In the midst of the largely disappointing National Signing Day that featured misses on two of the top targets for the Texas Longhorns down the stretch, head coach Tom Herman was playing a game on his phone.
The buzz of the assistants and personnel staff in the Texas war room died down as Herman spoke up, having just suffered one of his biggest defeats of the day.
"I just got the table run on me," he said, according to ESPN. "Some junior just ran the freaking table on me in this 8-ball game. The things we do to make recruits happy."
For the hyper-competitive Herman, the loss may have been frustrating, but it was part of a larger outreach effort that Wednesday — even as the previous class signed and the staff made congratulatory calls, it focused more effort on connecting with the next class, one that could prove hugely important to the Longhorns.
Carthage running back Keontay Ingram and Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy cornerback Brendan Radley-Hines both announced offers from Texas on National Signing Day and the staff asked a targeted group of 2018 prospects to call that day.
In those calls, Herman gave the recruits the hard pitch:
Herman said he talks to the prospects about how critical their class will be to the future of the Texas program and how he wants to sign the best Longhorns group since the 1999 class that ranked in the top five and featured USA Today players of the year Chris Simms and Cory Redding.
Before Herman’s day was over, he speculated that he’d talked to 20 to 25 prospects in the class.
At one point, offensive coordinator Tim Beck snuck away from the chaos to his office to talk to a talented prospect, presumably a quarterback.
“It's going to be vital for us to get a great quarterback in 2018," Beck told ESPN. "I've got three or four I'm already working on, and, with the way recruiting is going, you have to go quickly on them. You also have to be ready to go on another group of guys in case those don't pan out."
Since it’s a down year in the state for quarterbacks — no Texas prospects currently hold an offer from the new staff — Beck has looked out of state since arriving in early January, but several of those quarterbacks are already committed.
In that group, there’s Auburn commit Joey Gatewood and Penn State commit Justin Fields, as well as Kendal Thompson’s younger brother, Casey. The Oklahoma legacy could end up in crimson and cream, but that depends on whether the Sooners want to take another quarterback in the class, as California product Cameron Rising is currently pledged and is also receiving interest from the Longhorns.
But those are all out-of-state prospects, and while quarterback is always arguably the most important single position in a class, Herman understands that he has to stop the Texodus from leaking into another year.
“Recruiting is getting earlier and earlier,” Herman noted at his National Signing Day Press Conference. “And with this, especially with this December signing day looming over our head, we have to get out in front of it and we have to make sure that the three out of the top six players in the state of Texas don't leave the state again.”
“That has to be our mission is to keep the best players in the state of Texas in the state of Texas. We're well on our way, and our relationships with the high school coaches is phenomenal, paying great dividends. We've already started building really quality relationships with a bunch of the top players in the 2018 class.”
Those relationships matter because of the on-field struggles and changing recruiting landscape over the last several years. On National Signing Day, a brief controversy erupted when Herman apparently compared recruiting at Texas to recruiting at Iowa State, a statement that he corrected on the record.
“I was asked in a pre-production meeting if I felt like at one point that the University of Texas maybe eight, ten years ago could go pick players in the state of Texas and now does it feel like, Herman, that you're recruiting — does it remind you of your days at Iowa State? And I said, yeah, it kind of does, because we can't go pick guys any more. We have to fight, scratch, claw, battle with teams,” he said.
While that may be the new reality, in stark contrast to the glory days under Mack Brown of finishing classes by the start of March, Herman isn’t content to let things remain that way — effecting change in that regard is a high priority of his tenure.
“Is it going to be that way forever? No. We're Texas. We'll always be Texas. And we're going to be back to where it was.”
Herman understands the impact of losing seasons stacking on losing seasons, noting that prospects who are currently 16 years old have only seen two winning seasons since they were 10.
Though upgrades to the facilities will help better showcase the school’s tradition and standing in college football, the true task for Herman and his staff is to sell a larger vision of the future.
A vision of Texas that most prospects haven’t seen in their formative years.
“We've got to show them what Texas is capable of,” Herman said. “We've got to show them what Texas can be, and what Texas has been in the past, and what we're capable of being in the future.”
After signing a relatively small transition class that didn’t feature the typical star power of the Longhorns classes, the pressure is significance on Herman and his staff to land difference makers in the 2018 class.
They will have to fight, scratch, claw, and battle for those prospects.