“It better make you better or you’re in the wrong place.”
On National Signing Day, Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman acknowledged the 800-pound collie in the room — the arrival of Texas A&M Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher in College Station. Backed by a staff of strong recruiters, the new Kyle Field, and the much-touted SEC cachet, Fisher has the ability to level the in-state recruiting playing field that swung heavily towards the Longhorns in 2018.
“Better pick our game up,” Herman said. “Trust me, we’ve had that conversation in our staff room on numerous occasions. I know how good a recruiter Jimbo Fisher is and his staff is.”
In a subtle jab, Herman then delivered a remarkably appropriate line about the nature of college football in College Station.
“I know that’s a great place,” he said, “for the right person.”
The notable pause leading into the prepositional phrase said it all.
A great place. For the right person.
But while that is justifiably a source of amusement for partisans among the burnt orange faithful, the early returns on the 2019 class suggest that there are plenty of prospects who find the opportunity appealing. Especially at the offensive and defensive skill positions following historic success for Texas at wide receiver and defensive back.
In recent weeks, Texas A&M has picked up pledges from Dallas Bishop Dunne safety Brian Williams, the nation’s top prospect at his position and the state’s No. 2 player, and Houston Madison cornerback Bobby Wolfe, one of the fast-rising prospects in the state.
And the Aggies seemingly came out of nowhere to land both, sending a clear message — the crowded secondary depth chart at Texas is providing Texas A&M with an opportunity to sell early playing time. So far, Williams and Wolfe are buying, with the possibility that other top defensive backs in the class will do so as well.
A&M is also the current leader with Humble Atascosita offensive tackle Kenyon Green, the state’s top player, and sits in a strong position with standout wide receivers like Allen’s Theo Wease Jr. and Arjei Henderson of Fort Bend Travis. A teammate of Williams, athlete Marquez Beason, is also trending towards the Aggies in recent days.
So the challenge to Herman and his staff is real — just as they took advantage of Kevin Sumlin’s demise in College Station, Fisher is poised to leverage excitement about the Aggies to shift the recruiting landscape once again.
Still, there’s plenty of skill position talent to go around, with lone Texas commit Roschon Johnson, a quarterback from Port Neches-Groves, already able to target local Austin prospects like Lake Travis wide receiver Garrett Wilson and Bowie wide receiver/H-back Elijah Higgins.
“That competition is real,” Herman said. “We welcome it. It makes us better.”
During his press conference, Herman turned around and pointed to the backdrop.
“We’re very unique. It says ‘The University of Texas’, right? There’s very few institutions that are The University of Something. That means a lot to us. We want to make sure that the best players do stay here.”
Accomplishing that feat for a second straight year will require some extra work for the staff during the spring — for the first time, recruits can take official visits starting on April 1.
“I think the biggest change that you’re going to see, the biggest adaptation for us, is going to be now moving forward, these spring visits,” Herman said. “You want to talk about unchartered territory. We have April, May and June, whatever that is, 16 weekends, plus every weekend in the fall and every weekend in December and January, save for a two-week dead period. That’s a lot of people at my house on Saturday afternoons for lunch.”
And a lot of recruits coming through who need player hosts. And breakfasts with the faculty, who are already stretched thin by the official visit schedule in the fall.
To combat fatigue for all parties involved, Herman and his staff plan on steering recruits wishing to take spring official visits to three or four weekends. Recruits are clamoring for that opportunity in order to commit during the summer and focus exclusively on their senior seasons in the fall.
“We’ve created a bit of a monster with these spring visits, so we’ll see how it goes,” Herman said.
The early signing period already moved up the recruiting calendar in another significant way. With more prospects opting to sign early than initially anticipated, college staffs like Texas had fewer targets to visit in January and February. So the focus turned to the 2019 class early. Offers began flying out for juniors who normally wouldn’t receive such an increase in attention until the spring evaluation period.
Herman made it clear to recruits and high school football coaches, particularly those in the state of Texas, that his staff doesn’t extend offers that aren’t committable.
“We are not in the business of offering to get in it,” he said. “‘Coach, I got to throw an offer out so I can recruit him.’ No, you don’t. Not in this state you don’t. You say the word ‘offer’, we better be happy if that kid commits. More than happy, ecstatic.”
Doing its due diligence hurt the staff at times in the 2018 class with prospects like Schertz Clemens wide receiver Tommy Bush and North Richland Hills linebacker DaShaun White. Herman doesn’t plan on compromising, however — requesting that players come to camp to earn an offer or waiting to see three games of senior film.
With increased competition and a new recruiting calendar, Herman and his staff have more to navigate in the 2019 recruiting class. But regardless of outside factors, the sales pitch will largely remain the same.
“I think kids know what Texas is and can be,” Herman said. “They know us most importantly now. They know our staff, they know me, they know our strength staff, they know our players, they know what kind of program we have here. You’re not selling a record in recruiting, you’re not. You’re selling potential. That’s whether we went 13-1 or 7-6. That year is over.
“You’re selling the future, right?”
#fUTure19, that is.