Westlake Senior Quarterback, Sam Ehlinger (4) gets his team excited before their game against Lake Travis High School in Lake Travis, Texas on Friday, October 7, 2016 Elizabeth Kreutz for American-Statesman

Brian Davis

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Eyes on Texas: With fewer scholarships to give, Longhorns not under recruiting pressure

After signing 75 players the last three years, Texas not expected to land a typically high number of players in 2017

Posted November 17th, 2016

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Even in this 5-5 season, it doesn’t appear Malcolm Roach would change a thing.

“Who wouldn’t want to play at Texas?,” the freshman linebacker said. “I feel like it’s a great place here, and it’s a great fit for me. I believe I made the right decision.”

Dozens of the state’s top recruits now must be wondering if Texas would be a great fit for them, too.

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The Longhorns have only seven players committed for the 2017 class. That includes Westlake quarterback Sam Ehlinger, a pied piper of sorts among high school seniors.

Players like Ehlinger, who literally grew up flashing the Hook ’em hand signal, will come no matter what. Others are no doubt waiting, watching and possibly hoping that Strong remains at the helm in 2017. No decision is likely to come until after the end of the regular season, a source familiar with UT President Gregory L. Fenves’ thinking told the American-Statesman.

Texas head coach Charlie Strong announces his 2016 recruiting class during a national signing day press conference in the Moncrief Athletics Complex at Royal-Memorial Stadium Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman
Texas head coach Charlie Strong announces his 2016 recruiting class during a national signing day press conference in the Moncrief Athletics Complex at Royal-Memorial Stadium Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman

The head coach seems oddly OK with the current state of recruiting. Sure, Strong would like all five-star studs to join the fold as soon as possible. But he doesn’t approach recruiting in such hard-handed fashion. He never has, really.

When it comes to recruiting, Strong believes that early commitments are nothing more than reservations. You know, like in the way Marriott takes and holds reservations.

Texas, like most hotels, offers their athletes free breakfast, free wi-fi, plenty of meeting space, a workout facility and desks to do homework. But the athletes don’t plunk down a credit card and don’t have to show up on signing day.

“I tell them to take their visits,” Strong said in late October. “Come December and January, we’ll put the hammer down, start getting after them. We’ll go get what we need to go get.”

There aren’t many rooms available, anyway. Texas signed 75 players over the last three years and added four more this past summer when Baylor’s recruiting class fell apart.

This season, the Longhorns have 12 seniors departing, and junior running back D’Onta Foreman likely will too in order to jump into the NFL Draft. Just being realistic. So it’s possible Texas signs anywhere from 15-17 players, and that would still leave the coaching staff some wiggle room.

“It’s going to come down to what our needs are,” Strong said. “We don’t have many scholarships. We have to be smart about who we select.”

No, the pressure to sign a big, program-turning class won’t be as big this time around. That’s not to say the Horns want to miss on anyone. But the offseason narrative and spring football headlines will focus on how the current team improves leading up to next year.

Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert pointed out that 37 of the 44 players on the two-deep roster will return next season.

Texas receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps runs a route during practice on Saturday morning at Frank Denius Fields.
Texas receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps is redshirting this season and will make his debut in 2017.

Also, other players like defensive end Andrew Fitzgerald, receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps and offensive lineman Patrick Hudson will make their debuts as redshirt freshmen next season.

Texas actually gets the benefit of getting a jump on other teams. With no bye week during Big 12 play, the Longhorns will finish the regular season the day after Thanksgiving. It’s critical that Fenves clear up Strong’s status ASAP after the TCU game.

Assuming that Strong stays, his pitch will be the same as always. He’ll appeal to the parents, stress the value of a UT education and highlight his five core values.

“I watched coach Strong a lot when he was at Louisville and Florida,” Roach said. “Coach Strong is always a man I said I wanted to play for. Going back, he reminds me of my father, who was my coach in high school.”

As for what he’s telling recruits who visit UT, Roach said the message is simple.

“Recruiting is where you fit in the best, I would say,” Roach said. “It’s not something you should rush if you don’t want to. Take your time talking with your family, pray on it. Whatever’s the best fit for you, take it. That’s pretty much it.”

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

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