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Lone Star sweep: Longhorns gathering in-state talent in what Tom Herman hopes is ‘the new normal’

Posted December 20th, 2017

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Texas coach Tom Herman couldn’t believe his eyes last February when 19 of the state’s 25 best recruits headed elsewhere. It wasn’t like they landed at Texas A&M or Texas Tech. They left the state altogether.

“I felt like this was bizarro world last year,” Herman said Wednesday.

Given a year-long head start, Herman’s 2018 recruiting class features some of the best Texans out there. The Longhorns secured eight of the state’s top-12 players, including the entire top five as judged by 247Sports’ composite recruiting rankings.

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The early signing period produced a stunning haul and gave an adrenaline boost for everyone inside the football building. The national team rankings may change when more players sign on Feb. 7, the traditional signing date, but for now, the Horns have the nation’s third-best class for 2018 behind Ohio State and Georgia.

“This needs to be the new normal,” Herman said. “I’m committed to making sure that it is.”

Mike Craven
Houston Lamar defensive back Anthony Cook announced on Wednesday he was committing to Texas. Mike Craven/American-Statesman

The Longhorns announced 16 signees on Wednesday but could max out at 31, Herman said. He anticipates nine will be mid-term enrollees, giving those players a chance to go through spring drills.

Herman cited the relationships he and the staff have cultivated over the past year as a key reason for Wednesday’s success. The coach also went out of his way to thank the current Longhorns. Typically, recruits are swayed by what current players really think.

If recruits have any serious hesitation about Texas’ direction under Herman, especially after a 6-6 regular season, it didn’t show on signing day.

“These are some grown dudes, man,” Herman said. “(Receiver) Brennan Eagles, when you talk to him, you think you’re talking to a 30-year-old businessman, not some 17-year-old high school kid. You just don’t.”

One critical piece is Houston Lamar cornerback Anthony Cook, who announced his commitment to UT on Wednesday during an afternoon ceremony. He’s considered the fifth-best cornerback in the nation and fourth-best overall player in Texas.

“It’s something cooking at Austin,” Cook told reporters in Houston. “A lot of Houston guys are realizing that.” Later, Cook said flat-out, “This class is a monster.”

This group of defensive backs is easily one of the best Texas has gathered in years. Cook, fellow cornerback Jalen Green and safeties BJ Foster and Caden Sterns could be a collective foursome UT fans can follow for years to come.

It’s similar to 2015 when then-coach Charlie Strong signed DeShon Elliott, Kris Boyd, Holton Hill and P.J. Locke III. However, this group appears to have more juice, if recruiting rankings are to be trusted. Asked who needs to come in and pay instant dividends, Herman said, “Just all the DBs, probably.”

This spring, the two new quarterbacks will get plenty of attention. Cameron Rising hails from Newbury Park, Calif., and Casey Thompson is the son of former Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson. Both will enroll in January, making it a wide-open competition with Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger for the starting spot.

It’s still unclear whether Buechele or Ehlinger will start against Missouri (7-5) in the Texas Bowl. It’s practically a lifetime before the 2018 season opener against Maryland at FedEx Field.

“As long as we have quarterbacks, they will all compete,” Herman said.

Texas signed three offensive linemen, but Junior Angilau from Salt Lake City is expected to take a two-year mission trip first. Herman said Rafiti Ghirmai might be closer to being game-ready than Reese Moore.

The Horns are likely to scour the junior college market for more offensive linemen to sign in February.

The biggest surprise came on special teams. The Longhorns have long coveted Lake Travis’ Cameron Dicker, the nation’s No. 1-ranked kicker. But the Horns also signed punter Ryan Bujcevski (pronounced boo-CHEV-ski) from Sydney, Australia.

Bujcevski is the cousin of Ray Guy Award winner Michael Dickson, a Longhorn who may go pro. Both came from ProKick, an Australian-based outfit that specializes in getting specialists to the United States.

It was also noteworthy who didn’t sign. The Longhorns have commitments from Carthage running back Keaontay Ingram and Spring Westfield defensive tackle Keondre Coburn, but neither signed with any school on Wednesday. Neither did Ayodele Adeoye, a linebacker from IMG Academy in Florida.

“This decision is the next chapter in my life need to make sure I’m making the right one still committed just not a 100% please respect my decision,” Coburn tweeted.

Herman must now circle back to see whether those players are still committed or whether the Longhorns should move on.

“If you’re worried about depth charts, guaranteed playing time, how many guys are ahead of me, how many pairs of shoes do I get and all that stuff, we’re good, man. We’re good. You can go some place else,” Herman said.

“We want guys that want to come in and compete because they know that good teams are made from competition and toughness.”

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

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