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Herb Hand’s first Texas OL class is coming together slowly

There’s a massive five-star piece in place, but that’s it so far following several big misses.

Herb Hand with Javonne Shepherd
via @JavonneShepherd

With an accomplished teacher and recruiter in Herb Hand now serving as the Texas Longhorns offensive line coach, the expectation is that Hand will eventually be able to land highly-rated prospects and turn them into productive college players.

Eventually is a key word there.

Since Hand only arrived in Austin back in January, it’s no surprise that he’s a bit behind with his first Texas class — the Horns only have one commitment and have missed on several key targets, including Humble Atascosita offensive tackle Kenyon Green, the state’s No. 2 player who is committed to Texas A&M. So evaluations will continue well into the fall, as the 2019 class will almost certainly include a recruit or two without an offer currently.

The good news is that Hand accomplished a significant coup in late May when Conroe Oak Ridge offensive tackle Tyler Johnson became the first and only pledge for Hand so far. Landing Johnson was so important not just because he’s a consensus five-star prospect and the state’s No. 5 player, but also because he was the can’t-miss target in the class along the offensive line.

At 6’5 and 308 pounds, Johnson is straight from central casting physically and boasts plenty of athleticism. He’s a right tackle candidate who could have an outside shot at playing left tackle if his pass protection develops well.

Hand appears poised to land another big tackle target in the near future, too — Houston North Forest’s Javonne Shepherd, who was a frequent visitor to campus just before the dead period. Shepherd named the Horns his leader as Texas has apparently created some separation from Texas A&M.

If Johnson is a probable right tackle, Shepherd has the height, length, and quickness to play left tackle. He’s 6’7, 327 pounds, and just ran a 4.82 40-yard dash at The Opening Finals.

Shepherd and Johnson would form an extremely talented tackle duo in the class and allow Hand to focus some attention on finding interior players.

Crandall’s Branson Bragg was always the ideal addition at center as one of the nation’s top prospects at that position, but Texas was ultimately unable to compete with Stanford once Bragg visited Palo Alto and got accepted. He pledged to the Cardinal in June and seems like a lock to sign with Stanford.

At guard, Allen’s EJ Ndoma-Ogar continued a streak of prospects from the state power largely ignoring Texas. Like his teammate, star wide receiver Theo Wease Jr., Ndoma-Ogar is headed to Oklahoma. Unfortunately for them, both will be a little bit late to play with Kyler Murray.

Otherwise, only three other interior prospects hold offers from the Horns, though IMG Academy product Chris Akporoghene is probably a guard in college. A Tennessee native, Akporoghene visited Texas for the “Heat Wave” party and had the Longhorns under consideration before committing to the Volunteers on Monday.

Unless things change substantially in the recruitment of Arkansas offensive tackle Stacey Wilkins, he’s expected to join Ndoma-Ogar in Norman. However, Texas will have a chance to make a move when Wilkins takes his official visit to Austin this fall.

So that leaves those further evaluations for Hand if Wilkins goes elsewhere.

There are in-state prospects committed to other schools like Katy’s Cole Birmingham (Oklahoma State) and Odessa Permian’s Landon Peterson (Baylor), as well as Oklahoma product Eli Russ, who is also committed to the Cowboys. The longer Hand waits to offer those prospects, the more difficult it will become to flip any of them.

On the fringes of the radar are a couple of prospects who are less likely to land offers, but have more interesting stories.

There’s Canadian Matteo Kucinic, who plays for the Toronto-area version of Findlay Prep — he participates in a football program connected to a private school that is called, creatively enough, Football North. The competition level is legitimate, surprisingly enough, as Football North plays a schedule featuring almost entirely American teams, including several prominent private schools in Ohio.

While Kucinic plays all across the line for Football North, what makes him intriguing is his ability to play center.

And then there’s Pflugerville Hendrickson product Travis Arroyo, who will spend this fall at Blinn College. Arroyo originally walked on at Louisiana-Monroe and was listed at nearly 360 pounds during his redshirt freshman season. He appears to have leaned up ahead of his stint in junior college, perhaps as a result of his training with former Longhorns standout defensive end Tim Crowder, who now runs Nuclear Athletes in Austin.

Crowder, it seems, connected Arroyo with three current Texas defensive linemen — Charles Omenihu, Jamari Chisholm, and Ta’Quon Graham — for a recent session of one-on-one drills. Based on a number of clips posted by Arroyo, the former walk on managed to hold his own.

Look for other junior college and school prospects to emerge later in the process as Hand keeps an eye on recruits like Arroyo and Kucinic and for some offers to go out this fall once Herman and Hand can go over some early-season film.

The upside for the class in terms of rankings is limited by the fact that Texas will probably end up taking two or three three-star interior prospects. Still, if Hand gets the right guys and combines then with Johnson and Shepherd, the group will count as a success given Hand’s limited time to build relationships since arriving.

Then the pressure on Hand will increase for the 2020 class, when he’ll be expected to land a higher percentage of blue-chip recruits.