NCF On The Trail: Charlie Strong

The shockwaves from Texas A&M quarterback commitment Kyler Murray’s unofficial visit to Texas on Wednesday were still being felt Thursday because he's such an important target for both schools.


Everything is bigger in Texas, including the recruiting battles.

Kyler Murray, the nation’s No. 13 overall player and top dual-threat quarterback, and ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge took a surprise unofficial visit to Texas Wednesday, sending shockwaves through the Lone Star State. All involved had kept quiet about these plans until Murray and Lodge tweeted photos of Texas uniforms with their respective numbers on Wednesday afternoon.

The news of Murray, who completed his career at Allen High School with a perfect 43-0 record and three Texas state championships, visiting the Forty Acres is big enough by itself. But when you consider Murray has been committed to rival Texas A&M for more than seven months, news of the visit quickly mushroomed into one of the biggest recruiting headlines for the entire 2015 recruiting cycle.

The pursuit of Murray comes at a time when Jim Harbaugh and Michigan are attempting to flip the Longhorns' lone quarterback commit, Zach Gentry. Murray did take an official visit to Oklahoma during the season. He took his official to Texas A&M last weekend. Charlie Strong has said Texas needs to take two quarterbacks for its class. ESPN 300 athlete Kai Locksley, a Florida State quarterback commit, is scheduled to visit Texas this weekend.

Texas was once the leader for Lodge while Mack Brown was head coach, but the nation's No. 57 prospect committed to Texas A&M last summer. He backed out of that commitment and just took his official visit to College Station with Murray last weekend. Lodge is expected to take his official to Ole Miss on Friday.

The odds of landing both in a signing day stunner probably aren't great, but Strong and the Longhorns at least got their chance on Wednesday to show Murray and Lodge what Texas has to offer and put a little pressure on their recruiting rival.

Best of the visits: Big 12

January, 18, 2015
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The third weekend in January is always a busy -- if not the busiest -- weekend in the recruiting cycle. College coaches are allowed to contact recruits face-to-face again and the college football season is over, so both players and coaches have turned their attention to the final few weeks of recruiting. It was a busy weekend around the Big 12 with almost every conference program hosting recruits on official visits. Here’s a look at some of the best of the best form those visits.

ESPN 300 running back Nick Brossette has been a longtime LSU commitment, but that hasn’t stopped him from giving Texas a long, long look. Texas would like to land an impact running back in the 2015 class, and Brossette remains one of its best options. Brossette has built a great relationship with Horns coach Charlie Strong, and from all indications he had a good time in Austin this weekend.


Oklahoma landed a much-needed commitment from Dallas Kimball three-star cornerback Antoine Stephens on Sunday. The 6-foot-1, 187-pound Stephens was also offered scholarships by Texas Tech, Baylor, Louisville, SMU, Washington State and others.


After losing five commitments in the past few weeks, Iowa State received positive news from three-star inside linebacker De'Amontae Jackson over the weekend. The 6-foot, 235-pounder was a big get for the Cyclones out of the Sunshine State. At one point in time, Jackson had offers from Alabama, Florida State, Kentucky, Miami and others.


It also looks like Iowa State did a very impressive job with No. 10 junior college offensive tackle Jaypee Philbert this weekend. He posted about loving his time at the Kansas-Iowa State basketball game and also posted a picture of him hanging out with Cyclones offensive coordinator Mark Mangino.


Three-star defensive tackle Tyrell Jacobs joined fellow Louisianan Reggie Walker on an official visit to Kansas State this weekend. Jacobs, who visits Missouri and Illinois the next two weeks, was also accompanied by his mother.


Texas Tech had a large group of visitors on campus this weekend, including Kansas three-star athlete pledge Arico Evans. The 6-1, 190-pounder from Dallas Hillcrest seemed to be having a good time on his trip to Lubbock.


Oklahoma State also had some big prospects on campus, including eight players who were already committed to the Cowboys. This includes players like three-star safety Za'Carrius Green, who definitely liked what he saw with the black Oklahoma State uniform.

Big 12's top recruiting visits 

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The third weekend in January is annually the biggest official visit weekend of the recruiting cycle and that’s definitely true for 2015 and in Big 12 territory. All but a few conference schools are expected to host prospects on campus this weekend and there will be plenty of major news to come following these trips, especially at places like Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa State.

[+] EnlargeNick Brossette
Gerry Hamilton/ESPNTexas is looking to flip Nick Brossette's commitment to LSU.
Texas to host around eight visitors
The Horns will have a solid group of visitors in Austin this weekend, including a number of touted commitments like ESPN 300 prospects Louis Brown and DeShon Elliott. But what makes the weekend significant is three visitors that have yet to make up their minds. LSU commitment and No. 12 running back Nick Brossette is coming to town, along with ESPN 300 defensive backs Kris Boyd and Holton Hill. Brossette is giving Texas a serious look despite his pledge to the Tigers, and he’s built a great relationship with Charlie Strong. Boyd and Hill are two key defensive back targets the Horns would love to reel in.


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Q&A: Texas LB commit Cecil Cherry

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The much-hyped "Florida Five" is now fully on board at Texas, and their ringleader calls it "a dream come true."

[+] EnlargeCecil Cherry
Tom Hauck for Student SportsThree-star linebacker Cecil Cherry says he's hyped to play with fellow Floridians at Texas.
Three-star linebacker Cecil Cherry of Victory Christian Academy in Lakeland, Florida, was the first to commit. Defensive backs Davante Davis and Tim Irvin, tight end Devonaire Clarington and receiver Gilbert Johnson have all joined the class since Jan. 1.

All five visited in November and bought into joining Charlie Strong's class and giving the Longhorns an injection of Florida talent like they've never before seen. Cherry discussed each member of the "Five" and their plans to bring a national title back to Austin in a chat with ESPN.com on Tuesday.

What was it about your official visit weekend in Austin that sold you guys on Texas?

Cecil Cherry: That weekend was great. We bonded together, had fun and talked together about making history and coming to Texas and taking over. We had fun as brothers and I believe the three or four years we spend together are going to be more fun. We want to bring our talents to Texas to take the program to the college playoff and play for a national championship.

What's going to surprise Texas fans about the way Florida kids play?

Cherry: Well first of all, we're going to bring back how 'The U' was, but we're going to do it the professional way. That's being generals with it, not wild how they were but still having fun and going around with a chip. We've got to be good players on and off the field: have fun, be all about ball, get your education, be a team leader. It's going to feel like, 'Man, we've got Florida boys on the team.'

How excited were you to learn you'll get to play with Malik Jefferson?

Cherry: Oh I was hyped. I like that Malik and [Anthony] Wheeler joined because it's not just about me making tackles. They can help me and I can help them. We can help each other get rings in college and try to get to the NFL. They'll be calling that the next 'Linebacker U.' We can all help each other out. It starts with the linebackers, the quarterbacks of the defense.

Tell me about Tim Irvin. What do you like about his game?

Cherry: Tim plays fast, he's undersized and he gets to the ball and takes control of the field. I want him to play safety behind me. He's so small that everybody has overlooked him, but he plays with that chest and has that dog in him.

What should we expect from Davante Davis?

Cherry: Oh, he's a lockdown corner. I like how he talks. He'll tell you what it is, tell you what he'll do. He's not scared to hit nobody. I want players like that, who go out with a chip on the shoulder. You do your job and go 100 percent at what you do. It's just like the Spurs -- everybody handles their position and goes 100 and they all bond together and win. That's what we've got to bring to Texas. All of us go 110 at our position and we make stuff happen and get in the college playoff and win a national championship.

What about Devonaire Clarington?

Cherry: Big body frame, physical, good route-runner. He's a special tight end, not your ordinary tight end. He can do a lot from the slot and bring some diversity to moving the ball on offense. I saw him at a couple camps and we started talking and relating during our weekend at Texas. It felt like we grew up with each other.

I know he's a year older than the other four, so have you seen Gilbert Johnson play much? What do you know about him?

Cherry: He's smooth, calm, collected. Good receiver. I think he'll tear it up. He's crisp with his routes and pass-catching. He's not a talker. One thing I noticed about these boys from going out with them, we had a really great time. We really look out for each other.

You know people are doubting Texas after how this season finished. What does this opportunity to help turn a program around mean to you?

Cherry: It's wonderful to me. Everybody might talk and say this and that, but Coach Strong didn't recruit those boys when he came in. Coach Strong has to get his talent in. It starts off with the Florida boys. If you want players, you're going to come down south to Polk County and all the way up. Everybody wants to play with dogs. Coach Strong recruits to win, pay bills and feed his family. Coach Mack Brown was there to recruit nice players. You've gotta look at Florida State. They've got all these Polk County, Florida, boys in there and they win a national championship because Jimbo [Fisher] recruited in Florida where the players are. Coach Strong knows where to get 'em to change the program around.
Midterm junior college signing day winners are headlined by Ole Miss and Oklahoma, but they weren’t the only programs that improved Wednesday.

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Wisconsin landed a four-star running back on Thursday despite not having a head coach. Plus, Nebraska is already impressing rival recruiters with its effort on trail.


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Arizona State’s victory over Notre Dame Saturday gives the Sun Devils’ huge momentum on the recruiting trail. Texas hasn’t had to rely on junior-college players in the past, but that’ll change some under Charlie Strong.

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Perhaps the worst thing to happen to one of college’s most anticipated rivalries happened on Saturday.

Texas lost a home affair to Baylor. Minutes later, Oklahoma was upset on the road by TCU.

Then, the questions -- and the jokes -- started. Just in time for this weekend’s Texas-Oklahoma clash at the Cotton Bowl.

With the Longhorns and Sooners -- two of college football’s most storied programs -- suffering losses over the weekend, the Red River Showdown became an unexpected undercard for the upcoming weekend in Big 12 Conference football. The conference game of the week will pit Baylor hosting TCU, two undefeated and top-10 ranked teams coming off big wins.


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Early Offer: Could LSU lose RB pledge? 

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Should LSU fans be worried that Tigers running back commit Nick Brossette plans to take official visits to other schools, and South Carolina's defense is about to get even better thanks to JUCO linebacker Davon Durant?


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To win at the highest level in the SEC, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze knows he has to recruit well in Memphis, Tennessee, and Charlie Strong's job of returning Texas to the top just got more difficult after the loss to BYU this past weekend.


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DALLAS -- Winning football games holds top billing in most cases, but when discussing the most important objective to college football coaches, a great recruiting class is always high on the totem pole.

The Big 12 media days on Monday and Tuesday gave coaches a chance to share their opinions on their teams, their competitors and the future of college football. It also allowed each coach to talk about the positives and negatives of recruiting.


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Burning recruiting questions: Texas 

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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.


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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas is extending its summer camp season one final night in an effort to bring a jolt to its first-year staff's recruiting efforts.

The Longhorns are planning a "Friday Night Lights" style camp for July 18. It's a new move for Charlie Strong, an event Mack Brown never hosted during his 16-year tenure but one that has become popular nationally in recent years.

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AP Photo/Michael ThomasNew Longhorns coach Charlie Strong is stepping up his recruiting efforts with his new camp.
The night camp inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium provides Strong and his coaches with another chance to host their top targets before fall camp begins -- and a much-needed opportunity to chip away at Texas A&M's remarkable summer recruiting momentum.

Word is already starting to spread. Mesquite (Texas) Poteet ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson, arguably the No. 1 target on Texas' board, said he received his invite this week and is excited about the new event. ESPN 300 wide receiver Ryan Newsome of Aledo, Texas, is planning to be on campus that day as well along with a handful of Texas commits and targets from the classes of 2015, 2016 and beyond. Even Texas-committed brothers Kirk and Collin Johnson say they are making the trip from San Jose, California.

These "under the lights" camps have been big hits at Florida, Ohio State and Georgia, and they're spreading across the country. The inspiration for Texas' event likely came from Urban Meyer, who first introduced the "Friday Night Lights" camp when he took over at UF in 2005. Strong was on Meyer's staff there for five years. This year, Cincinnati, Iowa State, Wake Forest, Purdue, Toledo and Akron are all running similar night camps inside their home stadiums.

But of course, in this state, the first comparable event that comes to mind is "Friday Night Lights" at Texas A&M. A tradition Kevin Sumlin started in 2012, the Aggies invite their fans and top recruits for an annual Friday night scrimmage at Kyle Field in the spring.

Considering because of university policy Texas is not able to operate satellite camps outside its campus, unlike the rest of its Big 12 peers, starting up a new high-profile event is a logical solution. Last year, in response to that disadvantage, the staff hosted a "Texas Stampede" one-day recruiting event at the end of July.

But as Jeremy Crabtree wrote last week, Strong and his staff haven't received much of a new-guys-in-town boost in recruiting buzz and face an uphill climb to keep up with the rolling Aggies, who already have commitments from 11 recruits who held Texas offers and brought in five new commitments just last week, including top in-state receiver DaMarkus Lodge and elite 2016 tackle Greg Little.

The night camp also provides Texas an opportunity to get ahead on top recruits in 2016 and even 2017. The rest of Texas' in-state rivals are already making gains on that front, and every chance to get a kid back on campus helps.
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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.”

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