HOUSTON — The final bow on the 2017 recruiting cycle was placed last week, which means it’s time to concentrate on the 2018 class.
Texas aims to regain footing with the state’s top prospects after not signing a single top-10 player in Texas for the first time since 1989, the year of our first Fabulous 55 list of the state’s top recruits. The good news for Texas is that the 2018 class is loaded with talent at positions of need.
Nearly 20 Texas targets in this cycle attended The Opening in Houston on Feb. 4. It was the first camp of the spring/summer circuit, and I caught up with five of the top 10 Fab 55 members who held Texas offers.
The first player I spoke to was Houston Lamar’s Anthony Cook, a five-star cornerback and the No. 1-rated player on the Fab 55. The 6-1, 168-pound corner lived up to the billing and earned an invitation to The Opening Final in Oregon this summer.
“It is extremely important for me to come out to these types of camps and prove to everyone why I’m No. 1 in the state,” Cook said. “It’s about being competitive, and that’s what we live for. Once the one-on-one starts, it’s all a competition. It’s a friendly competition, but we still want to get the best of the other top players.”
With 2017 in the books, players like Cook become priority No. 1 for coaching staffs across the nation.
“Recruiting is changing after national signing day,” he said. “Coaches have been contacting me even more and telling me how much they want me at their program. The shift has definitely changed to (2018).”
Tom Herman and his staff recruited Cook at Houston and that didn’t stop when he took the job at Texas.
“I really like coach Tom Herman. Texas will always be in my top (schools),” Cook said. “I don’t have any favorites, but I’ve always said Texas will be in that group.”
The state’s No. 2-rated player, Angleton safety BJ Foster, was there but didn’t participate in drills because of an MCL injury he suffered this past season. Max Wright, the Katy Taylor defensive end who’s No. 3 on the Fab 55, did participate. He dispelled a rumor that he was committing to Texas A&M and maintained that he’s still open in the recruitment process. Camps without pads aren’t necessarily built for linemen on either side of the ball, but Wright showed the pass rushing skills that make him a four-star prospect.
“These camps let you show if you’re versatile as a defensive lineman,” Wright said. “That is what I pride myself on as a player, so I enjoy these camps, but they can be frustrating because we can’t do everything. The thing you can do is compete.”
The competition is important to most of these players. They all watch the recruiting services and know which players are ranked the highest. The amount of camps also allows prospects to build relationships and enjoy football. The experience isn’t lost on Wright.
“It’s fun building the camaraderie; I get to see a different side of the players you play against all the time and see on social media,” Wright said. “A lot of us are different than how we play on the football field, and it’s nice getting to see the personalities come through.”
Most fans hear Katy and think of the Katy Tigers. Wright is aware that schools like his are overlooked because of the dominance of Katy High over the past decade. He’s hoping to help change that perception.
“It means a lot to me to help the rest of us get the respect that Katy gets,” he said. “It’s becoming more of a battle. We want to let them know that we’re here, too. The talent is spreading around and it is very serious for the players around here that don’t go to Katy.”
Wright describes himself as an edge rusher. He’s adding size but keeping his speed. Standing 6-4, 260, he could have a future as a three-technique defensive tackle.
“I am starting to narrow my choices down a bit,” he said. “Texas A&M is one of those top schools. Texas, Ohio State, Georgia and Alabama are also in there.”
Ohio State had a banner year in Texas for the 2017 class. I wanted Wright’s thoughts on the Buckeyes and their secret to success.
“I think it’s the winning. Texas is a very competitive state and Ohio State wins a lot, and the way they win is fun to watch. They want to win very badly and you can tell that in the way they coach and play,” Wright explained. “Coach (Urban) Meyer makes winning look fun.”
And his thoughts on how Herman runs a program?
“They run it right,” Wright said. “It’s a good time (to be a Longhorn fan).”
One of the few committed prospects at the event was tight end Malcolm Epps. The 6-6 prospect was an Alabama commitment — or so we thought, anyway. Epps announced in my interview with him that he’s opening his recruitment, though he did mention that Alabama was still his No. 1 school. He simply wants to make sure his decision is correct.
“I want to make sure I’m getting the full recruiting experience,” the No. 6 player on the Fab 55 said. “This is a big decision and nothing should feel rushed or too soon. Alabama is still my top choice right now, but I want to look at some other places.”
Epps, a four-star prospect from Spring Dekaney, is a versatile player. He’s a wiry 6-6 and says he’ll need to add strength to help as a run blocker. As the camp went on, he became one of the more dominant prospects. His frame makes his catch radius higher than everyone else on the field, and he used his body to make catches even when he wasn’t open.
He listed Ohio State, Michigan and Rice as other schools he was looking at, but Texas has offered.
The big news out of the state this week was Joshua Moore’s decision to leave Yoakum High School for IMG Academy. It was an opportunity he said he couldn’t pass up because of the opportunities IMG provides on and off the field. Moore was the No. 7-ranked player on the Fab 55 before announcing his move. His twin brother, Jordan, is staying at Yoakum and is committed to Texas A&M. They were both at The Opening.
“Things like The Opening gives us a chance to prove our talent against all these top prospects. It’s a lot of fun, man.” Josh said. “It’s a bunch of three-, four-, five-star guys out here and it gives you a chance to know where you stand against the best of the best.”
The Moore twins helped Yoakum reach the Class 3A Division I championship game. Josh knows he’s living important memories behind.
“It is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” he said. “Yoakum hadn’t been to a state championship since 1952, so to be a part of that and contribute to that was something I’ll never forget and I’ll always take pride in. It’s time for a new chapter.”
The four-star product played offense and defense in high school. Josh sees himself as an outside wide receiver in college and isn’t a lock to follow his twin brother to Texas A&M.
“His decision doesn’t affect my decision at all,” he said. “Going through this recruiting process, I have to make the best decision for me. Wherever I go, I want to fill comfortable and I want to contribute the best I can. That’s the important thing to me. He’ll be behind me whatever I decide.”
He also has a family connection at Texas: Longhorns assistant coach Oscar Giles is Moore’s cousin.
“I love the Texas staff,” Josh said. “Coach Herman is like a father to me when he was at Houston and he’s transferred that over to Texas once he arrived. The relationships I have at Texas are incredible.”
Cook wasn’t the only cornerback to earn an invitation to The Opening Final. Houston Heights cornerback Jalen Green was impressive all afternoon and made a case as the top cornerback in the 2018 class. He holds a Texas offer, and while he’ll be out of town for Texas’ first junior day on Feb. 25, he plans on visiting UT sometime this spring.
“My goal is to always compete,” Green said. “This event is in Houston, so of course the guys from Houston want to show out. Recruiting is picking up hard. All sorts of coaches have been calling me the past few weeks, telling me to come to junior days so I can see how their programs run.”
Green, ranked No. 9 on the Fab 55, is a rangy 6-1 corner with plenty of speed.
“I’m an aggressive, physical corner,” Green said. “I might narrow my list in the summertime. Coach (Jason) Washington was a good contact for me while he was at Houston and he contacted me while at Texas. I’m looking at them a lot.”