- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
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.
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.