Texas Longhorns: Holton Hill

Texas held its first-ever "Under The Lights" night camp inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Friday. While the event did not immediately result in new scholarship offers or commitments, we still learned plenty from Charlie Strong's final summer camp of 2014, which featured well more than 100 participants including at least 30 ESPN 300 prospects. Here's what stood out:

1. Out-of-state commits shine

Zach Gentry had seen his future teammates on recruiting websites and kept up with them via one long group text message. But Friday's camp provided the ESPN 300 quarterback commit the first real chance for him meet the rest of the class -- and for them to meet him.

The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native flew out for the night camp and lived up to the legends of his startling size -- he's now 6-foot-7 and 237 pounds, and swears he's done growing -- while performing well under Shawn Watson's tutelage.

Gentry gravitated toward two other Texas commits with whom he shares plenty in common as outsiders: 2015 RB Kirk Johnson and 2016 WR Collin Johnson. The committed brothers from San Jose, California, made their third trip to Austin and earned rave reviews. Collin, a ESPN Junior 300 prospect, was especially impressive with 6-foot-4 size and major leaping ability.



The Johnson brothers are proud to say they did their part to ensure Gentry joined the class in May, and the trio stays in touch frequently. Surely they'll soon reach out to their newest out-of-state future teammate, Garrett Thomas of Many, Louisiana. The four-star tackle did make it to Austin as well Friday after delivering his commitment last week.

Another out-of-state recruit everyone was watching Friday: four-star QB Kai Locksley. He made his first visit to Austin this weekend and brought along father Mike Locksley, Maryland's offensive coordinator. Locksley showed off a quick release and impressive athleticism. Heck, he might be just as good a receiver at the next level, too.

Strong and Watson dedicated a lot of time to Locksley and his father after the camp wrapped up. It's going to be Texas, Florida State or Maryland in the end, and Locksley said he wants to make his decision soon.

2. Young linemen didn't disappoint

By the end of the night, most of the recruits who were getting significant buzz for their performances were underclassmen defensive linemen.

Fort Worth (Texas) All Saints defensive tackle Mike Williams, an ESPN Junior 300 prospect, was one of the breakout stars of the night and got plenty of attention from the coaching staff afterward. As usual, massive DT Kendell Jones of Killeen (Texas) Shoemaker was a star. The 6-5, 310-pound big man ranked No. 36 in the ESPN Junior 300 has visited Texas at least three times this year, including two camp trips.

Another player we'll all be talking about a year or two from now was Houston Episcopal's Marvin Wilson. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive tackle, a 2017 prospect, said after the camp the Longhorns are his early No. 1 school ahead of TCU, Ohio State and Texas A&M. Texas also got one of the state's best at camp in Houston Westfield DT Edward Oliver. He'll be as coveted as any in-state defensive lineman in the 2016 class.

3. Brown an exciting project

New defensive line coach Chris Rumph had to be just as excited about what he saw from the defensive ends, particularly ESPN 300 athlete Louis Brown and Texas three-star commit Charles Omenihu.

Brown, a former Baylor commit capable of playing defensive line, linebacker or tight end, shined in 1-on-1 work as a speed-rushing end. In fact, on back-to-back reps, he easily got past one of the camp's best linemen, coveted 2016 tackle J.P. Urquidez. For a kid from a small Class 2A school (Burton) who isn't used to big-time competition, Brown was unfazed.

Omenihu has been bulking up and received plenty of pointers during the camp from preseason All-Big 12 end Cedric Reed. It was clear throughout the night that Omenihu and Brown have a good bond. Brown will be a project early on in college, especially in the weight room at 6-5 and 210 pounds, but there's big potential. It's probably a safe bet he ends up choosing the Longhorns.

4. Commitments coming soon?

In addition to Brown, we'll give you three more recruits who might be on commitment watch in the not-too-distant future.

Three-star center Tyler Moore (Houston/North Shore) already has his offer and was back at camp. He and his father had an extended conversation with Joe Wickline afterward, but no pledge. Four-star defensive tackle Du'Vonta Lampkin (Houston/Cy Falls) visited Texas before the night camp and left with some news: He's announcing his decision on Sept. 15 and it's down to Texas, Oklahoma and LSU. The former OU pledge has repeatedly said the Longhorns are in the lead.

And keep an eye on WR Ryan Newsome. The ESPN 300 speedster from Aledo, Texas, came down to Austin for a full academic tour on Friday and spent time catching up with close buddy Jerrod Heard. He's not looking to decide until December after five official visits (Texas, Oklahoma, UCLA, Oregon, Tennessee) but admitted he'll be back for several Texas games in the fall, including his official for Baylor-Texas on Oct. 4.

5. The guys on the sideline

The campers who showed up but did not compete on Friday night were truly just as critical.

ESPN 300 cornerbacks Holton Hill and Kris Boyd spent much of the night together watching on the field along with four-star ATH J.W. Ketchum. They spent a lot of time with Texas freshman safety John Bonney, who played with Hill last year at Houston Lamar.

Boyd and his brother, 2016 LB Demarco Boyd, visited Baylor on Friday morning and then made the trip down to Austin. Demarco is seen as potentially the key to Kris' decision, and Texas has wisely been recruiting the younger Boyd for a while now.

Texas also hosted the No. 2 recruit in the state for 2016, safety Deontay Anderson, along with a large group of his teammates at Manvel (Texas) High School. Two more big names on the sidelines: Four-star DT Darrion Daniels and ESPN 300 WR John Humphrey Jr., the former Baylor pledge who hopes to earn a UT offer soon.
AUSTIN, Texas -- We wrap up our five to watch series this week with a breakdown of five prospects in the 2015 class whose recruitment Texas fans should be watching closely. These aren't the five highest-rated recruits, but rather five who will tell us a lot about Charlie Strong's first full class with the Longhorns.

1. LB Malik Jefferson

This is a big deal, plain and simple. The Mesquite (Texas) Poteet linebacker is one of the best in the state and the nation, and there's a lot of time to win over the ESPN 300 prospect, as he won't decide until winter.

Last year, Texas got itself in good shape for three huge in-state recruits -- cornerback Tony Brown, safety Jamal Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas -- and hoped to leverage a successful 2013 season into a gigantic finish with that trio. That plan was a bust. It wouldn't be surprising if Texas finds itself in a similar position with Jefferson by the end of the summer.

If everything stays status quo during the 2014 season, Jefferson probably ends up choosing Texas A&M. He had great relationships with former Texas defensive coordinators Manny Diaz and Greg Robinson, but both are gone now and the new staff is catching up. They'll need to make a big impression this fall if they hope to sway him.

Whomever lands Jefferson gets one gigantic recruiting victory. He's the real deal and Texas will go all-in on him.

2. QB Zach Gentry

If Gentry does end up choosing Texas, it'll tell you an awful lot about what Shawn Watson can do for this program as a recruiter.

The nation's No. 72 prospect is a big deal -- and we mean that literally, as he's nearly 6-foot-7 -- and has offers from the likes of Alabama, Penn State, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Tennessee. The Albuquerque (N.M.) Eldorado standout took an unofficial visit to Austin the week of the spring game and seemed to come away impressed. A decision could come later this month.

Watson got on Gentry early on while at Louisville and has extended him offers at both schools. The in-state crop of quarterbacks is solid, and there could be room to take another like Quinten Dormady in this class, but Gentry would be a home run and a clear statement that Watson and the offensive staff won't be afraid to pursue elite passers outside the usually loaded Lone Star State.

3. CB Holton Hill

Texas is already in excellent shape to land Hill, an ESPN 300 defensive back from Houston Lamar with more than a dozen big-time offers. Now the Horns have to hold on and seal the deal.

Hill has visited Austin multiple times this spring and was high school teammates with 2014 Texas signee John Bonney. Hill is not a lock by any means, not with Texas A&M right up there with Texas in his early top two. This could turn into quite the battle, akin to the one for Otaro Alaka last year that the Aggies eventually won.

But Texas is in a promising position with Hill and also Gilmer (Texas) defensive back Kris Boyd. How well Vance Bedford and Chris Vaughn sell them on the future of "DBU" following Duane Akina's departure might make the difference.

4. WR John Burt

Texas has sent out offers to dozens and dozens of elite out-of-state prospects, the kind of guys who can choose from any SEC school they want. Their hope, quite simply, is trying to get those guys on campus for a visit. That's not a problem in the recruitment of Burt, who has gone out of his way to visit Austin multiple times in the past 12 months.

The ESPN 300 wideout from Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln will likely end up choosing between Texas and Florida State. What a win that would be for Strong and his staff if they can beat out the defending national champion for a talented local kid.

Burt visited Texas last season for a home game and again this spring for a junior day week. The staff change did little to dampen his love for the program. When an out-of-state kid makes it this obvious he's interested, you've got to lock him up.

5. DT Daylon Mack

Calm down, Aggies, we're not saying or predicting Mack will end up in burnt orange. It's more about what landing Mack or another elite committed player would mean for the momentum of this class.

The five-star defensive tackle from Gladewater (Texas) has been an A&M pledge for nearly seven months, and a strong one for most of that time. He's a leader-of-the-class type, the kind who other kids want to follow and play with. But Texas (and the rest of the SEC) will not give up any time soon.

There are several other committed prospects -- running back Ronald Jones II (Oklahoma State), safety Deionte Thompson (Alabama), tight end Jordan Davis (Texas A&M) -- Texas will also keep pursuing until signing day. Landing even one of them would make a statement about Texas' revamped recruiting.
Editor's note: This week we're taking a closer look at five key takeaways from Texas' spring practices and what they mean for the summer and beyond.

AUSTIN, Texas -- High school kids like new. In hindsight, we really shouldn’t have underestimated that.

New uniforms, new helmets, new stadiums. All critical assets in recruiting. Just ask Kevin Sumlin, who, seemingly overnight, changed the perception of Texas A&M.

[+] EnlargeToby Weathersby
Max Olson/ESPNToby Weathersby is one of six four-star commits in Texas' 2015 class.
Texas isn’t changing its uniform or its helmets this year. Its stadium isn’t expanding just yet. But the Longhorns have a brand new coach, and that has made a world of difference on the trail this spring.

For all the disadvantages Charlie Strong and his staff faced when they first arrived, it’s hard to call the early results anything other than impressive. Texas’ staff has assembled the No. 11 recruiting class in the nation and is well on its way to transforming the way recruits look at the Longhorns.

Defensive end Charles Omenihu, one of nine verbal commits in the class, was hooked from the very beginning of his junior day visit. New Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford’s pitch was simple and compelling: “Why not Texas?”

“He was right. Why would you not want to go to Texas if you live in the state of Texas?” Omenihu said. “Why wouldn’t you want to play big ball at a place with a tradition for winning? That really stayed in my mind.”

The three-star defensive end from Rowlett, Texas, committed two days later and has become one of the leaders of the class, constantly staying in touch with his fellow commits and countless blue-chip targets.

He didn’t think much of Texas in recent years. The new staff got his attention, however, and convinced him that the Longhorns’ glory days are coming again, and soon.

“I remember visibly when they won it all in 2006 and them guys were flying around and looked good doing it, too,” Omenihu said. “They looked good, played hard and beat people up. You could see that in practice this spring. You could just tell.”

For the new staff, that rebranding of Texas football in the spring helped make up for a lot of lost time. Keep in mind, Strong, Bedford and several other assistants hardly recruited the Lone Star State at Louisville and they risked falling behind with the 2015 class with all the time they expended to secure the glass that inked in Februarby.

While Texas scrambled to close out that group, Texas A&M and other in-state foes were already hosting early junior days. Everyone else had a head start.

But the Longhorn staff had their house and their recruiting board in order by the time they hosted that first junior day on Feb. 23. The event led to commitments from Omenihu, Ronnie Major and DeShon Elliott, and also ensured Patrick Vahe would stay on board. That’s when the #letsride momentum starting rolling.

Since that first event, Texas has secured eight new verbal commitments and completed a major overhaul of the class Strong inherited. Only two of the nine verbal commitments Mack Brown landed for 2015 are still on the commit list.

Five of those early pledges elected to decommit. The other two, defensive backs Jalen Campbell and Johnny Shaw, will continue to be evaluated by the new staff this spring and summer.

As it stands today, the revamped class has pledges from five ESPN 300 prospects. Offensive tackle Toby Weathersby, the nation’s No. 138 recruit, bought in one month after his junior day trip.

“It’s just the way they go about doing things,” Weathersby said. “They get to the point. Real demanding. Coach Strong wants them to get back to a winning tradition and he’s doing everything the way he wants it to go. Let’s get it done.”

The intensity was just what he was looking for, he said, because he plays on a tight ship at Houston Westfield. And how did Strong take it when Weathersby declared he was ready to commit?

“Well, I had to catch him,” Weathersby said. “He jumped in my arms.”

Like Omenihu, Weathersby had his own beliefs about what was wrong with the Longhorns. He felt that in terms of intensity, Texas was “like a golf club” in Brown’s final years. Strong drastically flipped his perspective on the program’s future.

“I can’t really go into detail, because it would take me months and months,” Weathersby said with a laugh. “But the way he changed everything, I think it’s a more strict football program and, with his way of doing things, it’s for the better.”

Omenihu’s wish list for this Texas class is ambitious, and includes ESPN 300 recruits Malik Jefferson, Chris Warren III, Holton Hill, Kris Boyd, Ryan Newsome and Cameron Townsend. And he doesn’t intend to give up on five-star Texas A&M commit Daylon Mack.

“I wonder why great defensive players would choose to go to A&M,” Omenihu said. “It boggles my mind. They don’t really play defense. If I’m wrong, someone please tell me.”

Worse things were being said about the Longhorns before Strong showed up, that's for sure. This is a game of perception, and so far, Texas' head coach is already changing the game.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong’s #letsride movement is picking up momentum, and it’s going to the next level on Saturday at Texas’ Orange-White spring game.

Strong and his coaching staff already have picked up seven verbal commitments since taking over and could have a chance to lock up a few more at the annual spring game. As many as 100 prospects from the 2014, 2015, 2016 and even 2017 classes are expected to be on the sidelines and in the stands for the unofficial first game of the Strong era.

The highlight of that lengthy list? Texas is expected to receive unofficial visits from the following members of the newly released ESPN 300:

Texas Relays recruiting notebook 

March, 30, 2014
Mar 30
6:30
PM ET
AUSTIN, Texas -- The state of Texas’ top track athletes descended on Austin this weekend to compete in the annual Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays on the campus of the University of Texas, and the field of competitors included several touted 2015 and 2016 recruits. Here’s an update on where a few of them stand in their recruitment.

RB Jones wants to travel

The battle for Ronald Jones II, one of the state’s top running back recruits out of McKinney North, rages on as he should be hitting the road in the next few months.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Strong first impressions at junior day

February, 23, 2014
Feb 23
10:00
AM ET

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.

[+] EnlargeCameron Townsend
Max Olson/ESPNLinebacker 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.”

Major was one of seven visiting recruits who left town with scholarship offers. Those new offers went to ESPN 300 cornerback Holton Hill, receiver Ryan Newsome, safety DeShon Elliott, defensive end Charles Omenihu, Houston cornerback pledge Jordan Tolbert and a 2016 prospect, tight end Kaden Smith.

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.”

When his cousins Sione Teuhema and Maea Teuhema decommitted from Texas earlier this month and chose LSU, Patrick Vahe knew many expected him to do the same.

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.”

Loss halts Texas' recruiting momentum 

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
4:10
PM ET
Everything was set up so perfectly for the Longhorns prior to kickoff on Saturday afternoon.

They came in riding a six-game winning streak with a chance to make it seven against a marquee opponent in Oklahoma State, who was in search of its sixth straight victory.

The sidelines were littered with some of the top recruits in the country, including the nation’s top player in running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine), ESPN 300 safety Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) and ESPN 300 cornerback Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen). The latter two were on official visits.

The sky was even painted a picturesque blend of blue, pink, orange and yellow.

But then kickoff came and with it went much of the momentum, both on the field and in recruiting, that Texas had built up over the last two months.

Oklahoma State manhandled the Longhorns. The final score was 38-13 but it could have been a lot worse. A mass exodus of a tired fan base began late in the third quarter.

It was the exact opposite of the environment Texas was hoping to create for the recruits in attendance. They witnessed Oklahoma State bask in glory from their seats directly behind the Cowboys’ bench.

Many of those were 2014 commits, as 12 of Texas' 24-member class were expected to be in Austin.

In addition to 2015 commit Jalen Campbell (Corpus Christi, Texas/Flour Bluff), the Longhorns were also expected to host several top junior prospects. They included athlete Louis Brown (Burton, Texas/Burton), running back Lanard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine), cornerback Holton Hill (Houston/Lamar), quarterback J.W. Ketchum (Missouri City, Texas/Thurgood Marshall), cornerback Keivon Ramsey (Converse, Texas/Judson), wide receiver Kemah Siverand (Houston/Cypress Ridge), linebacker Cameron Townsend (Missouri City, Texas/Ridge Point) and defensive back Jordan Tolbert (Missouri City, Texas/Ridge Point).

Texas also hosted its lone 2016 commit, receiver Reggie Hemphill, along with several 2016 teammates from Manvel, Texas, in safety Deontay Anderson, who has a Texas offer, linebacker Jordan Carmouche, and athlete D’Eriq King. Fort Worth (Texas) Southwest 2016 quarterback Devin Williams was also slated to be in attendance.

For as ugly as the loss was, and for as many questions as it has already brought about concerning the future of Texas coach Mack Brown, this defeat doesn’t seem like it will have that much of an affect on those already verbally pledged to Texas.

They’ve endured quite a bit already but have long maintained their desire to help turn this program around. Take this tweet from Cuney for example: “There they go on my Coach Brown! Get off his back man. He not the 1 playing. He can only do so much!”

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Goodell Meets With Charlie Strong
ESPN senior NFL writer John Clayton discusses why NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and league executive Troy Vincent met with Texas coach Charlie Strong.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

BIG 12 SCOREBOARD