While it would be utterly foolish to blame the lack of instant success on the recruiting trail on new Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman, there’s no question that the program needed some positive news in a bad way after a disappointing week.
Sure, things got off to a solid start during Herman’s first big recruiting weekend with several important visitors, but the things went sideways — tight end target Salvatore Cannella committed to Auburn on Wednesday and elite consensus five-star offensive tackle Walker Little pledge to the Cardinal on Friday.
Over the weekend, an offer for Weatherford defensive tackle Zaccheus McKinney wasn’t enough to keep him from committing to rival Oklahoma.
Of course, relationships typical matter above all else in recruiting, so only a fool would blame Herman and his staff for losing out on those prospects.
Which brings us to the buried lede here — the Monday commitment of Houston Langham Creek running back Toneil Carter, the recent Georgia decommit who was willing to give Herman his second pledge of his return to Austin.
Despite the reality behind the scenes, uninformed perception can help create uninformed reality for many fans upset that Herman wasn’t able to magically overcome the advantages accrued by other coaching staffs over long periods of time, that process known as relationship building.
Not to mention the appeals of Stanford for Little that were always going to be difficult to overcome.
So Carter’s commitment — without the benefit of a planned official visit that was canceled before the dead period began — was crucially important to land a player at a need position and create some positive momentum for a staff that has been extending numerous offers and working previous connections with diligence.
With Carter, there was quite a bit of luck, as there has to be for a new staff trying to catch up — both star Georgia running backs, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, decided to return to school, leaving Carter without his planned slot as an early enrollee.
But the loss for the Bulldogs is still the gain for the Longhorns, no matter how it goes down, and Texas now holds a commitment from the top pure running back in the state. Carter isn’t on the same level athletically as Ohio State all-purpose back commit JK Dobbins. However, that’s also the case for literally every other running back in the country after Dobbins posted the position’s highest SPARQ score in the 2017 class.
Carter ran a 4.56 40-yard dash at the Houston The Opening Regional camp this year, in addition to a 4.26 shuttle and a 35.6-inch vertical leap. The measurables are unquestionably there for Carter — he’s a top-notch athlete.
The production was as well for Carter’s career at Langham Creek — he averaged 7.4 yards per rush in his career and scored 54 touchdowns during three seasons at the varsity level.
At just under 5’11 and 200 pounds, Carter is a speed back who can run away from defenders with good long speed and also runs with some power for a lighter back, though he doesn’t project as a player who will consistently move the pile at the next level.
In some key areas, Carter was able to show more as a sophomore — many of his long junior runs were well blocked and didn’t require much more than his speed and ability to find creases.
During the 2014 season, Carter showed physicality on kickoff coverage and more ability to make cuts in the open field, in addition to the first-step quickness and long speed that makes everything else look so easy for him. Just as importantly, he showed more ability to get low and break some arm tackles near the line of scrimmage.
After watching Carter over multiple seasons, it becomes a little bit too easy to overlook just how athletic Carter plays in pads because he’s so smooth with his acceleration and subtle moves through the hole. It’s extremely difficult for overmatched high school opponents to even get their hands on him when he gets vertical.
Mostly a no-nonsense runner, he has solid vision and some make-you-miss ability, but the question is whether Carter can break tackles in college and gain yards beyond what the offensive line blocks for at the next level.
Of course, though running running backs often translate to college football as well as any other position, that’s an operative question for a lack of high school backs and industry evaluators and college coaches agree that Carter has plenty of potential.
Offers from Alabama, Arkansas, Baylor, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, TCU, and Texas A&M certainly attest to the latter point.
Even better for Texas, Carter will arrive on campus this spring to buoy a running back corps that lost D’Onta Foreman and will feature Chris Warren III as the feature ball carrier. Though Warren is a unique and physically-imposing running back with excellent speed for his size, his height may make him injury prone.
The ‘Horns needed depth at the position after former US Army All-American Kyle Porter showed that he had a bit of a learning curve even in a relatively running back-friendly offense, so landing the state’s top talent behind Dobbins was a huge coup for Herman and his staff.
Now the pursuit of players like Benjamin and Houston commit Daniel Young can serve as supplementary pieces to a top-10 running back nationally.