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Follow the Leader

One thing you can't accuse Quandre Diggs of is lacking confidence. It's quite the contrary for the junior from Angleton.

Quandre Diggs' focus this offseason is improving as a player and leading by example for a deep but young Texas secondary.

In a day and age when college athletes tend to be unwilling to be the guy that provides anything remotely resembling something controversial to the media, Diggs is the opposite. He has a tactful and respectful way of getting his point across.

When asked prior to the Alamo Bowl if the fan pressure and negative attention some were casting towards the program impacted the guys inside the locker room, Diggs made it clear that while everyone heard the chatter, it wasn't causing anyone to lose sleep.

“I really don't care what other people say,” Diggs said. “They're not inside our program. We put in the work and they buy the tickets.”

Some might not like Diggs' approach but he's coming from a pure place. Unlike a lot of the student-athletes who wind up on the 40 Acres, being a Texas Longhorn means more to Diggs than it does to most.

Having a brother who left school as an All-American in 2001 and is still cashing checks in the NFL (current San Diego Chargers defensive back Quentin Jammer) gives you a certain amount of pride in your work that can only happen when football is family in the truest sense of the word.

Texas football is in Diggs' blood. And nobody wants to see the Longhorns be back in the mix for championships more.

“I want to do something my brother didn't do,” Diggs said. “That's my personal goal, but everybody's hungry. Nobody's happy with 8-4 or 9-4. That's not Texas' standard. I want to be back winning 10 or 11 games, being in the national championship talk and doing what we can to put the nation on notice that Texas is back.”

With Kenny Vaccaro and Alex Okafor both gone the Longhorns are in need of leaders. It would be natural to assume that seniors like Jackson Jeffcoat, Adrian Phillips, Carrington Byndom and Jordan Hicks would be naturals in the line of succession.

Yet with Jeffcoat out for the spring recovering from pectoral surgery, Phillips coming off of a year that fell below expectations, Byndom not being a dyed-in-the-wool vocal leader and Hicks having not seen the field since Game 3 of 2012, it'll be Diggs' responsibility to lead the defense when spring practice begins Thursday.

Diggs is used to it. Going into his senior year of high school his head coach, Finis Vanover – who also coached D.J. Monroe and had Jermichael Finley and Lionel Garr at Diboll – told Diggs he'd put the screws to him. With Henry Josey having graduated, Diggs was pushed harder as a leader than he'd ever been pushed before.

He's prepared for the same this spring, and in the summer leading up to the start of the 2013 season.

“It's going to be different and I know that,” Diggs said. "I've always said this reminds me of high school. Kenny and Alex are gone, I know it's my job to step up and be a leader. I've got to go out and grind every day and I can't take any days off.”

Whether he's playing safety or cornerback, and at the very least he looks destined to be the nickel corner who covers the slot as he takes over Vaccaro's old role, the preparation for Diggs to take another step in his development started during the bowl practices leading up the win over Oregon State.

“I've had to change gears and I had to get back to doing the little things and the things I need to be doing in these bowl practices,” Diggs said at the time. “I have to be a guy who gives 110 percent and that's what I took from Kenny's game. He's a guy who gives everything he has and he's going to be a first-round pick.

“That's where I want to be, and anything you can take from his game to mold your game is a good thing.”

Diggs already has a lot of good in his game. Among the returnees for spring ball he's the most proven as a finisher having led the Longhorns in interceptions (4) and pass breakups (7) as a sophomore. Wherever Diggs winds up will likely set the tone for how the rest of the secondary shakes out.

The Texas coaches are by no means ready to give up on Mykkele Thompson in the secondary. Thompson, who will also get a look at cornerback this spring, and Josh Turner both return with plenty of starting experience at safety along with Phillips. So if Diggs stays at corner there's enough talent there – in addition to redshirt freshman Adrian Colbert who Manny Diaz said did some nice things in bowl practices and has had a great offseason according to team sources – to have a formidable duo on the back end.

However, the combination of Diggs' ability in coverage and as a run stopper, his football IQ, instincts and knowledge of the defense might be best used at safety. If his move there becomes permanent there seems to be few reservations within the program about using Duke Thomas to take over Diggs' role at cornerback.

Diaz pointed Thomas out as someone who really turned the heads of the coaching staff in bowl practices, and he's entering his second spring after graduating early from Copperas Cove in December 2011. Throw in Sheroid Evans, special teams standout Leroy Scott, a good man cover corner in Bryson Echols and Kevin Vaccaro, and you've got the pieces in place for the Longhorns to have a deep and talented secondary with enough competition at all positions to truly have the top four guys emerge.

“We put a lot of pressure on those guys to step up in bowl practices,” Diggs said. “Next year is their time. We've got guys leaving and other guys need to step up.”

There doesn't need to be any worry about whether or not Diggs steps up. He's ready to lead this defense into more prosperous times in the future.

“It's easy to be average,” Diggs said. “This is Texas, though. That's not our standard. That's not the way this defense should be built.”

It's going to be up to everyone else to follow his lead.

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