The Dotted Line: Texas coach Steve Sarkisian acknowledges recruiting challenge
New Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian acknowledged the recruiting elephant in the room during his Zoom call with the media Saturday afternoon with a simple statement:
"We cannot let the top talent in the state of Texas leave the state of Texas," Sarkisian said.
Like most problems, identifying it will prove easier than fixing it. Sarkisian takes over a Texas program at a crossroads and he does so during unprecedented times in the modern era.
Namely, Texas A&M is good. That wasn’t true during the early years for Charlie Strong and Tom Herman. A&M was 8-5 and coached by Kevin Sumlin the year before Herman took over. In 2013, the year before Strong was hired, A&M was 9-4 and in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. This season the Aggies posted a 9-1 record with a win over North Carolina in the Orange Bowl.
Sarkisian is forced to deal with Jimbo Fisher and a rolling Aggies program alongside the usual recruiting rivals such as Oklahoma, LSU and now Alabama. Oklahoma has won every Big 12 championship game since the current class of 2021 prospects was in the sixth grade. LSU won a national title in 2019. Alabama is Alabama.
A closer look at the 2021 Fabulous 55 reveals the problem. Five-star athlete Ja’Tavion Sanders was the only player within the top 24 that signed with Texas during the early period in December. Seven of those top 24 signed with A&M, and the Aggies will add an eighth if Houston Cypress-Fairbanks running back LJ Johnson commits this month as expected. And Texas Tech quarterback Behren Morton is the only other player inside the top 25 that has signed with a state program.
So, of the best 24 prospects in state this year, only 10 will sign with a state school. And eight of those 10 are going to the same school. And that school isn't Texas.
Alabama signed three of those 24. Ohio State signed the No. 1 player in the state for the third time in five cycles. LSU signed two of the top 17 prospects. Oklahoma signed three of the top 11.
Sarkisian faces an uphill battle.
Quinn Ewers, the top-rated quarterback in the country for the 2022 cycle, had committed to UT but is now pledged to Ohio State. He’d be the fourth No. 1 player from Texas to sign with the Buckeyes since 2017, joining Kennedale linebacker Baron Browning, Lake Travis wide receiver Garrett Wilson and Houston Bellaire Episcopal offensive lineman Donovan Jackson. Caleb Burton, a 2022 five-star wide receiver from Del Valle, is also committed to Ohio State.
Ewers, a life-long Longhorns fan, acknowledged on Saturday that he has a relationship with Sarkisian.
"I've visited with Sark a few times just to chop it up," Ewers said after leading Southlake Carroll to the Class 6A Division I semifinals for the second straight year. "He's a cool guy."
Ewers threw for 450 yards and six touchdowns in the win. And while Sarkisian is sure to reach out to him, the Carroll star said he's not planning to abandon his Buckeyes commitment.
"I'm rocking with my guys at Ohio State,” Ewers said. “Obviously, success comes into account and they've had a lot of success. I want to be a part of something like that."
Texas has just one commitment for 2022 — Port Arthur Memorial cornerback Jaylon Guilbeau. The four-star recruit is taking a wait-and-see approach as Sarkisian assembles a new staff. Herman's firing caught Guibeau by surprise. His teammate, four-star defensive end Jordon Thomas, signed with Texas in December.
“I feel like it is crazy. You know, I had a good connection with coach Herman, but things happen and I will trust the process,” Guilbeau said. “I don’t know the new coach, so I will have to talk to him and see how his energy is.”
As for the 2021 class, Texas has signed 18 players so far. The class ranks 17th nationally and second in the Big 12. Two players are committed but didn’t sign in December. That leaves Sarkisian with an opportunity to sign more prospects, but the early period eliminates most of the pool. Over 85% of the top 250 prospects in the country signed in December, as did an overwhelming number of prospects in Texas.