Recruiting services have grown into behemoths, and coaches can dispute whether a player should have been awarded three, four or five stars. Sure, they miss on some athletes, but generally speaking, they get it right.
Texas fans grew accustomed to seeing the Longhorns dominate national signing day during Mack Brown’s heyday and even finish among the national top 10 the last two years under Charlie Strong.
Tom Herman’s first class will go down as the lowest-rated group UT has assembled since the major recruiting sites started team rankings in 2000. Depending on your provider of choice, UT’s 18 signees were slotted anywhere from 26th (247Sports), 28th (Scout), 31st (Rivals) or 32nd (ESPN).
“I don’t frown upon the rankings. I think they’re real,” Herman said. “But I think to have a realistic expectation of a transition class that only signs 19 or 20 guys to be in the top 10, that’s silly.
“Are we going to be there next year? Absolutely we will,” he added. “But man, am I proud of how the staff went about their business of finding these guys that can win a national championship at the University of Texas.”
How much of that was the cumulative effect of Strong’s 16-21 record the last three years? Could it be UT’s seven-year stretch of national irrelevance? The facilities are outdated, but they’re not in shambles. Herman used his press conference to tout the future and that the wheels were already in motion on “a renovation of the entire first floor of this entire (football) building.”
Maybe home-grown athletes just want to skedaddle. Nobody truly runs this state anymore. Thirty-five recruits on the American-Statesman’s Fabulous 55 list are headed out of state.
“We’re Texas. We’ll always be Texas, and we’re going to be back to where it was,” said Herman, perhaps unaware that in some circles, that’s being questioned.
For sure, the Longhorns got some key additions. Westlake quarterback Sam Ehlinger will battle Shane Buechele for the starting job. Junior college linebacker Gary Johnson, originally denied acceptance to Alabama due to the SEC’s academic rules, could be an instant starter. Kicker Joshua Rowland, another junior college transfer, will be put to work immediately.
Herman offered Lake Travis tight end Cade Brewer just two days after facing Westlake on Dec. 2 in the Class 6A, Division I state quarterfinals. The UT coaching staff stood on the sidelines that night and saw what everyone in Lakeway already knew — the state’s eighth-best tight end was exceptional.
Asked if he was offered solely on the strength of an incredible one-handed catch against Westlake, Brewer said Wednesday, “I don’t know. I think that had something to do with it, but I don’t think that was the only reason. They just liked my stature and liked the way I played and my ability.”
Said Herman, “What the rankings don’t do is crack their chest open and look at their heart.”
The ranking services surely can’t get into a recruit’s head, either.
Herman went 1 for 3 on landing key targets who waited until national signing day. Texas reeled in Florida receiver Jordan Pouncey but missed out on prized defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson (LSU) and Westlake offensive tackle Stephan Zabie (UCLA).
“Not going to lie to you, Texas did have the lead,” Chaisson told reporters in Galena Park. “At the end of the day, I just feel more comfortable there at LSU.”
Perhaps to counter Chaisson’s decision, the Longhorns offered a scholarship to Jamari Chisholm, a three-star defensive lineman at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, on Tuesday night. Chisholm was committed to Central Florida but switched in a heartbeat.
Herman said recruiting is all about relationships. He flipped three Houston recruits that were previously committed to the Cougars, including offensive lineman Samuel Cosmi.
Herman said he made clear to UT assistants that “as long as Houston did not have a head coach,” he would approve offers to those players. Cosmi, the 6-6 tackle from Humble Atascocita, announced on Twitter he’d received a UT offer on Jan. 26, almost two months after Major Applewhite was hired at Houston.
Herman said all the historical and analytical data he’s amassed indicates that transitional classes have mixed results. This staff wasn’t going to chase highly-rated players only to fall flat, Herman said.
If anything, it appears Herman’s staff made the tactical decision to focus on specific needs in 2017 and start laying the groundwork for 2018. A slew of offers have already been extended to high school juniors.
“Let’s make one thing very clear. We recruit and sign kids at the University of Texas that we think can play for and win us national championships,” Herman said.
He admitted some players may need some development. Still, “We don’t sign backups at the University of Texas. We don’t sign role players at the University of Texas,” he said.
Make no mistake, a huge swath of the 2017 class will be exactly that this season — backups and role players.
“We sign guys that we know and believe through our evaluation process can help us win championships.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.