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Thursday, March 28, 2013
The Heard: UT recruiting news and notes

By William Wilkerson and Max Olson

Welcome to The Heard, HornsNation’s weekly in-depth look inside the never-ending world of Longhorns recruiting with news, notes and interesting tidbits on the latest happenings around the program. We’ll release this every Thursday.

Talk about it in our forum and, if there’s a recruit out there you’d like to hear more from, let us know.

A few of the notes in today's 2014-heavy edition of The Heard:
Read The Heard after the jump.

Spring game comes at right time

The Longhorns are in an extremely unique position right now.

That thing called “momentum” is in their favor on the recruiting front - they’re off to a solid start in 2014 and already have one 2015 commitment – despite hovering around .500 over the last three seasons.

They’ve got a great opportunity to keep that rolling this week with the unprecedented combination of the Texas Relays, as popular a yearly track and field event as there is in the country, happening Thursday through Saturday in addition to their spring game on Saturday night.

How Patrick Suddes, Mack Brown and the rest of this staff marriage the two events will be interesting. But this is an opportunity they cannot pass up. Just look at the volume of high-priority recruits who are expected to participate in the Texas Relays:


In addition to those scheduled to participate in the Texas Relays, here is a look at the players we’ve confirmed will likely be in town for Texas’ spring game:

- William Wilkerson

ESPN 100 G talks official visit

Kendal Yancy-Harris is ready to take his official visit to Texas, and don’t be surprised if his big decision comes soon after that trip.

The four-star ESPN 100 point guard from Richardson (Texas) Berkner said he’s arriving in Austin today and will wrap up the visit on Saturday. He doesn’t have any other visits lined up following this one, and no other schools are showing nearly as much interest as Texas has lately.

Andrew Shurtleff
Could the Longhorns add a commitment from Kendal Yancy-Harris this weekend?

“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I just want to see the environment, see how I interact with the players and get situated with all the education stuff.”

We wrote about the 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard earlier this month after his appearance in the state tournament, and things haven’t changed much for him since.

Yancy-Harris originally signed with USC, but he was able to get released from his letter of intent when the Trojans fired coach Kevin O’Neill on Jan. 14.

Texas, led by recruiter Chris Ogden, has made a strong push since then to secure a pledge from the prospect who’s ranked 87th nationally and No. 8 among in-state prospects. Ogden has formed good relationships with Yancy-Harris’ family and sold him on a chance to be a difference-maker next season.

“They told me they like my size, that they’ve never really had a guard like me before,” Yancy-Harris said. “They like my size and the leadership I bring on the floor and how I play hard.”

If he does sign with Texas, Yancy-Harris said he’ll be ready to play a lot of minutes for a team that was the nation’s youngest in 2012-13. He’s confident he can take defenders one-on-one and bring good defense to the table.

After watching the Longhorns struggle this season, he knows there will be opportunity for playing time. Yancy-Harris would be an especially critical addition if guard Myck Kabongo does declare for the NBA draft.

“I thought they were missing a guy like myself this season,” he said. “That’s how I felt.”

Will a Texas commitment come soon, perhaps even during this week’s official visit?

“I don’t know yet,” Yancy-Harris said. “I’m still thinking about it. I don’t know.”

With no other visits scheduled and seemingly no other teams in the mix, this sure seems like a done deal for Texas. There’s still time for others to enter the mix, considering the basketball signing period doesn’t start until April 17, but I expect this recruitment to wrap up quickly. – Max Olson

Gators commit will visit Texas

When ESPN Watch List offensive guard Joseph Paul (New Orleans/Saint Augustine) left Texas’ junior day on Feb. 23 he told HornsNation that the Longhorns were his top school.

A few days after he visited Florida, however, he committed to the Gators.

“I just felt like it was the right time,” said Paul, who checks in at 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do because I prayed on it. It just felt like the right thing to do that day.”

Paul’s father taught him to be a man of his word and to stick to what he commits to doing, but there is still a long way to go until he’s eligible to sign his national letter of intent.

That said, Paul wants to make sure that Florida is the place for him and the only way he feels he can do that is by giving other schools a fair chance. So he’ll be in Austin this weekend for the Texas Relays and Texas’ spring game for that reason.

“I really just want to make sure,” he said. “When I get older Texas is where I want to stay so I just want to make sure I am giving them a fair chance.”

Paul lived in Fort Worth when he was 10 years old after Hurricane Katrina and became comfortable with living in the state at that time.

“I’m excited to come down there again,” Paul said. “Texas is like a second home to me.”

It will be Paul’s second trip to Texas. That was his first trip up to Gainesville, Fla., when he committed to the Gators.

“It was great. It felt like home,” Paul said of his Florida visit. “I really connected with the players. They treated me like I was one of their own.”

In addition to Florida and Texas, Paul also has offers from Florida State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Tulane. – William Wilkerson

Visit an important one for Alaka

The plans just keep changing for Otaro Alaka. Blame all the other schools trying to make a move for the Houston Cypress Falls outside linebacker.

Alaka hoped to make a decision by the end of March. Now it’s likely going to come in late April or early May, after Alaka takes at least three more visits.

He’ll be at Texas for this weekend’s spring game. Then he said he'll visit Texas A&M on April 5 and LSU on April 12.

Max Olson/
Class of 2014 linebacker Otaro Alaka has a top four of Texas, Texas A&M, LSU and Florida State.

“Initially, you know, the decision I was looking at making was in the end of March, but that’s when it was just Texas and Texas A&M,” Alaka said. “But then LSU offered and now Florida State has offered.”

That offer came from new assistant and former Texas recruiting coordinator Tim Brewster. Alaka said it’s possible he could eventually visit FSU, but that wouldn’t happen until the summer at the earliest.

That might not happen, of course, because Alaka is hoping to wrap up his recruitment before Cy Falls starts spring football on April 22. Still, the new offers have given him a lot to think about.

LSU offered on the same day Texas did, right after Alaka’s junior day visit in Austin, and he got a chance to catch up with Les Miles recently.

“He’s the one who wanted me to get up there for the 12th,” Alaka said. “They wanted me to come last weekend, but I couldn’t do that. Everybody says that LSU’s campus is beautiful and pretty cool, so I’m looking forward to it.”

His visit for Texas’ spring game this weekend is an important one, because Alaka is bringing his father along. Femi Alaka was out of the country and unable to attend Texas junior day, and his input is critical in the junior linebacker’s decision.

“It’s pretty big, since he hasn’t seen either Texas or Texas A&M,” Alaka said. “I just want my dad to see the place and meet the coaches and see what he thinks about it.”

Right now, Alaka says he has a legitimate top four now that FSU and LSU are in the mix. But Texas and A&M are still on top of that list, though the Longhorns no longer have a clear edge. The Aggies send much more mail, Alaka said, and their coaches have closed the gap.

“I really just want to narrow it down,” he said. “Texas and Texas A&M are pretty much still my top two. They’re pretty much equal. I’m not looking for anybody else.” – Max Olson

Louisiana DT making the trip to Austin

One of the out-of-state recruits that will make his way down for this weekend’s festivities is New Orleans Edna Karr defensive tackle Courtney Garnett.

Garnett, who was offered by the Longhorns shortly after their second junior day, is one of five DTs with Texas offers for the Class of 2014. Unlike the others, though, he has stated publicly that the Longhorns are his top choice right now.

“Texas is my No. 1 school,” he said. “Then it’s Ole Miss and Oklahoma.”

The Longhorns are hoping to solidify their stake atop Garnett’s list this weekend when the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder takes in the Texas Relays and then Texas’ spring game with his family.

“I’ll be looking to see how the guys are competing and how the coaches get after the guys,” Garnett said.

It will be the first time Garnett gets to meet Texas defensive tackles coach Bo Davis, who is the one who offered him.

“Bo Davis did tell me that there weren’t many defensive tackles coming out of Texas this year and that they didn’t sign one DT in 2013,” he said. “They are looking for a lot of D-tackles.”

Garnett is the fourth player from his high school to be offered by Texas in 2014. The Longhorns have also offered defensive back Jermaine Roberts and offensive tackle Joseph Paul.

While he has Texas No. 1, Garnett is carefully considering other schools, one of which is Oklahoma.

“I mean having two big rival schools offer me is great,” he said. “My recruiting process is going well. I plan on getting to Norman actually during my spring break. My spring break starts after this week.”

He is also really interested in Ole Miss, which has offered.

“They are coming after me hard,” he said. “We actually talked two days ago. The recruiting process is going great. I’m enjoying all the love that they are showing me. My decision is going to be very tough.”

Garnett thinks he’ll make a decision in two months. – William Wilkerson

Louisiana DT likes Longhorns

Does O.J. Smith have an offer from Texas? The answer appears to be not quite yet, but Smith is confident he’s got one. Following his unofficial visit to Texas last weekend, the Bossier City (La.) Airline defensive tackle said he’s happy to be on the Longhorns’ radar and he’ll certainly be back in Austin for another visit.

“I liked it a lot,” he said. “I liked the atmosphere, the family atmosphere, and I like coach Mack Brown and Bo Davis.”

Smith didn’t get brough into Brown’s office to receive his offer on Saturday, but he said he was told by the coaching staff that they wanted to offer him.

The issue? It may be his grades. Smith said he has a GPA of 2.3 right now and plans to get that up to 3.1 by the end of his senior year, but Texas coaches told him he needs to keep working on those grades.

Offer or not, Smith has strong interest in the Longhorns. He said he’s been talking to his father about coming back for the spring game and will be at UT camp in June. He wants to do whatever it takes to make sure he’s got that offer.

Hawaii and Memphis have already offered the 6-foot-2, 305-pound lineman, and he said Washington and Miami recently began showing interest. But one school is clearly in the lead.

“Texas is my No. 1 school right now,” he said. “I like everything about Texas. My dad just wants me to wait it out. He doesn’t want me to commit too early. But I like everything about Texas.”

Smith said Texas began recruiting him after his coach got in touch with Davis. Texas’ defensive tackles coach already knew about Smith and told him he liked his speed and size.

Getting to watch Davis coach up his position during Saturday’s scrimmage gave Smith a better sense of what he’d be dealing with if he ended up at Texas.

“It was great. I liked the tempo they played with, they played hard and I liked everything about it,” Smith said. “He’s a good coach. I like the way he runs his defensive line. He likes to work. Everybody thinks he’s cool, and I like the way he coaches.”

Even if he did think he had an offer this weekend, Smith said he didn’t think about committing to Texas.

“I’m not ready to make a decision right now,” he said. “It’s too early. It’s not my senior year yet. My dad just wants me to wait it out.”

I’ve been saying for a while that Texas might have to look outside the state to find its defensive tackles for this 2014 class. If he gets his academic profile in order, Smith will have a shot at being one of them. – Max Olson

UT commit unwavered by OU offer

It’s just a fact of life as a recruit; just because you commit somewhere doesn’t mean that other schools are going to give up on their pursuit of you. In fact, the opposite often occurs. They come at you harder.

That’s something 2014 Longhorns wide receiver commitment Roderick Bernard (Sharpstown, Texas/Sharpstown) is starting to figure out.

Bernard already had a Houston offer when he committed to Texas on Jan. 30. Now Oklahoma is beginning to hike up its efforts.

“The OU offer came in quick,” Bernard said. “I didn’t know it was going to come. I was at practice and my coach told me that OU offered. They said they were trying to get on me earlier but they were too busy this spring.”

Unfortunately for the Sooners, their offer hasn’t caused Bernard to second-guess his commitment to Texas.

“It just, for me, lets me know what type of player I can be getting D-I offers from schools like that,” he said. “I am still solid to my school that I committed to. I knew the OU offer was going to come after I committed.”

Bernard is actually extremely relieved that he was able to commit to his dream school, and that he no longer has to shoulder that pressure of being uncommitted.

“It feels good,” he said. “Now I know what I have to focus on and get ready because I already know what school I’m going to go to. It has released a lot more stress figuring out what school I will go to. Now it’s time for me to get ready, keep doing what I’m doing and keep my grades up. Well they are already up but just keep that going.”

Bernard is anxious to get to Austin this weekend to catch up with other 2014 recruits that will be in town for the spring game. But he’s not just going to relax.

“I’m coming there to learn, pay attention to the offense and how the defense and offense collaborate,” he said.

Bernard said that he’ll be bringing teammates Jerrod Taylor (2013 fullback) and Roberto Graveran (2014 tight end) with him.

He’s also coming to run in the 200-meters at the Texas Relays on Saturday. – William Wilkerson

DB Johnson back for spring game

ESPN Watch List defensive back Darrion Johnson will be back on campus Saturday for the Texas Relays and spring game. It’s his second time in Austin this spring after attending the first junior day in February.

Not a whole lot has changed in the recruitment of the Brenham, Texas, standout. He’s been hearing from Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, TCU and Ole Miss lately and thinks Baylor and Oregon could start talking to him, but he’s still playing things close to the vest when it comes to who’s No. 1 on his list.

Max Olson/ESPN
Class of 2014 defensive back Darrion Johnson has a good relationship with Texas coach Duane Akina.

“Everybody is equal,” he said. “Maybe in the middle of my senior season I’ll narrow it down.”

The school he hears from most? Texas. Johnson said there’s no coach he talks to more than Duane Akina, and his relationship with the veteran secondary coach is in great shape.

“I like how he coaches. He’d be a really good coach to coach me,” Johnson said. “I’d say I call him a lot.”

Johnson attended last year’s Orange-White game, but he showed up late and had to take in the game from the stands with his cousin, not in the recruit section. He missed out on meeting the UT coaches that day, but Johnson still had a good time and he’s looking forward to being back for Saturday night’s spring finale.

“It was fun to be around last year. I like how they did it,” he said. “I’ll feel good to be there again. I’d feel real good to be there and see what they look like on defense.”

Since he doesn’t run track, Johnson has been focusing his attention on refining his game as a defensive back. He’s mostly focused on playing safety – his preferred spot, since it allows him to be a playmaker.

Schools have told Johnson he could be a corner, safety and anything in between at the next level. Akina mostly talked about safety when he first offered Johnson, but the 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior is open to anything.

“Down at Texas, you have to know both of the positions so they can put you anywhere,” he said.

Johnson said there was a period in time when he thought about committing early this spring, but now he’s growing more comfortable with the idea of waiting until after his senior season.

Considering Texas still doesn’t have a verbal pledge from a 2014 defensive back, it’ll be interesting to see if Texas starts pushing Johnson to make his commitment and be the first guy in the group. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if Johnson did end up deciding in the not-too-distant future, but he does seem to want to take his time with this process. – Max Olson