For those of you who follow recruiting, June was not the best of months.
Much of the state's top talent committed elsewhere. Questions were raised about the coaching staff's recruiting woes, the future of the Big 12, and SEC mania. ESPN writers lined up to take potshots at Strong, stroking rivals' egos with delightful headlines like the following:
et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...
Nevertheless, things are looking up for Texas entering the summer. Strong will have multiple opportunities to shift recruiting momentum over the next few months, starting with an "Under the Lights" camp scheduled for mid-July. The planned night camp at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium is modeled after a similar event hosted by former Florida head coach Urban Meyer in 2005. Strong was on Meyer's staff that year, and he clearly liked the event enough to bring it to the 40 Acres.
Here's a look at a few of the Longhorns' top targets, and where they stand with Texas entering the month of July. Warning: much of what follows is (educated) speculation.
|6' 6", 210 lbs
|6' 4", 335 lbs
A recent Baylor decommit, athlete Louis Brown will be an AP 1st-team all-state linebacker entering his senior year. He was in attendance at the Longhorns' spring game, and is very familiar with Texas; it would not be surprising to see Brown become Strong's next commitment. The depth chart situation is certainly favorable -- Brown's height could allow him to bulk up and play at defensive end, a position of need for Texas. Currently, the 247Sports Crystal Ball has pegged him 55% to Texas, and the last six predictions for the athlete all have him headed to the 40 Acres.
Another guy to watch for is Tyler Moore, a massive offensive guard who received an offer from Texas on June 17th. Moore was ecstatic upon receiving his offer, calling Texas "his dream school" on Twitter; soon after the announcement, Moore's Crystal Ball received 13 predictions for Texas. Moore is currently waiting to see if he receives an offer from Oklahoma before making a decision; depending on whether one arrives, he could be the next commitment of the 2015 class. Wickline has loaded up on offensive linemen this year, and is looking to add only one or two more; so Moore may be in line for a grayshirt depending on how the rest of the year pans out.
|6' 3", 180 lbs
|6' 1", 195 lbs
|Missouri City, TX
|5' 9", 170 lbs
|6' 2", 232 lbs
|6' 3", 295 lbs
One of the best prospects from the talent-rich state of Florida, John Burt named a Top four of Texas, Florida State, Auburn, and Miami on June 18th. Texas is in great shape with Burt, who has had the Longhorns as his leader since late March. Charlie Strong's ties in Florida were enough to bring Burt to the 40 Acres in February, and he will likely take another visit to Austin before making his final decision. Burt spoke glowingly of Texas in his most recent interview;
"Having an opportunity to go to college at Texas is surreal. I've been following the team for most of my life. I have family in Austin. My aunt works at the university and my grandmother was involved in the administration department there."
As long as Texas does not suffer a dismal 2014 season, Burt is quite likely to end up at Austin in 2015.
At a position where Texas needs depth, Cam Townsend was one of Mack Brown's biggest targets before the 2013 season. An excellent pass coverage linebacker, HornsDigest has pegged Cam to Texas for over a year, while at 247Sports 100% of his Crystal Ball predictions have him headed to Austin. This, despite a double-digit offer list that continues to grow. Unless there is a rush of linebacker commitments before he decides, it's safe to say that Texas has the inside track with Townsend.
One more wide receiver that could join Burt on campus in 2015 is Ryan Newsome. Newsome recently announced his top five, and the 'Horns were firmly in contention - just as they have been all year. While it's possible Newsome ends up breaking Texas hearts, he is currently very comfortable at Austin - he has strong relationships with Jonathan Gray (who also hails from Aledo), Jerrod Heard, and running backs coach Tommie Robinson. Like Townsend, Newsome will attend Strong's July 18th camp. Hopefully, he decides to stay close to home after the 2014 season.
Is Texas in good shape with Chris Warren? Ask him yourself:
@EricNahlin yes they are
— Chris C Warren III (@ScorealldayCW25) June 27, 2014
Wrong hand sign, but most Longhorns fans won't care. Texas is definitely in the mix for Warren at this stage. Strong has heavily recruited him as a power/short-run back - the kind Texas will need on the field to eat up carries after Joe Bergeron leaves. Warren has made multiple visits to the 40 Acres, and will make at least once more before closing his recruitment. His parents are fond of UT, and 55% of predictions in the Crystal Ball go Texas's way - but Alabama, Arkansas, and Auburn are still recruiting him very hard, and Warren has stated he will not make any decisions until the end of the 2014 season.
When Du'Vonta Lampkin announced his top five on Twitter, it was clear that UT had gained the inside track with the defensive tackle prospect out of Houston. Once an Oklahoma commit, Lampkin decommitted in late April in order to take more visits and rethink his decision. By early June, the Longhorns had moved to the top of his list ($), even before his Twitter announcement. Lampkin has stated in interviews that he has been a fan of Texas since childhood, and that he enjoys a strong relationship with line coach Chris Rumph.
Like most Texas targets, Lampkin plans to extend his recruitment through the fall in order to see how the 2014 season pans out. So while Texas may be in the lead for his services, much will depend on how Charlie Strong's inaugural year goes.
In The Mix
|6' 2", 225 lbs
|6' 5", 306 lbs
|6' 5", 270 lbs
|6' 2", 184 lbs
|6' 3", 250 lbs
|San Pablo, CA
For a long time, the Longhorns were thought to be leading the way in junior OLB Anthony Wheeler's recruitment. However Oklahoma has managed to catch up as of late, and is currently atop Wheeler's list of prospective destinations. Thankfully, Texas is not far behind.
My Top 10 Schools: OU Texas University Baylor Texas A&M LSU Alabama Stanford Florida State Notre Dame Ohio State NO ORDER.
— Tru Story ★ (@SOS_Wheeler40) June 7, 2014
("Texas University", huh? Wonder where that is.)
Make no mistake; Wheeler is a can't-miss prospect. A possible difference-maker at the ILB, OLB, and DE positions, his presence in Austin would give the Texas front seven significant depth and versatility. In an interview with William Wilkerson of HornsDigest, Wheeler mentioned that he feels like he "just needs to spend more time with the staff to build on their relationship". At this time, Wheeler's decision is likely equivalent to a coin flip, and may ride on the results of the 2014 Red River Shootout.
Having already secured the commitments of three OL prospects, Texas may only need one or two more recruits at the position. Enter Garrett Thomas, one of the top OL prospects from the state of Louisiana. Thomas received his offer in May, and has since visited UT-Austin with his family. His description of the visit can be read here; suffice to say, he thoroughly enjoyed the trip.
Three schools are currently in the running for Thomas; Auburn, Ole Miss, and Texas. Auburn and Ole Miss have been recruiting Thomas for much longer than UT, and may have gained the inside track with the 300-pound mauler. However, Texas still has a significant outside shot to land Thomas - Strong & Co. have been making huge strides in his recruitment as of late. 82% of his Crystal Ball predictions are for Texas, including the last 18 in a row.
Two more prospects that are taking a very strong look at Texas are Madison Akamnonu and Holton Hill. Texas and OU are currently in a dead heat for Akamnonu's services. Despite rumors of a spring visit that did not go well (plus the fact that Akamnonu's father is an OU alum), Texas has remained high on his list heading into the summer thanks to a visit in June that left Akamnonu and his family impressed. He is rumoured to be a favorite of line coach Joe Wickline, who may prefer him over either Garrett Thomas or Tyler Moore.
Meanwhile, Hill has let his recruitment slow down as he prepares for USA summer track, the Junior Olympics, and getting ready for The Opening. Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M, LSU, and Florida State are the schools he is most interested in attending - however, he is in no hurry to make a choice. One advantage Texas has with Hill is his former teammate, safety John Bonney. A member of the 2014 Texas class, Bonney is keen to bring his long-time classmate to the 40 Acres. UT currently has 67% of the Crystal Ball predictions for the talented cornerback.
Does Texas have what it takes to pull Tak McKinley out of California? One of the top JUCO players on the market, McKinley has scheduled four official visits for the 2014 season - Arizona State, Texas, UCLA, and Oklahoma - with a fifth visit to be determined. McKinley was one of the first recruits Strong contacted after taking the head coaching job at Texas, and the two share a strong rapport. But McKinley is just as likely to end up at UCLA or USC, two regional teams that have made a strong push for his services. The lightning-fast defensive end will be in town for the Texas-TCU game, and does not plan to make a decision until he has exhausted all his visits.
|6' 2", 225 lbs
|5' 11", 185 lbs
|Missouri City, TX
|6' 3", 329 lbs
|6' 4", 275 lbs
|6' 4", 247 lbs
The state's top two recruits, Malik Jefferson and Kendall Sheffield, have so far remained uncommitted -- they chose to stay out of the June recruiting frenzy happening east of Austin. With these two prospects, winning on the field will be a better draw than any new sales pitches Strong & Co. can come up with at this point. Both players are still interested in Texas and have maintained a high level of communication with the coaching staff. Malik Jefferson will be in Austin on July 18th for Strong's 'Under the Lights' camp. Sheffield, meanwhile, is busy attending various track meets across the nation and is taking things day-by-day. However, the industry consensus is clear - barring any major changes, these guys will likely be in College Station's corner come NSD. The onus is on Strong to provide those changes.
The two defensive tackles on this list, Daron Payne and Darrion Daniels, are here mostly because of Chris Rumph. Rumph recruited both these prospects while at Alabama, and his move to Texas gives the Longhorns a slim chance with both players. Payne has Texas in his top four, and had good things to say about Texas back in April. However, the Longhorns desperately need to bring him to campus soon if they are to have any chance at the massive 330-pound lineman. Daniels may be even farther afield -- Baylor is his most likely destination, with Texas Tech a close second thanks to his father's roots in Lubbock. However, Daniels still enjoys a close relationship with tight end coach Bruce Chambers (a former head coach at Dallas Carter HS), and spoke well of Charlie Strong during his visit to Texas in March. He has not been to Austin since.
After taking a multi-day visit to Austin in March, Will Gragg has six schools remaining on his list - Alabama, Arkansas, Florida State, LSU, Ole Miss, and Texas. In a class where the 'Horns would prefer to take two tight ends, Gragg is sadly the only true uncommitted TE prospect left on the board (although a position change could give Texas another blocker in two tight end-sets come 2015). Gragg has scheduled an official visit to Texas for September 6th - he will be in the stands when the Longhorns take on BYU, and a convincing win would give a huge boost to his recruitment. Texas is very much in the mix for Gragg, but the large number of schools that are courting him will make it tough to pull him west of Arkansas. Gragg has confirmed that he will make his commitment decision November 18th, as the 2014 season winds down.
After looking at Texas's biggest targets on the recruiting trail, a common theme emerges; many prospects are adopting a wait-and-see approach with UT. Can Strong turn around recruiting in the Lone Star State? That's the million-dollar question. Unlike Bob Stoops, Kevin Sumlin, and Art Briles, Strong is still building on his ties to the state, including his relationships with HS football coaches. Win games and compete in the division race, and Texas will even the playing field. Lose games, and the 'Horns will be on the outside looking in come National Signing Day. That's the bottom line.
*Note: the assertions in this article were later refuted by several of the high school coaches who attended the event. Clearly, the Longhorns' media department has not been doing its due diligence.