- Carter Strickland, Reporter, HornsNation
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The last time Mack Brown took the witness stand -- aka the podium -- to justify Texas' latest class of recruits, he spoke of an ongoing change in the evaluation process as well as accountability among his staff of recruiters, therefore allowing for a better quality product upon enrollment at Texas and eventually a better product on the field.
Given that this mantra of change is a well-trod path that Brown has blindly stomped down, those in the jury -- aka anyone who covers the program as well as those who care for Texas football -- were skeptical. Additionally, there was that Mount Bonnell-sized pile of evidence blocking the optimistic panorama Brown continued to paint without the aid of numbers:
The 2009 class was a mess and has only further deteriorated. Just six players in a class that was supposed to be the backbone of 2011 and 2012 exhausted their eligibility at Texas. The 2010 class had hits -- Carrington Byndom, Jackson Jeffcoat and others -- as well as several big misses: Darius White and Taylor Bible to name a few.
Those two classes, in which 45 players were signed, provided just 11 regular or 2013 projected starters. That’s a 24 percent rate of return. The number most programs like to hit is about 60 percent. Not surprisingly, Texas’ recruiting misses have led to sub-par performances on the field.
But there was Brown on Feb. 1, 2012, saying the proper changes in recruiting had been made for the right changes to happen on the field.
"Because we took more time and watched five videos of [each recruit], and not just the ones with the highlight films, we did a better job of going back and evaluating every step," he said. "I think we know these kids better than maybe we did the last couple of years."
Because 2011’s class had been so successful -- 18 of 22 signed players contributed as true freshmen -- his words about actions having been taken to rectify a sloppy recruiting effort were at least plausible. Now, given what the 2012 class appears capable of, Brown’s words are starting to seem rather credible.
Thirty-four of the 48 true freshmen signed in the past two years have contributed. No one has transferred. No one has been kicked off the team. (Quincy Russell, a 2011 signee, did not enroll due to academics.) And no one looks to be a spectacular bust on the level of some in the aforementioned classes.
Now it is true that so many players were afforded so many early opportunities because the '09 and '10 classes couldn’t take full advantage of theirs. But it is equally hard to ignore the solid production of young players like Johnathan Gray, Malcom Brown, Peter Jinkens, Quandre Diggs, even David Ash, as well as many others in their first two years.
Because of that production, and the talent that is finally visible on the horizon, maybe this time around Brown can be believed when he says changes were made. After all, change within any program -- at least those that are not exercising the option to execute the coach -- starts in recruiting.
If Brown and Texas are able to maintain what has been an incredible rate of return on the last two classes, and add another solid round in 2013, a foundation equal to that built in the early 2000s should be in place for a sustained run.
The 2001 and 2002 cases helped form the nucleus of the national title team. Both featured players able to quickly step on the field and make a difference. That, in turn, allowed Texas to start redshirting players and build depth in 2003 and beyond, therefore sustaining the run of seasons with 10-plus wins.
One decade and many lessons learned later, Texas pulled in two recent classes as productive as ’01 and ’02, and now is in a position to bring in around 16 players (the number is nebulous until Wednesday) who will have the luxury of developing within the program, potentially allowing Texas to position itself for another run through the latter half of the decade.
If that happens, the words of change Brown will undoubtedly espouse come this national signing day, and for many to come, will ring with slightly more truth.