Sunday, February 23, 2014
Strong first impressions at junior day
By Max Olson
AUSTIN, Texas -- In the midst of the January recruiting frenzy, a process far more hectic than usual for Texas’ brand new coaching staff, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford submitted a plea on his Twitter account to the class of 2015: Be patient.
The new Longhorns coaches were scrambling to crisscross the state and finish off the recruiting class they inherited. They needed every day they could get.
Once the fax machine was turned off for good on signing day, the next battle began. Charlie Strong and his coaches had 16 days to plan for its first junior day and, truly, its first impression with a brand new batch of recruits.
That big day arrived Saturday. When it was over, the visiting recruits offered a common reaction as they left campus. Texas, they said, seemed different.
Linebacker Cameron Townsend says the new Texas coaching staff has made a strong early impression.
“Coach Strong and Coach Mack Brown are two totally different people. But, you know, I still get similar vibes,” Missouri City (Texas) Ridge Point linebacker Cameron Townsend said. “I definitely like the new coaching staff a lot. I really like Coach Strong. He seems like a really legit guy.”
Based on the standards his predecessor established, Strong’s first Texas junior day wasn’t filled with fireworks or countless rapid-fire commitments. But the first step in a long year of recruiting was a successful one.
Offensive tackle Ronnie Major switched his commitment from Baylor to the Longhorns midway through the day. The Huntsville, Texas, lineman landed his offer during the visit and committed on the spot.
Parting ways with Baylor wasn’t easy -- Major had been committed since August -- but it was the relationship he built with Joe Wickline and the staff in the past month that sealed the deal.
“That’s a great coaching staff,” Major said. “I’m going to like playing for them. They said when I come to Texas, we’ll have a great program and I’ll get a lot better.”
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Smith already holds offers from the likes of Alabama, Oklahoma, Clemson, Texas A&M and Michigan but had never visited the Longhorns. Strong made it clear just how much Texas needed him.
“We were definitely impressed with Coach Strong,” said Janell Smith, his mother. “He has a lot of energy and it looks like a great future here.”
Hill, a corner from Houston Lamar, received the second offer of the day and admitted he’s built up a stronger relationship with this staff in a short period of time than he had with previous Texas coaches.
“I actually liked it better,” Hill said of the coaching change. “I like the coaching staff. I feel like I’ll have a better connection to them.”
Former LSU commit Xavier Lewis (Laplace, La./East St. John) remembers the first thing Strong said to him Saturday when they shook hands was simple: “I want you here.”
“Coach [Chris] Vaughn and Coach Bedford, they’re not all just about football,” the ESPN 300 cornerback said. “They’re about building you up as a man. I liked that [Strong] was really hands-on with everybody and moving around and talking to everybody.”
The experience had to be somewhat surreal for the six prospects committed to Texas. Brown and his assistants had recruited them for nearly a full year and convinced them they belonged on the 40 Acres. How would the new staff make them feel wanted?
That’s a question ESPN 300 running back Jordan Stevenson wanted to answer. The Dallas South Oak Cliff standout was recently offered by Alabama but says he’s confident he’ll still feel comfortable at Texas, no matter who’s coaching him.
Stevenson made his verbal pledge one day after Texas’ stunning Red River Rivalry victory over Oklahoma in October. A lot has changed since then.
“Everything happened so fast,” he said. “But now I’m stronger and prouder of the decision I made. I don’t ever question that. It’s a blessing.”
The ESPN 300 offensive guard from Euless (Texas) Trinity said he isn’t having second thoughts after spending time with Strong and his coaches. He brought his entire family along for the visit and was proud of what he witnessed.
“The coaches had a really close bond, and it only took them a few weeks to get that,” Vahe said. “That said a lot about them, about how they communicate with each other and get on the same page. I feel like they’ll do the same with the players.
“I’m not following people. I’ve thought about it and I think UT is the best place for me. Coach Strong, he showed us a lot.”
Corpus Christi (Texas) Flour Bluff cornerback Jalen Campbell is one of the leaders of that committed class. He still has lots of love for Brown and what he did at Texas.
But after Saturday, Campbell can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
“You could tell everybody was ready to go. The main goal is winning,” Campbell said. “I think, for the most part, the coaches were more serious. They were smiling, but they’re ready to go.”