Texas inks 21 players on early signing day

AUSTIN – Texas and its fans across the nation received an early Christmas present on Wednesday. A bevy of highly-regarded high school seniors and junior college players signed and submitted official letters of intent to accept scholarships and join the Longhorns.

On the Forty Acres, the Texas football program’s haul was better than most, signing 21 players – 11 of them from out of state – in what’s being ranked as a top 10 national class. Nineteen of the players are coming to Austin out of high school, with the other two taking the junior college route.

The group is headed by wide receiver Jake Smith, the 2018 National Gatorade Player of the Year from Scottsdale, Ariz., linebacker Caleb Johnson from Fullerton (Cal.) Community College, linebacker De’Gabriel Floyd of Westlake Village, Cal. and quarterback Roschon Johnson of Port Neches-Groves in Texas’ Golden Triangle.

Collectively the class, which still could have as many as five more signees either in the early signing period that ends Friday and/or on Feb. 6 on the traditional National Signing Day, has been ranked ninth in the nation and second-best in the Big 12 Conference, behind only Oklahoma (eighth).

Alabama’s haul of players was ranked first by ESPN and Texas A&M’s class landed in third place.

“There's not a head coach in America that stands up on signing day and says, ‘You know what, we're really disappointed,’” Texas coach Tom Herman said on Thursday after a hectic fortnight of recruiting trips following the Big 12 Championship Game. “With most of the top players in the country are now signing on this early signing day to have two weeks to get into all those homes is pretty difficult.”

A beaming Herman continued lavishing praise on his new ‘Horns.

“But it's nice that I can tell you how excited we are and have it really resonate. We've signed 21 guys that are, without question, culture fits in our program with great support systems, great families, and guys that are tremendous players,” Herman said. “We're not done yet.”

The Longhorns’ biggest needs were at defensive line (Texas loses all three starters from this year’s team), wide receiver (four Longhorns at the position will be seniors next year), and linebacker (where Texas has been thin the past two years and where both starters are out of eligibility after the Sugar Bowl).

Texas filled those spots with four signed players at each position, and added four defensive backs, two tight ends, a running back, a quarterback and an offensive lineman.

The defensive line signees were: Jacoby Jones, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior college transfer from Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan.; Peter Mpagi, a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder from Richmond; T’Vondre Sweat, a 6-foot-4, 285-pounder from Huntsville; and, Myron Warren, a6-foot-2, 240-pounder from Many, Louisiana.

Linebackers signed by the Longhorns on Wednesday were: Floyd (6-foot-4, 220 pounds); David Gbenda, a 6-foot-2, 200 pounder from Katy; Caleb Johnson (6-oof-1, 220 pounds); and, Marcus Tillman Jr., a 6-foot-1, 210-pounder from Orlando, Fla.

Wide receivers heading to Austin are: Kennedy Lewis, a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder from Melissa; Smith (6-foot, 185 pounds); Marcus Washington, a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder from St. Louis, Mo.; and, Jordan Whittington, a 6-foot-1, 205-pounder from Cuero.

The four players signed as the next group to enter DBU are: Chris Adimora, a 6-foot-1, 190-pounder from Lakewood, Cal.; Marques Caldwell, 6-foot-1, 185 pounds from Alvin; Tyler Owens, a 6-foot 2, 205-pounder from Plano; and, Kenyatta Watson II, a 6-foot-2, 180-pounder from Loganville, Ga.

The two tight ends in the class are Brayden Liebrock, a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder from Chandler, Ariz.; and, Jared Wiley, who goes at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds and hails from Temple.

The running back in the class is Derrian Brown, a 5-foot-10, 180-pounder from Buford, Ga. Roschon Johnson, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound dual-threat quarterback, gives Texas five players on scholarship behind center. Tyler Johnson, the Longhorns’ only offensive line signee, is listed at 6 foot-5 and at 310 pounds.

While it seems from the outside that recruiting cycle is hectic, with a whirlwind of activity in the final days, Herman said most of the work is done in advance of the late push.

“The recruitment of these guys starts sometimes as early as when they're freshmen, but usually when they're sophomores,” Herman explained. “That's where your relationships with the high school coaches, the relationships with principals, counselors, the people that really know these young men, then you get to know their families, their support system.”

“Probably the biggest tell is on their official visit when they spend 48 hours around our players away from us coaches, then we have our players kind of report back to us and say, ‘Would this guy fit in our locker room? Would you like to play with this guy?,’” Herman added. “Obviously all of these guys got rave reviews.”

Nine players in the class – Floyd, all three Johnsons, Jones, Mpagi, Tillman Jr., Whittington, and Wiley – are early enrollees and will be with the team when they start Spring practice in a few months.

Herman said his team’s needs and the talent level across Texas affected the number of players the Longhorns signed from outside the Lone Star State.

“As I've said, and I think every high school coach in the state knows our philosophy, if there are 25 national championship-caliber players in the state of Texas that want to come to Texas, that's what we're going to fill our roster with,” Herman said.

“When there aren't, when those criteria aren't met, and you have to go outside the state to find national championship-caliber players, then it does say something about the respect of the brand that is the University of Texas, that these kids have grown up watching some of the great teams and programs in Texas' history.”

Steve Habel

Steve Habel is a senior contributing writer for Horns Illustrated. He has covered Texas sports since 1989 and was this magazine’s senior editor for 24 years. You can follow him on twitter @stevehabel .

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