You've seen it if you keep track of the new Texas signees on Twitter. It's everywhere -- Texas Gang or Die. Following the surprise commitment of Torshiro Davis, wrested away from LSU at the last moment, which sent shockwaves through both the Longhorn and Tiger fanbases, there are 26 high schoolers and two Junior Colege transfers who decided that they wanted to be a part of the Texas Gang or Die movement. Here's how it all came about.
Do it fast, do it dirty
Typically, the Longhorns wrap up a recruiting class mostly in February, giving the staff most of the spring, summer, and fall to evaluate the next year's class. So when the coaching changes took place following the 2010 season, many of the evaluations were already finished.
However, the big issue was that the new staff hadn't had much of an opportunity to complete their own assessments after working non-stop to keep the 2011 class together, which was somehow accomplished only losing one prospect -- Christian Westerman, who had already been building a relationship with Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes through many of the months that he was supposedly committed to Texas.
As a result, the staff had only a few weeks to evaluate the 2012 class before sending out scholarship offers at the first Junior Day.
The major question was whether the staff would hold back on some offers to allow more time to complete those evaluations and, just as importantly, whether the new group would convincenot to extend some questionable offers simply in the name of establishing momentum as a pressure tactic.
Unlike in previous years, the first Texas Junior Day, which is typically an event that is essentially a recruitnik's Christmas, failed to yield many verbal pledges, prompting this writer to term it "Black Christmas" at the end of a long and comparatively unproductive and anti-climactic day.
Sure, Connor Brewer pledged in the week before the event and the coaches brought in Alex De La Torre (one of the most questionable offers in the class) and Alex Norman on the day before the J-Day proper to provide some early momentum for the class.
Johnathan Gray and Mario Edwards also visited early, but on the day of the event itself, only Orlando Thomas and Curtis Riser committed, a significant decrease in commitments from the year before, when the Longhorns emerged from the same day with 13 commitments overall.
What was not clear at the time and what is still not clear at this moment nearly a year removed is whether the dearth of commitments was simply an anomaly or whether it will continue to be a trend into the future as recruits take more time to make their decision.
Brewer the Recruiter: OG Texas Gang or Die
At the time of his commitment, Arizona product Connor Brewer was the first addition to the class and a significant one, as he represented the fourth consecutive year that Texas landed the top target on the board at the most important position on the football field, despite considerable depth at the position. Of course, Texas fans know now that most of that depth managed to clear out pretty quickly, but at the time, the long projected timetable for Brewer to ascend to the starting role seemed to indicate that it might be hard for him to assume a major leadership role in the class.
Turns out, nothing could be further from the truth. One of the original purveyors of the Texas Gang or Die movement, Brewer worked hard to assemble the class, spending time with Cayleb Jones at the second Junior Day, leading to a commitment from the top wide receiver target on the Texas board at the time, and helping to bring Johnathan Gray into the fold as well. His attempts with Arizona native Andrus Peat were less successful, but it clearly wasn't for a lack of effort. Even Mack Brown knows that the best recruiters can't always land every target, especially kids who don't have any ties to the state.
Even before his stepped on campus in January, Brewer had probably already earned his scholarship at Texas because of the impact that he made as a ringleader for the class.
The juggernaut starts rolling
Perhaps the declaration of the first Junior Day as Black Christmas was a bit drastic, but after all, perspective is difficult to come by in a brave new world. Or maybe the perspective was really there at the time, even:
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 goes 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.
The part about the narrative being much longer certainly did hold true, though the Longhorns did have 13 commitments by the end of February, in large part because the second Junior Day was more productive than the first, yielding six commitments that weekend, including one from Jones, who committed a day after observing practice at JD2. Two other players committed in between the Junior Days -- Skyline wide receiver, who eventually de-committed, and Hassan Ridgeway, who committed after he received clarification regarding his offer status.
Looking to the horizon
After gathering a national coaching staff with ties around the country, including three assistants from the SEC --(Mississippi State DC), Bo Davis (Alabama DTs), and Stacy Searels (Georgia OL) -- the staff began to focus on more out-of-state targets to capitalize on those relationships and perhaps even to serve notice to in-state prospects that while the Longhorns would offer those players in Texas worthy of offers, the staff would also pursue other options.
As a result, Texas offered several offensive linemen from outside of Texas -- John Theus of Georgia, DJ Humphries of South Carolina, and Peat -- while also pursuing Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, Florida athlete Nelson Agholor, Louisiana safety Landon Collins, Louisiana defensive end Torshiro Davis, and a brief dalliance with California lineman Arik Armstead.
While the Longhorns only managed to land Davis, but not DGB, the message was clear -- it's not all about Texas any more.
Instead of demanding that every prospect make it to campus to show their interest in the 'Horns before receiving an offer, the staff got proactive pursuing some top national prospects, using the connections that coaches like Bo Davis and Darrell Wyatt had made in previous stints to recruit the best of the best, anywhere. And Mack Brown would allow them to do it, without worrying about losing out on Signing Day.
It's a new era in Austin.
Until the 2012 class, Mack Brown had declined to recruit junior-college players, partly because of the qualification concerns about a school with legitimate entrance requirements and partly because no one on the staff had strong relationships with those programs.
Enter Searels and Davis. With the Longhorns needing bodies at defensive tackle despite three commitments in the class and desperately needing a college-ready offensive lineman, the two former SEC coaches targeted and landed commitments from massive defensive tackle Brandon Moore, who played his junior college ball in Mississippi after leaving the Alabama program, and offensive tackle Donald Hawkins, who de-committed from Oklahoma for a chance to contribute early at Texas.
About those offensive tackle concerns? If Hawkins can step in as expected by the staff, those issues will be history. Good on you, Coach Searels.
Continued evaluations, continued pursuit
Besides Moore and Hawkins, who both committed towards the end of the football regular season, Texas also showed a much greater desire to continue evaluating the current class throughout the fall instead of moving on to the next.
It paid off, in a big way.
Defections at the wide receiver position opened up spots for Kendall Sanders, an Oklahoma State commit who had always seemed interested in the Longhorns, but had never received an offer until the fall, and Marcus Johnson, a one-time Texas Tech commit who switched to Texas A&M before switching again to Texas. A player who emerged as a serious prospect during the summer before his senior season and capitalized on that potential with a productive fall, Johnson was the type of player that Texas perhaps would have allowed to simply go to another Big 12 school and have a productive career.
Passing over numerous defensive backs allowed Duane Akina to identify and target the best late-emerging secondary prospect in the state -- Mineral Wells safety Adrian Colbert, who switched his commitment from Baylor, leading Bears coach Art Briles to declare it "unfair" that Colbert flipped before taking his official visit to Waco. Apparently Austin is just that appealing, Art. Tough luck.
Then, just before Signing Day, the Longhorns stole several more commitments from other schools, managing to flip athlete Daje Johnson from TCU, linebacker Dalton Santos from Tennessee, and defensive end Bryce Cottrell from Oregon on the final official visit weekend before NSD. Then, the coup de grace on the day itself -- the LOI from Davis. Wow.
We can haz all your committed recruits.
All told, of the last nine Texas commits, eight of them de-committed from other schools.
Mack Brown sees that sandwich you're eating and wants it. And gets it.
Texas Gang or Die
It's a serious statement that the Texas commits of 2012 are buying into and it's a seriously good class. Generally considered the second or third best class in the country, the real point is that Texas filled virtually every need.
Two quarterbacks to provide some depth behind the two currently on campus? Check.
Another five-star running back to add to the stable? Check.
Playmaking wide receivers, even without Dorial Green-Beckham? Check.
Offensive tackles? Check.
So many defensive tackles that even Manny Diaz might not be able to play them all? Check.
Two edge rushers in addition to two other projectable defensive ends? Check.
Sick speed all around? Check.
On and on.
Mack Brown indicated that this might be one of his best classes at Texas, following two other classes that contended for that honor.
Coaching changes or not, poor record over the last two seasons or not, the Longhorn recruiting juggernaut rolls on. And now has an elite staff and strength and conditioning coach to maximize them.
What was it that Mack Brown said before the 2011 season? Oh yeah -- get us now while the getting is good, because we're going to be good.
2012 RECRUITING FEATURES / NEWS
* Expectations of Early Enrollees
* Dorial Green-Beckham Eliminates Texas
* DE Bryce Cottrell Switches to Texas
* Interview with DT Malcolm Brown
* Texas Commits at International Bowl
* Do the Longhorns Have a Championship Caliber Class?
* Thomas Johnson De-Commits from UT
2012 RECRUITING SPOTLIGHTS
QB Connor Brewer, QB Jalen Overstreet, ATH Daje Johnson, WR Cayleb Jones, WR Marcus Johnson, OT Kennedy Estelle, OT Camrhon Huges, OG Curtis Riser, DE Caleb Bluiett, DE Hassan Ridgeway, DT Malcolm Brown, DT Paul Boyette, DT Alex Norman, LB Tim Cole, LB Peter Jinkens, LB Alex De La Torre, LB Dalton Santos, S Adrian Colbert, CB Orlando Thomas, CB Bryson Echols, K Nick Jordan
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