On February 1, 2017, Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman held his first National Signing Day press conference to announce a transition class he hoped would avoid the attrition that his research indicated is common following coaching changes. So far, running back Toneil Carter is the only true attrition from that class — the only other player to depart, kicker Joshua Rowland, is in the NCAA transfer portal after graduating.
At that time, Herman also made an important statement during an interview with the Dallas Morning News that demonstrated his understanding of how much the Longhorns needed to focus on recruiting that area.
“Has to be,” he said. “We have to live in Dallas.”
After two years at Houston, Herman’s staff was better prepared to recruit the Space City, especially with the presence of former Houston Westfield head coach Corby Meekins as the tight ends coach (Meekins now coaches wide receivers). Arguably the biggest weakness? Recruiting the Metroplex.
Of the 12 recruits Herman added after taking over the Texas job, the only one from the Dallas-Fort Worth area was Forth Worth All Saints defensive end Max Cummins. Now going by Rob, Cummins was born in the Houston area, lived in Colorado growing up, and started his high school career in Austin.
In fact, the experience of Cummins reflects larger trends that differentiate Dallas-Fort Worth from Houston, where Herman previously spent two years working at Rice.
“Houston is a much different city than Dallas is,” Herman wrote for Sports Illustrated in 2015 as the Houston head coach. “Dallas is transient. No one is from there. Dallas to me is like Phoenix. In Houston, you have third- and fourth-generation Houstonians. There’s a real sense of pride. We’ve just tapped into that.”
Herman and his staff did indeed tap into Houston pride successfully with the Cougars, including signing the only five-star prospect in the modern recruiting era to land at Houston — defensive end Ed Oliver. It was one of the most significant recruiting upsets in recent years.
Since arriving at Texas, Herman has continued to recruit Houston with remarkable success, in large part by taking advantage of a 2018 recruiting class heavy with talent from that area. There are no concerns about how well the staff can recruit there. In the 2019 class, the staff was able to go out of state to fill key needs, a remarkable feat.
As Herman noted in his DMN interview, however, Oklahoma looms as significant competition in the Metroplex.
“There’s a school approximately equidistant from us, north of Dallas, that has done a really good job of recruiting Dallas,” he said.
Since Oklahoma isn’t the flagship university in Texas, though, Herman set the goal of convincing the top Metroplex recruits to drive the three hours south instead of the three hours north.
The cultural differences between Houston and Dallas have made that more difficult, a reality that includes a lot of Oklahoma alumni in the Metroplex and the comparative success of the two programs.
The Longhorns were able to compete for a Big 12 Championship last season and notched the program’s most significant bowl victory since 2008 by defeating the Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl. However, that success pales in comparison to the recent history at Oklahoma, winners of the last four conference titles and three College Football Playoff appearances over that span, as well as the last two Heisman trophy winners.
The transition from legendary head coach Bob Stoops to Lincoln Riley went off without a hitch, helping Oklahoma maintain the same level of dominance in the Dallas-Fort Worth area now as the Sooners possessed during that interview months before Riley took over in Norman.
During a relatively weak year for top talent in the Metroplex, Texas only signed two players from that region in 2018 — offensive lineman Rafiti Ghirmai and linebacker Byron Vaughns. Meanwhile, Oklahoma signed four, including linebacker Deshaun White, a player targeted heavily by Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando late in the cycle.
In the 2019 class, the Sooners signed five Dallas-Fort Worth products, including consensus five-star wide receiver Theo Wease of Allen, along with his teammate, offensive lineman EJ Odoma-Egar. The Longhorns only signed two, safety Tyler Owens and wide receiver Kennedy Lewis.
And though the 2020 cycle is still in the early stages, six of the seven Oklahoma pledges hail from the Metroplex, including four with offers from Texas (athlete Drew Sanders picked up his offer following his commitment to the Sooners).
On Sunday, Little Elm cornerback Ryan Watts, a prospect with a Longhorns offer who visited in February for the Junior Day, became the latest. The decision by Watts prompted a notable musing from Duncanville quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson, a key Texas target:
Oklahoma about to be the next Bama Everybody committing to Oklahoma— Ja'Quinden Jackson (@JaayUpNext_) April 21, 2019
Overall, those six 2020 Oklahoma pledges from the Metroplex represent the same number of Texas commits or signees in the 2018, 2019, and 2020 classes combined.
The recruitments of Jackson and teammate Chris Thompson Jr., a safety, will go a long way towards defining whether or not Texas recruiting efforts are ultimately successful in the Metroplex this cycle — both are top-10 prospects and important targets at their respective positions.
So far, Herman hasn’t made a change on his coaching staff to recruit the area better, choosing instead to add a key piece to the support staff in former Dallas Skyline wide receiver Ra’Shaad Samples, who joined the program 14 months ago as a football analyst.
The addition of Samples, who played briefly for Herman at Houston after transferring from Oklahoma State, ties in with the recruitments of Jackson and Thompson, who play for his father, Reginald Samples, at Duncanville.
So far, the returns on Samples at Texas are positive even though he can’t recruit off-campus, like Director of Recruiting Bryan Carrington.
“When you know your own demographics, it really helps,” True Buzz 7on7 head coach Joey Moss told Horns247 in March. “When you know the coaches, the families, and the family friends, it helps. He’s known some of these guys since youth football. It gives him a big advantage over other recruiters.”
Samples is already known as a “grinder” and someone Jackson compares to a big brother, echoing a lot of statements about Carrington — if it doesn’t happen this cycle, the hire of Samples will unquestionably pay off for the Horns in the future.
The addition of Dallas Bishop Dunne athlete Jaden Hullaby to the 2020 class could be important, too — it’s one of the schools where the Horns have struggled recruiting in recent years. Though Texas has recruited multiple prospects from that school over the years, the last signee from Bishop Dunne was Alex Norman in the 2012 class.
At Allen, the issues are even more pronounced, with 2008 signee Dan Buckner the last player from that suburban Dallas powerhouse to ink with the Longhorns. Perhaps that will change in the 2021 class with twin receivers Bryson and Blaine Green.
In an effort to improve recruiting in that area, Texas is partnering with SMU to host a summer satellite camp for the second consecutive year. Lewis participated in that camp last year and eventually earned an offer because of his performances in front of Longhorns coaches.
With so much time remaining in the 2020 cycle, it’s certainly not time to panic — the Horns boast back-to-back No. 3 classes — but it’s clear that Herman hasn’t accomplished the Metroplex goals that he laid out more than two years ago. And if that trend continues, the Texas head coach may eventually need to make a change on his coaching staff.
Fortunately for Herman and the Horns, Samples possesses the potential to become a rainmaker in that area if he can get out on the road as an on-field assistant. Right now, though, Samples is growing into his current role one year out of college while Metroplex recruits opt for the three-hour drive north instead of south.