Fewer than two full weeks remain until the early signing period gets underway on Wednesday, Dec. 19, and the Big 12-headlining class for the Texas Longhorns is likely far from a finished product. To date, the 2019 Texas class features 21 pledges, but head coach Tom Herman said last Thursday that the Horns have six or seven scholarships remaining — a number that’s now seemingly increased to seven or eight following the decommitment of Oklahoma City (Okla.) Millwood wide receiver Demariyon Houston.
With that figure in mind, what would an ideal close to the Texas class look like?
Arguably the most notable name remaining atop the big board is, of course, Bru McCoy, a five-star talent out of Santa Ana (Cali.) Mater Dei.
The nation’s top-ranked athlete has been a top Texas target for quite some time, and that interest has become very real and very reciprocated, especially following his first trip to the Forty Acres in late April, in which he and his family left campus blown away by what Texas has to offer.
As the summer — and he and his family’s relationship with the Longhorns — progressed, so, too, did the Texas potential as a dark-horse in McCoy’s recruitment. The far-and-away favorite? The USC Trojans, and to that end, Texas has and continues to do what it can when pitted against McCoy’s dream school.
With McCoy on hand for his official visit on Sept. 15, the Longhorns dealt the Trojans a 37-14 blowout loss, and in the months since, Texas has only further continued to cultivate its relationship with the McCoy family.
It’s become common knowledge that McCoy and his family are quite comfortable with the culture and stability in Austin, but USC, which is set to host McCoy for an official visit on Dec. 14, should still be considered the frontrunner down the stretch, though how much of an edge the Trojans may hold now seems murkier following the firing of USC’s offensive coordinator Tee Martin.
With McCoy set to announce his decision during the All-American Bowl on Jan. 5, Texas still has plenty of time to take over the top spot for the nation’s top athlete, and the Longhorns will likely try to use the uncertainty in Los Angeles to do so. In any case, at this point, McCoy’s recruitment is likely more of a toss up then it was even after his visit to the Forty Acres.
While it probably shouldn’t be the expectation that Texas outlasts USC, it probably also shouldn’t come as a surprise if that comes to pass.
Texas sits in a similar, if not slightly more favorable position with another elite national recruit in former Denton Guyer star and current IMG Academy (Fla.) standout, Noah Cain, as detailed by Burnt Orange Nation’s Joe Hamilton:
Things are truly up in the air for Noah Cain, as he is just a few weeks away from making his final decision. While LSU was once a serious threat within his recruitment before solidifying their backfield for the 2019 cycle, it has ultimately come down to Georgia, Penn State, and the Longhorns. Each program provides a great deal of security for Cain, but deciding which school is the best overall fit on the field and off the field will determine where he ends up. The Bulldogs have their recent success of utilizing multiple backs to a tee as leverage. The Nittany Lions displayed how they can use a feature back and didn’t shy away from letting Saquon Barkley become a household name. Texas has a long rich history of having dominant running backs, with D’Onta Foreman being the latest. Cain has all of the makings to becoming a potential leading rusher for the Horns, but the closeness to home and what UT provides its student athletes after sports is a plus.
As we’ve previously reported, Herman and running backs coach Stan Drayton made an in-home visit with with Cain almost immediately after the Big 12 Championship, which Cain said, “went real good, had a heart-to-heart conversation with them.”
’EM...#7era pic.twitter.com/jgjyglaYj8— Noah Cain (@therealnoahcain) November 5, 2018
Entering the final weeks of his recruitment, Cain has already made numerous trips to the Forty Acres, including one official tour on Nov. 3. Cain then following that trip up with official tours to his other finalists, Penn State and Georgia, on Nov. 10 and Nov. 23, respectively. Given how close to vest Cain has kept his recruitment, it’s anyone’s guess as to where exactly Cain is leaning, though industry experts favor the Longhorns with Texas owning each of his last six Crystal Ball projections and 65 percent overall.
In addition to a lengthy relationship, Penn State is selling the vision of Cain ultimately emerging as a Saquon Barkley-caliber back, while Georgia can offer the appeal of becoming the next D’Andre Swift while keeping wear-and-tear off of his body as he develops behind Swift and Elijah Holyfield.
The Texas pitch, of course, in addition to the proximity of his high school stomping grounds and the potential to play in front of his mother, who still resides in the D-FW area, is immediate playing time alongside Keaontay Ingram, as the Longhorns are set to lose starter Tre Watson following the Sugar Bowl.
When it’s all said and done on Dec. 19, a betting man would likely wager on the Longhorns, but as our Joe Hamilton noted, things are truly up in the air. Texas now has just two weeks to swing things entirely in their favor in hopes of adding a significant piece and the nation’s No. 7 running back to a class already hovering around the top five.
While on the topic of IMG Academy ball carriers, Texas does remain in the mix with top-ranked running back Trey Sanders.
To that end, Texas made its push for Sanders, garnering some momentum earlier this season following his Sept. 15 official visit, but the close proximity to home that Alabama, and even Florida enjoy, may be too much for the Longhorns to overcome, as recently noted by The Football Brainiacs’ Andrew King:
“Texas has given Sanders a lot to think about, but most say his parents prefer Alabama. It’s hard not to see why, and it sounds like that is still the case following his visit to Tuscaloosa over the weekend. The top three for Sanders looks like Alabama, Texas, and Florida. Texas could be running second right now, but I’m not sure it’s going to matter in the end.”
Much like with McCoy, expect Texas to continue pushing until Sanders puts pen to paper on Dec. 19, but Herman and the Horns will need to hit home runs during their in-home visits in hopes of convincing Sanders’ parents to become more comfortable with letting him head west for Texas. However, a door could potentially be coming open down the stretch, as Alabama — the perceived frontrunner — just lost offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who left for the head coaching job at Maryland.
In sticking with talent at the skill positions, Texas remains in the market for another wide receiver, despite the class already featuring a trio of four-star receivers — four if Odessa Permian athlete Peyton Powell is considered.
As initially noted, Texas lost a pledge just days ago from four-star Oklahoma pass catcher Demariyon Houston. If Texas is to fill that void with any receiver outside of the aforementioned McCoy — a two-way talent who aims to star at receiver — any addition would likely come in the form of elite local product Elijah Higgins, or to a lesser degree, former TCU pledge Kennedy Lewis, who was widely considered a Longhorns lean before delaying his decision.
The final group for Higgins features Stanford, Texas, and Florida, and the general expectation is that the four-star Austin Bowie product will soon be a Cardinal, as evident by his Crystal Ball sitting at 74 percent in favor of Stanford. That said, a source close to Higgins told BON their belief is that Higgins will end up with the Longhorns when it’s all said and done, citing Texas as his original dream school.
University of Texas @ Austin pic.twitter.com/ZvbdDAZgmv— Elijah Higgins (@ehigggz) November 6, 2018
Will Texas be able to do enough down the stretch to shift momentum back into its favor, away from the illustrious educational opportunity at Stanford and the family ties in Florida? That much remains to be seen, but for an elite prospect who had a roster spot regardless of the previous numbers, expect Texas to intensify its push now that Houston has decommitted.
Lewis, on the other hand, looks like the much less likely option at this point, which is a complete 180 from where things were just weeks ago. After reopening his recruitment in mid-October just days after an unofficial trip to Texas, Lewis returned to the Forty Acres on Nov. 3 for his official visit, and with a Nov. 9 decision date set, all signs pointed towards Texas.
The day before his decision, however, Lewis postponed his pledge. In the weeks since, its Big 12 foe Baylor that’s seemingly taking control, hosting Lewis for an official visit to pair with a pair of in-home visits. Lewis is scheduled to officially visit Florida this weekend and Washington the next, but the Bears are now the projected landing spot with each of his last five Crystal Ball projections.
Texas may attempt to circle back to Lewis late if Higgins does, in fact, head out of state, but at this juncture, there’s little reason to believe he’ll be a Longhorn on signing day.
Elsewhere, in terms of pure importance at a position of need, Fullerton College (Calif.) outside linebacker Caleb Johnson is another name Texas would love to pair alongside targets such as McCoy, Cain, or Higgins before the 2019 class is complete. With the Longhorns set to lose starting linebackers Gary Johnson and Anthony Wheeler to graduation, Johnson looks the part of an ideal plug-and-play prospect; specifically, in replacing Johnson as the Rover.
“[I’d] fit very well,” Johnson previously told Burnt Orange Nation when asked how he would fit Orlando’s defense. “I think rover is the perfect position for me... I’m planning on starting wherever I go.”
A former Iowa State pledge, Johnson decommitted from the Cyclones on Oct. 9, and days later, he officially visited the Longhorns for the Baylor game.
#HookEm pic.twitter.com/4vaMbFOXWY— Caleb Johnson (@CalebJohnsun) October 15, 2018
Just as the Longhorns looked to be separating themselves in Johnson’s recruitment, however, Oregon jumped into the mix with an offer on Oct. 21. As you may know by now, Johnson grew up as a Ducks fan on the west coast, and much like the Longhorns, Oregon has an immediate need for Johnson’s services with Kaulana Apelu graduating.
That’s a point that was likely hammered away days ago during his Oregon official visit on Nov. 30, and then emphasized from the Texas point of view yet again during an in-home visit on Dec. 4. Johnson’s Crystal Ball expects Texas to take the cake, and understandably so, but with how close this recruitment is down the stretch, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Johnson does opt to sign with Oregon.
In any case, Texas has reason to feel confident about its current standing with Johnson, who will have three years of eligibility remaining.
Joining Johnson as a premier defensive prospect still available is Mansfield Legacy safety Jalen Catalon, a two-sport athlete who plans to play both, baseball and football at the program of his choosing. Similar to Johnson, Catalon’s recruitment appears to be a two-horse race; this time around, between Texas and Arkansas.
Throughout the spring and the summer, it seemed as if it would be a surprise if Catalon took his talents anywhere other than Texas, but momentum has shifted in recent months, as Arkansas now holds each of his last four Crystal Ball projections, despite the on-field struggles, Arkansas is largely considered the team to beat at this juncture — momentum that began mounting after his Oct. 6 official visit. It certainly can’t hurt Arkansas’ argument that Catalon’s teammate, three-star edge rusher Taurean Carter, is currently committed as well.
However, with Catalon aiming to wait his recruitment out and continue the process until late January, Texas has plenty of time to keep Catalon close to home, and the staff is working to do just that. On Tuesday, Herman and safeties coach Craig Naivar stopped by for an in-home visit with the four-star safety, after after numerous previous trips, Catalon is set to return to the Forty Acres for his final official visit in the coming weeks.
Appreciate the visit from @CoachTomHerman and @Coach_Naivar today! Much love— Jalen Catalon (@jcatalon27) December 5, 2018
Texas currently holds a pair of cornerback pledges and and another pair of safety commitments, but Catalon boasts tremendous potential as a nickel back in Todd Orlando’s lighting dime package, which is a position Texas doesn’t yet have a long-term answer at with P.J. Locke III set to graduate.
If Texas can close with Catalon, he would serve as the cherry atop a second elite defensive back class in as many cycles, but the Horns will need a convincing official visit to do so.
Where’s the beef, you may ask?
Offensive line coach Herb Hand and the Horns are still in pursuit of key offensive line targets down the stretch; namely, Isaiah Hookfin.
A late-rising prospect, Hookfin didn’t pick up his first offer until late April, but now holds 21 invitations and has a top 10 featuring Texas Tech, Baylor, Auburn, and Minnesota. The Longhorns are, of course, among those in the mix, and as Hookfin recently told Burnt Orange Nation following his Texas visit on Nov. 3, “Texas stands very high on my list.”
Though Texas already holds a pair of offensive tackle pledges from elite Conroe Oak Ridge product Tyler Johnson and Houston North Forest steamroller Javonne Shepherd, the Longhorns are projected to land Hookfin in the coming weeks, as his Crystal Ball sits at 91 percent in favor of Texas. A tremendously high-ceiling prospect who’s seemingly just scratching the surface of his potential, Hookfin is aiming to return to campus on Dec. 14 before making his decision.
Barring a surprise, it’s safe to say Hookfin will likely side with Texas shortly thereafter.
While Hookfin may be the most notable name along the offensive line, there are other options down the stretch, including a name most may not know just yet — Tommy Kennedy.
A graduate transfer offensive tackle out of Butler, Kennedy doesn’t yet hold a Texas offer, but he was contacted by Hand on Tuesday and the Longhorns offensive line coach will stop by for an in-home visit on Thursday, Kennedy told Burnt Orange Nation’s Wescott Eberts.
“I kind of want to get a vibe from him,” Kennedy said of his expectations for the meeting. “This is a very short window for me to decide on schools, so I kind of have to talk to him and see how he interacts with me to see if we would be a good fit for each other, culture-wise, too, because that’s really important to me when I’m looking at a school. The culture, him, his team, how he is — everything that really plays into my decision making. I have to have a good relationship with the coach because I’m only going to have a short amount of time together.”
At this time a few week ago, Kennedy was largely a low-profile prospect with few offers in hand. Fast forward to Dec. 6 and he suddenly owns major invitations from the likes of Miami, Missouri, Cincinnati, Arizona, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma, among others, and he’s receiving interest from Florida State, and now Texas. If Texas does push and puts an offer on the table, the Horns would seemingly be in a prime position to pick up a pledge from the potential plug-and-play offensive tackle.
“There’s no school like Texas and Austin is an amazing city, too,” Kennedy told BON.
Blessed to be able to visit such prestigious universities pic.twitter.com/IZcvMHq8rd— Tommy Kennedy (@TommyKennedy74) December 6, 2018
Similarly, Texas is showing interest in a pair of experienced offensive linemen in JUCO products Myron Cunningham and Jay Williams; both of whom have received recent visits from the Texas staff, as Wescott Eberts detailed:
By Sunday, Herman was in Waterloo, Iowa at a junior college game when he joined the Sugar Bowl teleconference. Herman was in Iowa to watch Iowa Central CC offensive tackle Myron Cunningham, a prospect Herman wants to get on campus before Cunningham signs on December 19. Cunningham took an official visit to Oklahoma in mid-November and plans on taking an official visit to Arkansas next weekend, leaving only one visit weekend before he makes his decision.
On Monday, co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Herb Hand was in California visiting with Grossmont College offensive tackle Jay Williams.
Of the two, only Cunningham has an offer in hand thus far, but getting him to campus prior to his National Signing Day will, of course, be imperative. The good news to that end is Cunningham was expected to utilize his final official visit on a trip to Texas, per Horn Sports’ Harrison Wier, though it would have to take place just days before the early signing period, as he’s slated to officially visit Arkansas this weekend. There hasn’t been any public news about that since Herman visited Cunningham last weekend.
Williams will continue his official visit tour this weekend as well. A three-star prospect, Williams visited Indiana last weekend and will be in Austin this weekend ahead of his final official visit to Florida State on Dec. 14.
I’ll be in Austin, Texas this weekend! #ThisIsTexas#HookEm #fUTure19 pic.twitter.com/CuAHSuzTzg— Jay Williams (@KingJay_07) December 4, 2018
With Williams aiming to sign in the coming weeks and become an early enrollee, the Longhorns may need to seal the deal during his trip to the Forty Acres, as Florida State will have the final say and the Seminoles sorely need experienced talent in the trenches going forward. As of Thursday evening, there was plenty of apparent moment for the Noles.
Of course, per usual, other names will likely arise if and when key targets take their talents elsewhere. But on the surface, Texas is firmly in the mix with at least nine notable targets — Lewis excluded, as detailed above — in hopes to filling seven or eight remaining roster spots.
Ideally, what would that final haul feature? If Texas gets its way, McCoy would become a Longhorn, as would one of Cain or Sanders. Higgins would stay close to home, and much like Texas hopes for with McCoy, Johnson would also spurn a childhood dream school and side with Texas over Oregon. A late official visit will prove momentum enough to swing Catalon’s recruitment back in the Longhorns’ favor, while Hookfin’s trend to Texas would hold form, providing Hand with another tremendously high-ceiling offensive tackle prospect, and at least one of the JUCO or grad transfer tackle options would join him.