After the Texas recruiting juggernaut managed to survive the Great Coaching Purge following the 2010 season with only one 2011 prospect decommitting, the revamped staff had to turn quickly to the recruiting trail already behind on evaluations for the upcoming class, all while beginning to forge a slightly different staff take on how to handle the process.
The first obvious change came with the commitment of Scottsdale Chaparral (AZ) quarterback Connor Brewer before the first Junior Day, a rarity given that Texas hasn't officially offered before the Junior Days in years. More traumatic was the following change -- Texas received only three committments at the first Junior Day in February, normally a recruiting bonanza for the Longhorns that netted 13 pledges in 2010, with six more by the end of February. It was shocking enough to spark concerns about a potential sea change in recruiting, perhaps as a result of 5-7.
With some strong efforts by Brewer as a recruiter, however, the Longhorns were able to establish the offensive foundation for the class by landing speed (Thomas Johnson of Dallas Skyline) and height (Austin's own Cayleb Jones) in the receiving corps, a once-in-a-generation running back talent in Johnathan Gray, and a potential cornerstone along the offensive line in the massive but raw Pearland Dawson offensive tackle Kennedy Estelle.
So while the commitments trickled in more slowly than in previous years, the Longhorns mostly secured major in-state prospects like Brenham defensive tackle Malcom Brown and DeSoto guard Curtis Riser and did some solid evaluations of players like man-child Mansfield defensive end Hassan Ridgeway, a young-for-his-age physical specimen just now coming into his own as a senior, and Dallas Bishop Dunne defensive tackle Alex Norman, now a quick, playmaking machine inside at defensive tackle after shedding 60 pounds during his high school career.
And unlike previous years, however, the Longhorns held some spots in the class through the fall to continue evaluations during the football season. With the increased flexibility, the new coaching staff decided to take a rare path for Mack Brown to land some instant impact players -- heading to the junior colleges, a major philosophical change for the long-time Texas coach. Former SEC coaches Bo Davis and Sacey Searels returned to their old SEC stomping grounds to land offensive tackle Donald Hawkins and defensive tackle Brandon Moore, both of whom are expected to fill major roles next season.
The JUCO commitments came in the midst of a late-season flurry that saw the Longhorns land six commitments in a matter of days in early December, four of whom had previously been committed to other schools, including top 15 players in the state like Athens athlete Kendall Sanders, a former Oklahoma State commit, and Mineral Wells safety Adrian Colbert, a former Baylor commit.
Instead of relaxing late in the recruiting process, the Texas coaches are now spending their time scouring the state and re-evaluating any and all prospects.
There are several other committed prospects Texas continues to pursue, but they won't be as easy to poach as taking kids from Oklahoma State or Baylor.
Louisiana defensive end Torshiro Davis could fill the final need in the class with his speed off the edge, but Lousiana kids don't often de-commit from LSU. And while the Longhorns reportedly made up some ground with jumbo five-star defensive end Mario Edwards when he took his official visit for the football banquet, whether Texas can keep the Florida State commit in Texas and away from Oklahoma or Florida still seems like a difficult proposition.
Another prospect wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt continues to pursue is the freak of nature known as Springfield Hillcrest (MO) wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. It's presumed that the Longhorns trail leaders Oklahoma and Arkansas, though staff changes could be hurting the Hogs.
On the flip side, the Longhorns appear to be fading in the recruitments of elite Geismar Dutchtown (LA) safety Landon Collins and Tempe Corona Del Sol (AZ) offensive tackle Andrus Peat, with neither currently scheduled to make an official visit to Austin.
Still, however Texas ends the class, it's one that will be in consideration with the best in the Mack Brown era as the new staff continues to stockpile young talent in Austin. The talent isn't quite elite at defensive end, linebacker, or cornerback, but the depth and playmaking on offense combined with the four talented defensive tackles will ensure that Alabama has some work to do to move past Texas atop the rankings for the best class in the country.
The Longhorn recruiting juggernaut forges ever forward, still at full steam ahead.
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