Texas is arguably the most talented state in college football recruiting, so any identifiable trends tend to be big deals.
In the spring of 2016, after talking to most of the state’s top prospects, it was clear that elite recruits in the state were playing a wait-and-see game with the Longhorns and Aggies. They were smart to wait.
Charlie Strong lost seven games for the third time in as many years and was fired by Texas. The Longhorns signed just six four-star players from the state, and none of the top 19.
This was Texas’ worst-rated recruiting class since recruiting rankings became a thing. Despite the hire of Tom Herman, the Longhorns still experienced what Burnt Orange Nation’s Wescott Eberts termed a “Texodus.”
Herman defended his class, and derided recruiting rankings with tired tropes about heart and hustle in the way that coaches who failed to sign enough elite players often do. But he also brought up a key point about the difference between the class a staff signs after six weeks on the job, and one after a full year at a school.
We knew through all the metrics, all the analytics, all the numbers that point to most of the time in years of transition in coaching staffs, that signing class has the highest rate of attrition – meaning kids that quit – has the highest rate of off-field issues including academics, drugs and social, and has the highest rate of guys that can’t play, and don’t ever see the field.
Herman is right. The first-full recruiting class is often make or break for a coach, not the class he signs just a few weeks after taking the job.
If there is a positive in Austin, it is that the Longhorns did not waste too many scholarships on lesser-rated players, taking a class of just 18. The coming class should be bigger, and it will likely experience the bump.
Kevin Sumlin’s Aggies, per usual, started hot before cratering, losing five of their last seven games. Sumlin wasn’t fired, but could have been if not for an enormous buyout clause. Texas A&M signed six four-star recruits, and like Texas, had little momentum down the stretch.
Of the state’s 47 recruits rated four- or five-stars, 30 signed with out-of-state programs.
This is the first time in more than a decade that Texas schools failed to sign at least half of the state’s elite prospects.
The top seven recruits left the state. Ohio State signed three of the top six players.
Worse yet, of the state’s top 22 players, 18 left the state. Ohio State and LSU signed three. Stanford and Oklahoma two. Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and TCU each signed one, as did eight out-of-state schools. (Note: The Aggies did sign two top players who were originally from Texas, but who’d transferred to the IMG Academy in Florida for their senior seasons.)
Oklahoma cleaned up, signing six of the top 35, its best Texas haul in almost a decade.
But despite the Sooners’ resurgence within the state, the Big 12 did a poor job of signing talent from its top feeder state. Just 17 of the 47 4/5-stars in Texas went with a Big 12 school. That is the lowest mark since Texas A&M and Missouri left for the SEC.
Will 2018 be different?
To answer this question, it is important to determine why so many recruits left the state.
The coaching uncertainty, and turnover, at the two major programs had a lot to do with it, as did 13 combined losses in 2016.
But this is deeper.
The Longhorns and Aggies have not been all that good since the class of 2018 entered middle school in 2012.
“I think it is because [elite prospects] are competitive,” said Max Wright, a defensive end from Katy (Texas) Taylor High, rated 2018’s No. 6 player in the state at time of publish. “They want to win national championships. And recently, Texas teams have not been in national championships, so they want to go somewhere they can ball out, get exposure, and win a title. That’s why Ohio State got those top Texas guys and why Alabama gets them, too.
“It’s not a lack of state pride, it’s just been a long time since the Texas schools have been good.”
Consider that members of Wright’s recruiting class were in kindergarten when Vince Young scored to beat USC for the national title.
Texas has a record of 24-26 since the class of 2018 entered middle school, and just 19-17 in the worst Power 5 conference. A&M is not that much better, at 33-19 and just 15-17 in conference.
Recruits simply do not remember much of Texas as the power program of the 2000s and certainly do not remember the Aggies winning nine or 10 games six times in the 1990s. Their parents, coaches, and mentors do, and that matters, but recruits’ memories are recruiting hurdles.
Angleton safety B.J. Foster, the No. 1 2018 recruit in Texas, agreed.
“I want to get out and try new things, to find the best fit for me,” Foster said.
“I think some people in 2018 have belief, but some are trying to wait and see,” Al’Vonte Woodard, a four-star receiver from Houston’s Lamar High, said when asked if he sees the same wait-and-see attitude in the 2018 class that the 2017 crop had.
“I think some have belief because of what [Herman] did in his first season at U of H, going to the Peach Bowl. A&M-wise, they start off great every year, but I think people look at how they finish. They expect them to be in those bigger games to finish the season off.”
How is the new Texas staff different from the former group?
While Herman and company have been on the job in Austin for just nine weeks, recruits believe they do have a feel for him, thanks in part to his work at Houston.
“They care more about you, less about selling the program and team,” D’Shawn Jamison, a four-star cornerback recruit from Lamar High, said when asked to compare the new Texas staff to the old one.
“Recruits in Houston saw what Tom Herman did at U of H. They know,” Keondre Coburn, a four-star defensive tackle from Houston Westfield, said.
“They sort of tried, but not really, no,” Coburn said when asked if the former staff at Texas was recruiting him. The new staff offered him three weeks after taking the job.
Josh Moore, a four-star receiver from Yoakum, who is transferring to IMG Academy in Florida, was wearing Ohio State gear as we spoke. He is open to in-state schools, as well as schools out of state.
“It’s the relationships. Coach [Jason] Washington came by my school, I’d say, three times in the past two weeks,” he said, referring to Texas’ cornerbacks coach. “Just come through and hang out and watch us work out. Me and Coach Herman, we’ve been close ever since he was at Houston. And now with him at Texas, that relationship is even stronger.”
Brock Wright agreed with Moore, noting the fun and energy the new staff seems to have.
If Texas contends for the Big 12 title in 2017, it’s clear some in the state will see that as positive momentum for the program and sign up.
A&M commits believe the obstacle of Sumlin’s job security can be overcome.
But while some recruits privately acknowledge that it’s an issue, most are brushing off the talk.
“I don’t think he is on the hot seat, but even if something happened, I’m sticking with A&M as long as [offensive line coach Jim] Turner stays there,” four-star offensive tackle commit Colten Blanton said. “[Other schools] try to bring up his job security issues, but I ignore it.”
“I don’t think he’s going anywhere, but yeah, I think that is one of the main factors in kids’ minds,” Blanton added.
Wright agreed, adding that some recruits will be waiting to see how the season plays out.
While acknowledging it impacts some decisions, four-star A&M receiver commitment Jordan Moore says that the Aggies can overcome it.
“A lot of people like coach Sumlin. He’s a great guy and recruiter,” Moore said.
“I don’t care about that. I’m committing to a school because of the school, not the coaches. Coaches get fired left and right,” Jordan’s brother, Josh, said. He further indicated that although his brother Jordan is committed to A&M, it will have no impact on his decision. He plans to commit early so that he can recruit others to his eventual destination.
It seems the staff is still making good connections with players.
“They don’t just treat you like another player; they treat you like you are their son,” Woodard said of A&M’s staff.
All of the recruits we spoke with believe that just a few more wins by either the Aggies or Longhorns could go a long way in recruiting, especially if they come in big games.
The increasing importance of Houston
Whether Texas considered this or not when it hired Herman is up for debate, but the timing of the Herman hire, with his connections in Houston, is great for the Longhorns. Many recruiting folks with whom I spoke believe the Houston area has never been more talented than it is right now.
The numbers back them up. At time of publish, nine of the state’s top 11 prospects on the 247Sports Composite play in Houston, or within a 45-minute drive of its city center. And more than half of the top 35 are within that radius, too.
My eyes agree, too, having just visited Houston for the Nike Opening Regional Camp. It is indeed loaded.
Texas A&M, located just 90 minutes away, traditionally does very well in Houston. That shouldn’t change.
But if the state’s talent really is shifting southeast to Houston, Texas probably made the right hire. A number of prospects espoused a belief that the Longhorns will do better in Houston under Herman than they did under Strong, due to the legwork put in by the staff in prior years.