While players have any number of routines that they go through in waiting to be selected in the NFL Draft — former first round pick Joe Thomas went fishing — Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro was able to take in the scene in New York. The NFL only invites sure-fire first-round picks (although sometimes, it doesn't work out that way, as with Geno Smith), meaning that just getting the invite was an honor, Vaccaro said.
"It's exciting," Vaccaro said. "You've got to think, only 32 players in the world go first round every year. I think Coach [Duane] Akina said, 'It's a great honor for you to even be here.' I am truly blessed. I truly thank God for giving me the drive and push to be here."
That drive and push was integral in landing Vaccaro with the Saints, who picked him with the No. 15 pick, especially after New Orleans coach Sean Payton told Vaccaro that he watched every single snap that he played this year.
"I learned that [you can never take a snap off] early on," Vaccaro said. "I used to watch how Earl [Thomas] used to practice and play in the games. I knew you need start your career from an early age. I think a lot of guys like to wait, 'Oh I'll start by my junior year.' I was never like that. I always played hard every snap. And I knew, and Coach Akina always said, 'What you put on that tape everybody is going to see.'"
The Saints apparently liked what they saw, making Vaccaro the first safety taken in the 2013 draft.
"It was crazy," Vaccaro said. "I didn't even tear up because I was in shock. My mom was crying. My whole family was crying. I don't even remember walking. All I remember is the handshake and that's it."
Akina was with Vaccaro in New York, helping to see off yet another defensive back to the league. Texas has 12 defensive backs on NFL rosters, the most of any school in the country.
"He's done a great job," Vaccaro said of Akina. "He's produced so many first-rounders and Thorpe Award winners. I'm just glad to be in that, what I call, a fraternity of DBU. And all those guys reached out to me. [Michael Griffin] Mike G said he knew I'd play on Sundays when he saw me on kickoffs my freshman year. It's an honor to be with that group of guys. I'm truly blessed."
Now, Vaccaro will try to carry that torch further in the league.
"First of all, I'm going to come in and practice hard," Vaccaro said. "I want to earn the respect of my locker room. That's first and foremost – earn the respect of the team. Get those guys off me, because they're kind of hard on rookies. I want to just contribute. I started playing special teams when I first got to Texas, and I expect to do the same thing at the Saints.
"We're going to get back quickly," Vaccaro said. "There are a lot of people saying, 'Hey, you're going to win early. We've got a franchise quarterback, and we've got a great group of guys around me. I can't wait to get down there."
Minicamp starts the second week of May. While Vaccaro said his first-round status adds pressure to come in and make plays right away, he said he won't feel the same pressure to spend his money.
"I'm going to build my mom a nice little house somewhere in Texas," Vaccaro said. "I don't think she wants to stay in Brownwood anymore. That's about it. I'm going to save my money. I'm going to invest a lot in my family, just sit on it, and in about ten years or whenever I can go travel or something."