Christmas arrived early for Texas when 20 of the Longhorns’ 21 commitments signed national letters of intent on Wednesday. Houston North Forest offensive tackle Javonne Shepherd was the only pledge not to sign. Last year, 19 of the 21 players committed at the time of the early period signed early.
The 2019 class is headlined by a pair of in-state talents and a pair of out-of-state stars. Cuero wide receiver Jordan Whittington plays for a state title on Friday, but made time to send in his letter of intent to the Longhorns after committing back in March. He’s the No. 6 player on the 2019 Fabulous 55 and the only remaining Texas pledge in the state playoffs.
Four-star offensive tackle Tyler Johnson of Conroe Oak Ridge is the No. 5-ranked player on the Fab 55 and the seventh-best tackle prospect in the nation, per the 247Sports composite. He’s the top-rated offensive lineman to sign with Tom Herman since he took the job in Austin. Johnson is a former high school teammate of current outside linebacker Joseph Ossai.
Inside linebacker De’Gabriel Floyd and wide receiver Jake Smith headline the out-of-state commits. Smith was the Gatorade national player of the year after accumulating more than 2,000 yards of total offense and leading his Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep program to consecutive Arizona Class 5A state title appearances.
Floyd transitioned from safety to inside linebacker as his framed filled out during high school. He was the vocal leader of the Texas class and one of its best recruiters. He’ll enroll early and compete for one of the vacated spots left by the departures of Gary Johnson and Anthony Wheeler.
Texas isn’t settled with 21 commitments. The first day of the early period passing doesn’t mean the 2019 cycle slows down. There’s still lots of work remaining for the Texas staff, and plenty of questions to answer before moving full-ahead to the 2020 class:
What’s up with the offensive line?
Shepherd remains a mystery and anyone not inside of his circle claiming to know where the four-star will end up is lying or guessing. His failure to sign on the dotted line means the Longhorns snagged just one offensive lineman in the 2019 cycle to date, albeit a potentially great one in Johnson. Offensive line coach Herb Hand did a masterful job on the field. Now, it’s time to get that next group in to coach.
Even if Shepherd signs and makes it to campus this summer, two linemen isn’t enough for Texas. The Longhorns need bodies. The coaching staff hosted Andrew Coker last weekend, but couldn’t convince the Katy Taylor product to flip. He signed with TCU.
Texas also hosted four-star tackle Isaiah Hookfin on the final weekend before the early signing period. The Longhorns felt good going into the visit, but Baylor emerged as the favorite heading into Wednesday. Hookfin postponed his decision yesterday and that should give hope to Texas whether he elects to sign before Friday afternoon or waits until February.
Signing will occur on a later date. https://t.co/9ckN80jYpn
— Hook (@IsaiahHookfin) December 19, 2018
The JUCO route and the grad transfer market are also completely in play if Hand and company don’t feel satisfied with the group of players signed this cycle.
Most of the 2019 class signed with their respective schools on Wednesday. That’s the new trend and it won’t stop. The kids tend to want the process over with by the end of their high school careers and college coaches don’t mind locking up players six weeks early. That’s more time to focus on a handful of targets and shift some time toward the next batch of targets.
Mansfield Legacy safety Jalen Catalon is one of those handful of top targets who elected not to sign during the early period. He likened it to taking a test.
“Why not use all the time needed to study?” he asked.
Texas is among his top schools and the undersized two-sport star was always a priority for the Longhorns. Arkansas is the main threat to Texas closing out its secondary class with a bang. Catalon is set to announce on Jan. 19.
Running back woes
The Longhorns desperately need to rebuild the running backs room. It could be argued that it’s the only position group that isn’t better off now than it was when Herman took over the job. The way to fix that is by recruiting and the Longhorns failed to land one of the IMG Academy (Fla.) duo that it spent a ton of time recruiting. Noah Cain chose Penn State. Trey Sanders chose Alabama.
Texas did sign four-star Derrian Brown and he’s a great prospect who probably doesn’t get the headlines he deserves. As it stands, he and Keaontay Ingram will enter the 2019 season as the two best backs on the roster with Daniel Young helping in short yardage situations.
Herman solved a similar problem before the 2018 season by finding grad transfer Tre Watson from Cal. Don’t be shocked if a similar move is made prior to the opening kickoff of 2019.