A Strong Finish
It took Texas head coach Charlie Strong and his staff a year to catch up to Texas A&M in the recruiting battle. While the profile of Texas’ 2015 recruiting class catches eyes nationally — both Scout.com and ESPN.com have the Longhorns ranked in the top 10 — within state borders it’s all about the Longhorns closing the gap with the Aggies and protecting their home turf when it comes to recruiting.
Strong said as much when he took over last year. The Longhorns have to win Texas if they are to contend for national championships. They did that on Wednesday, just barely. Scout had Texas at No. 8 and A&M at No. 10; ESPN had Texas at No. 8 and A&M No. 12. Last year? Scout had the Aggies at No. 7 and the Longhorns at No. 15, while ESPN had the Aggies at No. 4 and the Longhorns at No. 16.
Strong was able to flip the script in just one year, despite the Longhorns coming off a 6-7 bowl season. How? By applying that same single-minded work ethic by which he turned Louisville into a BCS contender to a Longhorns program with the resources to lure blue chip players sold on his vision.
Start with Malik Jefferson, the Mesquite Poteet linebacker Texas Football’s E.J. Holland ranked as the No. 1 overall player in the state. He’s a five-star rated player who should fit into Strong’s defense soon. Jefferson came with a bonus gift: Poteet teammate and four-star wide receiver DeAndre McNeal. They wanted to play together in college and once both had their offers, they realized their dream could come true. “Somebody needs to start something,” Jefferson told the Dallas Morning News when he made his commitment to the Longhorns. “I think I can start it now.”
Then there’s the late push that the Longhorns made in the week leading up to signing day. Texas locked down six commitments in seven days, including Gilmer wide receiver Kris Boyd, who could become a key asset on offense a year or two down the road and was ranked in the top 50 nationally by Scout. Two other top 100 players committed as well: Houston Lamar cornerback Holton Hill and Rockwall running back Chris Warren III, the son of former NFL running back Chris Warren Jr.
The Longhorns went heavy on offensive line (five tackles and a guard), cornerback (four players) and outside linebackers (four players). Those signings provide a pipeline to improve offensive blocking and pass coverage. With six running backs and wide receivers Strong is assembling a group that could provide his quarterback with a bevy of weapons to use in two or three years.
Texas did sign a quarterback, but it wasn’t the one they had hoped to sign just a few weeks ago. Strong thought he had a commitment from Zach Gentry, a pro-style passer out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. But Michigan flipped him late in the process. It’s hard to blame Gentry. What quarterback wouldn’t want to be coached by Jim Harbaugh? Plus, the Longhorns made a late push to lure Allen’s Kyler Murray from his A&M commitment, with no luck.
Texas ended up securing a late commitment from Kai Locksley, a quarterback out of Gilman High in Baltimore, Maryland. Scout.com ranked Locksley as the No. 24 quarterback nationally, but No. 2 in the East Region. Texas’ dearth at quarterback may have been an advantage in luring Locksley. He told ESPN that the opportunity to compete at quarterback quickly — Texas has two scholarship quarterbacks in Tyrone Swoopes and Jerron Heard — was part of what compelled him to flip his commitment from Florida State. Yep, that Florida State, the school that recently produced a Heisman Trophy winner in Jameis Winston.
Texas’ official recruiting haul does not include Irving Cistercian quarterback Matthew Merrick, who is grayshirting and will be part of the 2016 recruiting class.
In just one full recruiting cycle Strong has put Texas in better position to protect its home turf and has balanced the recruiting battle with Texas A&M. This class bodes well for Texas’ future. Now comes the hard part — showing progress on the field in 2015 when it’s likely this group of recruits won’t be able to help that much in the near term.