The 247Sports Preseason True Freshman All-American team for 2023 was released on Thursday and two Texas Longhorns made the cut — running back CJ Baxter and linebacker Anthony Hill Jr.
A 6’1, 218-pounder from Florida ranked as the nation’s No. 1 running back, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Baxter is competing with a talented position room to replace Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson. Baxter is unlikely to start the season opener against Rice — junior Jonathon Brooks is in position to get that nod — but he has a chance to receive plenty of playing time in what projects as a running-back-by-committee approach for Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian.
“He’s looking good,” Texas senior running back Keilan Robinson said of Baxter on Wednesday. “He’s getting better day by day, just getting more confident, and the game is becoming a lot more slow for him so that he can play faster every day. I’ll say yesterday is probably his best practice so far. He’s getting better every day.”
Like Baxter, Hill arrived on the Forty Acres in January as the top prospect at his position in the 2023 recruiting class. The competition to replace DeMarvion Overshown at Will linebacker features senior David Gbenda and junior Morice Blackwell, and the coaching staff is content to let Hill get acclimated in practice before giving him high-leverage snaps.
“He’s got a nose for the ball,” Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said earlier this month. “Does not know what he’s doing all the time, but when he makes mistakes he makes them 100 percent, full speed. He just has a knack for finding the ball. He’s got some good players in front of him, so he’s going to be able to learn and not be thrown into the heat of things.
“He’s going to be able to learn piecemeal. For us as coaches, it’s finding that role for him. Like I mentioned earlier, maybe it’s on third-down passing situations where we can get him involved coming off the edge or blitzing, playing to his skill set. We don’t want to throw everything at him. I think he’s in a good position.”
Where Hill can make an early impact is coming off the edge, a role that Overshown filled situationally last season. Neither Gbenda nor Blackwell project as favorably in that role as Hill, who is taller, longer, and heavier than both, making him better suited to play around the line of scrimmage where his effort level and closing speed can make an impact.
On Wednesday, senior safety Jerrin Thompson confirmed Hill’s playmaking ability with a snapshot into a play in Tuesday’s practice.
“He’s a ballplayer,” Thompson said. “He caught an almost one-handed pick, tipped it in the air and caught it — it was a great play. He just has a knack for the ball. He’s a playmaker. He knows how to get around the ball.”
On a Texas team with significantly improved depth, Baxter and Hill both face heavy competition at their respective positions, but both are also elite prospects and hard workers who should emerge as impact players at some point this season.