brothers strong so we can finish the season strong.”

Since making the receiver-to-tailback transition this season, Monroe has been working with Whittaker on crafting his running game. Whittaker talks to Monroe about plays and teaches him simple drills everyday.

“He’s going to give us a spark no matter when he is in,” Whittaker said. “He’s got a lot of speed and that’s something you can’t coach.”
Perhaps the faster he studies his playbook, the better things will be for Texas.