Not so long ago, the Texas Longhorns were in line to land five significant prospects from Sunshine State, a group known as the "Florida Five" that was led by linebacker Cecil Cherry, who will transfer after participating in only three fall practices.
The whole story goes all the way back to last fall, when the Horns hosted Cherry, a linebacker from Lakeland Victory Christian, Miami Westminster safety Tim Irvin, Georgia Prep Sports Academy wide receiver Gilbert Johnson, Miami Washington tight end Devonaire Clarington, and Miami Washington cornerback Davante Davis on official visits for the game against West Virginia.
Though that contest wasn't exactly the first signature win for first-year head coach Charlie Strong in Austin, it was an important home upset of a ranked opponent at a time when the Horns were only narrowly in position to earn a bowl trip. After the game, the impromptu locker room celebration that included players spontaneously hoisting Strong into the air in jubilation did become a signature moment for Strong's attempts to win over his new players.
It clearly made an impact on the five friends from Florida, too, so Cherry pledged to the Horns in the middle of December to provide some positive momentum heading into the big decisions from Malik Jefferson and DeAndre McNeal.
In early January, the US Army All-American game marked the high point for the Longhorns with the Florida Five, as Clarington and Irvin both committed to Texas, following Davis and preceding the pledge of Johnson that solidified the five as potential future Longhorns.
At the time, they were all taking big about the future at Texas and their place in it.
"Well first of all, we're going to bring back how 'The U' was, but we're going to do it the professional way," Cherry told ESPN back in January.
"That's being generals with it, not wild how they were but still having fun and going around with a chip. We've got to be good players on and off the field: have fun, be all about ball, get your education, be a team leader. It's going to feel like, 'Man, we've got Florida boys on the team."
Clarington told SB Nation Recruiting that "we're going to take over Texas. We're going to rebuild Texas."
Though Clarington and Davis could still be key pieces in the rebuild, those efforts won't include Irvin, Johnson, and likely Cherry. Even Clarington may not receive clearance from the NCAA, potentially leaving the Horns with only one of the previous five. So here's the timeline of what happened and what the attrition and potential attrition means for the program moving forward:
January 18 -- Irvin flips pledge to Auburn
The first hit for the Florida Five came less than two weeks after the hard-hitting safety announced his pledge to Texas and his intentions to enroll early in Austin. However, the spectre of Auburn's hire of former Florida defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson hung over Irvin's recruitment even at the time of his commitment.
The close relationship between the two ultimately resulted in news emerging that Irvin would travel to the state of Alabama in order to visit the Tigers. At the same time confirmation of Irvin's visit emerged, there were rumors of a Snapchat taken by Irvin with a large amount of money presumably held by him. He later claimed that the money was given to him by a relative as a graduation gift.
By the time Irvin officially switched his commitment to the SEC power only days before his official enrollment, it was hardly a surprise, but it did create some drama with his friend to Davis, who at one point considered joining Irvin at Auburn.
What it means: Texas was ultimately able to ink Davis and saw redshirt freshman John Bonney emerge in the spring to offset any short-term impact from the decision, while the decision by Beaumont Central safety PJ Locke to flip to Texas on National Signing Day reduced recruiting pressure by adding a player with a similar skill set as Irvin.
August 6 -- Johnson fails to qualify
After a summer during which Johnson and everyone connected to him went eerily quiet, Strong confirmed that the big wide receiver from Homestead failed to qualify and will continue his football career elsewhere. It was the second consecutive year that the former Georgia signee failed to make the necessary grades.
What it means: Not getting Johnson on campus makes for one fewer big body to go up in the red zone and make plays on the football. But given that the staff knew it was taking a calculated risk in accepting Johnson's commitment and signature and the fact that John Burt re-committed after Johnson's commitment, his loss probably won't have a significant impact on the rest of the program in the short term or the long term .
August 11 -- Cherry reveals intent to transfer
One of the shortest recent tenures in Texas football history will officially come to a close at some point in the near future when Cherry's transfer becomes official and he heads back to Florida.
What happened? It seems Cherry's father didn't want him at Texas in the first place. Based on his comments to the Statesman, the reasoning for that appears to be what he considered a lack of fit for his son in a Big 12 defense that rarely plays three linebackers and consistently faces off against spread-option offenses.
Throw in the move of consensus five-star linebacker Malik Jefferson inside to middle linebacker to cover for the lingering ankle injury that senior Dalton Santos suffered back in the spring and the prospects of early playing time decreased significantly for Cherry in recent days.
Cherry was seemingly even upset about not receiving the No. 3 on defense, the number he wore when posing with Strong and linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary on his visit. Star linebacker Jordan Hicks wore it last season, but it is still open on defense for 2015.
And it probably didn't help that only one of the other members of the Florida Five on campus, though that's no excuse for Cherry to distance himself to the extent that his classmates seemingly felt the need to publicly criticize his planned departure.
What it means: With Jefferson now playing inside, Texas has less of a need for Cherry, reducing the impact of his departure. Moving forward in recruiting, the Longhorns are in good shape for Alief Elsik linebacker Dontavious Jackson, a pure middle linebacker with better measurables and overall physical talent than Cherry, and now have a little bit more pressure on them to close with Jackson.
? -- Clarington learns fate
Maybe there was a reason why Miami backed so far off the hometown product late in the recruiting process. There were certainly persistent rumors about his ability to qualify, in part because he cycled through a number of high schools during his prep career.
Now he's waiting for his clearance from the NCAA and missing practice time while awaiting his fate. For many Miami-area recruiting observers, it would probably be an upset for the NCAA to approve Clarington's enrollment at Texas.
What it means: The Horns will either get the most important tight end signee of the last decade on campus or lose out on a rare talent. Since he can flex out and play as a receiver and also possesses upside as a blocker because he was a physical and productive defensive end in high school, Clarington would be an extremly difficult talent to replace, but having DeAndre McNeal at the position now is a start.
From a wide-angle perspective, the potential loss of Clarington looms the largest, by far, and he could still end up in burnt orange for the opener against Notre Dame in 25 days, but for a program that is still attempting to build depth again after so much attrition in the last several years, missing out on three or four of the group is significant.
And so even if Clarington manages to get his messy transcript cleared by the NCAA, the vagaries of recruiting South Florida are clearly apparent. From grades to homesickness to those rumors of the $EC effect with Irvin, it's possible that consistently taking players from the region could represent a bigger risk than Texas players for head coach Chalrie Strong as he moves forward as a recruiter.
The question now is what happens with Clarington and what Strong learns from the Florida Five's dissolution -- some segments of the Texas high school coaching community didn't like the takes in 2015 and the offers in 2016 like the one to undersized and overlooked outside linebacker Shemar Smith and will surely see this as futher evidence that the Texas roster should be full of Texans.
So will Strong back off of recruiting in Florida? He's made good-faith efforts in the state of Texas and has clearly emphasized the need and focus on keeping the best players at home, but the guess here is that he will continue to fill needs in Florida if necessary. And there shouldn't be anything wrong with that, even for Texas high school coaches, who haven't exactly been sending as many top prospects to Austin recently. But there may also be some continued risk of attrition in recruiting Florida players and that's the biggest concern based on what happened with the Florida Five.