Texas head coach Tom Herman takes the field before a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

Football

With 2019 recruiting class already signed, little for Texas to do on national signing day

Longhorns may add one offensive lineman to the nation's No. 3-ranked class for 2019, but that's it

Posted February 5th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • Thanks to the accelerated recruiting calendar, national signing day in February is likely to be a ho-hum affair.
  • By rearranging the recruiting calendar, more schools are hosting official visits in the spring.
  • “(Fans) had their fun reading about Jake Smith or Bru McCoy, but the overall feeling is who’s next?”

National signing day is normally trumpeted all over the college landscape as a can’t-miss day of unbridled optimism.

For college football coaches, it’s Christmas in February. For athletes, that long, grueling recruiting process that most come to loathe finally ends. Parents are just relieved that someone else will pay their child’s tuition.

This Wednesday, Texas fans can mostly go about their normal day. Forget about fax machines and three-hat monte. No need to do anything until coach Tom Herman’s press conference at 2 p.m.

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Thanks to the accelerated recruiting calendar, national signing day in February is likely to become a ho-hum affair. If anything, it’s anti-climatic.

Five-star athlete Bru McCoy is officially a Longhorn after transferring from USC. (Mike Craven/American-Statesman)

Every member of the American-Statesman’s Fabulous 55 recruiting list either already signed a national letter of intent in December or is committed. In fact, 29 of the state’s top 30 recruits on that list have already signed.

“This is different for us in the industry,” Horns247 recruiting analyst Jeff Howe said. “You look across the country, there’s just not a lot that’s going to happen. Even for the coaches, too. The accelerated schedule has coaches saying, ‘OK, let’s get this 2019 cycle done.’ And Herman was already looking at 2020 and beyond.”

The Longhorns signed 22 athletes in December. Nine enrolled early. They added a 10th when five-star sensation Bru McCoy signed and then transferred from USC to Texas and started classes in Austin.

McCoy’s eligibility for the fall is still undetermined. His decision to enter the NCAA transfer database just days into his first semester at USC is a high-profile case that will be watched nationally. To get a transfer waiver, McCoy could argue that once then-offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury left USC to become an NFL head coach, the athlete was misled during the recruiting process.

One UT source said the university is purposely keeping quiet about McCoy so the NCAA won’t feel compelled to rule against the athlete. No final decision is expected any time soon.

Meanwhile, another 13 future Longhorns, like the Gatorade national player of the year Jake Smith, are scheduled to arrive this summer.

The only suspense is whether four-star offensive tackle Javonne Shepherd, who committed to UT last July but chose not to sign in December, actually signs on Wednesday. Social media exploded when he looked into a camera phone this month and said “(expletive) A&M.”

North Forest offensive tackle Javonne Shepherd at The Opening Final in Frisco on July 2. (Mike Craven)

Otherwise, that’s it. Herman should finish with the nation’s third-best signing class — a ranking that was boosted six spots by McCoy’s addition — and most likely 24 new players total.

“Fourteen of these kids were committed before Texas even played a game in 2018,” American-Statesman recruiting analyst Mike Craven said. “Texas will get the 10-win Georgia bump in 2020 because most of the 2019 class is done and dusted before any of that happened.”

So how did college football’s most exciting day become so dull?

The NCAA changed its rules two years ago that created an early signing period in December. The theory was it was player-friendly as those who already made up their minds could sign and be done with it. Coaches liked it, too. It lowered their stress levels.

In December 2017, Texas signed 19 players as part of the 2018 class. Then the Horns added eight more in February for a class that ranked third nationally behind only Georgia and Ohio State. It was Texas’ highest-rated class since 2012, when the Longhorns’ class that was topped by Aledo running back Johnathan Gray and Brenham defensive tackle Malcom Brown ranked No. 2.

Last December, Herman pushed to get everyone’s signature on a national letter of intent before Christmas. And he nearly did.

“I think when the rule was passed, I don’t think anybody foresaw this large of a percentage of the elite players in the country signing now,” Herman said at his December signing day press conference.

According to the NCAA, 90 percent of FBS-level recruits the first year signed in December 2017.

“So basically all it’s done is push our calendar to this is the signing day, basically,” Herman said. “It’s pushed our calendar back into the spring and the summer. It is what it is.”

Texas signee Jordan Whittington and his family at the All-American Bowl jersey presentation in Cuero. (Mike Craven)

By rearranging the recruiting calendar, more schools are hosting official visits in the spring. The Longhorns still put recruits up in the Four Seasons Hotel and treat them to dinner at the Vince Young Steakhouse. They’re just not doing it in the fall.

Howe said high school athletes know more about the rules and take advantage of so-called “unofficial” recruiting visits. On unofficial visits, recruits pay their own travel and meal expenses. They simply don’t get the red carpet treatment that recruits on official visits might receive.

By rule, high school athletes are allowed five official visits during the recruiting process.

Herman, Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher and Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley are well into their 2020 recruiting process. Wednesday’s press conferences around the country will be mostly for the fans.

“The quicker you can start devoting time, energy and resources to the next class, to not fall behind your competition, the better off you’re going to be,” Howe said.

Even the Internet message board crowd has moved on to 2020, Howe added. “They’ve had their fun reading about Jake Smith or Bru McCoy, but the overall feeling is who’s next?”

Forget about Wednesday. Come December, fans will learn their answer.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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