Texas wide receiver Brennan Eagles (13) runs for a touchdown as LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton (1) falls to the ground during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Austin, Texas. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Football

The H-Town takeover: Tom Herman is now using Houston-area firepower to stockpile Texas’ talent

Longhorns scooping up talent all over Houston, securing the top names in previous classes, to help push for a championship in 2019

Posted September 12th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • “He built his recruiting around a theme. Everybody wants to be a part of something.”
  • Tom Herman wanted to brand the Houston Cougars with a slogan. He's kept that going at UT.
  • The run-oriented Rice Owls (0-2) come in as 31 1/2-point underdogs.

The “H-Town Takeover” wasn’t just Tom Herman’s catchy recruiting slogan during his two years coaching Houston. It was a mindset. It was his brand.

“This is our town. This is our city,” Herman said at a UH preseason news conference in August 2015. “And we embrace it with every fiber of our being.”

The new Houston coach hammered that message home. In two years, Herman wanted to ring-fence the nation’s fourth-largest city and keep talented recruits in while keeping talented college recruiters out.

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The college football preview section in the American-Statesman on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.

“Once it was set, we were off and running with it,” said David Bassity, Houston’s sports information director at the time. “We plastered it everywhere we could.”

A winning message with a winning team made a killer combination. The Cougars went 22-4 in Herman’s two years there, catapulting him to the Texas job prior to the 2017 season.

“He built his recruiting around a theme. Everybody wants to be a part of something,” Alief Taylor receivers coach Tristan Randle said. “Take it back to when he was at Houston. It was the H-Town Takeover, so everybody around Houston knew what was going on.”

Herman’s staff kept that Houston takeover going after coming to Austin. He has signed 20 players from the greater Houston area in his first three UT classes, and most will be back home Saturday when 12th-ranked Texas faces Rice at NRG Stadium.

The Longhorns (1-1) are 31 1/2-point favorites over the 0-2 Owls from Conference USA. Texas leads the all-time series 72-21-1. UT’s last loss to the “Harvard of the South” came in that rain-soaked 1994 debacle when both schools were still in the Southwest Conference. Prior to that, it was 1965.

It’s a matchup so lopsided, even President John F. Kennedy quipped, “Why does Rice play Texas?” as part of his famous 1962 speech about Americans going to the moon.

So, why exactly does Rice play Texas? The two schools agreed to a three-game series in 2016. Rice will get a $1 million guaranteed payday for playing this game at the home of the NFL’s Houston Texans. The two teams are scheduled to meet again in 2021 and 2023.

By then, Texas’ roster could have a decidedly different look. The talent in the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes are tilted more toward the Dallas area, according to recruiting experts.

Perhaps that’s why Herman didn’t get too mushy this week reflecting on his time as a Rice assistant (2007-08) and at Houston. The Longhorns want to recruit all over the state. Herman has said multiple times that he prefers in-state recruits, but if there’s not “someone who can help us win a championship at a certain position,” he will look out of state.

“We want to sign great players,” Herman said. “And if they’re in Texas, great. If they’re in Houston, great. If they’re in Dallas, great. If they’re in Victoria, great. I mean, we certainly don’t prioritize one region over another in state.”

Still, Houston has been good, perhaps borderline excellent, to Herman and his coaching staff.

Take the 2018 class, for example. Nine of the state’s top 13 prospects, as ranked by 247Sports’ composite ratings, were from the Houston area. Texas signed 10 of those top 13.

Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai (46) from Conroe runs with a LSU interception in the first half of an NCAA college football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

Cornerback Jalen Green (ranked No. 4) will start against the Owls. Receiver Brennan Eagles (No. 6) already has three touchdown catches this season. Defensive tackle Keondre Coburn (No. 13) will make his third start.

Recruiting nowadays is more like marketing, Bassity said. His promotion of the H-Town Takeover led to a job with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. “Our target demographic for social media when we were there were essentially 15- to 19-year-olds.”

Herman has kept the marketing theme going with each recruiting class at Texas. In 2018, it was the #RevolUTion18 recruiting class. There was the #fUTure19 class and now the #cloUT2020 social media tags.

“I think with Herman, it’s honestly better,” said Theadis Reagins, an assistant at Galena Park North Shore. “I’m not sure (former coach) Charlie (Strong) got a bunch of guys from Houston like Tom did.”

Strong signed 77 recruits in his three years. Fifteen of them were from Houston.

What helped Herman turn the tide with the Cougars was getting defensive tackle Ed Oliver, the state’s second-best recruit in 2016 from Spring Westfield. That sparked a wave of local recruits giving UH a second look. Houston then opened the 2016 season by knocking off No. 3 Oklahoma.

“I think you’ve got to understand, he really relates to some of the kids,” Reagins said. “Herman did a great job of that while he was at U of H.”

Three years into his tenure, Herman now has the Longhorns ranked in the top 15. The 2020 recruiting class is currently ranked sixth nationally. The class has pledges from all over the state and players from Arizona, Utah and Florida.

The recruiting rankings may fluctuate as the season progresses, but the Horns typically want to have their class signed in late December. By then, recruits will see how Herman’s third season played out.

Winning Saturday would be a nice way to flush out any remaining after-effects from last week’s loss to LSU. Frivolous stories about the visiting team’s locker room temperature and crank calls to UT players and coaches took up all the oxygen this week. Nobody’s been talking about Rice.

Texas running back Daniel Young (32) was cleared to play this week against Rice after missing the first two games with a high ankle sprain.  (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Herman said the LSU loss was addressed one final time during Tuesday’s team meeting.

“We can have no lingering effects from that,” Herman said. “Rice doesn’t care if we won or lost that game. They’re going to give us their best shot, which is pretty good. Really proud of our guys for locking in this week.”

The Horns got some good news mid-week when running back Daniel Young was cleared to start practicing. He suffered a high ankle sprain during preseason camp and has yet to play in two games. The running back room had been depleted due to injuries. Herman said he still expects a two-man backfield rotation with Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson against the Owls. “If needed, Danny,” he said Thursday. “He looked good the last couple of days. We wouldn’t hesitate to put him in, if needed.”

Meanwhile, the Horns are likely to rest wide receiver Collin Johnson, who said a hamstring issue has been bothering him. Texas will also be without safety DeMarvion Overshown (neck) and B.J. Foster (hamstring).

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

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