Michigan receiver Tarik Black celebrates a first down against Michigan State during the second half at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. (Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press)

Brian Davis

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Eyes on Texas: Retaining players, cherry-picking grad transfers is now Roster Management 101

Texas coach Tom Herman convincing players to stay while going after veterans who can fill specific needs

Posted September 3rd, 2020

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Let’s start today with the cold, unvarnished truth for all the recruits, no matter the sport.

What exactly is recruiting all about? Coaches are paid to find someone better than you.

If you’re ranked No. 1 on the American-Statesman’s Fabulous 55, congratulations! We’ll make a big to-do about it. We’ll shower you in glory! Um, but next year, your coach — the same guy who hugged you, sat in your living room and ate your mother’s cooking — will be out there actively looking for your replacement.

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On the college level, this is how roster management worked for decades. You recruited good players, coached ’em up, figured out who was good and then replaced the mediocre ones with younger (hopefully better) players.

Now, with the advent of the NCAA transfer portal, roster management has a different look and feel. Anyone who puts their name in the portal is fair game to be contacted by a rival school. Someone at Texas is responsible for looking at the list every day, or they should be, anyway. And frankly, that list should be made public.

Roster management has become one of Texas coach Tom Herman’s strengths in three-plus years in Austin. He fights to keep good players from leaving via the portal while actively picking up graduate transfers to fill specific needs.

Texas quarterback Casey Thompson, along with fellow freshman quarterback Cameron Rising, went into the NCAA transfer portal right before the Sugar Bowl game vs. Georgia in 2018. But he ended up staying with the Longhorns. Rising now is at Utah. (Stephen Spillman/For Statesman)

Flash back to 2018. Heading into the Sugar Bowl, both of Texas’ backup quarterbacks put their name in the portal. Herman allowed Casey Thompson and Cam Rising to both stay with the team in New Orleans and participate in team functions. Thompson ended up staying while Rising left for Utah. Now, Thompson is No. 2 on the depth chart while Herman went out and signed Lake Travis’ Hudson Card and Duncanville’s Ja’Quinden Jackson.

Texas’ quarterback depth, a point of derision under Charlie Strong, now looks quite impressive.

This past offseason, offensive lineman Denzel Okafor, cornerback Anthony Cook and defensive lineman Myron Warren all put their names in the portal. Some time passed, they opted to stay and all are expected to contribute in some capacity this season. UT typically does not comment on why players put their names in or take them out.

Tarik Black battled injuries for most of his years at Michigan. He is now at Texas, joining the Longhorns for one season as a graduate transfer. (Tim Fuller/USA Today)

The Horns have lost only one true difference-maker via the portal. High school All-American Bru McCoy signed with and enrolled at USC, transferred to Texas and enrolled in Austin, and then abruptly went back to Los Angeles. That was a case of someone who was homesick. It wasn’t because of anything Texas did or didn’t do.

The grad transfer market is where Herman and his staff are taking roster management to a new level. It’s the closest thing the NCAA has to true free agency.

The NCAA relaxed its rules on grad transfers in April. Anyone who completes a bachelor’s degree and still has athletic eligibility remaining can transfer without sitting out a year. But there was a catch. The athlete must be accepted into a graduate program at his new school, as if the athlete was going to pursue a Master’s degree. For a lot of athletes, that was a non-starter at Texas.

Now, the NCAA allows for athletes to pursue a second bachelor’s degree at their new school. All that means is an athlete simply has to be accepted as a regular student. That’s easier to do at UT, as it is almost everywhere else, especially when the prospective transfer already has a degree from another four-year college.

So Herman picked up Michigan receiver Tarik Black to bolster a thin receiving corps. Black had 40 career receptions with the Wolverines from 2017-19 as injuries slowed his time there. He’ll be the first UT player to wear jersey No. 0.

“When it comes to watching the video, studying his playbook, as well as taking care of his body, that’s a guy you just really don’t have to remind him to do any of those things because of his maturity level,” Herman said.

The Longhorns also were expected to sign Arizona transfer Brenden Schooler, who had 43 receptions and four career touchdowns. He first played at Oregon, then transferred to Arizona. Now that the Pac-12 has canceled its season, Schooler is expected to sign with UT, although the school has not made it official just yet.

Maybe Texas pursued Schooler as a way to get his brother, grad transfer Colin Schooler, a terrific linebacker with nine career sacks for Arizona. Colin Schooler ended up choosing Texas Tech.

Herman is also expected to add Sioux Falls running back Gabriel Watson, who led all Division II rushers in 2018. Watson is another player that UT has yet to formally announce but those inside the building expect it to happen.

Black, Schooler and Watson would all be one-year additions, same as offensive tackle Calvin Anderson (Rice) and running back Tre Watson (Cal) were. Every grad transfer Herman has signed thus far has helped the Longhorns immediately.

Make no mistake, Herman takes great pride in offering some of the lowest scholarship totals in the Big 12 each year. He credits the staff’s diligence and homework. Texas doesn’t want to throw out huge fishing nets and see who bites. It wants to make calculated offers; some hit, some won’t.

This is what college football roster management looks like in 2020. You sign good players, keep them, coach ’em up and plug the holes where needed when you can with graduate transfers.

It’s not the NFL waiver wire, but it’s close enough.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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