Recruiting trends are worth noting. The 2018 cycle is still eight months away from national signing day, but Texas sits in a precarious position entering the spring evaluation period.
The Longhorns have only one commitment for 2018 — Justin Watkins, a four-star wide receiver from Ocala, Fla. who should play slot receiver and help out in the return game. Not a single in-state player has pledged to Texas yet. Oklahoma has six commitments, including one Texan. Oklahoma State has four pledges, including three Texans. Baylor has five commitments, TCU four, Texas Tech three.
Recruiting is a marathon, not a sprint. But it’s important to stay within pace. Mack Brown was known for securing half his classes by the end of the school year. Charlie Strong signed top-10 classes by concentrating on the final months before signing day. Tom Herman is still searching for his niche.
Fans were left somewhat disappointed on signing day in February, Herman’s first UT class. The Longhorns, whose class ranked 26th nationally, limped to the finish line, missing on high-priority in-state targets like K’Lavon Chaisson (LSU) and Stephan Zabie (UCLA). Texas got only one player off the American-Statesman’s 2017 Fabulous 55 after Herman took the job in late November. That was running back Toneil Carter, who was planning to attend Georgia until he was told the Bulldogs no longer had a scholarship for him.
In all, Texas signed six members off the Fab 55. Five of them were already committed to Strong, and to Herman’s credit he was able to hold on to each one after the coaching change. Herman and his new staff had only two months on the job to close the 2017 class. So a mulligan was understandable. Still, it was unusual for a coach with the buzz that Herman had to not convert blue-chip recruits late in the cycle.
This will all be a moot point if Texas wins on the field this fall. That’s how football works. Everything is a big deal until the scoreboard reads correctly, as victories in September, October and November will result in signatures next February. Texas is still Texas, and Herman is an engaging recruiter with a strong staff. Still, fans wouldn’t be wrong for feeling some anxiety over the Longhorns’ current state of recruiting.
The state of Texas is under attack. Anthony Hines, a linebacker from Plano East, and Jack Anderson, an offensive lineman out of Frisco, were the only top-10 members of the 2017 Fab 55 to sign with in-state schools; Hines picked Texas A&M and Anderson chose Texas Tech. And the rest of the top 13 prospects went out-of-state with Lagaryonn Carson, ranked ninth on last year’s list, headed toward junior college.
Oklahoma signed more top 20 state recruits than Texas did. Ohio State signed three of the top four overall players on the list, and those other two that didn’t pick the Buckeyes signed with Florida State and Stanford. Not good. It’s now Herman’s job to build a figurative wall around the most fertile state in high school football.
The early returns for 2018 are pointing the same direction as 2017. Seventeen of this year’s Fab 55 are committed, but nine of those are for out-of-state schools. Texas is the only Power 5 school in the state without a single pledge from an in-state player. A&M holds four Fab 55 commitments. LSU has three, Penn State two. Seven of those 17 Fab 55 pledges are committed to SEC schools; the Big 12 has five.
This is an unfortunate cycle for Herman. The class inside the state is down compared to most years. The depth of talent, and even the talent at the top of the class, isn’t what it was in 2017. However, the blue-chip talent that does exist resides in Houston. That should be good news for Herman, his staff and the Longhorns.
The only top-10 player in the state currently committed is Cibolo Steele safety Caden Sterns, who’s pledged to LSU. The rest of the state’s top six players are all Houston-area recruits — Houston Lamar cornerback Anthony Cook, Angleton safety BJ Foster, Katy Taylor defensive end Max Wright, Manvel wide receiver Jalen Preston and Spring Dekaney tight end Malcolm Epps. Herman created a head-coaching brand by taking over Houston. He’d be wise to repeat the trick.
It’s early. The homestretch is nowhere in sight. From talking to recruits at junior day and in camp settings, Texas is trending upward around the state. The Longhorns are serious players for nearly half of the top 20 prospects on the Fab 55. Nothing is lost. It’s probably not fair to judge recruiting before the staff coaches a single snap.
But this is Texas. Fair rarely plays into the equation. The spotlight never goes away, and the anxiety will linger until the Longhorns start landing the best players in the state again.