Call it more art than science.
One of the most important decisions that head coaches, their assistants, and the support staff make on key official visits is determining the host, who is responsible for hitting the right experiential notes over the visit’s course.
When New Orleans (La.) Isidore Newman quarterback Arch Manning took his official visit to the Forty Acres last weekend, one of the biggest official visits in program history, the Texas Longhorns braintrust selected as his host redshirt freshman walk-on defensive back Michael Taaffe, pictured below with Manning (left) and Manning’s high school teammate and recent Texas commit Will Randle (right), a tight end.
During the modern recruiting era, it’s possible that no other walk on has ever hosted the nation’s No. 1 prospect, but there are a variety of factors that went into that decision. Hosts on official visits typically come from a similar geographic or socioeconomic demographics and have a previously established relationship with the recruit they’re hosting.
Taaffe hails from Austin Westlake and apparently built a friendship with Manning throughout the recruiting process — Manning’s official visit was his fourth trip to Austin. The two are close enough now that Taaffe calls him “twin.”
So who is Taaffe?
A 6’0, 187-pounder, Taaffe also competed in track at Westlake while serving as a playmaking force on head coach Todd Dodge’s defense, recording 37 tackles with a sack, three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), and one fumble recovery as a junior. In the 6A-Division II state title game in 2019, a 24-0 win over Denton Guyer, Taaffe was named the Defensive MVP.
As a senior, Taaffe took on a larger role, playing in all three phases, notching 60 tackles (48 solo), seven tackles for loss, five interceptions, seven quarterback hurries, one fumble recovery while catching 18 passes for 297 yards and three touchdown receptions and adding 19 punt returns for 356 yards (18.7 ypr).
In another state title game, this time against Southlake Carroll and his current teammate Quinn Ewers, Taaffe once again earned Defensive MVP honors after picking off Ewers not once, but twice, including a remarkable leaping, one-handed interception against the star quarterback.
It would be a disappointment if Taaffe didn’t regularly remind Ewers of his exploits in that 52-34 win over the Dragons in early 2021.
After the standout career with the Chaps, Taaffe picked up offers from Brown and Colgate, along with a preferred walk-on spot at Rice, but accepted a walk-on spot at Texas just weeks after the big win over Southlake Carroll, remaining close to home and betting on himself that he could eventually find a way onto the field at Texas.
In 2021, Taaffe didn’t make an appearance for the Longhorns, but he did make an impact on the depth chart during the spring, emerging as the second-team nickel back in the Orange-White game and positioning himself as a potential contributor moving forward. Even without his recruiting efforts landing Manning, he looked like the walk on most likely to earn a scholarship spot, although making such a move this fall would require some more attrition, as Texas currently sits at 85 scholarships for the 2022 season.
Consider Taaffe likely to see some playing time at nickel back this season, especially if Texas can create some separation against Louisian-Monroe in the opener, and could also earn a spot on special teams.
Whatever happens on the field with the Longhorns, Taaffe now has some competition for his two interceptions of Ewers in the state title game — earning the trust of the coaching staff to host Manning and helping seal the deal with a program-changing prospect.
Michael Taaffe, Longhorn legend without appearing in a game.