When Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012, the floodgates opened for schools like Alabama, Georgia and Auburn to plunge into Texas to sign top high school recruits.
Those SEC powers and other high profile football programs like Ohio State, USC and Florida State have always recruited Texas. But the Aggies gave their SEC brethren a new avenue to Texas’ schoolboy stars.
The Big 12 fought back this year, and the main reason is the remarkable class first-year Texas Longhorns coach Tom Herman has pieced together.
The Longhorns signed the nation’s No. 3 class during the NCAA’s new early signing period in December, ranking behind only Georgia and Ohio State in Rivals.com’s rankings.
Texas hauled in the top six players in Rivals’ Texas Top 100, including four defensive backs and two receivers. After signing 19 players in December, the Longhorns are expected to put even more polish on their class when the traditional NCAA signing day arrives Feb. 7.
“This is all uncharted territory for everybody in America, but we feel like we’ve taken a very, very important first step in our 2018 class,” said Herman at his December signing day press conference. “We signed some unbelievable young men, some great players. I can’t thank the Texas high school coaches enough for opening their doors and arms figuratively for us and our staff from the time we got here.”
Herman offered hints of his recruiting prowess by signing some talented players in the 2017 class after he replaced Charlie Strong in November 2016. But with a full year to recruit, Herman and his staff showed just how willing top Texas recruits are to play for the Longhorns.
“Tom Herman and his staff made some pushes late last year,” said Nick Krueger, the Texas state recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “All that positive momentum really materialized in the 2018 class. The brand of Texas is so strong. It has a nostalgic connection for a lot of people who have rooted for Texas for so long, This is sort of the impact we all expected Herman to make after coming over from Houston.”
Rated No. 50 nationally, Texas A&M’s recruiting was damaged by Kevin Sumlin’s shaky coaching situation throughout the summer and fall followed by his eventual firing. New Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher will try to make up some ground before the February signing date.
While Texas has made the biggest splash among Big 12 schools, Baylor coach Matt Rhule has continued to impress observers with his recruiting efforts. Though the Bears finished 1-11 in Rhule’s debut season, Baylor signed 21 players in December to rank 20th nationally in Rivals’ national team rankings.
The only Big 12 schools that ranks ahead of Baylor are Texas and No. 6 Oklahoma.
“They were smart to bring in coaches with Texas ties like Joey McGuire (from Cedar Hill High School) who could sell kids on the program’s effort to turn things around,” Krueger said. “Even when the news came out about Coach Rhule interviewing with the (Indianapolis) Colts, the staff got out in front and let the kids know it wasn’t as serious as the media would have you to believe.”
The Longhorns’ class is headed by Rivals’ No. 1 player in Texas, cornerback Anthony Cook from Houston Lamar. He’s joined by No. 2-ranked B.J. Foster, a safety from Angleton; No. 3 Brennan Eagles, a wide receiver from Alief Taylor; No. 4 Jalen Green, a cornerback from Houston Heights; No. 5 Caden Sterns, a safety from Cibolo Steele; and No. 6 Al’Vonte Woodard, a receiver from Houston Lamar.
Cook is a 6-1, 190-pound cornerback who chose Texas over schools like Alabama, Georgia and Clemson.
“He’s what you want in a cornerback from a physical standpoint,” Krueger said. “He’s good in coverage and isn’t afraid to come up and help in run support and make a hit.”
Foster was a highly recruited safety who played running back for Angleton last season.
“It will be interesting to see what happens with Foster,” Krueger said. “He was injured as a junior and then came back and played running back last season. We saw him at the Under Armour (All-American) game and he had a lot of rust. But he doesn’t get flustered and doesn’t make bad decisions. He’s got a lot of natural ability.”
Green is another tall cornerback who stands 6-2 but will likely need to put some weight on his 165-pound frame. Sterns gained a reputation as a studious, versatile player for Cibolo Steele.
“Green is another tall cornerback who can jam guys at the line and turn and run with them,” Krueger said. “He could play cornerback or safety because he doesn’t shy away from contact. Sterns is a safety but he could also play cornerback. He’s a student of the game. He’s always asking questions.”
The 6-4, 214-pound Eagles will give the Longhorns a tall, rangy receiver with outstanding speed. Woodard also has good size at 6-2 and 180 pounds and will bring versatility to the Longhorns’ receiving corps.
“Brennan lets his play speak for itself and he’ll bring something to the Longhorns’ offense they don’t have right now,” Krueger said. “Woodard can line up inside or outside. He’s got great concentration and can catch deep passes and win the jump balls.”
If landing the top four defensive backs wasn’t enough, Texas also signed two more highly rated players in the secondary: No. 20 D’Shawn Jamison, a cornerback from Houston Lamar, and No. 21 DeMarvion Overshown, a safety from Arp.
The Longhorns signed the state’s top tight end in Spring Dekaney’s Malcolm Epps, who also had offers from schools like Auburn, Florida State and Georgia.
Rockwall linebacker Alston Orji is the only player among Rivals’ top 10 Texas recruits who signed NCAA letters of intent in December that isn’t headed to Austin. Ranked No. 8 in the state, Orji signed with Vanderbilt.
Texas still has a shot to sign a pair of highly touted receivers in February: No. 7-rated Jaylen Waddle from Houston Episcopal and No. 8 Jalen Preston from Manvel. Though Preston committed to Texas A&M, he’s reportedly scheduled to visit Texas on Feb. 2.
While the top 2018 Texas high school recruits are heavy on defensive backs and receivers, only three offensive lineman rank in Rivals’ top 25: No. 11 Oklahoma signee Darrell Simpson of Justin Northwest, No. 18 Texas A&M signee Luke Matthews of Fort Bend Elkins, and No. 23 LSU signee Chasen Hines of Marshall.
The top rated Texas quarterback is Denton Ryan’s Spencer Sanders, an Oklahoma State signee who is ranked No. 36 by Rivals. Midway’s Tanner Mordecai is ranked No. 76 and is headed to Oklahoma.
“Sanders is a real fluid thrower,” Krueger said. “What I like about him is his unflappable attitude. He doesn’t get rattled by things going on around him.”