NCF On The Trail: Texas Longhorns

If you see members of the Texas Longhorns coaching staff smiling during Tuesday's Big 12 media day session, don't be surprised if it's because of its newest commitment.

ESPN 300 athlete Louis Brown became the Longhorns' 12th pledge of the 2015 class Monday night. Ranked the nation's No. 20 athlete, Brown is expected to play defensive end in college.

LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. -- There was plenty of recruiting news that came out of Monday's reporting day for The Opening. One of the prospects who shared the latest was ESPN 300 No. 39 Malik Jefferson.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Charlie Strong is closing in on the start of his first season in Austin, and that means his first full recruiting class as the head coach of the Longhorns. While Texas is positioned well in the RecruitingNation class rankings early on, as expected, Texas is fighting an uphill in-state battle against Texas A&M for the first time since the mid-to-late 1990’s.

Here's a look at five questions that must be answered for the Longhorns entering July.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

video
Charlie Strong has a Texas-sized problem on his hands.

When a new coach is hired, especially at a place like The University of Texas, it usually creates excitement with prospects and high school coaches on the recruiting trail. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, that buzz isn’t there. With the addition of ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge on Thursday, Texas A&M further tightened its grip on the top talent in the Lone Star State.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
AP Photo/Eric GayCharlie Strong still has nearly eight months to bolster his 2015 recruiting class.
Lodge’s pledge gives A&M three of the top eight players in Texas and positions the Aggies for a run that could include four of the top five and five of the top 10.

On the other hand, the Longhorns, whose 2015 class is ranked No. 11 in ESPN's rankings, are struggling within their home state. Texas has yet to gain a commit from a top-10 in-state player. To make matters worse, Strong’s staff is losing commits to conference rivals and SEC powers in Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, LSU and Oklahoma.

“In the state of Texas, A&M has taken over,” Cedar Hill (Texas) High School coach Joey McGuire said. “Through what coach [Kevin] Sumlin has done and then what Johnny Manziel did to help put that school in such a great position, it's helped them move to whole different level. They're the hot thing going right now. It's hard to beat, even for a program like Texas.”

As any Texas fan will tell you, there’s nothing worse than losing to the hated Aggies. The recruiting beatdown could continue as A&M is in good position with cornerback Kendall Sheffield, linebacker Malik Jefferson, defensive end James Lockhart and cornerback Kris Boyd -- all ESPN 300 prospects strongly considering playing in College Station.

A Big 12 assistant who recruits in the Lone Star State said he could see that Texas would have problems on the recruiting trail the minute Strong announced his staff. The assistant praised Strong for luring Joe Wickline away from Oklahoma State and believes his addition will help the Longhorns find some hidden gems along the offensive line. But after that, the assistant said it was hardly the all-star cast many thought Strong could assemble, given the school’s resources.

“I thought [Strong] needed to bring in guys that can stand toe-to-toe against A&M, LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma and all the other top teams that recruit in Texas,” the coach said. “He needed guys that had deep ties with the high school coaches in Texas. Instead, he got a lot of coaches that can win recruiting battles against Cincinnati, UCF and teams like that. This is the Big 12, not the AAC.”

In defense of the Longhorns, Strong did retain Bruce Chambers, who is entering his 17th season in Austin and has connections with high school football in the state. He also hired Les Koenning, a 1981 Texas graduate who is entering his 34th year of coaching after previous stops at Mississippi State, South Alabama, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU, Houston, Duke, Rice and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Replacing Mack Brown wasn’t going to be easy. Replacing the relationships he so tirelessly built with Texas high school coaches will take some time.

All of this has made Strong’s job of recruiting local talent more difficult than most assumed it would be when he was first hired six months ago. But all is not lost. There has been no shortage of effort from the Longhorns’ staff, and Strong can sway some recruits with a simple formula this fall: winning.

“If Charlie Strong comes out and wins, there might be another flip,” McGuire said. “If they can come out and surprise some people this year and win games, then they’re going to be the hot team with recruits. Winning and losing is going to make a big part of those schools' recruiting classes.”

Top Big 12 recruiters 

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
11:00
AM ET
There has been a lot of transition within the coaching ranks at Big 12 schools, which has caused the league’s reputation on the recruiting trail to slip a little bit. But if you dig deeper, you’ll find there are still plenty of quality established recruiters, and some rising newcomers at major programs like Oklahoma and Baylor.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

video The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts for 2015 suffered a major setback when ESPN 300 quarterback Blake Barnett decommitted. So where do the Irish turn now at the quarterback spot? Plus, could Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas’ loss be Arkansas’ gain?


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

video
There are those who believe the rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M is dead because the two programs are no longer in the same conference.

[+] EnlargeKendall Sheffield
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNTexas and Texas A&M are both after Kendall Sheffield, the No. 2 CB in the nation.
Those people are misguided. And emphatically incorrect.

Two words in February by new Texas head coach Charlie Strong helped light a new spark in the rivalry between two of the most respected programs in the Lone Star State. When asked about A&M’s recruiting methods -- which includes coach Kevin Sumlin making player visits in a helicopter dubbed the “Swagcopter” -- Strong said the Longhorns didn’t need to be a “gadget program,” as the university and its prestige still was enough to attract recruits.

The rest of the spring and the upcoming summer will be perfect opportunities to gauge where both programs stand among some of the elite athletes who are still uncommitted. Which school will dominate in recruiting the 2015 class?


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

When looking at the top recruiting jobs in college football, it’s not always about looking at final poll rankings or teams that have recently won the most games.

Yes, winning matters, but there are other factors. Location, region and in-state talent are major contributors. Revenues build facilities and pay for the modern-day arms race. National appeal, identifiable former players and recent NFL draft success also have a hand in making an impression on high school athletes.

Here’s a look at the top five recruiting jobs in the country:

SportsNation

Which is the best recruiting job in college football?

  •  
    27%
  •  
    17%
  •  
    23%
  •  
    20%
  •  
    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,677)

1. Florida Gators

Proximity to out-of-state talent: The state of Florida probably has the most talent in the country, and the Gators also sit five hours from the Atlanta area, with talent bases from South Georgia into Atlanta. The states of Florida and Georgia combined to produce 60 NFL draft picks in the 2014 draft, one more than the states of California and Texas combined (while having less than half the combined population). Gainesville is also relatively close to three other out-of-state hotbeds: Charlotte, North Carolina; Mobile, Alabama; and New Orleans.

Dollars and cents: Florida reported total football expenses of $23,045,846 and total football revenue of $74,117,435 in 2011-12. Florida will benefit greatly from the launch of the SEC Network in August, which is a 20-year agreement between the SEC and ESPN.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

When looking at the best recruiting jobs in the Big 12, the conference begins with Texas and Oklahoma, as it always has since its inception in 1996. After the Longhorns and Sooners, the conference has a quartet of programs to consider as the next tier of recruiting jobs in Oklahoma State, Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech.

While Oklahoma State has separated itself from the pack in terms of facility upgrades in recent years, the rise of Baylor has changed the recruiting landscape in the state of Texas for programs such as the Cowboys, Horned Frogs and Red Raiders. When it gets down to TCU and Texas Tech, proximity to in-state and out-of-state talent looms large in the equation when looking at the current landscape.

Here is a look at the top five recruiting jobs in the Big 12.

1. Texas

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State - Texas
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDarrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium seats 100,119 for Longhorns home games.
Proximity to out-of-state talent: Texas has had success recruiting in the Phoenix area, which is 1,000 miles away, and parts of Louisiana are less than 400 miles from Austin. Under Charlie Strong, Texas is now focusing on Florida, with the Tampa area being about 1,100 miles away.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

video
HAYWARD, Calif. -- California will be well represented at the quarterback position when the Elite 11 Finals get underway in early July, as the Golden State is home to three of the four signal-callers who punched their tickets to the main event during Friday's Northern California Elite 11 regional.

Pac-12 fans will undoubtedly enjoy this year of the California quarterback, as the conference continues to gobble up commitments from some of the top recruits in the state, but Big Ten fans in East Lansing, Mich., Columbus, Ohio, and Evanston, Ill., should take note of Friday's events as well. While an emphasis was placed on the four quarterbacks moving onto the finals, there was plenty of attention given to several 2015 quarterbacks who could still help shape the Pac-12 recruiting race, a trio of 2017 quarterbacks on the rise and a wide receiver who might need some rest after a Texas-sized workout.

Final Four


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Days after the NFL draft, some Texas Longhorns fans still scratch their heads in disbelief. How a celebrated college football program -- one with decorated, award-winning athletes -- have zero players drafted into the NFL?

For the first time since before World War II, a Longhorn wasn’t selected in the draft. It became national news, and it’s news that no program wants to have attached to it, let alone one of the nation’s most established programs. When Memphis safety Lonnie Ballentine was selected by the Houston Texans as the 256th pick -- the last pick of the seven-round draft -- it opened the floodgates for barbs thrown by Texas antagonists.

What the draft ineffectiveness failed to do, however, was steer recruits -- committed and uncommitted -- away from the program’s future. If anything, it’s drawn some closer to the vision of new coach Charlie Strong and his staff.

“Some people are taking it all over the top,” uncommitted ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “Those weren’t Charlie’s people; he didn’t develop any of those kids. Why would people want to change their minds off going to a great school like Texas because of something they couldn’t control?”

[+] EnlargeKendall Sheffield
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNKendall Sheffield, the top-ranked player in Texas, said the fact the Longhorns had no draft picks has no bearing on his recruitment.
The draft has forced recruits to answer questions some might feel are slightly unnecessary:

“Will the draft affect your thoughts on Texas?”

“Can you trust the Longhorns to groom you into a pro-ready athlete after college?”

“Do you want to be a part of the laughingstock of college football?”

ESPN 300 cornerback Kendall Sheffield has had to answer some of these questions this week. The top-ranked player in Texas, Sheffield said he still has the Longhorns high on a list of several schools, a list that includes Texas A&M, Alabama, Baylor, Florida State, LSU, Oklahoma, Oregon and USC.

Sheffield admitted to being shocked that the Longhorns didn’t have a draft pick, but to look at the program with a side eye -- particularly with a new coach in charge -- is something that never crossed his mind.

“I don’t know if it plays a role in recruiting. I mean, they’ve still got to rebuild,” Sheffield said. “I know they’re going to still get some big recruits in. For me, I’m going to find the school that’s the best fit for me and the place I feel has the best position coach. The draft won’t have nothing to do with it.”

Jefferson, believed to have Texas high on his list along with Texas A&M, Baylor, Alabama and others, reminded people that while the Longhorns went without a drafted player, Strong's former team at Louisville had three first-round picks in safety Calvin Pryor (No. 18 overall to the Jets), defensive end Marcus Smith (No. 26, Eagles) and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (No. 32, Vikings).

“He knows what he’s doing,” Jefferson said of Strong.

During the Mack Brown era, 58 Longhorns were drafted. Safety Kenny Vaccaro was a first-round pick by the Saints last year. Receiver/return specialist Marquise Goodwin (Bills) and defensive end Alex Okafor (Cardinals) were selected in the third and fourth rounds in 2013.

This year’s crop of undrafted talent included defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and receiver Mike Davis. Jeffcoat was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and the Ted Hendricks Award recipient, recognizing the nation's top defensive end. Davis caught 200 passes in his college career and is one of only four players in school history with 200 or more receptions.

Jeffcoat and Davis, as well as other Longhorns, signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents, which is another reason why recruits aren’t worried about the draft results. ESPN 300 offensive lineman Patrick Vahe -- who committed to Texas during the Brown era and chose to stay committed under Strong -- believes the draft is in full control of a player and not the coach.

Texas’ ability to produce NFL offensive linemen has been sliding in recent years. The Longhorns haven’t had an offensive lineman drafted since tackle Tony Hills in 2008. To assist in further developing linemen, Strong hired former Oklahoma State coach Joe Wickline, who coached NFL linemen Russell Okung, Corey Hilliard and Charlie Johnson at the college level. Okung is fresh off winning a Super Bowl with the Seahawks.

Vahe said he’ll worry about being a pro athlete when that time comes. Right now, he’s focused on being the best college athlete possible, and the 2014 draft isn’t weighing on his decision.

“I think I can learn a lot from [Wickline].” Vahe said. “We talked about his game plan, and I’m putting a lot of trust with him. The rest of it … I think people are just taking it over the top.”

Todd Dodge, head coach at Austin Westlake High School, former head coach at North Texas and a former quarterback for the Longhorns, said a draft should never have an effect on a recruit’s decision.

Dodge played at Texas from 1982-85. In that span, he saw several teammates drafted, including first-round cornerbacks Mossy Cade and Jerry Gray. The 1984 draft class featured 17 Longhorns.

Not having a draftee was an eye-opener, Dodge said, but it shouldn’t be a discussion piece in relation to Texas’ recruiting -- particularly with the changing of the guard at head coach.

“If Coach Strong and his staff are on the road making their rounds and people are using common sense, they’ll judge them by what they see,” Dodge said. “Texas has always been in the hunt for great players in the state of Texas. If there’s any doubt, you can always point to the players drafted from Louisville. Coach Strong has a track record that’s proven.”

As for the jokes from rival schools, Vahe understands that they come will with the territory, whether the program goes winless or earns a BCS championship. He also understands that the way to silence some of the jokes is by producing in practices and games and later during NFL combines and workouts. He believes a change for the better is near for the program.

“People love to talk, but it’s nothing big, really,” Vahe said. “I know [Strong] just got there, and they’re all going to start a new era. Hopefully I’ll be one of those who helps start the new era.”
video
When it comes to running backs, the state of Texas is loaded. Ten running backs represent the Lone Star State in the ESPN 300. Of those 10, five are committed. A total of seven running backs in the state have reported FBS commitments.

ESPN 300 RBs from the state:

No. 50 Ronald Jones II: Ranked the nation’s No. 3 running back, Jones is an explosive, game-changing back who -- as scary as it might sound -- will only get better. Jones committed to Oklahoma State on April 6 and finished his junior season with more than 2,400 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

video

Monday, Texas secured a commitment from an ESPN 300 quarterback with a ton of potential, Zach Gentry. Here’s what Tom Luginbill expects from Gentry once he arrives in Austin:


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

video Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

MESQUITE, Texas -- ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson doesn’t intend to, but with every play he makes on the football field -- every hit, every sack, every forced fumble -- he further divides old rivals.

Texas A&M fans are confident that he’ll play for them in 2015. Texas fans are equally confident he’ll wear burnt orange as a college freshman.

And then there are the schools considered to be on the outskirts -- if that's a place in Jefferson's wide-open process. There are several in-state and out-of-state powers that also would be considered great fits for the nation’s No. 4 outside linebacker.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ESPN 300: Top Big 12 targets 

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:45
AM ET
video
The spring evaluation period is upon us, and coaches are traveling and hosting spring games in an effort to evaluate and attract the nation’s elite prospects. Fortunately for coaches, roughly two-thirds of the players making up the 2015 ESPN 300 are still uncommitted. A large majority of those players are considering playing in the Big 12.

Here are five ESPN 300 players heavily targeted by Big 12 schools:


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES