The Dotted Line: Texas expects seven early enrollees in 2021 class
The early signing period is just a couple of weeks away. Texas fans are currently distracted with the speculation surrounding head coach Tom Herman’s future, but the staff is working behind the scenes to secure the signatures of their recruits. Most of the 19 prospects pledged to Texas confirmed their intentions to sign in December, including five-star athlete Ja’Tavion Sanders.
Seven of those 19 prospects plan to enroll early, barring any late decommitments or problems with early graduation. Texas’ class ranks 17th in the nation and second in the Big 12. It will be the lowest-ranked Longhorns class since Herman took the job two months before national signing day following the firing of Charlie Strong after the 2016 season. Herman has signed three consecutive top-10 classes.
The seven incoming Longhorns who plan to enroll early:
Charles Wright, QB, Austin High
FYI: 6-1, 194; three stars; No. 39 pro-style quarterback
2021 expectations: Wright is a lifelong Longhorns fan who will fulfill a childhood dream on Dec. 16 when he plans to sign. He’ll enroll in January and begin learning the system in a quarterbacks room that should be loaded with potential unless transfers plague the roster.
Even with losing Sam Ehlinger, Wright walks into a room with Hudson Card, Ja’Quinden Jackson and Casey Thompson. He should be afforded the opportunity to sit for a year, take a redshirt and work on the scout team as he learns the system and adjusts to college football.
Jaden Alexis, WR, Pompano Beach (Fla.) Monarch
FYI: 5-11, 185; three stars; No. 63 wide receiver
2021 expectations: Alexis is likely ending up at slot receiver, which is a position that possesses talent when projecting the 2021 lineup. Jake Smith and Jordan Whittington are former blue-chip recruits who are starting to turn the corner with nagging health concerns. Alexis is a speedster with a skill set that makes him an option in special packages built around utilizing his speed, but the best guess is that he’ll do more watching than playing in year one.
Hayden Conner, OT, Katy Taylor
FYI: 6-5, 317; three stars; No. 30 offensive tackle
2021 expectations: It's rare for a true freshman to make a real impact, but Conner is a four-year varsity starter who will get a full spring. Left tackle Samuel Cosmi is forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL draft. Senior Derek Kerstetter, who started at center and right tackle in his career, is out of eligibility unless he takes the free year due to the pandemic.
The expected starters on next year's line are Christian Jones at right tackle and Andrej Karic at left tackle, but there's nothing stopping Conner from earning a spot in the two-deep his first year. There isn’t any real proven talent outside, and the Longhorns need the depth.
Derrick Harris Jr., DE, New Caney
FYI: 6-2, 215; four stars; No. 19 weak-side defensive end
2021 expectations: Harris missed his senior season due to a leg injury. He’s currently rehabbing and hopes to be ready for spring practice. He won’t be fully healthy when he enrolls, so that will set back his development in the weight room.
The four-star recruit is on the slender side for a defensive end. He has split time at outside linebacker and defensive end in high school, specializing in rushing the passer. Due to his injury and the need to gain weight, I’d expect him to redshirt or only help sparingly and on special teams.
JD Coffey, S, Kennedale
FYI: 6-0, 180; four stars; No. 7 safety
2021 expectations: Coffey should compete with Jerrin Thompson, who started against Kansas State and had an interception, to replace the departing Caden Sterns. Texas uses that back safety spot as a center fielder responsible for preventing deep balls in coverage and being the last line of defense against the run. Coffey is well-suited for that role because of his physicality. He’s a great tackler and is athletic enough to cover ground.
Jamier Johnson, CB, Pasadena (Calif.) John Muir
FYI: 6-0, 170; four stars; No. 20 cornerback
2021 expectations: The Longhorns should return their top three corners and both nickel backs. Johnson will be in that next crop of prospects pushing for playing time alongside the likes of Kitan Crawford. Johnson didn’t get to play a 2020 season because California canceled the high school season. He’ll need to shake off some rust, but he’ll probably find some snaps on special teams.
Gunnar Helm, TE, Englewood (Colo.) Cherry Creek
FYI: 6-5, 225; three stars; No. 31 tight end
2021 expectations: Texas likes the future of its tight ends room. Jared Wiley should be entrenched as the starter. Malcolm Epps can help as a receiver out of the tight end spot. The staff likes the upside of Brayden Liebrock. Helm faces stern competition for playing time as a freshman and would need to impress early in training camp to get reps over the returning players.