Linebacker is arguably the biggest position of need in the 2019 recruiting class, with Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando facing pressure to land at least one prospect capable of contributing early — the roster will only feature four returning players next season.
And two of those players — Jeffrey McCulloch and Byron Hobbs — are primarily expected to play the B-backer position, leaving little depth at the Mac and Rover spots for Orlando.
Compounding the situation is the reality that the in-state landscape for linebackers is not particularly appealing in this cycle, an unfortunate development given the drastic Texas need to land some high-level talent in this class.
Fortunately, Orlando was able to rise to the challenge on the recruiting trail when he landed California product De’Gabriel Floyd in late March. Over several visits during the spring, Orlando convinced Floyd that his versatility is the perfect fit in the Longhorns defense.
Ranked just outside of the top 50 nationally and considered one of the nation’s top outside linebackers, Floyd is now up to around 240 pounds while maintaining the athleticism that helped him star on offense for Westlake and even play some cornerback.
Floyd is also now a key recruiter for the Longhorns in California, a role that will continue to grow as he becomes a host for Golden State visitors as a player.
The major remaining target for Texas is Katy Cinco Ranch’s David Gbenda. Though Gbenda is undersized at 6’0 and 212 pounds, he’s also the best inside linebacker prospect in the state, which is why he holds nearly 25 offers.
There was some talk that Gbenda could commit early, but he’s ended up taking his time with the process. TCU is a contender here, as well as Texas A&M, in a recruitment that Orlando needs to end in his favor.
That’s not only because there aren’t any other in-state options currently on the radar, but also because there aren’t many national prospects left uncommitted, either — only four other recruits with a Longhorns offer fit that definition.
Texas arguably has the best shot with Rian Davis, a hybrid prospect who can range in coverage and play defensive end. Davis currently plays high school football in Florida, but he’s familiar with the state after starting his career at Houston Clear Lake. While the staff was able to get Davis on campus for an official visit in June, Georgia is currently the heavy favorite, so Orlando has to work to do in this recruitment.
The story is relatively similar for Maninoa Tufono, a Hawaiian inside linebacker who visited Austin recently and named the Longhorns in his top five this week. As with Davis, Texas has a looming issue in Tufono’s recruitment — he’s a Washington legacy who grew up cheering for the Huskies.
If Orlando can’t land at least one of Gbenda, Davis, and Tufono, things get more dicey.
According to Horns247, Missouri product Shammond Cooper wants to take an official visit to Texas, but there hasn’t been a lot of buzz around Cooper and the Longhorns to this point in process. Illinois is considered the favorite.
The only other uncommitted linebacker with an offer is Spencer Lytle, who has been to campus. However, it’s not clear whether there is any continued interest on either side, as Lytle will decide between Clemson and Wisconsin on August 4.
One intriguing in-state prospect on Orlando’s radar is South Grand Prairie’s Myles Jernigan. The 6’3, 209-pounder could fit in the Lightning package occupying the role played last season by fellow SGP alum Jason Hall — Jernigan is a disruptive presence with his quickness off the edge and has the ability to drop into coverage. Baylor and Oklahoma State are currently the favorites to land Jernigan.
On the further edges of the radar is Grapevine Faith Christian’s Malik Caper, an unranked prospect whose best offer is from Syracuse. Also a running back for Faith Christian, Caper also has some skills in coverage at 6’1 and 225 pounds.
Due to limited-state talent, a situation that was compounded for Texas by getting eliminated early by Marcel Brooks, the state’s top linebacker, landing the needed class isn’t going to be easy for Orlando. As along the offensive line, the current lone commit is huge for the class, but other developments are less positive.
The Longhorns are going to need some things to fall in place at linebacker. Given the talent of the three remaining top targets, if Orlando can land two of them the linebacker class will fulfill those major needs.