AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas has been one of the finest defensive back factories in college football for a long, long time. But business has not been booming in recent years.
You’re not going to hear “DBU” thrown around much by Texas players this spring. They know they haven’t proved it lately. They have to re-earn that reputation while other schools like LSU and Florida continue to make claims as today’s true “DBU.”
“Right now, we don’t even say those three letters,” safety DeShon Elliott said. “That’s not where we are. We’re trying to get back to the standard of the previous guys that were here who set the standard.”
“DBU” enjoyed its most recent heyday under former secondary coach Duane Akina and the long list of future pros he coached during his 13 years in Austin. The standard was dominant play, All-America honors and draft picks. If you made it in the NFL, you earned your spot on Akina’s “Money Wall” inside Texas’ defensive back room.
When Charlie Strong took over at Texas, Akina wasn’t retained. He moved on to Stanford. All five of his starters in his final season at Texas ended up playing in the NFL. Texas was in good shape in its first year without Akina, finishing No. 11 nationally in pass defense with a secondary led by the fiery Quandre Diggs.
Then the Longhorns got young. Really young. They’ve leaned on 13 different starters in the secondary during the last two seasons. They ranked No. 73 in the country in pass defense in 2015. Last year? They fell all the way to 105th.
The guy Diggs planned to pass the “DBU” torch on to was supposed to be Jamal Adams. He was the No. 1 safety in Texas in the class of 2014 out of Lewisville Hebron. When Mack Brown was fired, Adams immediately crossed Texas off his list. He signed with LSU -- one of those others “DBUs” -- and now he’s expected to be the No. 2 or 3 pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
The best in Texas leaving the state has been an all-too-common occurrence in recent years. Of the 34 ESPN 300-rated defensive back recruits the state of Texas has produced from 2014-17, 19 have ended up at out-of-state schools and 18 have signed with SEC programs.
That’s not to say Texas has come up totally empty-handed on the recruiting trail. Strong brought Elliott, Holton Hill, Kris Boyd, Davante Davis and P.J. Locke all together in one impressive 2015 class. A year later, safety Brandon Jones was one of Strong’s biggest recruiting victories.
These guys now form the experienced core of Texas’ secondary. They’re not happy with what they put on tape during the last two seasons.
“The way we’ve been playing, the last few years, it just wasn’t up to the standard. It wasn’t up to par,” Elliott said. “I just feel like we shouldn’t be saying that. There’s schools around the country playing better than us. They can say it.”
Senior cornerback Antwuan Davis signed to play for Akina back in the day. He remembers feeling wowed as a freshman when Earl Thomas, Michael Griffin, Aaron Ross and the rest of the elite former Texas DBs came back to school to work out in the offseason.
If you want to call LSU or somebody else the new “DBU,” Davis says you better check with those Longhorn greats first. They’ll still put up a fervent fight.
“We’re gonna let the older guys handle that,” Davis said. “The older guys speak on that. They’ll definitely come to the defense of it. But we’re not where we’re supposed to be right now.”
The Horns do appear to have more than enough talent on the back end to get back on track. This group also has Michael Huff, one of those all-time Texas greats, helping out cornerbacks coach Jason Washington and safeties coach Craig Naivar.
With Huff on staff, there’s no doubt these players are hearing about the “DBU” standard on a daily basis this spring. They sure do sound humbled when asked about it. They’re determined to live up to the legacy.
“We’re not up to that level yet,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to get back.”