Texas targets Poona Ford and Chris Nelson to decide on National Signing Day

Erich Schlegel

The Horns are rarely in the mix for prospects announcing on National Signing Day.

The first National Signing Day of the Charlie Strong era for the Texas Longhorns will be a bit unusual compared to the past, as defensive tackle targets Poona Ford and Chris Nelson will both make their announcements.

In the last few years under former head coach Mack Brown, the Longhorns have rarely been seriously in the mix for prospects announcing on the day they sign their National Letters of Intent, as Brown's philosophy was that he didn't want to wait that long, because missing on a prospect on Signing Day was like missing on two prospects -- the player that ended up going elsewhere and the other prospect that could have been added to the class if a spot hadn't been held for the Signing Day miss.

In fact, besides some notable snubs like running back Darrell Scott in 2008 and other much less surprising misses like Dre Kirkpatrick, Jarvis Jones, and Dorial Green-Beckham, Texas has only had one player commit on National Signing Day since 2004 -- the surprise flip from defensive end Shiro Davis in 2012, a move that the Louisiana product may have made on the date he signed with the Longhorns to reduce pressure from home-state Tigers fans upset with his decision.

So although the Longhorns aren't in the mix for Texas prospects like Solomon Thomas, the star defensive end who recently eliminated the Horns from contention, and former commit Trey Lealaimatafao, the decisions of Ford and Nelson are both extremely important to the program's future -- if neither joins the 2014 class, Texas will be left without any defensive tackle commits for the second consecutive cycle, a potentiality that would have some serious effects on the long-term prospects at a position that is difficult to recruit as a result of the scarcity of quality defensive tackles.

Nelson, a consensus three-star prospect from Lakeland (Fla.) Victory Christian, will announce his decision at 1:15 p.m. CT, nearly three hours after the decision by Ford, a consensus four-star prospect from Hilton Head Island (S.C.) Hilton Head at 11:30 a.m. CT. Ford's decision will come via the @ESPNU Twitter handle, the first time a prospect has used an ESPN account to announce their collegiate choice. He will then appear in-studio to discuss his pick.

After official visits to South Florida and Central Florida sandwiched around the more than 30 hour roundtrip Nelson and his father made from Florida to visit the Longhorns, Texas is still considered the overwhelming favorite in the industry for the 6'2, 295-pouder who had been committed to Louisville before Strong took the Texas job.

Missouri and Purdue are the other two contenders for Ford, the 6'0, 285-pounder who had also been committed to Louisville when Strong was there. Although both schools are thought to have made a positive impression on Ford during his visits, as is typically the case, Texas is also the heavy favorite to land the explosive but undersized lineman, as there have been no Crystal Ball predictions for the Tigers or the Boilermakers in the days since those visits.

If Texas somehow misses on one or both, the pressure on redshirt sophomores Alex Norman and Paul Boyette increases tremendously -- neither one has contributed yet through their first two seasons on campus and while Norman has been on the fringes of the rotation, Boyette has had little buzz attached to his name. At this point, he doesn't ever project as a contributor and Norman was always seen as a raw prospect due to his private school roots.

And, of course, Texas is in this position because A'Shawn Robinson flipped to Alabama last year just before Signing Day and Andrew Billings picked the Bears over the Horns and is now contributing in Waco, leaving Texas without a defensive tackle in the 2013 class.

And because all three defensive tackle commits, including the aforementioned Lealaimatafao, bailed from the class when former defensive tackles coach Bo Davis left, with the biggest loss probably that of Longview's Zaycoven Henderson, the state's second-ranked prospect at the position.

As a result, anything less than landing both Ford and Nelson in the biggest Signing Day haul for the Longhorns in at least a decade would be a disappointment and as much of a referendum on Strong as anything that has happened so far with the 2014 recruiting class given his deep connections to both players as former Louisville commits -- the relationship excuse won't work here if they opt to head elsewhere.

Boom or bust or the middle ground in between of landing one of the two, Signing Day will hold more drama than usual for Texas fans accustomed to doing little more than wait for all the faxes to come in on time.

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