Once again, the Under the Lights camp was a success for the Texas Longhorns with approximately 100 recruits having camped on the Forty Acres June 23. Though the camp serves as a final opportunity to host targets such as Baron Browning and Anthony Hines before the season kicks off, the majority of campers are in attendance to make their name known and be added to Texas’ recruiting big board.
Following Under the Lights, several recruits shared their thoughts on the camp and Texas with Burnt Orange Nation.
Among the more highly ranked 2018 talents at Under the Lights was Rockwall-Heath cornerback Tanner McCalister. "It was great getting to come down to Austin and see the facilities and a lot they have to offer," McCalister told Burnt Orange Nation.
Several factors played into what McCalister called “a great experience,” but the most notable portion of the camp was being able to reconnect with Rockwall natives and current Longhorns, sophomores Chris Warren and DeShon Elliot. Relationships like McCalister’s with Warren and Elliot are invaluable to the four-star defensive back, and could play a significant role in where he plays college football.
"That's going to be big," McCalister said. "Knowing I have friends that are like family to me at the college will be great.
Ranked as the No. 27 cornerback in 2018, McCalister doesn’t yet hold a Texas offer, but said defensive backs coach Clay Jennings plans on monitoring him next season; something McCalister hopes leads to a Texas offer.
“I've always grown up loving Texas, so an offer from them would be great, McCalister said. "They would definitely be a top 10 when I start to narrow things."
Four-star Allen running back Kirby Bennett hasn’t added a Texas offer just yet either, but that may soon be changing. After impressing at Under the Lights, Bennett told BON he was headed back to Austin on Sunday to meet with Charlie Strong and the coaching staff. “I know they will (offer) soon,” Bennett said. “Might have to call it (Texas) home.”
The 2018 target currently holds four offers from Texas Tech, SMU, Ole Miss and Colorado and has drawn interest from numerous other programs. While a Texas offer wouldn’t throw the ‘Horns into pole position in Bennett’s recruitment, he says Texas would “easily” be in his top five.
A Texas offer may soon be going out to 2018 Ridge Point outside linebacker Chad Bailey. The three-star Houston area prospect said he spent about 10 minutes talking with linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary at Under the Lights and Texas is “right on the verge of offering.”
After calling Texas one of his many dream schools, Bailey said he would have a lot of interest in the Longhorns, as would his mother, who wants him to stay close to home for college. At Texas, that would mean competing with a linebacker corps chockfull with young talent, but the noticeably confident Bailey said he’d be up for the challenge.
"I feel if you're good enough you can shine anywhere" Bailey said before noting Texas' recent struggles won't matter. "I feel I can make a team better."
For several reasons, South Grand Prairie cornerback JaQualyn Greene has high interest in Texas. As one of the state’s rising defensive backs, Greene says he admires UT’s reputation as DBU and the numerous elite talents to patrol the secondary in Austin. Greene actually looks up to one of the latest to join Texas—Eric Cuffee, who helped coach Greene at Under the Lights.
"I look up to Eric Cuffee and him teaching the game like he was taught really pushes me," Greene said.
The connection between Greene and Cuffee dates back to when the two were growing up in Waco, where they played football together as kids. But as Greene notes, his trip to Under the Lights wasn’t about friendship, but business. "I think that I went in and proved why I was one of the best corners in the state," Greene said. "But you can tell the love they have for me you can be looking for a Texas offer pretty soon."
Though the 2018 target still awaits a Texas offer, Greene said he developed a relationship with the coaching staff and is on Jennings’ radar before raving about Charlie Strong.
South Grand Prairie CB JaQualyn Greene after UTL: "I think Coach Strong is the real deal ... Texas feels right!" #HookEm— Cody Daniel (@CodyDanielHoops) July 24, 2016
Under the Lights served as an introduction to Texas’ campus and coaching staff for many of those that attended, but that wasn’t the case for Sachse product Zach Gilson. The 2018 weak-side defensive end was on the Forty Acres for Junior Day and an unofficial visit in April, but this time around, exposure was the goal.
"It was a really good exposure for me," Gilson said. "In the time I had there, the coaches were very interested. They gave me a lot of individual teaching at times."
Considering Gilson has known the majority of Texas’ staff for quite some time, the individual attention isn’t much of a surprise. Gilson said he’s been familiar with defensive line coach Brick Haley since he arrived in Austin and has known special assistant William Carr since his arrival, as well. Gilson even has ties to the Duvernay brothers, who are from Sachse, along with Charles Omenihu. The unranked 2018 defensive end described the relationships around the Forty Acres as family-like and what makes Texas so special.
Sachse DE Zach Gilson on Texas coaches: "Even if you're not on the team, they'll treat you as family. They'll make sure you know it's home."— Cody Daniel (@CodyDanielHoops) July 25, 2016
In addition to Texas, Gilson says Nebraska, Utah, Tennessee, Baylor and TCU have been showing interest, although he hasn’t been offered yet.
Cy-Fair cornerback Erick Hallett is another 2018 product that could soon be hearing more from Texas. At Under the Lights, Hallett spent some time talking with coach Jennings, who said he was impressed with his performance in the one-on-one drills and wants to see more of him next season. Hallett didn’t hesitate to express his interest in the ‘Horns.
"I'm very interested in their program and I love the atmosphere and attitude they bring to the game," Hallett said. "It has also been my childhood favorite team as well."
After raving about everything from the atmosphere to the coaches and players to the stadium and campus following Under the Lights, Hallett said he’s well aware of Texas’ history with defensive backs and an offer would “mean a lot.” At the moment, only Stephen F. Austin has offered the unranked cornerback, but Hallett says Texas Tech, Tulsa, SMU, Texas State, UTSA and Lamar have made him a priority.
For Belton safety Garrison Vaughn, playing on Joe Jamail Field at Under the Lights “was even better” than the previous Texas camps the 2018 talent had attended.
2018 Belton safety Garrison Vaughn on Texas: "I think for any kid that grows up in Texas, you always have a dream of playing at UT."— Cody Daniel (@CodyDanielHoops) July 24, 2016
Currently unranked, Vaughn said Texas would be keeping an eye on him, as will SMU and Texas State. Vaughn’s only offer is from Tulsa, but he’s a prospect to follow next season.
San Marcos safety Prudy Calderon was in attendance for Under the Lights, calling it, “a great camp to go compete against great talent.” Calderon, who also attended Texas’ camp in June, said he stacked up pretty well talent at his position. "A lot of offers from big schools at my position so it was cool seeing what it takes to make it to a big school," Calderon said.
Texas is yet to express interest in offering Calderon, but he tells BON that’s still something he’s working for and hopes to have by mid-season.
Under the Lights was the latest stop for 2018 Allen strong-side defensive end Jayden Jernigan. Though he’s yet to pick up any offers, Jernigan has taken unofficial visits to USC, UCLA and Baylor, but has significant interest in Texas.
“If an offer comes that would make my top list," Jernigan said before explaining why he has interest in the Longhorns. "Texas would be there because it's close to family and you always have to let people know about the Lone Star State.
In the short time BON was able to talk with Plano cornerback Jeremiah Lewis, it was clear the Prestonwood Christian product had interest in the Longhorns. Aside from specifically noting his interest, the three-star 2018 defensive back said he loved how competitive the coaches were and the family atmosphere around the program.
Lewis holds offers from Tulsa and SMU, while Arkansas State, Houston and UTSA are showing interest.
Although Robert E. Lee quarterback Chance Amie wasn’t able to get many reps at Under the Lights, he still called it an overall good experience after speaking with offense coordinator and quarterbacks coach Sterlin Gilbert. The unranked 2018 talent said he’s been following Texas’ quarterback controversy and hopes to come back next year in pursuit of an offer.
A handful of other targets originally expected to attend Under the Lights weren’t able to make it. 2017 Woodrow Wilson wide receiver DJ ‘Speedy’ Green didn’t make it to Austin, but said the Longhorns are high on his list and he’s on their radar. Green is currently committed to New Mexico.
2017 Temple safety and Arizona State commit Ashton Logan was unable to attend due to knee problems, while 2018 Ridge Point defensive tackle Dennis Osagiede missed the camp after suffering a meniscus injury.
Unranked 2018 Humble Creek safety Christian Morgan missed Under the Lights after re-injuring his back at a TCU camp the previous Saturday, but told BON, "I really like UT. I'm from Austin so if I ever get the opportunity to play there, it'd be special."