Editor’s note: All recruiting rankings based on the 247Sports.com composite unless otherwise noted.
For all his struggles on the field, Charlie Strong made consistent strides in recruiting that crested with the Longhorns’ 2016 class. After classes that ranked No. 16 and No. 10 nationally, Strong landed the No. 7-ranked class last February.
That haul featured four of the five highest-ranked recruits of his tenure — a dab-worthy achievement indeed. The year prior, he lured the state’s top recruit to the 40 Acres for the first time since Jackson Jeffcoat arrived in 2010.
Take a look back through the top five recruits of the Charlie Strong era at Texas.
5. Jeffrey McCulloch
Ranking: 4 stars, No. 59 overall, No. 4 outside linebacker, No. 11 in Texas
Fab 55: No. 16 (Aldine Davis High School)
Buzz: From Ryan Autullo: “It’s not hard to get excited envisioning (Malik) Jefferson handling the middle of the field, while McCulloch comes firing off the edge. Yet the two are magnetic in different ways. Jefferson has his perpetual smile; McCulloch is ferocious like, you know, a shark.”
What he’s done so far at Texas: McCulloch played in all 12 games as a freshman, finishing with 23 total tackles and 2 tackles for loss. He also forced a fumble against Kansas and recovered one at Texas Tech. Fans will hope to see more of the shark celebration (see below) in 2017, but McCulloch will have to beat out Edwin Freeman or Anthony Wheeler to start.
— Hookem Football (@hornsfootball) November 19, 2016
— Hookem Football (@hornsfootball) October 15, 2016
4. Patrick Hudson
Ranking: 4 stars, No. 50 overall, No. 2 offensive guard, No. 7 in Texas
Fab 55: No. 4 (Silsbee High School)
Buzz: Hudson originally signed with Baylor, but was one of four players to join the Longhorns back in June in the wake of the school’s rape scandal. Those late additions were among the biggest in Strong’s 2016 class (see below), at 6-foot-5, 325 pounds Hudson was the largest of them all. It was thought he could compete for a starting spot as a true freshman at the time of his signing.
What he’s done so far at Texas: Hudson did not play in 2016, and was the only player on this list to use his redshirt. He figures to be in the mix for playing time this season, if not a starting spot.
3. Brandon Jones
Ranking: 4 stars, No. 40 overall, No. 1 safety, No. 6 in Texas
Fab 55: No. 3 (Nacogdoches High School)
Buzz: From Ryan Autullo: “Call it a hunch, but of the 24 players who signed with Texas last month in the nation’s 11th-ranked class, Jones, who was ranked the highest, has the best chance to be a freshman All-American. There’s a shot, maybe a good one, that he’ll unseat a returning starter, be it Jason Hall or Dylan Haines.”
What he’s done so far at Texas: Jones didn’t quite unseat the starters, but he did feature prominently in all 12 games last season. He had 16 total tackles and 2 blocked punts, and is widely considered the future at safety alongside DeShon Elliott.
— Hookem Football (@hornsfootball) September 20, 2016
— Hookem Football (@hornsfootball) September 11, 2016
2. Devin Duvernay
Ranking: 4 stars, No. 36 overall, No. 4 wide receiver, No. 4 in Texas
Fab 55: No. 8 (Sachse High School)
Buzz: Duvernay was another of the Baylor defections, and his July signing caused quite the stir among the Texas fan base. Recruiting rankings aside, Duvernay’s 10.27-second 100-meter dash time had fans — and probably quarterback Shane Buechele — salivating.
What he’s done so far at Texas: One of the breakout stars of 2016, Duvernay tore Big 12 defenses to shreds during the middle part of the season. He averaged a team-high 20.6 yards per catch, hauling in 20 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns. He’s the perfect complement to Buechele’s deep ball, and the Longhorns will hope to utilize that combination even more in 2017.
— Hookem Football (@hornsfootball) October 22, 2016
— Hookem Football (@hornsfootball) November 25, 2016
1. Malik Jefferson
Ranking: 5 stars, No. 10 overall, No. 1 linebacker, No. 1 in Texas
Fab 55: No. 1
Buzz: Five years is a long period of time, and it feels even longer in recruiting. Between 2010 and 2015, the Longhorns watched the top high school player from Texas either leave the state (Brandon Williams, Mario Edwards, Keith Ford) or wind up in College Station (Myles Garrett). Jefferson finally bucked the trend, committing to Texas on Dec. 19, 2014. That ultimately helped set the stage for Strong’s 2016 class.
What he’s done so far at Texas: The Jefferson hype train was full steam ahead last August. The sophomore linebacker appeared to be the emerging face of a youthful but talented Longhorns squad. And why not? A freshman campaign featuring 62 total tackles, including 8.5 TFL, left no reason to suggest otherwise. Once the games began, Jefferson was a component in the team’s defensive woes. He was benched near the end of the loss to Kansas State, then at the start of the Baylor game the following week.
Jefferson bounced back with a stellar second half against the Bears, then had 8 total tackles and 1.5 sacks at Texas Tech. In Texas’ wins, he averaged 7 tackles and 1.1 TFL. In losses? 3.9 and 0.4. How’s that for valuable?
When Strong says the “cake is baked,” he’s talking about Jefferson.