The morning after Alabama smacked Clemson to win the national title, Texas had just 12 commitments. On Jan. 12, UT’s class ranked 32nd nationally, a sobering eye-opener for a program coming off a 5-7 season.
Instead of begging recruits to make public pronouncements for public-relations help, Charlie Strong played it cool. The Texas coach and his staff spent the rest of the month crisscrossing the state preaching their vision for Longhorns football.
“At that point, we were just chilling,” said Arlington Bowie offensive lineman Tope Imade, who committed last May. “We knew who we had and knew who we were going to get.”
The Longhorns got surprising news when running back Kyle Porter and defensive tackle D’Andre Christmas-Giles committed on Tuesday. Those two lit a bonfire. Seven players committed on Wednesday, lifting Texas’ final ranking to 11th nationally — tops in the Big 12 — and turning Strong into the national story of the day.
“Just looking at the national exposure, the way it took off, everybody kept saying, ‘What’s happening in Austin?,’” Strong said. “It became big-time news just because it was falling for us today. But we needed that, and we’ve just got to continue to build on it.”
Texas’ final recruiting push, which landed seven players in the ESPN 300 in the last 24 hours, was a steamroller that covered all major position groups. Nineteen out of 24 commitments are from Texas. The top-six rated recruits all committed after New Year’s Day.
The Horns landed six defensive linemen, a huge position of need. The group was already thin and junior Hassan Ridgeway is going into the NFL draft early. There were four linebackers and three defensive backs. All will be tasked with rebuilding a unit that finished 2015 as the worst in school history.
“We had to really shore up on defense,” Strong said. “That was an area that really needed to be addressed.”
Four offensive linemen joined the fold, joining returning starters Connor Williams, Patrick Vahe and Kent Perkins. The offense also landed four receivers and one tight end. Running back Kyle Porter won the Class 6A Division II state title. Shane Buechele was considered the fourth-best quarterback in the nation, according to 247sports.
“A lot of (Texas) A&M fans were saying stuff on Twitter, but we just ignored them,” Imade said. “We knew what was going to happen. Then, people said, ‘Wow, Texas, just out of nowhere, is getting everybody.’ We told you this. It’s not a big surprise.”
It’s still unclear whether everyone will get to training camp this August. Last year, one touted recruit couldn’t qualify academically. Another recruit brazenly exploited a loophole to back out and go to Oklahoma. A third player quit the team after three days.
Texas linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary, who serves as Strong’s recruiting coordinator, said, “We feel confident on all 24 of these guys qualifying (academically).”
Duncanville defensive tackle Marcell Southall got things going with a surprise decision around 7:45 a.m. He was choosing among Texas, Oklahoma and Miami. Then, Euless Trinity defensive tackle Chris Daniels followed shortly thereafter. Strong, who slow plays the entire recruiting process, didn’t even offer Daniels a scholarship until December.
“All I’ve got to say is that if you don’t want to go to Texas, don’t let him get on your couch,” Daniels told The Dallas Morning News. “Because that man is very persuasive. He’s like an uncle to me. Uncle Charlie, for real.”
Brandon Jones of Nacogdoches, considered the nation’s No. 1 safety, was going to stay in state and choose between Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor. He chose the Horns during a nationally-televised announcement on ESPNU.
“They’ve been there with me from the get-go and just really straight up forward and really honest about everything,” Jones said.
From there, attention shifted back home, where Manor linebacker Erick Fowler was deciding between LSU and Texas. The player ranked 21st on the American-Statesman’s Fab 55 list held up hats for both schools and then casually put on the Texas lid.
“I told his mom, I said probably the best breakfast place to eat is Cracker Barrel,” said Strong, who believes Fowler can play either as stand-up linebacker or a lineman down in a stance. “But she did a great job with that breakfast. I felt like I was at Cracker Barrel. Told her, I’m gonna have to go back for seconds on these pancakes.”
Down in the Houston area, Aleif Elsik defensive back Chris Brown gladly put on a Texas cap. The crowd didn’t know how to react when Brown’s high school teammate, linebacker Dontavious Jackson, chose Florida State instead of Texas.
After 10 a.m., Texas landed “The Shark.” Aldine Davis linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch, who appears to be a UT staff favorite if social media is any indication, announced he was all in with the Horns.
Lunch time brought a lull in the action. Houston Westside defensive tackle Jordan Elliott became the 24th and final member of UT’s class during a 1 p.m. event in his hometown. “I just want to make my family proud,” Elliott said.
Strong noted Elliott’s great-grandmother was there when he made an in-home visit. Her being there may have helped seal the deal.
“We were at Jordan Elliott’s house and we were talking about westerns. His grandma loved Westerns,” Jean-Mary said. “I forgot which western was on, but he starts rattling off eight or nine westerns. I got my eyes opened. How do you know this stuff? But he grabs their attention.”
Current Texas freshmen recruited just as hard as Strong and his assistants did. Linebacker Malik Jefferson, the ideal program spokesman, poked and prodded all those around him in January. He was practically giddy during an appearance on Longhorn Network.
“It’s very exciting,” Jefferson said. “We want to see kids come here, want to lift this program and be excited.”
Jean-Mary said, “We give Malik a lot of credit. I know he is the unofficial mayor of Austin right now. But I think our whole team did a great job. I could mention 10 guys that did an unbelievable job.”
2016 Texas Longhorns recruiting classHere's a look at the recruits who have committed to Texas coach Charlie Strong for the 2016 recruiting cycle. Star rankings from 247sports. Oral commitments are non-binding. National signing day is Feb. 3.
|Collin Johnson||WR||San Jose (V. Christ.), Calif.||4||4/17/2014|
|Shane Buechele||QB||Arlington Lamar||4||2/23/2015|
|Tope Imade||OG||Arlington Bowie||3||5/26/2015|
|Gerald Wilbon||DT||Destrehan (La.)||3||6/17/2015|
|Peyton Aucoin||TE||New Orleans (La.) Martin||3||7/24/2015|
|Malcolm Roach||DE||Baton Rouge (La.)||3||11/6/2015|
|Andrew Fitzgerald||DE||Flower Mound||4||11/12/2015|
|Jean Delance||OT||North Mesquite||4||1/2/16|
|Lil'Jordan Humphrey||WR||Southlake Carroll||3||1/30/16|
|D'Andre Christmas-Giles||DT||New Orleans (La.)||3||2/2/16|
|Chris Daniels||DT||Euless Trinity||4||2/3/16|
|Chris Brown||S||Alief Elsik||3||2/3/16|
|Jeffrey McCulloch||LB||Aldine Davis||4||2/3/16|
|Jordan Elliott||DT||Houston Westside||4||2/3/16|
|JP Urquidez||OT||Copperas Cove||4||6/25/16|