Texas First Junior Day Recap: Black Christmas?

2012 Austin High WR Cayleb Jones, who received his Texas offer on Sunday (photo by the author).

Horns_bullet_mediumList of offers/attendees. Here's the list of confirmed attendees and confirmed offers, as of Sunday night. First, the confirmed offers.

  • Johnathan Gray, Aledo RB (visited Saturday and Sunday)
  • Cayleb Jones, Austin High WR
  • Thomas Johnson, Dallas Skyline WR
  • Dominique Wheeler, Crockett WR
  • Michael Starts, Waco La Vega OL
  • Kennedy Estelle, Pearland Dawson OL
  • Curtis Riser, DeSoto OL (committed)
  • Javonte Magee, SA Sam Houston DL
  • Alex Norman, Dallas Bishop Dunne DT (committed Saturday)
  • Mario Edwards, Denton Ryan DE (visited Saturday)
  • Hassan Ridgeway, Mansfield DE
  • Alex De La Torre, Denton Ryan LB (committed Saturday)
  • Tim Cole, Brenham LB
  • Orlando Thomas, Copperas Cove ATH (committed)

Unconfirmed

  • LaDarrell McNeil, A. Maceo Smith S
  • Damien Lawry, A. Maceo Smith ATH

Did not receive offers

  • Ralphael Green, SA Sam Houston OL
  • Leo Thomas, SA Sam Houston DB
  • Nick Coleman, SA East Central CB

Did not attend

  • Trevor Knight, SA Reagan QB
  • Trey Williams, Spring Dekaney RB
  • Malcolm Brown, Brenham DT
  • Devonte Fields, Arlington Martin DE
  • Peter Jinkens, Skyline LB
  • Will Hines, Waco CB

Horns_bullet_mediumWas the first Texas Junior Day Black Christmas? Among Longhorn fans, it's popular to term the first Junior Day a recruitnik's version of Christmas. And if a white Christmas is ideal, this was not a white Christmas for Texas fans. In the middle of the afternoon, with a multitude of confirmed offers and no confirmed commitments, it was starting to look a lot like Black Christmas for Mack Brown and his football program. A dark day, a monumental letdown.

By around 5 pm CST, most of the prospects were trickling away from the event, the great majority after having received offers. Yet none had committed. The Longhorns were still stuck at three commitments for 2012. A year before, on the exact same day, at virtually the exact same hour, the verbal pledge from Sheroid Evans made him the ninth JD1 commitment, followed later by Marcus Hutchins. By the end of the weekend, Texas had 13 commitments, 19 by the end of February.

Sunday afternoon felt like the end of an era. Like finding out that Coach February, Mack Brown, the Santa Claus of Junior Days and early commitments, isn't real. Like waking up to find a Christmas tree with no presents underneath it. Like a golden era of recruiting hauls had passed.

The early evening commitments from Copperas Cove ATH Orlando Thomas, the surprise visitor/offer/commitment of the year, and an important pledge from DeSoto OL Curtis Riser, one of the top offensive linemen in the class and a top-15 player in the state, helped restore some of Christmas-like feel, but it was almost a token save, a reminder that things haven't fallen that way for Texas.

Instead of the thrill of racing to keep up with breaking commitments, Texas fans were left nervously wondering about when or if one of the attendees would pull the trigger for the Longhorns. After the high of the previous several years, the long morning of waiting that stretched into the afternoon and early evening was far from a high. More like the dull shock that follows trauma.

Horns_bullet_mediumWhat caused so few commitments? Also known as a new narrative. This is the million dollar question. Frankly, there isn't a simple answer for it, as nice as that would be. It wasn't completely unexpected, certainly. Recruitocosm predicted 10 commitments by the end of the month and that could well happen still. Guesses for the weekend were in the range of 4-6 and Texas did receive fours, so this was far from a complete disaster.

One factor is that for whatever reason, there just weren't that many top targets who looked like locks to commit this weekend. In that respect, it wasn't a surprise that Texas emerged from the weekend having received four pledges. It's a clear factor in the lack of commitments, but what isn't clear is why that happened with this group.

Some of it is chance. A strange confluence of factors across the board. Trey Williams vacillating all week and then not showing up, with the Auburn stench lingering around his recruitment. Peter Jinkens uttering what will soon be known as the dreaded "O" word and not showing up (that would be Oregon). The strong Brenham connection to Texas A&M, a major influence on Tim Cole and Malcolm Brown, two of the top players at their respective positions. The grade issues and early commitment of top linebacker Derek David. The resurgence of Florida State that has swept up Mario Edwards.

In past years, the Longhorns have been lucky that many of the top players in the state were heavy Longhorn leans. Selecting more than recruiting. And a lot of lazy evaluations, apparently something of a breaking point for Will Muschamp in regards to the offensive coaching staff. Things that either were going to change because of some unidentifiable combination of luck, lack of success on the field, the depth chart, rising programs in the region, coaching changes.

The Longhorns also had little time to evaluate many of the prospects and if the staff truly is taking the time to do better scouting work before offering, then maybe inviting in fewer recruits likely to commit is one of the concessions, regardless of the perception surrounding Alex De La Torre.

Or maybe the real cause is in the opposite direction, as the lack of a defensive backs coach and all the turmoil surrounding the program is causing recruits to pause. Maybe it's recruits not having built relationships with most of the assistant coaches. Or, ahem, the new coordinators -- kind of a big deal.

Maybe TCU is just that strong now with their move to the Big East, their recent success and the allure of an automatic bid. Maybe A&M is getting stronger with Tim DeRuyter now entrenched and some energetic assistants on the recruiting trail.

Maybe there are simply some shifts in the recruiting landscape that are causing players to wait longer before making their decisions. A lot of the Texas commits over the last two years or so have seemed relieved when they finally committed. Perhaps this particular group feels better able to deal with the pressure and scrutiny that go along with the process now.

Lots of possibilities and really no concrete answers. Not yet, anyway

The new Texas recruiting narrative is a longer one, though, with more ebbs and flows. Highs and lows. It's a narrative in which spring practices, the spring game, the spring evaluation period, summer camps, fall gameday visits, the banquet, the post-season all-star games, and National Signing Day play a much larger role. Instead of opportunities for Texas commits to bond, those events may involve the critical moments between the coaching staff and the recruits that influence where they end up going to school.

It's a narrative where the Longhorns may even look out of state a little bit more, where Mack Brown -- supposedly re-energized, more involved, and his assistants show a willingness to recruit players hard and long into the process. It's a changed, an altered narrative, but one that will provide a year's worth of drama, not just two weeks.

Bring it on.

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