HOUSTON — In-state recruiting hasn’t proven as fruitful for Texas in the 2019 class as it did in 2018, when the Longhorns signed the No. 3 class in the nation and set a record for number of signees from the Fabulous 55. Texas signed the players it wanted in 2018. But Jimbo Fisher’s arrival in College Station has changed the game. Herman and his Longhorns sped past Texas A&M with Kevin Sumlin in charge, and now it’s a dog fight on the recruiting trail between the two programs.
That’s how it should be in a rivalry void of on-field production. The two teams can only face off in recruiting, at least for the foreseeable future.
One of Texas’ wins over A&M is offensive tackle Javonne Shepherd. The four-star from Houston North Forest pledged on July 29, picking Tom Herman over Fisher. The battle isn’t over. The recent commitment of 2020 wide receiver Demond Demas, a close friend and teammate of Shepherd’s, to A&M has the Aggies firmly in the picture.
“Texas A&M was always in the picture. It doesn’t change much, but Demond and I are great friends and of course it’d be great to continue to play with someone I consider a brother,” said Shepherd after North Forest knocked off Booker T. Washington 50-7 on Thursday night. “I’m still solid to Texas. I’m going to take visits and all that, but that was true before Demond picked Texas A&M.”
Shepherd, a 6-6, 346-pound project at offensive tackle, is the No. 26-ranked player on the 2019 Fab 55 and the 22nd-ranked offensive tackle in the entire class. He holds 26 offers from major programs across the nation, though it always felt like it was a two-team race for Shepherd between Texas and Texas A&M. Despite Shepherd’s commitment status and his plans to attend Texas’ game against USC on Saturday, it still feels like a two-team race and a coin flip at best.
“Recruiting is hard. There are people pulling you in different directions,” Shepherd admitted. “For me, it’ll be about where I feel most comfortable.”
Demas is the top wide receiver in Texas for the 2020 class, and he might be the best junior wide receiver in the country. It came as a shock when the Class 4A long jump champion committed to A&M following its loss to Clemson. The atmosphere at Kyle Field and the electricity in the passing game under Fisher won over Demas. That doesn’t mean his recruitment stops. Fifteen months separates the 2020 class and the early signing period.
“I’m still going to talk to coaches and schools. Just because I’m committed doesn’t mean I shouldn’t keep my options open and burn bridges. I know there is a lot of time before I can officially make the decision,” Demas said. He scored four touchdowns in the win over Washington of four touches. He caught three passes and returned one punt. He would’ve ended the game with five touchdowns on five touches, but a first-half touchdown reception was called back for a clip.
The process is simple for Demas: Find a school with a big passing game who shows him love. The self-described attention hound has 46 offers and listed his top five, in order, as Texas A&M, Ohio State, Texas, Alabama and Clemson. The Aggies and Buckeyes are showing more explosiveness in the passing game and that’s pushed the Longhorns down his list.
“There is room for improvement in Texas’ passing game. They’re not throwing the ball around like Texas A&M and Ohio State,” Demas said. “We’ll see if that changes.”
Texas’ lone commitment in the 2020 class is Lake Travis quarterback Hudson Card.