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Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Texas recruiting misses: 2009

By Carter Strickland

Knile Davis
Knile Davis could have helped Texas if he had signed with the Longhorns.
AUSTIN, Texas – The ills of the 2009 recruiting class were not isolated to just the Texas program.

While the Longhorns have had their share of problems with that class -- 14 of the 20 players signed didn’t exhaust their eligibility -- many of the other products produced by the state either didn’t make it or didn’t make the impact many thought they would.

The state’s top three prospects in 2009 had stunted or less-than-expected careers to date: Russell Shepard (No. 3 overall in ESPN’s 150) was never a star for LSU. Craig Loston (No. 7 overall in ESPN’s 150) suffered through several injuries but started as a junior in 2012. Garrett Gilbert (No. 11 overall in ESPN’s 150) didn’t make it at Texas and has a year left to prove himself at SMU.

Even Jamarkus McFarland, the defensive lineman that sparked the largest recruiting battle of the class between Texas and Oklahoma, turned out to be an average player. He started 22 games and had just 7.5 career sacks with two of those coming against Florida A&M. While McFarland most likely would have been in Texas’ rotation of five defensive tackles in 2012, it is not a lock that he would have been significantly better than any of those who did play for the Longhorns.

So in measuring Texas’ swings and/or misses among the top 200 players in 2009 there has to be a rather liberal strike zone considering that so many others were left standing and wondering what happened as well.

But there were players that Texas missed. Here are the top three recruits that could have helped turn the fortunes of the team these past three years.

Player: Knile Davis
Position: Running back
ESPN ranking: No. 20 RB
Schools interested: LSU, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma
Signed with: Arkansas

A knee injury slowed Davis’ career but in 2010 he was one of the most explosive players in the country. He rushed for 1,322 yards, the most in the SEC. He missed all of 2011 and was not as impactful in 2012 rushing for just 377 yards. The year Texas would have needed Davis the most just happens to be 2010. The Longhorns were led in rushing by Cody Johnson. Johnson was essentially a fill in as a running back and played at fullback, a much more apt position, as a senior. Not surprisingly Texas, which finished 5-7 in 2012, was 66th nationally in rushing that year. Arkansas was actually worse at 69th but at least it had a back that could provide explosive plays and it is a fair assessment that the defenses of the SEC West are a bit tougher than those offered in the Big 12.

Player: Steve Williams
Position: Defensive back
ESPN ranking: No. 75 in ESPN 150
Schools interested: Auburn, Miami, Oklahoma, Texas Tech
Signed with: Cal

Texas hasn’t suffered too much at cornerback. But Williams could have helped the Longhorns with depth and flexibility. He started his last 25 games for Cal and was the team’s defensive MVP. He has decided to forgo his senior season for the NFL draft.

If Texas would have had Williams it might have allowed for better play at the safety spot, particularly in 2012, which would have been William’s junior year. Knowing there were issues -- that and quarterback were the major position concerns headed into 2012 -- Texas would have had the option to switch Quandre Diggs to safety and play William and Carrington Byndom at the corner spots.

Even prior to that Williams may have been in a position to start at corner in 2011 therefore allowing Texas to experiment with not having Blake Gideon at safety for every play of that season.

Player: Dustin Hopkins
Position: Kicker
ESPN ranking: No. 1 K
Schools interested: Baylor, Kansas State, Notre Dame. Missouri
Signed with: Florida State

It would have been a reach to get Hopkins. And really Texas would not have needed him until his redshirt junior year. Justin Tucker was a stalwart and made plenty of big kicks for the Longhorns. But when Tucker left, Texas was at a loss. The Longhorns tried to scramble with a senior transfer and a freshman recruit but neither was able to fill in adequately in 2012. And the miss against West Virginia turned what could have been a 10-win season into a ho-hum nine-win affair that has left may questioning the Texas turnaround.

Now there is no questioning Hopkins would have hit the kick. Hopkins missed five of 30 kicks in 2012. Only one was less than 40 yards. The other four were 44 yards or longer. He made five of six from 50 or longer. The field goal against WVU was a 40 yarder.

What’s more, Hopkins would have redshirted at Texas so in all likelihood he would still be around for 2013; another year in which Texas, so long so blessed with reliable kickers, is questioning what will happen with that position.