This recruit was so important to his program that Kevin Sumlin, then the coach at Texas A&M, borrowed a maroon helicopter from a booster so he could drop in for a high school football game.
Back in September 2013, Sumlin didn’t have time to waste. He was preparing his team for a home date against top-ranked Alabama.
But he needed to get to Arlington to make a recruiting pitch to Myles Garrett, the extroverted sack specialist who was the consensus choice as the top prospect in the state and one of the most coveted recruits in the country.
The legend of Sumlin’s “Swagcopter” was born that early fall evening, an attention-drawing device that showed special recruits just how much they were desired. Garrett committed to the Aggies within the month.
“That was awesome,” Garrett said when he committed. “That was a show of respect that they recognize me as a pretty good player in the state of Texas. … I was like, ‘Wow, I guess I have to play my butt off.'”
Garrett was the top player on the Austin American-Statesman’s 2014 Fabulous 55. He certainly was special as a three-year starter for A&M. The Cleveland Browns selected him with the top pick of the 2017 NFL draft. This Sunday, Garrett will play in his first Pro Bowl.
Even the most obsessively optimistic recruiting fans know prospects can be boom or bust. Today’s blue chip is shiny and new and full of expectations. Five years from now, however, that might not be the case. Injuries, a bout of homesickness, a coaching change, grades — they all can rub away the luster of a blue chip.
For the past 30 years, the Statesman has ranked the best 55 prospects in the state. A quarterback may lead the way one year, a receiver could be the best the next.
Five years later, in the days leading up to national signing day, we have re-grade the class.
The elite of that 2014 class stayed elite. Three of the top four recruits — Garrett, defensive end Solomon Thomas (Stanford) and safety Jamal Adams (LSU) — were among the first six players taken in the 2017 draft. The rest of the class was a mixed bag.
First, let’s set up the recruiting landscape.
Sumlin was in his first full season as A&M’s head coach. He collected the signatures of 11 members of the Fab 55. Within five years, six of those had left the program. So had Sumlin. He was fired in November 2017.
Texas was in a state of flux. Mack Brown, one of the best recruiters in the country, was pushed out as head coach in December 2013. Charlie Strong was hired from Louisville a month before signing day. Led by quarterback Jerrod Heard, who ranked ninth, the Longhorns signed eight players off the Fab 55.
The Longhorns’ class sported 23 players from five states. Nationally, Texas’ class was ranked 17th. For context, the last time UT signed a class of at least 20 players that wasn’t ranked in the nation’s top 10 was back in 2001. And that class ranked 11th, serving as a catalyst for the Longhorns first-ever BCS invite.
The coaching change crippled Strong in recruiting. Most of the commitments already had made their one official visit when Brown was the coach. Still, on national signing day, Strong told reporters: “We are the University of Texas and this is the state of Texas, so when we walk in, the door is going to be open for us.”
Heard, ever-so-briefly, flashed greatness. In his second career start, he broke Vince Young’s school record for total offense. He started 10 games his redshirt freshman season in 2015.
By 2016, Strong’s final season, Heard switched to receiver. He played in 49 career games, rushing for 600 yards, catching 540 yards of passes and throwing for 1,243.
Strong enticed two of his commitments from Louisville to follow him to Texas. Defensive tackle Poona Ford, who was from South Carolina, was the Big 12’s defensive lineman of the year in 2017. Defensive tackle Chris Nelson, who grew up in Florida, was a team captain this past season and enchanted fans with his “belly rub” celebration.
There was a star hidden among the lesser-known names. The Longhorns signed Texas City twins Armanti and D’Onta Foreman. Armanti, a receiver, was the four-star prospect. D’Onta, the tailback, was ranked as the 135th best player in the state.
Yet D’onta won the Doak Walker Award as the country’s top tailback in 2016. He gained 2,018 yards, only the second Longhorn to rush for 2,000 in a season. Ricky Williams was the first, when he won the Heisman in 1998. Foreman averaged 184.36 yards per game that season, the best in the country. He left school early and was selected by Houston in the third round of the 2017 draft.
Foreman wasn’t the only national award winner from the state who failed to create much of a recruiting ripple in 2014.
Oklahoma State’s James Washington, who starred for Class A Stamford, won the Biletnikoff as the nation’s top receiver in 2017. Playing for such a small school, no one knew much about him. TCU offered a scholarship. A Longhorns coach visited him. That was about it, although Washington generated huge stats in the 2013 state championship game. He caught four passes for 144 yards and returned an interception 77 yards for a touchdown. He was a second-round pick of Pittsburgh a year ago.
And after Garrett, the second-best player the state produced that year also didn’t make the Fab 55.
That’s Patrick Mahomes, who was first-team All Pro in 2018 as he led the Kansas City Chiefs to the AFC championship game. Mahomes dazzled at Whitehouse High School. His final game there, he threw for 597 yards. He committed to Texas Tech in April 2013. He had an offer from Rice. He made unofficial trips to Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and LSU.
In Lubbock, he earned the starting job in the final month of his freshman season. By his junior year, Mahomes led the nation in all major passing categories. He left for the pros in 2017 and was the 10th pick of the draft.
Mahomes shows how recruiting can be so hit or miss.
Garrett deserved all the recruiting attention. He was a unanimous All-American by his junior year. Sumlin sent the maroon copter and landed the highest-rated defensive signee in school history.
Mahomes finished the season leading the country in yards per game (421), passing yards (5,052), total offense (5,312), points responsible for (318) and total touchdowns (53).
Mahomes was a prized signee at Tech, but his commitment made no national news. No Swagcopter landed in his hometown. Yet he was selected nine picks after Garrett.
A look back at the 2014 Fabulous 55 — and how those prospects’ careers panned out:
|RANK, PLAYER||POSITION||HIGH SCHOOL||COLLEGE||COMMENT|
|1. Myles Garrett||DE||Arlington Martin||Texas A&M||A three-year starter and All-American, then the No. 1 overall pick of the 2017 draft (Browns).|
|2. Tony Brown||CB||Beaumont Ozen||Alabama||Played in 51 career games. Went undrafted but earned a roster spot with the Packers.|
|3. Solomon Thomas||DE||Coppell||Stanford||Played two seasons with the Cardinal, then left for the NFL; was taken No. 3 overall in 2017.|
|4. Jamal Adams||S||Lewisville Hebron||LSU||Was a three-year starter for the Tigers and the sixth overall pick of the 2017 draft, by the Jets.|
|5. K.D. Cannon||WR||Mount Pleasant||Baylor||Caught 195 career passes for 3,113 yards. But he went undrafted; now playing in the CFL.|
|6. Arrion Springs||CB||San Antonio Roosevelt||Oregon||Was a three-year starter for the Ducks. Undrafted and signed to the Chargers' practice squad.|
|7. Davion Hall||S||Liberty-Eylau||Baylor||Started 17 games at receiver and safety: 20 catches for 287 yards, 2 TDs; 109 tackles, 1 INT.|
|8. Edward Paris||S||Mansfield Timberview||LSU||Picked LSU over Texas and Florida. Was a career backup at LSU, with 29 tackles and 1 INT.|
|9. Jerrod Heard||QB||Denton Guyer||Texas||Broke Vince Young's UT single-game yardage record in his second start; finished career at WR.|
|10. Nick Harvey||CB||Lancaster||Texas A&M||Started one year, then missed a season with injury, then transferred out to South Carolina.|
|11. Derick Roberson||DE||San Antonio Brennan||Texas||Never played a down for UT. Transferred to Sam Houston State, where he was a 3-year starter.|
|12. Frank Iheanacho||WR||Houston Westside||Texas A&M||Played 18 games as an Aggie; ended up a part-time starter for two years at Stephen F. Austin.|
|13. Dylan Sumner-Gardner||DB||West Mesquite||Boise State||Played three years, but was dismissed at the end of the 2016 season. It was a bad breakup.|
|14. Zach Whitley||ILB||Galena Park North Shore||UCLA||Left the Bruins after one season, then ended up playing for Iowa Western Community College.|
|15. Demetrius Knox||OG||Fort Worth All Saints||Ohio State||Decommitted from Texas. Played 41 career games for the Buckeyes, started at right guard.|
|16. Armani Watts||DB||North Forney||Texas A&M||A four-year starter and All-SEC player; taken in the fourth round by the Kansas City Chiefs.|
|17. DeShawn Washington||DT||Nederland||Texas A&M||Redshirted in 2014, got into three games in 2015; parted ways with A&M in February 2016.|
|18. Edwin Freeman||OLB||Arlington Bowie||Texas||29 games, five starts at Texas. Transferred to FIU, and was the Bahama Bowl's defensive MVP.|
|19. Armanti Foreman||WR||Texas City||Texas||Started 21 career games at Texas. Signed to a contract with the CFL's Calgary Stampede.|
|20. Shaun Nixon||RB||Lake Travis||TCU||Was a real threat — when he played, in 2015 and 2017; injuries took away his 2014, 2016.|
|21. Duke Catalon||RB||Aldine Eisenhower||Texas||Spent one season at UT, then transferred to Houston, where he rushed for 1,165 yards.|
|22. Otara Alaka||OLB||Houston Cypress Falls||Texas A&M||Was the bowl defensive MVP as a freshman; led the Aggies in tackles his senior season.|
|23. Nick Watkins||CB||Dallas Bishop Dunne||Notre Dame||Played 35 games for the Irish, then transferred to Houston for 2018. Had 41 tackles last year.|
|24. Josh Walker||OLB||Gilmer||Texas A&M||Was starting, then was dismissed just before the 2016 opener after an assault arrest.|
|25. Lorenzo Joe||WR||Abilene Cooper||Texas||Played in 45 career games with the Longhorns. Finished with 35 catches for 457 yards.|
|26. John Bonney||S||Houston Lamar||Texas||Started 15 career games with Texas, with 87 tackles and 14 breakups. Finished at Texas Tech.|
|27. Brandon Simmons||S||Mansfield Timberview||Stanford||Was a two-time team captain with the Cardinal. Primarily played special teams in his career.|
|28. Samaje Perine||RB||Pflugerville Hendrickson||Oklahoma||OU's career rushing leader (4,122 yards) and broke the NCAA single-game rushing record.|
|29. Ishmael Zamora||WR||Alief Elsik||Baylor||Averaged 6.5 catches in 2016, second-best in the Big 12. Was an undrafted free agent in 2017.|
|30. T'Kevian Rockwell||OLB||Wylie||Did not sign;Ended up at Grambling State in 2016 and 2017, where he had 54 tackles, 1 sack his senior season.|
|31. Keenen Brown||WR||Alief Taylor||Oklahoma State||Was an OSU backup. Spent his final season with Texas State. Caught 44 passes for 469 yards.|
|32. Zaycoven Henderson||DT||Longview||Texas A&M||Played in 47 career games and finished with 116 tackles, but also was suspended twice.|
|33. Terence Williams||ATH||Ennis||Baylor||Led Bears in rushing in 2016 (1,048 yards). Transferred to Houston, rushed for 249 yards in '18.|
|34. Mavin Saunders||TE||Houston Kinkaid||Florida State||Made five career starts with the Seminoles. Transferred to Kansas for his senior year.|
|35. Jarrett Johnson||DE||Katy Seven Lakes||Texas A&M||Played in 47 career games and had 10 sacks. Replaced Myles Garrett in 2017.|
|36. Jovan Pruitt||OL||Dallas Bishop Dunne||Arkansas||Signed with Hogs but then moved on to Trinity Valley Community Valley and then Tarleton State.|
|37. Tony Upchurch||WR||Pearland Dawson||LSU||Played only 8 games at LSU. Transferred to Texas Southern, where he had 1 TD in three years.|
|38. Josh Mabin||LB||Klein Oak||Oklahoma State||Had to quit football in 2016 after he was diagnosed with a heart condition. Graduated in 2018.|
|39. Trey Lealaimatafao||DT||San Antonio Warren||LSU||Never played. Was dismissed after a 2015 arrest. Sentenced to 6 years for robbery, carjacking.|
|40. John Plattenburg Jr.||DB||Houston Lamar||USC||Started two years, retired in 2017 (concussions). Now works at a California training academy.|
|41. Foster Sawyer||QB||Fort Worth All Saints||TCU||Transferred to SFA after two years at TCU. Earned the starting job there, but injured his knee.|
|42. Chris Hardeman||DB||Alief Taylor||Oklahoma State||Left after two seasons, finished at Houston Baptist. Ran a 4.33 at the combine; works at HBU.|
|43. Emanuel Porter||WR||Dallas Lincoln||TCU||Played in 40 career games as a part-time starter; had 43 passes for 626 yards and 5 TDs.|
|44. Sione Teuhema||DE||Keller||LSU||Left LSU in 2016 after a spring suspension. Played two years at Southeastern Louisiana.|
|45. Jordan Thomas||DB||Klein Collins||Oklahoma||All-Big 12er started 37 games, but went undrafted. Now playing in the AAL for San Antonio.|
|46. Trey Carter||DE||Dallas Pinkston||Oklahoma State||Just finished a four-year career with 54 tackles, 5.5 sacks and a Liberty Bowl victory.|
|47. James David||LB||Rockdale||Baylor||Committed to Baylor, but never signed.|
|48. Justin Stockton||RB||Cibolo Steele||Texas Tech||Played in 47 career games with 17 starts. Finished with 2,586 combined yards and 21 TDs.|
|49. Koda Martin||OT||Manvel||Texas A&M||Started 14 games, then transferred to Syracuse, where his father-in-law is the head coach.|
|50. Auston Anderson||RB||Plano West||Northwestern||Injuries hampered his college career. Played in only 13 games with 101 yards and no TDs.|
|51. Kealvin Davis||OL||Lakeview Centennial||Texas A&M||Nicknamed "Tank," he spent two years at A&M but didn't see the field. Off the roster by 2017.|
|52. Daniel Gresham||RB||Fort Worth All Saints||SMU||Injuries ended his career;redshirted in 2014, retired in 2015 with a bulging disk in his neck.|
|53. Dorian Leonard||WR||Longview||Texas||Played in 40 career games, with 11 starts. Had 48 catches for 551 yards and 3 touchdowns.|
|54. Ian Sadler||WR||Argyle||Texas Tech||Caught 89 career passes, but retired from football in the spring of 2017 due to knee injuries.|
|55. Zach Ledwik||OL||La Grange||Texas A&M||Redshirted, then decided to quit football in 2015. Now working as a process engineer.|