- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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AUSTIN, Texas -- National signing day wasn’t yet over, but that didn’t stop Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford from calling his shot.
“Next year, 2015, we're coming and we're coming to get everybody,” Bedford told Longhorn Network.
Texas has a lot of catching up to do for that boast to prove true.
Charlie Strong, Bedford and the rest of the staff inherited a tricky situation when they arrived in Austin. The staff was completed just one day before the dead period ended. They hit the recruiting trail hard, but their focus had to be on keeping Texas’ committed recruits on board.
On that front, they survived and succeeded. Texas held onto 17 of its prior pledges and inked six more. The last-second scramble is finally finished, and Strong likes how the Longhorns fared when it was all over.
“It's been a very intense couple of weeks,” Strong said Wednesday, “and what we were able to do as a staff was, we wanted to keep this class together. And it was an outstanding class.”
The next challenge begins immediately: Get rolling with the Class of 2015.
To appreciate what they’re up against, keep this in mind: Has recruiting the state of Texas ever been more challenging than it is right now?
Texas A&M and Baylor are thriving. Texas Tech and TCU are on the way back up. Those four programs are already ahead of the game in 2015, with a combined 18 early pledges. While Texas was still finishing its official visits, A&M, Baylor and TCU all held junior days on Jan. 26.
And those are just the local threats. Five of Texas’ top-eight rated recruits of 2014 signed with out-of-state programs. A total of 19 of the state’s top 50 left the state.
“It's hard to try to keep guys in,” Strong said, “but you have to go recruit them and not be afraid to go battle those Southeastern Conference teams, whomever they may be.”
Texas has six commitments on board for the 2015 class. The previous coaching staff was at one point so far ahead on this class that it held its first-ever sophomore day last spring.
The Longhorns had become the front-runners for more than a dozen of the state’s best recruits. Most of those leads have evaporated with the staff change, and understandably so. Both the recruits and the Texas coaches have a lot to learn about each other in the next few months.
Strong, his coaches and his recruiting staffers have 16 days to prepare for their first junior day event. There’s plenty of work to be done, and after living on the road for weeks they finally have a reprieve to meet as a staff, identify targets and make progress.
Texas will have a chance to sign more than 25 in next year’s class, and perhaps as many as 30. The way Strong sees it, he’d like to stick to his ideals when it comes to filling out the next group.
“You have 25 scholarships to give out. Who are the top 10 players? Let's go get the top 10,” he said. “Who are that next 10, or the guys that just fit your needs where you can build around? Because when you get the second 10, you are going to build around those. You take the other five and see if there is a late bloomer out there. There is going to be someone out there that isn't going to make an early decision. Let's make sure we save a scholarship there.”
Remember, Texas has a chance to capitalize off a common recruiting phenomenon in the next 12 months: The first-year bump.
Tennessee finished with the nation’s No. 5 class on Wednesday following Butch Jones’ first season in Knoxville. Ole Miss did the exact same thing last year under Hugh Freeze.
Texas A&M and Ohio State locked up top-10 classes under new coaches in 2013. Heck, Kentucky lost 10 games and still inked a top-20 class.
These are relatively subjective standards, of course, but the ranking isn’t the point. These first-year boons happen because a new coach and his staff can sell the future.
Kids want to play for programs on the rise. They buy into the hype and hope. And Strong is ready to start selling.
“I love recruiting,” Strong said. “You know the reason why? You have a chance to not only sell your program and sell your university, but you get a chance to build a relationship. And you go out and meet more people. That's the fun part about recruiting, because the players are going to be who they are and then you just try to figure out what they are all about and what their goals are.”
Strong has already revealed his goals. He wants the Longhorns to own this state again. His quest to change the game starts now.