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Texas Longhorn recruiting: 2023 season recap for UT signees and commits

The Longhorns’ 2024 recruiting class included four players who completed their high school careers with state championship wins.

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Colin Simmons poses with his state championship medal after his Duncanville team wins the Class 6A Division I state final on December 16, 2023.
Justin Wells (Inside Texas)

The 2023 Texas high school football season concluded on Saturday, December 16 with the playing of the last three University Interscholastic League (UIL) state championship games, one of which involved a pair of Texas Longhorn commits. Since that time, Texas has signed 23 student-athletes in the 2024 recruiting class, added three more players to the program via the transfer portal, and received commitments from three prospects in the 2025 class.

In most past years going back to 2015 (Shane Buechele’s senior season at Arlington Lamar and Sam Ehlinger’s junior year at Austin Westlake), this writer has penned a weekly post following the game-by-game results for UT’s football commits. That column was set aside for 2023, but now that most of the Longhorns’ 2024 recruiting class has put pen to paper, it’s a great time for a full recap on how each of those future Longhorns and their teams fared during 2023 season.

This post will give a brief 2023 season overview of the high school signees and commits for the Longhorns and the teams they played for. The incoming transfers from other colleges will not be covered here. For ease of space and to avoid repeating myself, I’ve grouped together the two pairs of signees who attend the same high schools. I’ve included the 2023 season statistics for each player, if known, and the full season record for their team, and embedded highlight videos for several of them. The players are from Texas high schools unless otherwise noted. There are 27 players to cover, so let’s get to it!

2025 QB KJ Lacey — Saraland (Alabama)

2023 season stats: completed 219 of 315 pass attempts (69.5%) for 3,448 yards, 42 touchdowns and 8 interceptions; also had 32 carries for 50 yards and 5 TDs (MaxPreps)
Team record: 14-1

The Saraland Spartans are 28-2 in KJ Lacey’s two seasons as its starting quarterback. As a sophomore in 2022, the team had one regular season loss, then ran the table in the playoffs to capture Alabama’s state championship for Class 6A, that state’s second-highest classification. They had a similarly dominating run in 2023, but without the same result. Saraland went 10-0 against a regular season schedule that saw just one opponent come within 28 points of them, then in the 6A playoffs the Spartans beat their first four foes by an average margin of 31 points but ultimately came up short of repeating as state champion, falling 31-28 in the 6A state final to undefeated Clay-Chalkville.

Below are some highlight clips of Lacey from Saraland’s state championship loss to Clay-Chalkville. He could hardly be more different from UT’s 2024 quarterback signee Trey Owens from a physical standpoint, as he’s just not a very big guy, but there’s a real ease to his delivery.

Lacey will probably need just one game in his senior year to surpass 7,000 career passing yards, as he currently sits at 6,841. He won’t have five-star receiver Ryan Williams to throw to next fall, as Williams re-classified to the 2024 class and is committed to Alabama. But returning with Lacey on Saraland’s roster will be senior running back Santae McWilliams Jr., who scored 22 total touchdowns in 2023 and has several Division I scholarship offers. Catching most of Lacey’s pass attempts next season will likely be senior receivers Dillon Alfred and Carson Gill, a pair that combined for 83 receptions and 10 touchdowns in 2023. Alfred has reported offers from about half of the SEC.

Only seven Texas Longhorn football lettermen have come from Alabama, and Lacey will potentially be the first UT recruit from the Mobile area in the far southern end of the state.

2024 QB Trey Owens — Houston Cy-Fair

2023 season stats: completed 222 of 313 passes (70.9%) for 3,303 yards, 43 touchdowns and 5 interceptions; and also had 50 carries for 59 yards and 3 touchdowns (247Sports)
Team record: 11-2

Owens committed to Texas on January 11, 2023, knowing that he would be joining the team a year after fellow quarterback and consensus five-star recruit Arch Manning. That’s a confident young man! He proceeded to show that he was a very promising passer in his own right while on the camp circuit during the spring, and this past fall he had an outstanding senior season, leading his team to a 11-2 record and into the third round of the Class 6A Division I playoffs.

The Cy-Fair Bobcats won their last nine games of the regular season after opening the 2023 campaign with a 31-30 loss to a Cypress Bridgeland team that was ranked 25th in Class 6A going into the playoffs. After a dominating 55-10 win over Houston Bellaire in the first round of the playoffs, Cy-Fair achieved a 28-21 upset win in overtime over eighth-ranked Katy in the second round behind 298 passing yards and three touchdowns from Owens. Cy-Fair’s season ended a week later with a 45-9 loss to eventual state runner-up Galena Park North Shore.

[I attempted to embed Owens’s senior highlight video in this space, but keep getting an error of some sort. To view those highlights on his Hudl page you can instead click here.]

For his efforts, Owens was voted Offensive MVP of District 17-6A, and was also named the 2023 Offensive Player of the Year by the Touchdown Club of Houston. The Longhorns have had three lettermen from Cy-Fair, the most recent being walk-on placekicker Kyle Phillips, who appeared in one game for the 2005 national championship team. Cy-Fair alum Thatcher Milton was a junior walk-on receiver on the 2023 Longhorn squad but has not yet appeared in a game.

2024 RB Christian Clark — Phoenix (Arizona) Mountain Pointe

2023 stats: (in 10 games) 135 carries for 801 yards and 6 touchdowns; and 12 receptions for 144 yards
Team record: 6-5

Christian Clark didn’t receive a ton of carries or produce mind-blowing stats this fall, but he was reasonably productive with the touches he got. His Mountain Pointe team (mascot: the Pride) competes in Conference 6A, Arizona’s highest level. The Pride went 6-4 in the regular season and qualified for the 6A playoffs as the 11th seed. (In Arizona, the playoff qualifiers and seedings are determined by a power ranking formula.) Their season ended with a 30-27 loss to sixth seed Gilbert Perry in the first round of the postseason. Perry lost in the next round by a 42-32 score to eventual 6A state champion Scottsdale Saguaro.

If Clark’s stat line seems pedestrian for a future Longhorn running back, his highlights are not. Below are some clips from a 28-carry, 220-yard performance against Phoenix Central on September 15.

Clark is one of two Arizonans who have signed with the 2024 recruiting class. Prior to the 2023 season, Texas had eight all-time lettermen who went to high school in Arizona, along with current defensive lineman Zac Swanson from Phoenix, who has appeared in three games through his first two years with the program.

2024 RB Jerrick Gibson — Bradenton (Florida) IMG Academy
2024 DB Jordon Johnson-Rubell — Bradenton (Florida) IMG Academy

2023 stats for Gibson: 127 carries for 740 yards and 8 touchdowns; and 9 receptions for 122 yards and 1 TD
Team record: 10-0

The Longhorns signed a pair of recruits from Florida’s IMG Academy, a school from which they previously signed linebacker Ayodele Adeoye in the 2018 recruiting class. IMG is a powerhouse program that competes as an independent team and plays a national schedule of opponents. The IMG Ascenders finished the 2023 season 10-0 (with one win coming by forfeit) against a slate of foes that came from nine different states. At the close of the season, the team was ranked fourth in the nation by MaxPreps and fifth by USA Today. The Ascenders dealt the only losses of the 2023 season to national powers Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) St. Joseph’s Prep (ranked seventh by both MaxPreps and USA Today) and Indianapolis (Indiana) Ben Davis (ranked 19th nationally by MaxPreps and 22nd by USA Today).

Like Christian Clark, Jerrick Gibson’s stats in the nine games he played in 2023 are far from spectacular, but he was a priority recruit for the Texas staff at the time of his commitment in June. He spent his junior and senior years at IMG after previously attending high schools in Georgia and Florida as a freshman and sophomore. UT’s Signing Day release listed him at 5’10 and 215 pounds, which suggests he’ll arrive in Austin already pretty solidly-built for a freshman running back. While UT has had a previous signee from IMG, it has not had any previous players from Gibson’s first two high schools: Gainesville (Florida) and Mundy’s Mill (Jonesboro, Georgia).

Jordon Johnson-Rubell is a Texan and spent his first two years of high school at Brewer High School on the west side of Fort Worth before transferring to IMG. IMG did not post complete defensive stats for the 2023 season, so we do not have Johnson-Rubell’s statistical performance for his senior year. He is one of seven future Longhorns who were invited to participate in the Under Armour All-America Game on January 3 in Orlando. The Longhorns have had one previous letterman from Brewer High School: wide receiver Matt Davis (1994-96).

2024 WR Aaron Butler — Calabasas (California)

2023 stats: 28 receptions for 586 yards and 5 touchdowns (in 4 games)
Team record: 2-8

Aaron Butler committed to and signed with Texas on December 22, bringing to a close a recruitment that would have made spin the heads of just about any high school prospect who graduated prior to the 2020s. Butler originally committed to USC as a sophomore in January of 2022, picked up offers from just about every P5 program of note over the next few months, then de-committed from USC in January of 2023 after being pledged to the school’s 2024 class for nearly a year. In May of 2023 he committed to Colorado, whose head coach Deion Sanders had briefly been an NFL teammate of his father, Robb-Davon Butler. He re-opened his recruitment once again six and a half months later when he de-committed from Colorado on December 9. A very late offer from Texas came 12 days later, and he committed the next day.

Butler wanted to graduate from high school early and be a January enrollee in college, and he was advised over the summer that he would be able to take the remainder of his high school classes online during this fall and graduate in December. So Butler played in the first five of his team’s games in the 2023 season — which for Calabasas began on August 18 — then left the team mere hours before its September 29 game, with the intention of enrolling in online classes that would allow him to graduate early as planned. (Wide receiver signees at Texas not playing a full schedule in 2023 would be a theme, as you’ll see.)

Butler had outstanding production in the four games for which MaxPreps reported stats. He had ten catches for 168 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a season-opening 28-21 loss to Santa Monica. He added eight receptions, 255 yards, and two more TDs to his ledger the following week in a 48-28 win over Oak Park. He accumulated nearly 600 receiving yards over a four-game span, and likely would have comfortably surpassed the 1,000-yard mark had he played the entire season, though as it turned out Calabasas was 1-4 in games he played and 1-4 after he left the team.

He’ll bring a ton of athletic potential and uncommon in-game speed when he arrives in Austin. California has produced more Longhorn football lettermen than any state besides Texas, but the program has not previously had a player from Calabasas, which is west of Los Angeles and a short distance from Agoura High School, the alma mater of Pat Fitzgerald, who was an All-American tight end at Texas in the mid-1990s.

2024 WR Freddie Dubose — Smithson Valley

2023 stats: 57 receptions for 769 yards and 4 touchdowns (UT Signing Day release)
Team record: 14-2

Dubose helped lead his Smithson Valley team all the way to the Class 5A Division I state championship game, but their season ended with a 51-8 blowout loss to Aledo in the state final. It was Smithson Valley’s fourth state championship appearance in football, all four of which resulted in losses.

Dubose began his high school career at Schertz Clemens on the northeast side of greater San Antonio, then transferred to Smithson Valley (about 25 miles north of downtown San Antonio) before his junior year. A torn ACL ended his junior football season almost as soon as it began, so this fall was the first time Dubose was able to make a real impact on the field for the Smithson Valley Rangers. Though he wasn’t able to contribute to Smithson Valley’s football efforts as a junior, he did sufficiently recover from his ACL tear in the fall of 2022 that by the following spring he was able to run during track season, and he qualified for the 400-meter dash final at the Class 5A State Track & Field Meet last May. He is not slated to enroll early at UT, so perhaps he will work his way back to Austin for the state track meet in four months.

Texas has had one previous football letterman from Smithson Valley High School, walk-on running back Clint Haney (2006). A century before Haney, the 1903 Texas team had a fullback named R.C. Pantermuehl who hailed from what was then called Smithson’s Valley, a Comal County community mostly populated by German immigrant families. Little remains of that community today, but Smithson Valley High School (which opened in 1976 and is located in the city of Spring Branch) takes its name from that settlement and is located 1.5 miles west of the Smithson Valley Cemetery where many of its earliest settlers are buried.

Texas has signed at least two recruits from Schertz Clemens, Dubose’s original high school. Defensive back/running back James Henry signed with the 2006 recruiting class, and defensive lineman Tyrell Higgins in 2007, but neither are included on the program’s official lettermen list. Henry only played in two games before being suspended from the team in 2007, while Higgins appeared in 13 games overall between the 2009 and 2010 season before leaving the team at the end of the latter year.

2024 WR Parker Livingstone — Lovejoy

2023 stats: (in 3 games) 20 receptions for 333 yards and 3 touchdowns (Dallas Morning News)
Team record: 12-2

Livingstone got off to the hottest start of any Longhorn recruit in the 2024 class, catching 12 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns in a season-opening 50-37 win over College Station, the 2022 5A Division I state runner-up. For the heck of it, he also threw for a 51-yard touchdown pass to a fellow receiver on a double pass. But a foot injury in Week Two sidelined him for nearly the entire rest of the season, and he only made his return to the field three months later in a 42-0 loss to defending 5A Division II state champion South Oak Cliff in the fourth round of the playoffs.

In Livingstone’s absence, Lovejoy still plowed through most of its opposition without breaking a sweat, powered by an offense that featured four-star 2025 wide receiver prospect Daylan McCutcheon, who finished the 2023 season with 92 receptions for 1,423 yards and 19 touchdowns. The Lovejoy Leopards ran the table on their seven district opponents by an average margin of 51 points, and their only regular season loss was a 43-20 defeat at the hands of a highly-ranked North Crowley team that eventually reached the state semifinal round of the Class 6A Division I playoffs.

Lovejoy has only played varsity football since 2008 and Livingstone is the first recruit from that school to sign with Texas, though it has produced one Longhorn letterman: walk-on punter Matthew Sims (2016).

2024 WR Ryan Wingo — St. Louis (Missouri) St. Louis University

2023 stats: (in 7 games) 46 receptions for 569 yards and 7 touchdowns (UT Signing Day release)
Team record: 7-5

Like Parker Livingstone, Ryan Wingo was kept off the field for a significant portion of his senior season due to injury. But whereas Livingstone was sidelined for effectively twelve games, Wingo was able to play in seven of his team’s twelve games. Despite missing five games, he was named to Missouri’s Class 6 All-State second team for a second consecutive year. He is graded as a five-star prospect by the 247Sports Consensus rating, and is UT’s highest-rated offensive signee in this class.

His St. Louis University team went 5-4 in the regular season, then won their first two games in the Class 6 playoffs by a combined score of 109-24 before ending their season with a 19-13 loss in the third round to St. Louis De Smet Jesuit. St. Louis University High School was founded in 1818 and originally called the St. Louis Academy. It operated for many years on the campus of St. Louis University, but it moved onto its own campus nearly a century ago and changed its name to the present one. According to Wikipedia, it is “the oldest secondary educational institution in the U.S. west of the Mississippi River”.

Texas has had two previous football lettermen from St. Louis University High: defensive end Mike Buchanan (1981-83) and linebacker Tony Edwards (1981-84). Officially, Edwards was the team’s leading tackler as a senior in 1984 with 149, though the program’s defensive statistics from that year are certainly inflated because the team was credited with 1,221 solo tackles and 334 assisted tackles in a season in which its opponents only ran 846 offensive plays. Jaylon Ford led the 2023 Longhorns with 101 total tackles, a figure that would have ranked seventh on the 1984 squad if the defensive stats on the UT football website were accurate!

2024 TE Jordan Washington — Houston Langham Creek

Team record: 4-6

Jordan Washington’s stats from the 2023 season have not been reported by any source that I’ve seen, but he performed well enough that he was the only tight end named to the all-district first team for District 16-6A. His Langham Creek team struggled to a 4-6 overall record and finished sixth out of the eight teams in its district, and the Lobos’ four wins came against opponents with a combined season record of 10-31. Washington was one of just two Langham Creek players to make the all-district first team on either side of the ball. He is a four-star recruit and the highest-rated tight end prospect in Texas for the 2024 class, according to the 247Sports Composite, though that same metric merely rates him as the 25th overall senior tight end nationwide.

Texas has had two previous lettermen from Langham Creek. Chad Lucas was recruited by Texas as a linebacker in the 1990 class, but ended up spending most of his college career as a reserve quarterback before being moved to fullback as a senior in 1994. Toneil Carter was a highly-rated running back who signed with Texas in the 2017 class after being a longtime Georgia commit. He transferred from Texas to Sam Houston State in 2019 after playing in nine games during his two seasons in Austin.

2025 TE Emaree Winston — Calhoun (Georgia)

Team record: 6-4

Emaree Winston was voted the Offensive Player of the Year for Region 7-5A in Georgia, and his junior Hudl highlight video claimed that he gained 956 receiving yards in 2023. Though his Calhoun Yellow Jackets team finished with a winning record at 6-4, three of its losses were to regional opponents, and the team did not advance to the playoffs for Class 5A (Georgia’s highest classification is 7A).

Winston, who committed to Texas on December 16, is listed at a stout 6’1.5” and 235 pounds on his 247Sports profile, making him short by tight end standards, but 247’s Gabe Brooks described him over the summer as a “Bully of a football player who provides a tone-setting play style as a pass-catcher or gadget ball carrier.” Texas has only had four football lettermen who went to high school in Georgia (which will become five when defensive tackle Trill Carter is awarded his letter for 2023), three of whom came from the greater Atlanta area, and one of whom was actually a native Texan. Calhoun is in the northwest corner of the state, about halfway between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee, and in a region from which Texas has not previously signed a recruit.

2024 OL Brandon Baker — Santa Ana (California) Mater Dei

Team record: 13-1

Brandon Baker is the second-highest rated offensive tackle prospect nationwide in the 2024 class, and the third-highest rated member of UT’s signing class. With a 247Sports Composite rating of 0.9885, he is the Longhorns’ highest-rated offensive line signee since Mason Walters way back in the 2009 class. He played tackle for a Mater Dei team that is a longtime southern California powerhouse and routinely ranks high in nationwide polls of high school football programs. The 2023 edition of the Mater Dei Monarchs finished their season 13-1 and took home the California Interscholastic Federation’s (CIF) Open Division state championship. The team’s only loss came in the regular season against St. John Bosco, another nationally-ranked team, and that loss was avenged during the CIF Southern Section playoffs. Mater Dei was ranked third nationally by both USA Today and MaxPreps in their final rankings for the 2023 high school season. Baker played right tackle for Mater Dei as a senior, while the left tackle position was filled by fellow senior DeAndre Carter, an Auburn signee.

Baker will arrive in Austin as the likely heir-apparent to Kelvin Banks at left tackle after the latter (presumably) departs for the NFL in 2025. Mater Dei’s football program has produced a “Who’s who” of football prospects in its history. Seven former Monarchs have appeared in at least one NFL game in the 2023 season, and the program produced 16 recruits rated with four stars or more by 247Sports between the 2020 and 2024 recruiting classes.

Two Mater Dei players have recently been part of the Texas Longhorns program, though none have yet appeared in a game. True freshman tight end Spencer Shannon redshirted during the 2023 season, and five-star wide receiver Bru McCoy came to Texas from Mater Dei by way of USC (where he was enrolled for all of a couple of weeks) in 2019 and spent much of that spring in Austin, but he transferred back to USC a few months later.

2024 OL Daniel Cruz — Richland

Team record: 12-1

Daniel Cruz finished his high school career as a four-year varsity starter for the Class 5A Division I Richland Royals (the school’s mascot was changed from the Rebels to the Royals early in Cruz’s freshman year). He was an all-district first team honoree as a sophomore and junior, and as a senior in 2023 he was one of two players named the Outstanding Linemen of the Year for District 5-5A Division I. He is seen by most recruiting analysts as UT’s center of the future, and in the 2023 season he spent time at both center and left tackle.

The 2023 Richland Royals had their program’s longest playoff run since 2017 and recorded a school-record 12 wins overall. The team went undefeated in the regular season and entered the playoffs as the tenth-ranked team in 5A Division I. After mowing down their first two postseason foes, the Royals’ season was ended in the third round by a 61-40 loss to eighth-ranked Forney.

The Longhorns have had one previous football letterman from Richland High School: defensive end Rick Burleson (1974-76).

2024 OL Nate Kibble — Humble Atascocita

Team record: 11-3

Nate Kibble is, in this writer’s opinion, a criminally underrated prospect, who could be a multi-year interior offensive line starter by the end of his college career. He is graded as a four-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite, but that’s only because the usually unreliable ESPN rankings have him as a four-star and are somehow propping up his composite rating while 247Sports, Rivals, and On3 all gave him a three-star grade.

Kibble helped pave the way for an Atascocita offense that averaged 49 points per game in 2023 and helped the team reach the fourth round of the 6A Division I playoffs before losing to eventual state runner-up Galena Park North Shore. Atascocita has been a mainstay in the Class 6A state rankings in recent years and has produced several FBS athletes, but it has had the misfortune of sharing a region (and in some years a district) with elite powerhouses like North Shore and Katy. Since the start of the 2019 season, Atascocita is 0-8 versus North Shore (with four of those losses coming in the playoffs) and 52-6 against all other opponents.

The 2023 Atascocita Eagles finished 11-3, with all three of their losses coming against teams that played for a state championship. They got off to an 8-0 start, which included a 42-34 win over highly-ranked Katy in non-district play, and a lopsided 43-13 win on September 9 in an interstate matchup against an East St. Louis team that would eventually lose by three points in Illinois’ 6A state championship game. Atascocita was ranked as high as seventh in Class 6A, but ended its regular season with a 61-35 loss to top-ranked North Shore and a 45-28 loss to ninth-ranked Humble Summer Creek. North Shore would go on to lose to Duncanville in the 6A Division I state championship, while Summer Creek advanced to the 6A Division II state championship before receiving an historic 74-14 shellacking at the hands of DeSoto (which gave Duncanville its only loss of the season in a district contest).

Hopefully, Kibble’s Longhorn career will resemble that of the only previous Atascocita Eagle to letter with the UT football program: offensive lineman Samuel Cosmi, a two-time All-Big 12 honoree who was selected in the 2nd round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

2025 DL Brandon Brown — Melbourne (Florida) Eau Gallie

2023 stats: 65 tackles (40 solo), 24 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks (MaxPreps)
Team record: 10-2

Brown became the Longhorns’ first interior lineman commit in the 2025 class when he pledged to the program on December 19. He has a four-star grade according to the 247Sports Composite, though 247 itself presently grades him as a three-star prospect and Florida’s #56 overall recruit for his class, a ranking which will surely rise over time. His junior highlight film is often hilarious, as he is seen on several plays just tossing aside opposing offensive linemen like a high school Reggie White. He could be scary good after a couple of years in UT’s strength and conditioning program and with expert defensive line coaching from Bo Davis.

Brown’s disruptive presence on the defensive line helped Eau Gallie to a 9-1 record in the regular season, as the team limited its first 10 opponents to just 9.5 points per game, with none scoring more than 17. The Eau Gallie Commodores’ season ended with a 21-12 loss to Sebring in the second round of Florida’s 3S playoffs.

Two years ago, Florida switched its high school classifications for football from a traditional 1A through 8A setup and into a new labeling scheme comprising nine total levels: 1M through 4M (M standing for “Metro”, and these schools all coming from Florida’s eight most densely-populated counties), 1S through 4S (S for “Suburban”, these being schools in all the counties not covered by the M’s), and 1R (R for “Rural”; this level is reserved for the state’s smallest schools that field a football team, regardless of the county in which they are located). It’s a weird system, and Florida has apparently recognized its instability because the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) voted last month to return to a Class 1A through 7A system (while retaining a separate “rural” classification) starting with the 2024-25 competition year. For a size comparison most Texas readers will understand, Eau Gallie High School’s enrollment would make it a 5A Division II school in Texas.

Eau Gallie High is in Melbourne, Florida near the state’s Atlantic coast and about halfway between Jacksonville and Miami. Texas has signed several players from Florida but no previous letterman has come from that section of the state.

2024 DL Melvin Hills III — Lafayette (Louisiana) Lafayette Christian Academy

2023 stats: 80 tackles (37 solo), 22.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, 34 QB hurries, and one forced fumble (MaxPreps)
Team record: 11-3

Melvin Hills was a key player on a Lafayette Christian Academy team that finished the 2023 season with an 11-3 record, with all three of its losses coming against state champion teams. In Louisiana, public and private high schools compete together in the regular season in districts across classification levels from 1A through 5A, but once the playoffs begin the public and private schools have separate postseason brackets and the classification labeling is scrapped and replaced with “Select” (for private schools) and “Non-Select” brackets that range from Division I (for the largest schools) to Division IV.

The Lafayette Christian Academy Knights, competing in a Class 4A district, went 8-2 in the regular season. One of those losses came by a 29-26 score against Ruston, a 5A team that went undefeated on the year and claimed the Non-Select Division I state title. The other was a 44-40 defeat against Lafayette St. Thomas More, the eventual Select Division II state champion.

Louisiana’s football playoffs are organized as seeded brackets, with the seedings determined by a power ranking formula. Lafayette Christian entered the Select Division II playoffs as the third overall seed out of the 24 playoff qualifiers and got a first round bye. The Knights easily defeated 14th seed Alexandria Peabody 54-20 in the second round, then beat New Orleans McDonough 35 in the quarterfinals by a similarly lopsided score, 57-21. That set up a semifinal matchup with seventh seed Lafayette Teurlings Catholic, the team the Knights had beaten in the semifinals a year earlier. A 42-35 win over Teurlings Catholic earned the Knights a spot in the Select Division II state championship game against St. Thomas More for a second straight year, but just as in 2022 their season ended one win shy of a state title, as St. Thomas More won the re-match 35-21.

Melvin Hills was one of four defensive linemen voted by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA) to its Class 4A All-State first team. Texas has had several players from Louisiana, but no lettermen who have come from Lafayette. Current UT freshman safety Derek Williams is from nearby New Iberia, about 20 miles southeast of Lafayette, but I know of no other Longhorn who hailed from this section of the state.

2024 DL Alex January — Duncanville
2024 EDGE Colin Simmons — Duncanville

2023 stats for January: (in 12 games) 45 tackles (14 solo), 7 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks
2023 stats for Simmons: (in 10 games) 45 tackles (28 solo), 18 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, and 29 QB hurries (MaxPreps)
Team record: 14-1

Alex January and Colin Simmons were stars on the defensive line for a Duncanville team that won the Class 6A Division I state championship for a second straight season. Simmons, a five-star edge prospect and arguably the Longhorns’ 2024 class headliner, is the program’s highest-rated defensive signee since 2010, according to the 247Sports Composite ratings. He was named in December to MaxPreps’s All-America team. January, whose father Mike January played linebacker for the Longhorns in the early 1980s, is a quality player in his own right. Of UT’s current 23 signees in the 2024 class, only three are graded with less than four stars by the 247Sports Composite: January, fellow defensive lineman Melvin Hills, and punter Michael Kern. All three will have a chance to outplay that rating once they don burnt orange.

Those who coached against January this season certainly didn’t underrate him. When the coaches of the teams in the talent-rich District 11-6A (which had two state champion teams) voted on their all-district honors following the 2023 regular season, it was three-star prospect Alex January who was selected the district’s Defensive Player of the Year, while five-star Colin Simmons was one of three players named to the first team at defensive end.

The Duncanville Panthers entered the 2023 season as defending 6A Division I state champions and rarely broke a sweat in defending their crown. Their only loss of the season was a 49-35 defeat on October 28 at the hands of district rival DeSoto, the eventual Class 6A Division II state champion. Duncanville was dominant in the 6A Division I playoffs, winning its six postseason games by an average margin of 44 points and beating Galena Park North Shore 49-33 in the state championship game. In MaxPreps’s final national rankings for 2023, DeSoto was ranked fifth, Duncanville eighth, and North Shore 12th.

Alex January’s highlights vs. North Shore

Colin Simmons’s highlights vs. North Shore

Duncanville’s state title ensured that a future Longhorn would be part of a Texas high school state championship team for a 28th straight season. 1995 was the last season in which none of the UIL state championship winners had a future Longhorn on their roster.

When January and Simmons arrive on campus they’ll join a Longhorn roster that already includes Duncanville alum Cameron Williams. Previous to Williams, the program’s only lettermen from Duncanville were linebacker Boone Powell (1988-91) and safety Erick Jackson (2005-07). Another Duncanville product, quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson, signed with Texas in the 2020 class but did not see the field that year and transferred to Utah in 2021. Ja’Quinden Jackson started 11 games at running back for the Utes in 2023, and has since entered the transfer portal again.

2024 DL D’antre Robinson — Orlando (Florida) Jones

2023 stats: 79 tackles (47 solo), 9 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble
Team record: 10-4

D’antre Robinson and his Jones Fightin’ Tigers team had an inauspicious beginning to their 2023 season, losing three of their first four games, but they closed out the regular season on a six-game winning streak and remained hot in the early rounds of the 3M playoffs.

In Florida, the playoff brackets are comprised of 32 total teams from four regions, and in each region the teams are seeded 1-8. Jones began the playoffs as their region’s fourth seed, and in the first round it beat fifth seed Oviedo 33-7. The following week, the Fightin’ Tigers upset their region’s top seed Orlando Edgewater 28-24 and avenged the last of their three regular season losses. They won their regional final by a 24-21 score over third seed Tampa Bay Tech and advanced to the final four, but their season ended in the 3M state semifinals with a 42-35 loss to Homestead. Homestead went on to lose 31-28 in the state championship game to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, a team both USA Today and MaxPreps ranked among the top ten in the nation, and one that included punter and Texas signee Michael Kern. Had Jones managed to defeat Homestead, Florida’s 3M state championship would have featured future Longhorns on both sidelines.

Jones finished its 2023 season with a 10-4 record, and Robinson produced an impressive defensive stat line for his senior year. Texas has signed one previous player from Jones High: linebacker Marcus Tillman, who played in six games during his three years with the Longhorn program (2019-21) and transferred after the 2021 season. Current freshman running back Cedric Baxter, who went to Edgewater, and freshman offensive lineman Payton Kirkland, who went to Dr. Phillips, are the only other Longhorns to come from Orlando high schools.

2024 Edge Zina Umeozulu — Allen

2023 stats: (in 11 games) 64 tackles (47 solo), 4 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and 14 QB hurries
Team record: 9-5

Zina Umeozulu’s Allen Eagles reached the fourth round of the playoffs despite having the most losses of any Allen team in a generation. There’s no glory in being the state’s best five-loss team, but that may have described Allen in 2023. Their 39-7 loss in Week One to eventual 6A Division II state champion DeSoto wasn’t bad considering what DeSoto did to many of the other teams on its schedule. But a 45-28 loss to Houston C.E. King in Week Two dropped the Eagles to 0-2 for most likely the first time in the lifetime of any of their current players. We’re talking here about a program that recently went 15 straight seasons (2006-2020) without losing more than two games, and which won five state championships between 2008 and 2017.

After that uncharacteristic start, Allen won its next six games to guarantee a winning record for a 25th straight season, but then lost to Denton Guyer and 20th-ranked Prosper by a combined margin of seven points. After going into the 6A Division I playoffs with a 6-4 record, Allen refused to bow out early, beating 24th-ranked Lewisville 18-17 in the first round, then winning 36-33 over an Arlington Martin team that had won eight straight games since losing to Allen on September 8. The Eagles advanced into the state quarterfinals following a 52-35 win in the third round over Midland Legacy, the champion of District 2-6A. But that was as far as they got, as sixth-ranked North Crowley eliminated Allen the following week by a 49-37 score.

Allen finished with a 9-5 overall record, its first season since 1998 in which it finished with more than four losses. Zina Umeozulu impressed with his play at defensive end and was voted to the all-district first team for District 5-6A.

Going into the 2023 season, three Allen alums were recognized lettermen with the Longhorn football program: offensive lineman Brent Kelly (1995-97), tight end Neale Tweedie (2003-06), and wide receiver Dan Buckner (2008-09). Zina Umeozulu’s older brother Neto Umeozulu, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman, should become the fourth, as he appeared in five games during the 2023 season.

2024 LB Ty’Anthony Smith — Jasper

2023 stats: 31 carries for 277 yards and 4 touchdowns; 4 interceptions on defense (tackle statistics not reported)
Team record: 9-5

Ty’Anthony Smith was a late addition to the Longhorns’ 2024 signing class, as he inked with Texas on December 20 after having been a Texas A&M commit for nearly six months. He was one of the most important signees, as he is the only true linebacker in the class thus far.

Smith spent time on offense as a wildcat quarterback and averaged nearly nine yards per carry on 31 tallies, but he did his most damage on defense, and for his efforts he was unanimously voted the Defensive Player of the Year for District 9-4A Division II.

His Jasper team went 6-4 in the regular season and finished third in its district with a 4-2 record, with its two district losses coming by a combined margin of four points, one of them a 21-20 overtime loss in the regular season finale against unbeaten Silsbee. Once in the 4A Division II playoffs, Jasper advanced through three rounds by comfortable margins, one of those being a 50-7 second round win over Waco Connally and Smith’s future Longhorn teammate Kobe Black. But the Jasper Bulldogs’ season ended in the fourth round with a 31-7 loss to eventual state runner-up Bellville.

Jasper High has produced two football lettermen at Texas: halfback Max Alvis (1957) and offensive lineman Terrell Cuney (2017).

Alvis was a starter on Darrell Royal’s first Longhorn squad as a sophomore in 1957 and made the AP’s All-Southwest Conference Team as an honorable mention selection, but he only played for one season with the UT varsity because he was a better baseball player. He was the Southwest Conference’s leading hitter during the 1958 baseball season, and signed a professional contract with the Cleveland Indians (now the Guardians) in the summer of that year. Four years later he made his major league debut, and for most of seven seasons (1963-69) he was Cleveland’s everyday third baseman, making two American League All-Star teams along the way.

Cuney signed with Texas in the 2014 recruiting class, and after redshirting as a freshman he played in 12 games and started eight over the next three seasons (2015-17).

2025 LB Anthony “Deuce” Williams — Alvin Shadow Creek

Team record: 9-2

Deuce Williams is, as of this writing, UT’s most recent commit, having pledged to its 2025 class on January 1. He garnered first team All-District 26-6A honors at outside linebacker after helping lead the Shadow Creek Sharks to a 9-1 regular season record and into a three-way tie for the championship of their district. Their only loss of the regular season came by a 20-13 score to district co-champion Pearland, and their nine wins included a 41-24 triumph on September 8 over a Cypress Bridgeland team that would finish the regular season ranked 25th in Class 6A.

Shadow Creek’s postseason run was short-lived, as the Sharks lost in the first round of the 6A Division I playoffs by a score of 36-7 to a League City Clear Springs team that they had beaten 20-7 ten weeks earlier.

Hopefully, Williams’s Longhorn career will be more productive and enduring than those of the program’s two previous signees from Shadow Creek. Xavion Alford, a four-star safety in the 2020 class, played in just four games with Texas as a true freshman before entering the transfer portal, and he has since spent time at both USC and Arizona State. Terrence Cooks Jr., a four-star linebacker in the 2021 class, appeared in just one game as a Longhorn and entered the portal before the 2021 season had even ended, eventually landing at TCU, where injuries have limited him to appearing in five games over two seasons.

2024 DB Kobe Black — Waco Connally

2023 stats: 41 tackles (20 solo), 2 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions on defense; 48 carries for 432 yards (9 yards/carry) and 5 touchdowns, and 8 receptions for 281 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Team record: 8-4

Kobe Black, the state’s 10th-ranked overall prospect according to the 247Sports Composite, was a two-way impact player for a Connally Cadets team that overcame a mid-season three-game losing streak to win its district title for a second straight year, the first time since the mid-1980s that Connally won back-to-back district championships. Black was named to District 11-4A Division II’s all-district first team at both inside receiver and cornerback.

Connally was in a small five-team district, and so the Cadets had a much longer non-district schedule that most schools. After averaging 57 points per game during a 3-0 start, the Cadets of Class 4A Division II lost to a trio of tough 4A Division I foes to close out non-district play, with two of those September losses coming against the teams that were ranked sixth (Brownwood) and seventh (China Spring) in their classification at the end of the regular season. Connally rebounded to run the table on its four district opponents and qualify for the playoffs for a school-record sixth straight season. In the first round of the playoffs the Cadets beat Giddings 27-6, then they were blown out 50-7 in the second round by Ty’Anthony Smith’s Jasper team.

Going into the 2023 season, Texas had never had a football letterman from Waco Connally, but that should change when the letter-winners from this season are announced. Freshman defensive back Jelani McDonald, a Connally alum, appeared in 12 games this season. And fellow 2023 recruiting class member Quintrevion “Tre” Wisner, who signed with Texas out of DeSoto High School but who attended Connally through his junior year, played in all 14 of UT’s games in the 2023 season

2024 S Xavier Filsaime — McKinney

2023 stats: 64 tackles (39 solo), 2 interceptions, 6 passes defensed, and 2 forced fumbles; also had 20 punts for an average of 37.3 yards, returned 3 kickoffs for 118 yards, and had 4 carries for 104 yards and 2 touchdowns
Team record: 9-3

Xavier Filsaime, a composite five-star safety recruit, committed to Texas on December 18 after having been committed to Florida for eight months. He told reporters covering the Under Armour All-America Game practices this week that the event that most precipitated his flip from Florida was the firing of the Gators’ secondary coach Corey Raymond in late November two days after their season-ending loss to rival Florida State, a defeat which dropped Florida to 5-7 and gave them their third straight losing season, a streak of futility longer than any the program has suffered since the mid-1940s.

Filsaime’s play in the secondary and occasional flashes on special teams and on offense helped lead the McKinney Lions to a 9-3 overall record in 2023, the most wins the team has had in any season since their 10-3 record in 1993. McKinney won its first six games before losing 31-7 to Allen. Subsequent wins over Prosper Rock Hill and Denton Guyer improved the Lions’ record to 8-1 and brought them into the Class 6A rankings at no. 24, but they dropped right back out of the rankings with a 24-12 loss to 19th-ranked Prosper to close out the regular season.

Filsaime scored a rushing touchdown and made five tackles in a 52-31 win over Flower Mound Marcus in the first round of the Class 6A Division II playoffs, but the Lions’ were eliminated the following week in a 22-21 loss to a Highland Park team that was in the playoffs for a 29th consecutive season. McKinney led Highland Park for almost three entire quarters of that game, and held a 21-19 lead when Highland Park took possession of the ball near midfield with 3:07 left in regulation. HP converted on a 4th-and-2 early in their final drive, was later helped by a 15-yard defensive penalty on McKinney, and won the game on a 29-yard field goal made as time expired.

It has been several years since a McKinney Lion graced a Texas Longhorn sideline. McKinney High has produced five UT football lettermen: fullback Jim Marley (1922-24), center/guard Ken Gidney (1966-68), defensive tackle Carl White (1969-70), kicker Jason Ziegler (1991), and offensive lineman Tim Barron (1994). The most notable of those is Marley, who was captain of the 1924 Longhorn squad and was named an honorable mention All-American that year by All Sports magazine, and who later graduated from Texas with an M.B.A. and had a long career as a CPA.

2024 DB Wardell Mack — Marrero (Louisiana) John Ehret

Team record: 7-5

Wardell Mack’s John Ehret team had an up-and-down season, reaching the Select Division I playoffs but losing 45-9 in the second round to eventual state champion Catholic-B.R. of Baton Rouge. His school’s enrollment is the equivalent of a 5A Division I school in Texas, and it competes in Louisiana’s highest classification, 5A. The John Ehret Patriots lost three of their first five games, but went 4-1 in the second half of the regular season to finish second in their district. Mack was voted to the Class 5A honorable mention all-state team by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.

John Ehret High is located in Marrero, which is on the south side of the Mississippi River across from New Orleans. Texas has had eleven football lettermen from the greater New Orleans area, which is also home to current freshmen Arch Manning and Will Randle, and junior transfer defensive back Gavin Holmes. But Mack will potentially be the first Longhorn letterman from John Ehret, a high school that has had eight former players appear in the NFL since the start of the 2000 season, the most notable being All-Pro wide receiver Reggie Wayne.

2024 DB Santana Wilson — Scottsdale (Arizona) Desert Mountain

2023 stats: Had 36 tackles (25 solo), 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 3 interceptions, 10 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, and 1 blocked field goal on defense; and had 8 carries for 73 yards and 1 TD, along with 8 catches for 90 yards and 2 TDs on offense.
Team record: 9-2

Santana Wilson, the son of former NFL All-Pro safety Adrian Wilson, committed to Texas in June and signed with the program six months later. He had an outstanding senior season and helped his Desert Mountain Wolves team to a 9-1 regular season record, their only loss coming by a 58-21 score to eventual Conference 5A state champion Higley.

Arizona has conferences ranging from 6A to 1A, and each conference has its own playoff bracket that is seeded according to a power rating formula. But the state also has an Open Division playoff bracket, which includes the top eight overall teams between 6A and 4A based on that same rating formula. In most years that bracket is mostly comprised of 6A teams with a few from 5A and maybe one or two outstanding 4A teams, though the Open Division’s rating formula is designed to make it difficult for teams from 4A to break into that bracket. In 2023, the top seven teams from 6A qualified for the Open Division, while only the top team from 5A did. The top 5A team? Wilson’s Desert Mountain team. Higley, which had soundly beaten Desert Mountain in the regular season, had a slightly lower rating from having two losses), and was instead the top seed in the 5A playoffs.

Had Desert Mountain not qualified for the Open Division playoff and Higley taken its place in that bracket, the Wolves might have been favored to win the Conference 5A championship. But alas, they received the sixth seed in the Open Division bracket and were summarily dismissed in the first round 24-3 by third seed and eventual state runner-up Peoria Centennial. In the 2022 season, Desert Mountain was the no. 2 overall seed in Conference 5A and reached the state semifinals before losing 35-33 to eventual champion Higley.

Desert Mountain High School, which opened in 1995, has had four former players play in the NFL. Two of them are still active (quarterback Kyle Allen and tight end Mark Andrews), and another was as recently as 2022 (defensive tackle Tyeler Davison). Texas has not had a letterman from this school, and indeed has had only eight lettermen from the entire state of Arizona, but they have had three who came from other high schools in Scottsdale, a northeast suburb of Phoenix. Brothers Austin Sendlein (2002-03) and Lyle Sendlein (2003-06) both came to UT from Chaparral High School, while Jake Smith (2019-20) attended Notre Dame Prep.

2024 P Michael Kern — Fort Lauderdale (Florida) St. Thomas Aquinas

2023 stats: Punted 25 times for an average of 46.3 yards, and made 20 kickoffs that all resulted in touchbacks
Team record: 14-1

Michael Kern showed off his strong leg during his senior year, averaging over 46 yards per punt attempt and recording touchbacks on all of his kickoff attempts. His St. Thomas Aquinas team averaged almost 42 points per game in 2023, so he wasn’t asked to punt a great number of times.

St. Thomas Aquinas lost 20-7 in its season-opener on August 26 to California powerhouse St. John Bosco, but the Raiders did not taste defeat again in 2023. They competed in Florida’s 3M classification, and the nine regular season foes that they vanquished included eventual 2S state champion Cocoa and 4M state semifinalist Coconut Creek Monarch. St. Thomas Aquinas went into the 3M playoffs riding a nine-game winning streak and was dominant in the first four rounds, beating a quartet of foes by a combined score of 181-20. The 3M state championship game finally provided some postseason drama for St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders fans, but the team triumphed over Homestead 31-28 to claim its fifth consecutive state title, its 12th such title in the span of 17 seasons, and the 15th football championship in school history.

St. Thomas Aquinas was ranked ninth nationally in the final 2023 season rankings published by both USA Today and MaxPreps. St. John Bosco, which dealt the Raiders their only loss, was ranked sixth by MaxPreps and eighth by USA Today. Cocoa, whose only loss came against St. Thomas Aquinas, was ranked 15th by USA Today and 17th by MaxPreps.

In December, Kern was named to MaxPreps’ 2023 High School Football All-America Team as the second team punter. St. Thomas Aquinas is among the top football talent-producing high schools in the country. Ten of its former players are currently active in the NFL. The Longhorns have never had a letterman from this school, and Kern is likely the first player the program has signed from there. Texas was seen as the favorite to land St. Thomas Aquinas linebacker Nik Bonitto late in the 2018 recruiting cycle, but he ended up signing with Oklahoma.

And there you have it! If you’ve read this far in the piece you may have guessed by now why I declined to write weekly posts covering all of these guys during the season. That takes a lot of work and dedication even when giving the most cursory of updates on 15-20 players every week, and I don’t do cursory! With the nature of college football in the transfer portal era, it won’t be surprising if at least a handful of the above-named guys are no longer Longhorns 2-3 years from now. There is bound to be a highly-regarded bust somewhere in the group, and at least one player who surprises fans and greatly outplays their high school rating. But in looking at this purely as a class of incoming freshmen, and at the junior commits as the building blocks of the next recruiting class, Texas fans should be very excited about what they bring to the table and how they should improve the program’s ceiling as it moves into its SEC era.