Even Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong got caught up in talking about the rest of the Texas Longhorns defensive tackle signees when he was supposed to discuss Destrehan (La.) product Gerald Wilbon on National Signing Day last Wednesday.
"He committed early to us, also a good take for inside," Strong said. "But if you are looking at those guys inside you talk about Wilbon at 327, Southall at 287, and guys at 322, 328, 290... you have big bodies inside now and guys that can hold the point and don't get moved out of there. And once they get in the system with [strength and condition] Coach Moorer, they are just going to get bigger and stronger, and then they can really play well inside."
Excusable in one sense, of course, since landing four highly-rated players at the need position in about 26 hours represented a huge storyline for the Longhorns. Inexcusable in another -- while Wilbon may have been the Day 1 defensive tackle in the recruiting class and a consensus three-star prospect, he possesses enough upside to make him a tremendously important piece for the Longhorns moving forward.
Once a popular candidate to move to the offensive line (and even rated as an offensive guard by Scout), Wilbon showed tremendous improvement in his senior film that somehow never translated to a boost in the recruiting rankings -- by the end of the process, he was merely a mid three-star prospect rated at .8577 in the 247Sports Composite rankings, the No. 669 player nationally, the No. 47 defensive tackle, and the No. 34 player in the state of Louisiana.
Throw in the fact that Wilbon held fewer than 15 offers, three from Power 5 schools, and did not see a single SEC school enter his recruitment at any point in the process, and it was easy to overlook him. Take him for granted.
But back to his importance in the class -- after losing nose tackle Desmond Jackson and resident disruptor Hassan Ridgeway, Texas is sorely lacking in pure physical power in the middle and no other member of the defensive tackle class provides as much physical power as Wilbon.
At 6'2 and 327 pounds, it's not just his mass that makes him so special. Look at his lower body -- there's the power there that Ridgeway provided, but note as well that Wilbon has much more ideal size than Jackson or another undersized defensive tackle like Poona Ford. The Louisiana product possesses none of the physical disadvantages that Jackson faced as a Longhorns and Ford will continue to face over his final two seasons.
And so even though Wilbon doesn't have the same natural leverage that Jackson had, his greatest attribute on tape may be his ability to fire low off the ball, a significant complaint with just about every defensive tackle coming out of high school ever. Surely there are plays when Wilbon tires and gets more vertical, but there's plenty of evidence on his senior film that he's flexible enough to stay low and powerful enough to cause havoc when he fires off low. In addition, some improvement in technique, especially with his hands, showcases a learning curve that headed in the right direction.
So, he's just a gap-plugging run stuffer? Not exactly. While Wilbon may rank last among the defensive tackles in this signing class when comparing first steps, his quickness is good for a player of his size.
Wilbon isn't from Texas, either, but he's still acquired a deep understanding of the program's tradition -- he'll fit right in.
Now faced with an opportunity to contribute early, the Louisiana product will have a chance to make the type of impact that no one really expects for a head coach he truly respects.
"Coach Strong is a great coach. He's a great players' coach, the best I've ever interacted with," Wilbon told the New Orleans Time-Picayune. "He's a great, down-to-earth person; the whole staff is. It's just great playing for a black coach at Texas and just making history -- it's something I'm looking forward to."