Providing in-person recruiting updates became nearly impossible in this latest offseason when COVID-19 restrictions canceled most camps and every on-campus event, including spring ball and official 7-on-7 events. Recruits couldn’t visit colleges or go to The Opening. That meant recruiting writers like me were regulated to receiving updates from our phones.
The start of the season was a nice return to normalcy and a chance to watch UT commits play. I was able to see four of Texas’ 18 commitments from the 2021 class in the first two weeks of the season. What I saw:
Ja’Tavion Sanders, athlete, Denton Ryan
FYI: 6-3, 220; five stars; No. 26 nationally
Game: Sept. 25 vs. Arlington Martin
Sanders was stellar in his season debut. The two-way star scored three touchdowns, two as a wide receiver and one on a 66-yard interception return. He continuously bullied defensive backs after the catch. Texas’ lone five-star recruit is also a physical run stopper and among the best pass rushers in the state. There’s a reason he’s the second-ranked athlete in the country.
The smart money is on Sanders playing defense because it’s a more valuable position. He has his eyes on an NFL career, and defensive end is a more coveted position than wide receiver because it is easier to find NFL-caliber receivers. Plus, Sanders would likely grow into a tight end or an H-Back as an offensive player. He does enjoy playing offense. He’s talented enough to become an all-conference player at either position.
Billy Bowman, athlete, Denton Ryan
FYI: 5-10, 175; four stars; No. 33 nationally
Game: Sept. 25 vs. Arlington Martin
Bowman and Sanders are teammates. Denton Ryan is loaded with talent. Bowman is the team’s most athletic player. He starts at slot receiver and safety. He’s considered the third-best athlete in the country by 247Sports’ composite rankings. Bowman is a borderline five-star prospect who lived up to the billing in his opener, scoring a touchdown on the opening drive and patrolling the deep middle of the field at safety.
Bowman says his college position remains undecided. He’s frankly good enough to be used on either side of the ball depending on the roster needs much like current UT starter D’Shawn Jamison, who began his career on offense before settling in as a cornerback as older players ran out of eligibility. Bowman could follow that same path as well as contribute on special teams as a returner.
Morice Blackwell, outside linebacker, Arlington Martin
FYI: 6-1, 196; four stars; No. 21-ranked OLB
Game: Sept. 25 vs. Denton Ryan
Blackwell and his Martin teammates were overwhelmed in the loss to a better Denton Ryan squad. Ryan played for the Class 5A Division I state championship in 2019 and looks poised to contend for a championship in 2020. Blackwell was one of Martin’s few bright spots, and one of the few defenders who could handle the sheer athleticism of the Ryan offense. He played outside linebacker and safety in the game. He’s still a raw player, but he’s as good as any outside linebacker recruit to commit to Texas in the Tom Herman era.
Jonathon Brooks, running back, Hallettsville
FYI: 6-0,185; three stars; No. 27-ranked RB
Game: Sept. 18 vs. Rice Consolidated
My first game of the season was in Hallettsville, as I made the two-hour drive to see Texas’ lone running back commit. Brooks is among the headliners of the 2021 cycle. He’s a three-star prospect from an area not known for producing college talent. It was my first time watching him in person and I came away impressed. He’s a bigger prospect than I envisioned. He showed great vision and tremendous balance. He would be ranked higher if he played in a big city or at a school that was above the Class 3A level.