Season Deciders: DE Jackson Jeffcoat

The Longhorns will be counting on a healthy Jackson Jeffcoat to lead their defense. Kirby Lee/US Presswire

This is the fourth of a five-part series on Texas players with the potential to change the course of the Longhorns' 2013 season. The No. 2 player on this year's list: Senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Jackson Jeffcoat’s senior season began on Oct. 14, 2012.

A torn pectoral, Jeffcoat’s second, suffered against Oklahoma the day before, abruptly ended Jeffcoat’s promising junior year. The clock has been ticking ever since.

“My senior season did start back then,” Jeffcoat said last month. “I knew I had to prepare myself for this season.”

What’s driving Jeffcoat these days isn’t the thought that his NFL draft stock is on the line. He doesn’t look at 2013 like a contract year or a chance to pry his way into the first round.

If he does what he plans to do (and plays all 13 games), the rest will take care of itself.

“This is my senior year. It’s my last year,” Jeffcoat said. “I haven’t had the season that I’ve hoped to have, just because of the injuries. I want to come out and make this my best year. It’s more about leaving my mark on the University of Texas than leaving my mark on the NFL.”

The final chapter in his legacy as a Longhorn has yet to be written, but Jeffcoat is plenty aware that his injuries have been costly. He wants to be remembered for his accomplishments, not his rare potential.

At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Jeffcoat has all the tools and traits of a guy you don’t want coming your way if you play quarterback. He’s played in 27 games and started 20, but his best days are still ahead of him. Especially if he stays on the field.

In the five games he’d played entering the showdown with Oklahoma, Jeffcoat was ranked in the top four in the Big 12 in tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles. He’d had one of the best nights of his career a few weeks earlier at Oklahoma State, with seven tackles, four tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.

He even fared well against the Sooners, pushing his season tackles for loss total up to 11. Jeffcoat now has 38 in three years and made stops in the backfield on nearly a third of his career tackles. He has the opportunity to be truly prolific in his final year.

Jeffcoat was slowed in spring practices as a precaution, though he says now he’s been ready to get back to hitting for months. Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz recognizes the need for some restraint and rotations to keep Jeffcoat fresh, but so far he hasn’t shown any rust in fall camp.

“Every time there's been a physical question asked of him, he's come up with the right answer,” Diaz said. “We're happy with where he's at.”

He’s busting counter moves on tackles, pressuring quarterback and batting down balls again. Just like old times, and just what Longhorns teammates like to see.

“Same old Jackson,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “Just a monster out there. Just Jackson Jeffcoat.”

This season, his impact goes beyond the tackles and sacks. Even with Alex Okafor on one side and Jeffcoat or Cedric Reed on the other, Texas was still inconsistent in its ability to pressure passers a year ago. That will always be critical in the Big 12.

So will Jeffcoat’s leadership. He’s seen and endured plenty and been humbled enough in three years. The sense of urgency is a tangible one for Jeffcoat. It’s now or never.

The healthy Jeffcoat can be as good as any defender in the conference. He speaks these days with the kind of confidence that suggests he knows that. But just what will he make of his final year? He can’t wait to find out.

“We’ll see after the season,” he said. “That is my goal, to be the best defensive end in the Big 12.”