Midway's Tanner Mordecai scrambles away from Lake Travis' Jayden Hutchings (13), Mateo Lopez (11) and Patrick Medina (9).Photo by Jay Plotkin

Football

The Dotted Line: Taking over Houston is one thing, but Texas has to win DFW too

Texas is getting good post-junior days reviews from recruits; Herman is right to focus on Houston, but will need DFW in 2019

Posted March 3rd, 2017

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Story highlights
  • Twenty-one players on the Statesman's Fabulous 55 are from DFW
  • Texas could chase two quarterbacks for 2018 class
  • Tom Herman will need to work harder to regain UT’s footing in Dallas

Wide receiver is a need position for Texas, and the Longhorns have already offered eight prospects in the 2018 cycle.

One receiver who doesn’t hold a Texas offer but is seeing his stock soar this spring is Schertz Clemens’ 6-4 speedster Tommy Bush, a four-star prospect who ranks 55th on the American-Statesman’s Fabulous 55. He was in Austin last weekend for UT’s junior day.

“It was fantastic,” Bush said. “My family and I really enjoyed the players and the coaches. The atmosphere here is great and it is only 45 minutes from my house. All junior days are great because these are all good colleges and they’re putting their best foot forward, but something feels different around Texas.”

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Bush went from a relatively unknown recruit to a prospect holding 33 offers from schools like Alabama, Florida State and Notre Dame. He’s trying to stay grounded and hopes to get an offer from Texas soon.

“My parents keep me grounded and tell me to keep working in school and in football,” he said. “You can’t get too cocky or too low as a player or a person.”

Bush said he doesn’t have a specific timetable for his decision, but that he’d like to make it before his senior season.

Another receiver to keep on the radar is Silsbee’s Kalon Barnes, a three-star prospect with 11 offers, including one from Texas A&M. The 5-11 slot receiver might not be a big priority if Texas can hold on to the commitment of Justin Watkins, the four-star slot receiver who UT flipped from Florida State last weekend. Still, Barnes said he enjoyed his visit to Austin and that the Longhorns would shoot up his list if he receives an offer.

“My speed is my best attribute. I try to be the fastest player on the field at all times,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure when I’ll make it back to Texas, but I’ll be visiting here again in the spring.”

The quarterback position fosters attention, even in recruiting. Texas’ top target right now is Oklahoma’s Casey Thompson. The four-star from Southmoore High School is trending toward Texas and is the No. 140-ranked overall prospect in the nation and the No. 5 ranked dual-threat quarterback.

“The coaching staff and the campus are great. It was a great junior day and I can’t wait to visit again,” Thompson said. “Texas is right at the top of my list and I won’t be waiting until national signing day to make my decision or anything like that. I was real impressed with Texas, but that was true before the visit.”

If Texas misses on Thompson, or if Tom Herman decides to chase two quarterbacks for the 2018 class, a name to watch is Waco Midway’s Tanner Mordecai. The 6-2 dual-threat quarterback received an offer from Houston when Herman was in charge and picked up an offer from Baylor on Dec. 30.

“All of the coaches are really serious about their job. These guys have won everywhere they’ve been and they want to bring that back to Texas,” Mordecai said. “I talked to Major Applewhite the most while this staff was at Houston and he’s still there, so it is a little bit different for me. Coach Tim Beck is a totally different guy, so it is different. I think I fit in the offense he wants to run.”

“I want to be a better leader for my guys, stay healthy and go further in the playoffs,” Mordecai said. “I’m a competitive guy who wants to win. I’m in no hurry to make my decision. I want to gather as much information as possible in the offseason and make my decision when it feels right.”

The offensive line is another position Texas must address. Only two in-state tackles hold offers from Texas. One of those is Allen’s Trey Stratford, who might move to guard in college. That leaves Frisco Wakeland’s Rafiti Ghirmai as the only outright tackle prospect from Texas to hold an UT offer. He visited Austin over the weekend.

“I really liked the junior day,” Ghirmai said. “They treated me like family and it didn’t feel like my first time to visit the campus. It felt like I’ve known the players and coaches for a long time. I have Texas high on my list because of my relationship with coach (Derek) Warehime. He’s taken the time to get to know me and we continue to know each other better.”

Ghirmai is a three-star prospect, but expect him to rise in the rankings after recent offers from programs like Oregon and Alabama. At 6-5 and 290, he possesses the length and size to handle college defensive ends. He’s a right tackle prospect with a chance to play left tackle after more development as a pass blocker.

“So far, no schools have pressured me to commit yet, but I wouldn’t want a school to push me like that. All of that pressure wouldn’t work on me,” he said. “I want to decide in November after taking all of my officials. I want to enjoy the process and get to know the schools.”

Ghirmai ranks as the No. 27 overall offensive tackle prospect in the nation. He understands his strengths and is aware that he’ll need to improve in certain areas before playing college football.

“My hands and hips are the best, but I need to work on my feet,” he said. “All of the great offensive tackles have great feet and can move around to match up with a defensive end. I watch tape of the greats and try to emulate those games. I watch the linemen and see what they do and how they adjust to different places.”

He listed Texas among his group of favorites along with Florida, UCLA and TCU.

One of the top pass rushers in the state was at Texas’ junior day, but the Longhorns have a steep hill to climb to gain Joseph Ossai’s signature. The Oak Ridge defensive end told media after junior day that Texas A&M is still his dream school. That doesn’t mean Texas didn’t help its cause over the weekend, though.

“I’m really looking at academics, and how successful the players who played my position before me have been after college,” said Ossai, who wants to major in robotics engineering and minor in computer science. “Texas would use me as an edge blocker so I can blitz, play in coverage and move me around the defense as a hybrid guy. I work to be good at everything, so it is exciting to see myself in a defense that would use me all over the field.”

The 6-4, 217-pound three-star prospect was impressed with Texas’ new staff.

“They’re genuine guys. When they talk to you, they’re telling you the truth,” he said. “They’re not just telling you what you want to hear as recruiters. Based on their track record, you can trust them and good results will follow.”

The collection of talent in Austin wasn’t lost on the prospects. The Longhorns hosted nearly half of the Fab 55 last weekend.

“It was amazing to be included with these groups of players,” Ossai said. “I was walking around and saw Anthony Cook and Keondre Coburn and guys like that. I saw them at The Opening and was impressed, so it was great to feel like I’m there with them.”

Ossai said he’ll release a top 10 list in the summer, then narrow it down and take his visits.

“A&M is my dream school, but I’ve gotten advice to take it all in with a level head and give every school a chance to recruit,” he said. “I want to see how I feel around the programs, how I fit into the program and go from there.”

Dallas is a forgotten battleground

The DFW demise of 2018 is overstated. Houston holds the crown for best talent in this year’s class, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t top prospects from Dallas-Fort Worth. Twenty-one players on the Fabulous 55 are from DFW and Texas has only offered six. Texas’ approach, at least early in Tom Herman’s tenure, is clear: Recruit Houston heavily and cherry-pick talents from DFW and other areas.

It makes sense. Herman and his staff built relationships in Houston for a couple of years before moving to Austin. Those relationships should be mined in recruiting, especially when 12 of the top 15 players in the state call the Houston area home.

Newly appointed University of Texas head coach Tom Herman during a Class 6A, Division I state quarterfinal at Reeves Athletic Complex, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Still, Dallas remains an important battleground for UT, and the past suggests the 2018 class is an anomaly for DFW recruiting. Don’t expect another year with only one top 10 player. Four of the top 10 prospects for the 2019 class are from Dallas, either from Bishop Dunne and Allen. And now Texas has a chance in 2018 to build a bridge to 2019.

Texas has an offer out to Stratford and Bishop Dunne defensive tackle Calvin Avery, and both 2018 prospects are high on the Longhorns. Landing one, or both, would likely help Texas recruit that next batch of talent from both schools.

The Longhorns need pipelines. The state is home to the best prep schools in the country and Herman’s eventual success on the field will be determined by his success as a top-notch recruiter. At Houston, he could take over the city and win. At Texas, he’ll need more than the city of Houston. He’ll need DFW. He’ll need East Texas.

It’ll take the whole state for Texas to return to the national stage. In 2018, the Longhorns can afford to spend most of their efforts locking down talents from Houston. But one city, even one that produces as much NFL talent as Houston, can’t sustain a program. Miami found that out in the 1990s.

The Longhorns need Dallas, and the six players from the area — Avery, Stratford, Alston Orji, Bobby Brown, Atanza Vongor and Jarell Cherry — represent an important hurdle for Herman’s staff. It’s assumed talent from Houston would follow Herman to Austin. He’ll need to work harder to regain UT’s footing in Dallas.

A win over Oklahoma this fall would go a long way. A few commitments from blue chip prospects at DFW schools known for producing talent every year would go further.

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