To switch from a three-man defensive front to a four-man line, it stands to reason you need more linemen. But the stockpile seemed to be running low at Texas.
Team captain Malcolm Roach is gone, and the bulk of what remains skews younger. Asked how he felt about his depth on Dec. 18, Texas coach Tom Herman perked up and said, “Actually pretty good.”
Herman collected two recruiting signatures along the defensive line during the early signing period, but knew he’d have to wait a little longer for some more.
“We’ve got two defensive linemen that we covet very, very highly that won’t sign until February,” he said in December. “They will not be the only two defensive linemen that we sign in this class.”
Herman’s premonition came true Wednesday when Texas landed Bastrop Cedar Creek’s Alfred Collins, considered by some to have five-star talent and the nation’s No. 2-ranked strong-side defensive end according to 247Sports. However, UT’s other key target, Manor’s Princely Umanmielen, chose Florida.
Texas also signed Carthage receiver Kelvontay Dixon, the younger brother of current Longhorns running back Keaontay Ingram. Dixon, who goes by “Moochie,” was a two-time all-state pick who helped lead Carthage to a state title last season.
With the addition of Collins and Dixon, Texas closed out the 2020 recruiting cycle with 19 players. Seventeen signed during the early period in December. In a statement, Herman noted that all but one are in-state signees. The one happens to be Bijan Robinson from Tucson, Ariz., the nation’s No. 1-ranked running back.
Texas’ 2020 class is ranked ninth overall, according to 247Sports’ composite ratings. The Longhorns signed back-to-back No. 3-ranked classes in 2018 and 2019.
“We take a lot of pride in getting the best of the best in our home state to play for their flagship university, which is the University of Texas,” Herman said. “We couldn’t be prouder.”
When the first signing day came on Dec. 18, Herman already knew Texas would be shifting its defensive philosophy to incorporate more four-man fronts. He hired former Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash along with two other new defensive assistants.
Texas signed Vernon Broughton from Houston Cypress Ridge and Sawyer Goram-Welch from Longview in December. Still, Herman kept charging for others.
Umanmielen committed to Texas last August but backed away from that pledge in late October. Still, he was viewed internally as a UT recruit. But it’s possible he got lost in the staff shakeup.
Oscar Giles has been the program’s only defensive line coach the last three seasons. He was retained for the 2020 season but the rest of the defensive staff moved on. Herman is set to hire Indiana co-defensive coordinator Mark Hagen as his new defensive line coach, a source familiar with the process told the American-Statesman. Hagen will work alongside Giles. Hagen’s hiring likely could be announced Thursday.
“Texas was close to home and the new staff is changing the schemes to a four-man front, so that put them back among my top schools,” Umanmielen said at his signing day ceremony. “It’s all love with Texas. My mind was all over the place. I changed my mind multiple times over the final few weeks.”
Collins (6-5, 285) narrowed his choices down to Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama. With Umanmielen out of the picture, the Horns badly needed him.
At Cedar Creek High, he popped a huge black balloon and orange dust fell to the floor. It marked a long recruitment, as Herman said the UT staff had been chasing him for 2 1/2 years. Collins had 18 sacks in his last three high school seasons.
There was a lot of UT influence at home, too. Collins’ mother, Benita Pollard-Collins, played basketball at Texas for legendary women’s coach Jody Conradt from 1990-94.
“When you turn the film on, this is a guy who just continues to get better,” Herman said. “He’s so long, and strong, but extremely athletic. He’s a starter on their basketball team and a guy that’s going to do everything right.”
It may seem natural that Dixon would follow his big brother to Austin from East Texas. But Keaontay always wanted Kelvontay to go his own path. “He’s gonna be better than me!,” Ingram told the Statesman in 2018 before signing with the Horns.
— Texas Football (@TexasFootball) February 5, 2020
Dixon caught 74 passes for 1,240 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. He also ran for 232 yards and return a punt for a touchdown. Dixon (6-0, 180) was rated the 12th-best athlete in the class.
“Obviously, being Keaontay Ingram’s little brother, and us having a relationship with that family, made him a no-brainer,” Herman said in a statement. “His two grandparents that are heavily involved in his life really made it well known that he was one of our kind of guys.”
Realistically, the first Wednesday in February is not national signing day anymore, at least not like it used to be. Most teams sign the bulk of their players in December now, and Herman and the Longhorns were no different.
Still, this late signing period gives athletes more time to make correct decisions or see how coaching staff changes shake out. Herman believes the 19 new Longhorns — eight of whom are already enrolled and going through offseason workouts — will help the program win.
“We addressed a lot of areas of need, and brought in a lot of guys we think will be able to come in and play early,” Herman said.
Staff Writer Mike Craven contributed to this report. Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.