Thursday, February 28, 2013
UT has chance to build Louisiana pipeline
By Max Olson
For a program that has never needed more than what it can find within its own state borders, Texas is starting to acknowledge a new recruiting pipeline is there for the taking. It’s practically begging to be built up.
The Longhorns are poised to become a player in the state of Louisiana, starting with this 2014 recruiting class.
New Texas running backs coach Larry Porter has ties to Louisiana.
The addition of new running backs coach Larry Porter, who built his reputation as an elite national recruiter during his five-year stint at LSU, should give Texas an opportunity to establish a foothold in Louisiana in the next few years. Porter is assigned to recruit an area he knows all too well, and the initial results are impressive.
The Longhorns have already offered scholarships to at least six of the state’s best prospects and could offer a seventh, New Orleans Edna Karr tight end Anthony Jones, in the near future. Four of those seven were on campus last weekend for Texas’ second junior day.
Porter’s experience gives Texas an advantage. But can it develop into an edge?
New Edna Karr coach Nathaniel Jones has a unique perspective on this matter. He took over the program in January after two years of coaching the secondary at UTSA. He has coached D-II and high school football in the state of Texas, but he’s also an Edna Karr alumnus.
The Longhorns are recruiting three of his stars -- defensive end Gerald Willis III, receiver Speedy Noil and Anthony Jones -- and the coach is glad to see that, not that he’s at all surprised.
“It’s your neighboring state. You’d be a fool not to get in there and get some of those guys,” Nathaniel Jones said. “I think the University of Texas puts themselves in great position by coming into Louisiana. I think that’s very smart of them.”
Texas would be a fool not to want his kids, Jones said, because recent history shows the investment pays off.
The New York Times reported this month that Louisiana’s 61 players on NFL rosters to start 2012 was more per capita than any other state. The state has held that distinction for four years.
But Texas is not the only program outside Louisiana's borders making an impact on the state's recruiting. While LSU has signed 23 of its state’s 36 ESPN 150 prospects since 2006, nobody is better prepared now to challenge the Tigers for that talent than Texas A&M.
Recruits have serious respect for the SEC emblem, Jones said, and that has opened doors left and right for Kevin Sumlin and his Aggies. They signed three Louisiana prospects in 2013, including Edna Karr four-star corner Noel Ellis, and have offered at least 10 for 2014.
“But with Texas, there’s that name recognition,” Jones said. “They’ll have to work harder than A&M because they don’t fall under that SEC banner, but at the same token, it’s the University of Texas.”
Another factor that can benefit Texas tremendously with Louisiana coaches, one that too often gets overlooked, is Major Applewhite.
The Longhorns offensive coordinator and Baton Rouge (La.) Catholic grad still has serious cachet in his home state.
“Major Applewhite is a legend around here,” Jones said. “That’s a Louisiana boy. It’s the whole legend of Major Applewhite, a kid who came up, fought hard, started for the University of Texas and overcame. It’s a great story everyone likes to hear, and they respect it.
“Between him and Porter, I think that will really help.”
So does J.T. Curtis, the legendary coach at John Curtis Christian School in River Ridge, La., who has a long-standing relationship with Porter.
Curtis has won more than 500 career games and 25 state championships, including the consensus national title in 2012. You can bet Porter will stop by his school this spring to check out receiver Malachi Dupre and linebacker Kenny Young, two ESPN Watch List prospects with long offer lists.
“Larry was a hard-working recruiter, a guy who was on top of his game and got to know our kids extremely well,” Curtis said. “He’s a guy who was very involved and engaging. I think he’ll do a very good job recruiting for the University of Texas.”
Curtis has found the coaches who pop in one year for one top recruit usually don’t fare too well. It’s those who visit year after year, those consistent and persistent recruiters who build long-term bonds, who thrive at his powerhouse.
Porter has that experience, and it could serve him well in what appears to be an especially strong year for top-end recruits in Louisiana.
“I think it’s a good class,” Curtis said, “but really, we don’t have any bad years.”
After visiting Texas on Saturday, New Orleans St. Augustine lineman Joseph Paul said the Longhorns became his No. 1 school. For him, the appeal is as much about the state as the university.
Texas is going hard after ESPN Watch List receiver Speedy Noil.
When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Paul and his family relocated to Fort Worth, Texas. They lived there for eight months. He was a fourth-grader back then, but Paul still remembers how kind he found Texans to be.
The unofficial visit brought those memories and feelings back to the surface.
“Everybody’s nice, and there were a lot of cowboy boots and jeans,” he said. “It was like a reunion, me going back there, because I hadn’t been back in a few years.”
Paul was offered nearly a month ago by the Longhorns coaching staff. He considered that quite an honor. After all, he didn’t know Texas did much recruiting in New Orleans.
Texas has only two Louisiana natives -- defensive end Shiro Davis and kicker Will Russ -- on its 2013 roster. That’s not nearly enough in Paul’s estimation.
“I really do think they need a couple more players from Louisiana,” he said. “You saw the impact Tyrann Mathieu had on LSU. He brought that feistiness and swag to that team that pumped them up. If they get a guy like that, they can be real good.”
If Paul ends up committing to the Longhorns, the offensive tackle prospect hopes he can be the start of a new pipeline for the program. UT is going hard after elite teammates Leonard Fournette and Jermaine Roberts, too.
“I would be real comfortable if I could get a few more guys,” Paul said. “I think we could. We’ve got a couple guys who could get it going.”
He was referring to recruits, of course, but it’s true in another sense. Texas has Porter and Applewhite. Now is as good a time as any for the Longhorns to break into the Bayou and see what they can bring home.