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Texas Football Recruiting: Longhorns Halfway Home For 2013

You probably know that Mack Brown and Texas just finished off one of the top recruiting classes in the country for the 2012 cycle. But what you might not know is that Texas' 2013 class is already halfway finished. You read that right. Halfway home, with 320 days until National Signing Day 2013.

I sat down with Texas recruiting expert Wescott Eberts of Burnt Orange Nation to discuss the ridiculous recruiting run that the Longhorns are on.

Texas' 2012 class is in the books. It was arguably the top class in the entire country, so I'll assume you liked it and ask if there was anything about it you did not like.

Yeah, you're not exactly going out on a limb by saying that I liked the 2012 Texas class, which added a number of pieces late in the process, including Louisiana star edge rusher Torshiro Davis on Signing Day, unexpectedly swiped from the home-state Tigers with little warning.

From this perspective, there weren't any major complaints about the class, though it would have been nice to hold on to Dallas Skyline wide receiver Thomas Johnson, who de-committed after the Under Armour game and ended up, surprisingly, at Texas A&M.

Other than that, the coaches opted to pass on taking a tight end in the class with a weak group in-state and never really seemed to pursue any of the top out-of-state players until there was a brief flirtation with a guy you're familiar with -- Orange Lutheran (CA) tight end and Florida State commit Christo Kourtzidis, who was visiting Texas late until he wasn't. So much for that.

But, Beaumont Westbrook defensive end Caleb Bluiett has been talked about a bit at the position and has some experience, as well as the necessary speed, so the 'Horns could still end up with a tight end in the class if absolutely necessary.

We've spoken about Texas' new recruiting approach (fewer offers, wanting to wait a bit longer to see more camp/combine work and senior tape). Were these changes brought on more by Mack, or his new assistants?

With these types of things, it's difficult to tell exactly from where the impetus for these changes emerged -- which are mostly pretty subtle -- but I think much of the credit has to go to the assistant coaches, who have a brought a ton of new ideas and youthful energy to the program that was desperately lacking both in the years leading up to the disastrous 2010 season. And don't forget about holdover Major Applewhite either, who was probably one of the few voices of dissent out of what was going on before.

In terms of allocating who has brought what, former SEC assistants like Bo Davis (defensive tackles) and Stacy Searels (offensive line) came in with their connections to that part of the country, allowing the Longhorns an entrance into the Southeast. It didn't work out with the out-of-state prep targets, but those relationships may pay off at some point.

Where they did pay off was at the JUCO level. Mack Brown hadn't brought in a JUCO player in ages and was generally against the practice. But Texas needed help along both lines of scrimmage for 2012, so Davis brought in a former Alabama guy in defensive tackle Brandon Moore, who made the JUCO move after he left Tuscaloosa, and Searels brought in offensive tackle Donald Hawkins, who is expected to start at left tackle for Texas. Both filled huge needs and are expected to become major contributors this year for the 'Horns.

There are a few other differences, like having less regard for players being committed to other schools. In the past, Texas might put out some indirect feelers to gauge interest, but this staff was much more diligent about continuing to evaluate players late into the process and maintaining those relationships, so when there were some spots that opened up due to attrition, the Longhorns were able to jump on some guys like Athens athlete Kendall Sanders (who will start at wide receiver), League City Clear Springs wide receiver Marcus Johnson, Pflugerville Hendrickson all-purpose back Daje Johnson, Van linebacker Dalton Santos, and Plano West defensive end Bryce Cottrell. In all, Texas flipped eight guys from previous commitments.

The other major change in 2012 was better communication by the offensive and defensive staffs. Instead of offer approvals simply going from the area recruiter to the position coach to the coordinator to Mack Brown, the staff actually all sat down together and watched film to see if maybe the offensive coaches weren't completely sold, maybe the defensive coaches were willing to fight for a kid. As a result, there was a bit less emphasis on slotting a someone into a position prior to arrival, but instead a greater willingness to take the best athletes and then sort things out once they make it to campus.

In the 2013 class, which has a much more limited number of scholarships after taking 28 players in 2012, the major change is the slower pace at which things are working. Instead of pressuring for commitments at the Junior Days, the coaches are extending fewer offers and asking kids to go home and talk things over with their parents and high school coaches before making decisions.

As a result, both of the Junior Day events, which used to produce a significant portion of each class, have failed to produce a single commitment. Yet, the Longhorns now have 11 pledges and are on a similar track as normal, it's just happening in a different way and it's happening without taking some of those reaches, maybe the coach's kid who has all the intangibles, but not all of the measurables.

At the second Junior Day, only a couple of offers were extended on the day of the event -- perhaps only one, to current commit Kent Perkins, the potential five-star offensive tackle from Lake Highlands -- and then several were extended afterwards, which may have helped reduce some of the sting for the guys who left campus without offers.

And like last year, evaluations will continue into the spring and summer and probably into the fall, with the staff looking like it will save a couple spots in what is projected to be a class in the range of 18 to 20. In previous years, there were times when there simply wasn't room for late-rising prospects, but it looks like there's a strong emphasis on being able to take those guys now when they emerge.

Oklahoma State and Arkansas have put together quite a run of late on the field, as has TCU. Baylor seems to be doing better on the recruiting trail in Dallas, and Texas A&M has moved to the SEC. How much has competition increased in the Lone Star State? Which, if any, of these schools pose a real threat to contest the 'Horns for kids UT actually wants, and why? Is it more a function of them securing early commitments from kids who later blow up, making it tougher for Texas to flip them at the last minute because they've been a long-time commitment to that school?

There are certainly some other schools that are doing a fine job of recruiting in Texas right now, most of which you mentioned. However, with the newer "gloves off" approach, I don't think the staff is particularly concerned about being able to flip the kids who really want to come to Austin to play college football and it's always remarkable just how many of those kids there are. No question, the coaching staff gets shot down occasionally, but that's very much the exception.

The new staff over in College Station has done a good job and actually secured a kid from Elysian Fields, defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, that Texas might have offered had he made it to campus, but at this point, there aren't any schools seriously challenging the Longhorns for state supremacy, especially with Oklahoma either strategically withdrawing a bit or just losing a bit of cachet with kids. Or maybe even a combination of both.

No, Mack Brown and company are very much large and in charge in Texas every bit as much as they have been for years. The only real difference now is that the staff is making better evaluations, closing the gap there on schools like TCU that have to evaluate early and well and then scrap to keep kids from being poached by the major regional powers.

What positional misses, if any, from 2012 must now be addressed in the 2013 class?

The tight end position was mentioned earlier as about the lone potential weakness in the 2012 class, so Texas is working to secure two tight end pledges in this class. Belton tight end Durham Smythe is the top target there and he could well opt to become a Longhorn after he takes a visit to Stanford next weekend, so Texas is in good shape with him.

It's possible that Sealy wide receiver/tight end Ricky Seals-Jones could eventually end up there, but he's going to start out at wide receiver when he arrives on campus.

Look for some out-of-state names to emerge and for position coach Bruce Chambers to continue to evaluate second Junior Day visitors Jeremiah Gaines of Red Oak and Trent Gow of Mansfield. Both are in the running for an offer, but neither one receiving an offer appears imminent.

What positions that were not a need in 2012 (due to returning players) are now a need in 2013?

Considering that Texas took a prospect at every position on the field except for tight end in 2012, there aren't any major holes that now need to be filled. If there's one, though, it's a center in the class and to fill that Searels is going hard after Harker Heights offensive lineman Darius James, the former high school teammate of early enrollee Camrhon Hughes and current teammate of most recent commitment Naashon Hughes, the defensive athlete who accepted a greyshirt offer over full rides offered by Baylo, LSU, and South Carolina. Take that, SEC. Art Briles, you, too.

What can we learn from Texas' newfound willingness to dip into the JUCO ranks?

The lesson here is that Mack Brown is going to trust these assistants to go beyond Brown's comfort zone if there is a need. That's really the key here -- if there's a need that must be filled immediately with an impact player, Searels and Davis are going to be given free reign to help get that done. However, it probably won't become a common occurrence, especially if the staff continues to do a better job of evaluating high school players -- avoid the misses there and the depth will starting coming along to reduce the need for instant-impact saviors like Hawkins and Moore.

Do you see Texas attempting to recruit California and the Southeast a bit more now than in previous years?

The Southeast will certainly be in play more with the aforementioned ties that Searels and Davis have there, along with defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, but those ties never helped Will Muschamp much, so there aren't really any expectations for Texas to start stealing kids away from, say, Alabama in that region, though the offer out to Georgia safety Vonn Bell, thought to be a 'Bama lean, is an indication that Texas will try with at least one kid in 2013.

As for California, that doesn't seem like a strong possibility unless there is a specific need or absolutely compelling talent -- like Vista Murrietta super blue Su'a Craven -- but keep an eye on Arizona. Texas dipped into the state to try to pull Chandler standout Christian Westerman, who ended up de-committing in the 2011 class, as well as securing Scottsdale Chaparral gunslinger Connor Brewer in 2012. The target this year is another Chandler kid, cornerback Cole Luke, a real prototypical rangy cornerback with an impressive overall skillset. The thought is that Arizona is ripe for the picking without an in-state power and it's a bit closer to Texas with more of that Southwestern feel that could make kids easily feel at home in Austin.

You've said that 13-12 (Texas' combined record over the last two years) doesn't mean a thing, but what happens if it is 21-17 after 2012? At what point, if any, does record matter?

If Texas crashes and burns in 2012, there could be some residual impact, but it's tough to see that happening without an incredible rash of injuries and flat-out awful luck, so right now it's borderline inconceivable to even try to project something like that for a season that looks like a return to the 10-victory campaigns that were the norm heading into 2010.

But playing along here, it's possible that it could make some impact. Here's the thing, though -- most of these kids grow up as Texas fans, so if they see some adversity, they tend to take that more as an opportunity for them to help return the 'Horns to former glory, rather than seeing a sinking ship with which they would want no part. When you're the Joneses, a couple bad investments is hardly enough to bring down the empire.

Who are the top remaining prospects on Texas' board and how do you see the class finishing up?

Right now, the Longhorns are heavily targeting kids like James and Smythe, who may be the top targets who currently have offers. Since the numbers are already getting tighter, guys like Dallas Skyline wide receiver Ra'Shaad Samples (who has an incredible number of offers) and DeSoto all-purpose back Dontre Wilson could have to hop on board soon or risk losing their spots.

After that, there's defensive tackle Justin Manning from Dallas Kimball, the OU legacy as the younger brother of DeMarcus Granger, but he doesn't seem that interested in Texas. The 'Horns have the luxury of waiting and seeing what happens with him with a big defensive tackle class in the previous cycle.

The position to really watch is defensive back. There aren't any offers out right now to in-state guys, so the 'Horns are continuing to evaluate there, while trying to get Cravens, Bell, and Luke on campus some time in the near future. If that doesn't happen, defensive backs coach Duane Akina may make a move on a guy from Texas like safety Kameron Miles of West Mesquite, Fort Bend Dulles' Maurice Smith, or Bastrop's Antwuan Davis, with the latter two being classified as a defensive back and cornerback, respectively. All three would be pretty easy takes in most years, but with limited spots and the philosophical changes, this isn't a normal year.

With 11 commitments so far and all of those prospects being among the top several players at their position in the state (if not the top), the 2013 class is already off to an incredible start. And with the exception of Manning, the 'Horns are also in fantastic shape with close with most of the in-state guys like on the board, as well as possible defensive back offers -- all three of those mentioned would be highly likely to commit at some point if offered.

Right now, it looks like the 'Horns will be able to secure virtually every player in the state that they want, as well as having a chance, however slight, with a couple top national prospects. All in all, even though it's going down differently, this 2013 group looks like it will compete for being the best in the country, as have the last three classes for the 'Horns. And that last statement is why the future looks so bright in Austin and why virtually every player to verbally pledge in this class has mentioned the potential of winning a national championship early in their career.

For more on Horns football, visit Texas blogs Burnt Orange Nation and Barking Carnival, plus SB Nation Dallas.