NCF On The Trail: Charlie Strong

The National Letter of Intent that more than 2,000 recruits signed last week is in no way a contract between player and coach. The paperwork offers no guarantee the coach will stick around even one more day.

That’s the tough truth Texas’ Charles Omenihu and countless other new signees have learned in the past few days. Two days after signing with the Longhorns, the defensive end’s position coach and lead recruiter, Chris Rumph, made an abrupt exit to Florida. He is certainly not alone.

In the few days since National Signing Day, coaches from Ohio State, LSU, UCLA, Notre Dame, Miami, Arkansas, and Florida have bolted for the NFL. The Irish, in fact, have already parted with three assistants since Wednesday. A defensive coordinator at North Carolina was fired, and the one at TCU retired.

The cycle goes on and on. Rumph left because Terrell Williams landed a job with the Miami Dolphins one month into his stint at Florida. So Texas will have to replace him with some other coach who has most likely made promises to other players.

"That’s the nature of the business," Omenihu said. "When you look at it and take the emotions out of it, all of this is really a business."

Omenihu, a 6-foot-5 defensive end out of Rowlett, Texas, had heard whispers Florida was interested in Rumph when new Florida head coach Jim McElwain was hired in December. But Rumph stayed put and Williams took the gig.

Crisis averted, right? Omenihu had only taken one other official visit (Arizona State) and didn’t exactly have a backup plan in case his position coach bailed. He was all-in on Rumph, fired up to play for the man who had developed a combined 14 NFL draft picks at Clemson and Alabama.

Rumph proved himself to be a fiery teacher, a sage mentor and a relentless recruiter at Texas. He also had a four-year deal. Omenihu and his fellow future Longhorns had no reason to worry.

Then the reports leaked on Thursday morning. Williams to Miami. Rumph to Florida. Almost a done deal. Omenihu reached out to Rumph. No answer. So he got in touch with defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and, soon after, Charlie Strong.

Strong’s words were reassuring. He had spoken with Rumph about the opening on Wednesday. Rumph had said he wasn’t taking it. By Friday afternoon, Rumph was gone. Omenihu, of course, found out from his Twitter feed.

"I was shocked, to be honest," he said.

Du'Vonta Lampkin was angry. The Texas defensive tackle signee logged onto Twitter and vented when he heard the news.

Considering he had flirted with flipping to Oklahoma late in his recruiting process, Lampkin’s frustration was understandable. The kid must have felt tricked.

These newly signed recruits have no reasonable recourse, either. Even if Lampkin wanted to go to Oklahoma, he would have to sit out 2015 and forfeit a year of eligibility. The NLI locks him and all his peers into a brutally one-sided deal.

That’s why elite recruits like CeCe Jefferson and Roquan Smith have every right to hold out. On signing day, Jefferson picked Florida and Smith chose UCLA on ESPN. Neither have made it official. Jefferson found out Williams was leaving Florida. Smith didn’t fax after learning Bruins defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was leaving for the Atlanta Falcons.

"They expect us to stay loyal to the school," Omenihu said, "but they don’t."

Rumph’s reason for leaving isn’t typical. He would have made more money by staying. The native of South Carolina moved on for family reasons. At Texas, he was 20 hours from family. At Florida, he’ll only be four and a half hours away.

Had Rumph moved on in December, Omenihu says he would have decommitted and faced "a much harder decision" while waiting to see who took Rumph’s place. Now that he’s signed, all he and Lampkin can do is hope for the best.

"I’m comfortable with the rest of the staff, and I’m pretty sure they’ll bring in a good defensive line coach," Omenihu said. "I’ll make sure to ask all my questions."

The one question that isn’t getting asked: What happens next year?

If the recommended early signing date of Dec. 16 gains approval this summer, this frustrating and increasingly accepted trend of post-NSD departures promises to worsen. The majority of coaching changes do occur after that date.

Coaches will compel recruits to sign as soon as possible. It’s their job. Until it’s not.

"If we leave, we’re questioned to the highest regard," Omenihu said. "If they leave, it’s just the business."

Business is once again booming, just in time for everyone but the signees to get what they want.
Charlie Strong had nearly everything he needed for his first full recruiting class at Texas. But he was missing a quarterback. Not anymore.

Two days before he was expected to decide, Kai Locksley called Strong to deliver the good news. The ESPN 300 athlete flipped from Florida State to Texas on Monday.

"He was ecstatic," Locksley said. "He was like, 'You're joking around. Why'd you make me wait this long? Been trying to get you to say that for two weeks. Why you playing around?' He was happy to have that main piece in his recruiting class."

The 6-foot-4, 190-pound athlete from Baltimore's Gilman School delivered his pledge Monday afternoon, ending a six-month commitment to the Seminoles. He'd been planning this move ever since an official visit to Austin for the Jan. 23 weekend. After hosting final in-home visits with both coaching staffs, he knew he was ready.

"My feelings stayed the same, and I was ready to let everybody know so I can always help recruit some of the other guys they're trying to get in this class," Locksley said.

[+] EnlargeKai Locksley
Tom Hauck for Student SportsKai Locksley, a four-star quarterback out of Baltimore and a member of the ESPN 300, flipped to Texas from Florida State on Monday.
Specifically? Locksley is looking forward to reaching out to two fellow Under Armour All-Americans, five-star Daylon Mack and ESPN 300 running back Soso Jamabo, before signing day.

"Gotta get Big Mack and Mr. Jamabo, Mr. ITT Tech," Locksley said.

Locksley, the son of Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, admitted he's compelled by Texas' quarterback situation and the opportunity to compete for playing time immediately. The Longhorns have just two scholarship quarterbacks on campus in Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard, and after striking out with Kyler Murray and losing Zach Gentry to Michigan, Locksley became a must-get for Strong and his staff.

Locksley committed to Florida State in July as one of the Seminoles' three QB pledges, but Strong promised he wouldn't stop recruiting him. He never promised Locksley a starting job; just a chance to come in and prove he's a leader.

"That's one of their main priorities, finding a guy who can come in and compete for the starting job," Locksley said. "They're recruiting me to potentially be that starting guy. I think I have the ability to do so and really turn the program around and be that key piece to a great class.

"They need a guy who can come in and bring some juice and bring some competitive nature to the field and be a leader. Those are all things I love to do and love to display on the field."

He said Strong and co-offensive coordinators Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline laid out their vision of a more up-tempo Texas offense in 2015 -- similar schemes and concepts, just faster and more efficient. That plan fits Locksley, who threw for 1,050 yards and rushed for 915 with 22 total touchdowns as a senior at Gilman.

Locksley is the 26th member of Texas' No. 9-ranked class, a group that now features pledges from 12 ESPN 300 prospects. The Horns also have a commitment from Irving, Texas, quarterback Matthew Merrick, who's currently slated to grayshirt and enroll in 2016.

Locksley wants to make one thing clear about what comes next: He's not looking to redshirt this fall. "Absolutely not," he added. "That's not my intention." That perception during his recruitment -- that he'd prefer to sit and learn wherever he went -- was a part of this process he found baffling.

He can't wait to compete. He knows the starting job at Texas is up for grabs.

"Their coaches envision that if I come in, work hard, keep my head down, listen and get acclimated to the offense and the system, they definitely think I have all the potential in the world to be that guy," he said.
Anyone who still wondered whether Charlie Strong could recruit can stop wondering.

In their first full year in Austin, Strong and his staff have put together a defensive class that is the envy of college football.

The Longhorns alone have seven ESPN 300 defenders committed, and they could add an eighth on signing day in five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, who will announce between Texas, TCU and Texas A&M.

The rest of the Big 12 combined has only eight ESPN 300 defensive commits.

This has all the makings of a foundational 2015 class Insider that could finally lead Texas out of the desert and back to the oasis of national prominence.

Except for one gigantically glaring missing piece.

A piece the Longhorns have desperately longed for since the days of Vince Young and Colt McCoy.

That's right, a quarterback.

Despite boasting a remarkable class at almost every other position, Texas heads into signing day week without a quarterback on board, following one big recruiting gamble that backfired.

The Longhorns spent the last month going after Texas A&M commit Kyler Murray, the No. 1-ranked quarterback in the country, only to see Murray stick with the Aggies, where his father was a two-time All-American. It was a worthy gamble. Though only 5-foot-11, Murray possesses a transformational talent that could have changed Texas' fortunes at the most critical of positions.

But this roll of the dice has left the Longhorns in quarterback limbo yet again.

Three days before signing day, the Longhorns now have one final recourse at quarterback in this class: flipping Florida State commit Kai Locksley, who visited Austin last weekend.

Landing Locksley would be better than landing no one. After all, he's an ESPN 300 athlete. But Locksley is not Murray, at least not now. And just like Tyrone Swoopes, Locksley is a developmental quarterback. Not one seemingly ready to impact the Longhorns in 2015.

Texas actually once owned a pledge from a more polished thrower in ESPN 300 pocket passer Zach Gentry, who committed in May. But as Texas went all in on Murray, Gentry flipped his commitment to Michigan. The pro-style quarterback cited concerns the Longhorns were morphing into a spread attack, though he couldn't have been enamored with Texas' full-court pursuit of Murray, either.

If the Longhorns strike out on Locksley, they could still bring in three-star commit Matthew Merrick, if only to add a third passer for depth purposes. But Merrick was slated to grayshirt, underscoring where he fell into the immediate plans.

Either way, unless the Longhorns land a high-profile transfer (Everett Golson? Braxton Miller?) they are essentially back to where they were last season, when they owned one of the three-worst offenses in the Big 12.

After taking over for David Ash, Swoopes gained steam into October, nearly spearheading Texas to an upset of Oklahoma before rallying the Longhorns to a 48-45 win against Iowa State. Swoopes, however, sputtered the rest of the way, and the Texas offense flatlined in losses to TCU and Arkansas to end the season, confirming serious doubts as to whether he could ever lead the Longhorns to a Big 12 title.

After Swoopes, all Texas has coming back is Jerrod Heard, who redshirted last season. Heard was a four-star signee after taking Denton Guyer to a pair of state titles. But unlike Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes, who shined as true freshmen, Heard, by all accounts, was not ready to step on the field, despite Texas' struggles at the position.

Heard might be Texas' answer at quarterback, and could very well overtake Swoopes for the starting job this spring.

Then again, he might not.

What is known is that Texas will not win the Big 12 again until it gets elite quarterback play again.

Bryce Petty, Trevone Boykin, Collin Klein, Brandon Weeden, Sam Bradford and, of course, McCoy and Young -- these are the caliber of quarterbacks that usually win Big 12 titles.

This past season, the Longhorns featured arguably the best defense in the Big 12, and that barely got them to six wins.

A dominant defense can take a team a long way in the Big 12. But history has proven it can't take a team all the way to the top.

With this incoming class, it probably won't be long before Strong features another ferocious defense. But without a premier quarterback, that probably still won't be enough.

That's why Strong went so hard after Murray. Virtually everywhere else, this has the makings of an extraordinary signing class.

But without the quarterback, it is not complete.
National signing day, and the build up to it, is as close as Texas and Texas A&M get to actual football competition these days, to see who will in fact “run this state.”

Well, right now it’s neither school. The Lone Star State is run by Baylor and TCU, the Big 12 co-champs that narrowly missed the initial College Football Playoff field.

That’s why the 2015 recruiting class and the season are so vital to both the Longhorns and Aggies, with each power striving to re-establish itself -- not just regionally, but nationally.

Texas and Texas A&M lead off our look at programs and coaches that need the 2015 class to pay off, and the sooner the better.

(Note: The RecruitingNation ranking and number of commitments are updated as of Sunday evening.)

1. Texas
Ranking: 9
Commitments: 26

The Longhorns have secured a number of solid, team-building pieces in this class, and a few high-end targets -- DT Daylon Mack and RB Soso Jamabo, among them -- remain distinct possibilities to sign with Texas this week.

Still, Wednesday
It’s not often a recruit commits to the same school twice, but that’s what happened with ESPN 300 receiver John Burt on Monday.

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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.

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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
Jan 18
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 

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
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

January, 7, 2015
Jan 7
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 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? 

September, 15, 2014

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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