In an appearance on Longhorn Network on Wednesday morning, Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian was able to discuss his 2023 signing class for the first time with the majority of the group sending in their National Letters of Intent in the early morning hours.
"His name is his name. But if you remove the last name off of him and you just really look at the player and the way he goes about his business, that should tell you the type of work ethic that he has, the drive to be great."@CoachSark tells @SpanningTheLoeb about Arch Manning pic.twitter.com/J1UTLDRIHg— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) December 21, 2022
With the 2022 class focused on the trenches with seven offensive linemen and eight defensive linemen, Sarkisian and his staff were able to land a more balanced group in the current cycle after addressing those glaring needs.
“Well, I love the versatility of the class,” Sarkisian said. “I think we’ve got a lot of really big people, which we take pride in. I think we’ve done a really good job so far at the second level, with the linebackers, versatility there, I think obviously in the secondary with Derek Williams and then what he provides and his versatility, obviously, you look at the offensive side of the ball, getting the quarterback, getting a couple of receivers so far, the versatility of Tre Wisner, running back/wide receiver, what he can do, so that’s probably the biggest thing, and then the other the other side of it is I think in this class in general, it’s a lot of winners, a lot of guys who have won a lot of games, state championships, things of that nature that we want to continue to infuse in our culture.”
Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Kyle Flood has officially signed four offensive linemen with Melissa offensive tackle Trevor Goosby’s NLI still pending, adding further depth to a position that couldn’t fill out a two deep with scholarship players last spring.
But no position coach deserves more praise than linebackers coach Jeff Choate. After a cycle in which the Longhorns only managed to land a hybrid safety/linebacker in Trevell Johnson while adding edge Derrick Brown to the group, Choate was under pressure to add much-needed depth at the position.
He delivered, landing the nation’s No. 1 linebacker, Anthony Hill Jr., who was yet to sign when Sarkisian held the interview, a gritty linebacker in Hawaiian product Liona Lefua, also yet to sign, as well as two uber-athletic linebackers in Teague’s Derion Gullette, who can also play on the edge, and North Crowley’s S’Maje Burrell, who has an impressive combination of range and physicality.
Securing Williams was a significant development, too, not just because of the need at safety, but also because Williams only took one official visit before committing during the summer and openly planned on seeing other schools. In the final hours before the early signing period began, there was a possibility, perhaps even a distinct possibility, that Williams was going to extend his recruitment to take official visits in January. Instead, the staff convinced him to sign.
And about the upside of Williams? Longhorn legend Michael Griffin is extremely high on the hard-hitting Louisiana product.
“I cannot literally wait to see him... I can literally say he may go down as one of the best Texas defensive backs to play here,” Griffin said on Longhorn Network.
After a down cycle at wide receiver in 2022, Texas landed some key pieces at that need position in Brennan Marion’s first year on the Forty Acres. DeSoto’s Johntay Cook is a consensus five-star prospect who fits in a similar mold as Sarkisian’s Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith and Aldine Eisenhower’s Ryan Niblett is a consensus top-100 prospect with 10.58 100m speed.
Sarkisian officially slotted in Cook’s DeSoto teammate, Wisner, in the wide receiver category as well after the Waco Connally transfer had 446 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns in 2022.
As Sarkisian mentioned, there are plenty of winners, too, with five commits securing state championships last week.
Perhaps no single topic was more important than Sarkisian landing the nation’s No. 1 prospect, quarterback Arch Manning.
“I think it’s easy to see the physical attributes, right? The size, the arm strength and all that, but the competitiveness and the thing I love about it, you know, he works at his craft,” Sarkisian said of Manning. “His name is his name, but if you remove the last name off of him and you just really look at the player and the way he goes about his business, the way he works at his craft... the beauty of it this morning, he signs at 7 a.m., he signed and then he was working out at 7:05. And so that should just tell you the type of kind of work ethic that he has, the drive to be great.”
Even with the major roster overhaul last year, Sarkisian believes that there are early contributors in the 2023 class.
“I think obviously the linebacker position, we just don’t have the depth that we’re accustomed to having and so as we’re working our way through that today of signing those guys at that position, I think that’s going to be critical and always is,” Sarkisian said. “Clearly the wide receiver position we don’t have the depth that we’re looking for, so, getting Johntay Cook and Ryan Niblett on board already is going to be huge for us.
“So just just to name a couple spots, but I think all these guys, the beauty of our program is we give everybody their opportunity to compete. We make it very clear to everybody in our team meeting room that the best players are going to play that give us the best opportunity to be successful as a team. And that should be motivating to everybody that there’s always going to be that opportunity to prove yourself and to find your way on the field.”