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Texas Recruiting 2014: 'Horns Alter Strategy, Start Fast

Linebacker Hoza Scott looked like the superstar that he is in College Station (Photo by the author).
Linebacker Hoza Scott looked like the superstar that he is in College Station (Photo by the author).

In nearly four years of covering Texas recruiting, there have been some wild days. Five-Star Friday, when Jordan Hicks and Jackson Jeffcoat committed within hours of each other. The first Junior Day in 2010, when the Longhorns entered the weekend without a single pledge and left the weekend with 13. During one stretch, Desmond Jackson, Sheroid Evans, and MJ McFarland all committed within minutes of each other. None were expected to end their recruitments that day.

Other days were notable, but for less positive reasons. The first Junior Day in 2011, when the Longhorns failed to secure a single commitment a year after that huge weekend that landed those 13 prospects -- Black Christmas. A similarly anticlimactic first Junior Day this year, too.

But none of those days, nor any others during that four-year stretch, were quite as wild as Thursday, when Mack Brown decided to turn the recruiting world upside by extending juniors offers earlier than Texas has ever done before.

The results? Three commitments in the 2014 class, the first from Abilene Cooper wide receiver Lorenzo Joe, a lifetime Longhorn fan, San Antonio Brennan defensive end Derick Roberson, the major, major coup of the day as one of the top players in the state, who is also a longtime fan, and, on Friday, the commitment of Aldine Eisenhower running back Donald Catalon.

In addition, numerous offers went out as Brown and his staff finally countered the numerous schools offering earlier and earlier -- many of the top prospects in the state starting receiving them during the spring evaluation period. Instead of sticking with the confusing "approved" for an offer terminology, what Fort Worth All Saints offensive tackle Demetrius Knox called a "wink-wink" offer when I spoke with him in College Station.

It was a necessary response from a school that needs to completely re-think how they do summer recruiting (adding satellite camps, holding a Junior Day late in the summer to officially offer prospects). Consider the game changed, even if more changes are in store.

Here are the offers that are currently out:

  • Jerrod Heard, Denton Guyer quarterback -- Buried a bit in an ESPN post on Lorenzo Joe, Heard said that he doesn't plan on making a decision until next summer. Texas is the odds-on favorite to land him whenever he does make a decision. Heard may not have the upside of a guy like Tyrone Swoopes, but he's a relatively low-risk take.
  • Nathan Starks, Las Vegas (NV) Bishop Gorman running back -- Will Texas continue to pursue the explosive Starks with the commitment from Catalon? Since the 'Horns will be replacing Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron in this class, it's possible.
  • Leonard Fournette, New Orleans (LA) St. Augustine running back -- Rated as the top running back in the country by 247Sports at this early stage, Fournette has roughly 3,568 offers (just about everyone everywhere, in other words). Since Catalon is already in the fold, Texas can afford to be patient with some longer recruitments.
  • Daniel Gresham, Fort Worth All Saints running back/fullback -- The other back in the class could well end up with Gresham, who has an impressive combination of balance, toughness, and speed for his size. He wants to play his college ball with teammate Demetrius Knox and the fact that Texas is the only offer for Gresham right now is playing well with both of them.
  • KD Cannon, Mount Pleasant wide receiver -- The top receiver in the state isn't as high on Texas as some of the other prospects in the class, but the 'Horns will be patient in his recruitment.
  • Speedy Noil, New Orleans (LA) Edna Karr wide receiver -- A slot receiver who came by his nickname honestly, Noil could be a tough pull given his affinity for LSU. However, he did camp at Texas, so there is at least some legitimate interest.
  • Demetrius Knox, Fort Worth All Saints offensive tacktle -- The big kid known as Big Meech tweeted out a picture of he and Daniel Gresham yesterday, saying that they could end up at Texas. After Jake Rauerson tweeted him, Knox informed the 2013 bellcow that Texas is his current leader.
  • Myles Garrett, Arlington Martin defense end -- Unfortunately, there isn't any Garrett film available (still going to effort to find some Martin film elsewhere that he's on), but he was impressive out at 7-on-7 playing some receiver and going up for jump balls. Texas is reportedly in good shape with Garrett.
  • Solomon Thomas, Coppell defensive end -- The 6-3, 250-pounder could eventually be a swing guy in college, and is one of the top-ranked players in the country by 247Sports (no. 24), and in Texas (no. 2). Texas is in good shape with Thomas, who took a trip out to Cal this summer, so the Golden Bears could be a factor in his recruitment.
  • Hoza Scott, La Porte linebacker -- The top player in the state by Orangebloods, Scott was wearing an Aggie hat when I interviewed him in College Station, but he said that the Longhorns improved their positioning with him after an unofficial visit this summer. Still, all the other schools on his list are in the SEC, and he spoke about the cachet of playing in that league as a physical linebacker.
  • Nick Watkins, Dallas Bishop Dunne -- Perhaps the top pure cover corner in a loaded class, Watkins didn't attend either of the camps, but did take an unofficial visit shortly after. With about 15 offers, many from the top programs in the country, that list for Watkins is one of the more impressive in the state.
  • Tony Brown, Beaumont Ozen cornerback -- Shirt on or shirt off, Brown has been a star at every camp or combine he's attended. With a similar build to Aaron Williams, one that would play well at safety. His sister, Bealoved, is a track star and where she ends up could influence Brown, who is high on LSU.
  • Edwin Freeman, Arlington Bowie safety -- A possible future linebacker, Freeman isn't in the typical mold of an Akina safety who can spin down in coverage if necessary. Freeman said in College Station that Texas was his childhood favorite (which kind of ruled out Oklahoma), but is also high on Texas A&M.
  • Jamal Adams, Lewisville Hebron safety -- The vocal Hawk leader is fun to watch as his animatedly interacts with his teammates. He's also a really good football player. A June visit boosted the Longhorns significantly, but he is saying that he doesn't currently have a leader.
  • Edward Paris, Mansfield Timberview safety -- From Louisiana, Paris has been seen as an LSU lean for some time, but Texas did get him on campus this week, where he got the chance to meet Earl Campbell.
  • Nick Harvey, Lancaster safety -- A playmaker who holds down multiple roles for his team, Harvey did not list the Longhorns in the top five that he released recently. Since Texas has now offered, does that put them into serious contention? Harvey cited Earl Thomas as one of his favorite defensive backs growing up when Eric Nahlin and I spoke with him briefly at the state track meet.

A couple positions are notable in their absence here -- tight end, offensive line, and defensive tackle. As mentioned above, Thomas could grow into the position. Right now, however, there aren't any guys there who are top talents.

At tight end, Koda Martin of Manvel seems to be emerging as the top prospect there, but after talking with him, it didn't seem like there was much interest from Texas, which is a bit odd considering that he has the size to be a really good attached tight end, moves well, and has a frame that could eventually allow him to grow into an extremely mobile offensive tackle. Not sure where the downside is to pursuing him.

In regards to the offensive line, Louisiana's Cameron Robinson was approved for an offer, but it's not clear whether or not he has one right now. As one of the top prospects in the country, it's hard to imagine that he wasn't the recipient of an offer. Besides Meech, no in-state targets are currently on the radar in what appears to simply be a down year along the offensive line in Texas.

Really, though, the top targets at most positions are known, just as they are generally known by this time of year -- the coaches have plenty of time since last season to watch film, go out and evaluate during the spring, and then got a chance to see many of these kids in person at the summer camps.

As much as they may not seem like known quantities for those still skeptical about the early-offer approach, they are indeed exactly that. Few of the players currently in the top 20 in the state will drop out and few players will emerge this season who deserve mention as among the top prospects in Texas. There are typically several every year, but not that many.

Marcus Johnson was a decent example last season, but he wasn't quite a top-tier talent, but rather a guy who got a lot better between his junior and senior seasons. As the class of 2012 suggested, the Longhorns are willing to hold some spots to pursue players like Johnson, and that should be the case in 2014, even with the accelerated timetable.

This was a necessary move by Mack Brown, it was the right move, and it's already paying off. Period.