Texas football head coach Tom Herman finally got back on the practice field with his team Wednesday … but not until he got to announce the addition of 19 future Longhorns.
“What a great group of young men we signed,” Herman said. “All of the guys we signed, we feel like, are our kind of guys … These are all guys that fit our profile, of not just the tangible makeup of height, weight, 40 time, vertical jump — all that good stuff — but also, who are they? What’s their character? Are they a team captain? Are they from a winning program? These guys all check the box.”
Eight are offensive players, nine are defensive players, one is a punter and one, Ja’tavion Sanders, is such a decorated athlete that Herman admitted Sanders “will play both sides of the ball here at Texas. In what capacity — we haven’t quote ironed that out just yet. We’ve got time to figure that out, but we feel like he’s too good of a talent not to.”
The class includes 12 players who played their high school ball in Texas, as well as three from Louisiana, and one each from Florida, Colorado, California and Australia. One, defensive back Darion Dunn, is a transfer from McNeese, joining 18 freshmen in the class. Herman identified nine — wide receiver Jaden Alexis, defensive back JD Coffey, offensive lineman Hayden Connor, linebacker Terrence Cooks, tight end Juan Davis, Derrick Harris, tight end Gunnar Helm, Jamier Johnson and Dunn — who will enroll at Texas in January, allowing them to begin learning the UT offense and defense and participate in spring practice.
Herman said the players who signed Wednesday are “just the beginning of the class of 2021. I would imagine there would be some more additions throughout January and February in that spring signing period, as well.”
The players who signed Wednesday with Texas:
Wide receiver Jaden Alexis (5-11 / 185) — Pompano Beach (Monarch), Florida.
An all-county and all-district selection … a PrepStar All-Midlands Region selection ... elected not to play in the 2020 season … named first-team All-County by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, and second-team All-Broward 8A-6A by The Miami Herald in 2019 … pulled in 49 receptions for 894 yards and eight touchdowns, while also rushing for one touchdown as a junior … also played defense and recorded one interception … posted six 100-yard receiving games … Also participated in track and field in high school … holds personal-bests of 10.75 in the 100-meter dash and 22.27 in the 200-meter dash ... his father, Rich, was a running back who played college football at the University of Washington and is tied for seventh on the school career rushing touchdowns list with 28, he also went on to play in the NFL for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the St. Louis Rams.
Linebacker Morice Blackwell Jr. (6-1 / 200) — Arlington (Martin), Texas
An All-America, all-state and two-time all-district honoree … selected for the 2021 Under Armour All-America Game … also played safety and participated on special teams at Martin … listed as the No. 2 linebacker and No. 20 overall in the Area Top 50 by the Dallas Morning News … rated No. 46 on the Austin American-Statesman's Fab 55 … ranked the No. 4 outside linebacker and No. 77 overall in the state by Dave Campbell's Texas Football … a PrepStar Top 350 All-American ... in eight games in 2020, has registered 78 tackles, eight tackles for loss, one sack, two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown, one forced fumble and two rushing touchdowns as a senior … a second-team honoree on Dave Campbell's Texas Football Super Team in 2020 … selected honorable mention All-State 6A by the Associated Press and Texas Sports Writers Association in 2019 … chosen unanimous District MVP and first-team All-District 4-6A … tabbed first-team All-Area … also competed in Track and Field as a high-jumper and sprinter.
“(He) could probably, except for down lineman … could probably play every position on the field,” Herman said.
Running back Jonathon Brooks (6-0 / 190 — Hallettsville, Texas
An all-state honoree and district MVP … ranked the No. 6 running back and No. 54 overall in the state by Dave Campbell's Texas Football … named a top-10 finalist for Dave Campbell's “Mr. Texas High School Football Player of the Year” in 2020 ... a PrepStar All-Midlands Region selection ... has rushed for 3,215 yards and 59 touchdowns on 262 carries (12.3 yards per carry) as a senior … helped Hallettsville reach the championship game for the first time in its history, and the semifinals for the first time since 1976 … named second-team 3A All-State as both a running back and a punter by the Texas Sports Writers Association, while also honorable mention 3A All-State as a running back and to the first team as a punter by the Associated Press in 2019 … chosen overall District MVP and first-team All-District 14-3A … also punted 20 times with a 42.3 average and a long of 71 … helped Hallettsville to an 11-3 overall record, including a 4-1 district mark, and an appearance in the 3A state quarterfinals in 2019 … selected first-team All-District 14-3A as a running back and to the second team as a punter in 2018… also was a first-team All-District basketball player.
Herman: “Jonathon Brooks, we believe and have believed for a long time, (is a player) that belongs in the elite class and tier of running backs in this class of 2021. You look at his numbers … over 3,000 yards rushing and [nearly] 60 touchdowns in his senior season. Probably the most important statistic: Hallettsville was 3-7 his sophomore year, and Jonathon’s got them playing in the state championship game for the first time in school history.”
Wide receiver Casey Cain (6-3 / 180) —New Orleans (Warren Easton), Louisiana
An all-region honoree … listed in the top 10 of New Orleans area recruits in 2020 ... a PrepStar All-Southeast Region selection … anchored an offense that has scored at least 20 points in all 11 games this season, including five games with at least 35 points … helped Easton to a 11-3 overall record, including a 3-1 district mark, and an appearance in the LHSAA Non-Select Prep 4A state title game in 2018 where Easton fell to Edna Carr by eight points, 28-20 … a three-sport athlete in football, basketball and track and field … competed in the 200 meters, 110-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles and triple jump.
Says Herman: “We are extremely excited about his potential in the red zone, as a big target down there.”
Defensive back JD Coffey III (6-0 / 180) — Kennedale, Texas
An All-America and three-time all-state honoree and district defensive MVP … selected for the 2021 Under Armour All-America Game … named a finalist for the 2020 SI All-American team … finished his career with 313 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, 19 interceptions, 25 pass breakups and 10 touchdowns … listed No. 32 on the Austin American-Statesman's Fab 55 … chosen as the top safety in the area and No. 9 overall by the Dallas Morning News … ranked the No. 2 safety and No. 43 overall in the state by Dave Campbell's Texas Football … a PrepStar Top 350 All-American ... recorded 104 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and five interceptions as a senior as part of defense that allowed just 11.6 points per game, including three consecutive shutouts … a first-team honoree on Dave Campbell's Texas Football Super Team in 2020 … also tabbed second-team all-state as a kick returner and third team as a defensive back by the Texas Sports Writers Association … named defensive MVP and first-team All-District 6-4A Division 1.
“Every week, when you watch his film, it’s highlight-worthy hits,” Herman said, “and I know he’s going to be roaming the secondary for a while, here at DKR, imposing his will on some of those receivers coming across the middle.”
Offensive lineman Hayden Conner (6-5 / 315) — Katy (Taylor), Texas
A two-time all-district honoree and four-year varsity letterman … named a finalist for the 2020 SI All-American team … listed No. 38 on the Austin American-Statesman's Fab 55 … ranked the No. 4 offensive guard and No. 55 overall in the state by Dave Campbell's Texas Football ... a PrepStar All-Midlands Region selection ... tallied 49 pancake blocks in a shortened nine-game regular season as a senior … anchored the line for an offense that averaged 32.3 points per game.
“I don’t think he’d weighed under 200 pounds since his fifth-grade year, or something like that,” Herman said. “He started off playing tight end in high school, so you can tell the natural athletic ability is there — obviously grew in to an offensive tackle … [We’re] really excited about his versatility.”
Linebacker Terrence Cooks II (6-2 / 210) — Pearland (Shadow Creek), Texas
A two-time all-district honoree and member of Shadow Creek's undefeated 2019 5A Division 1 State Championship team … listed No. 44 on the Austin American-Statesman's Fab 55 … ranked No. 211 nationally, No. 24 among outside linebackers and No. 36 in the state of Texas by ESPN … ranked the No. 2 inside linebacker and No. 48 overall in the state by Dave Campbell's Texas Football … a PrepStar Top 350 All-American ... recorded 55 tackles, including 33 solo stops, four tackles for loss, two sacks, four pressures and a forced fumble as a senior in a shortened seven-game season … part of a defense that allowed 14.3 points per game, including three consecutive shutouts followed by a six-point game … His father (Terrence Cooks Sr.) played linebacker at Nicholls State and in the NFL for the New England Patriots.
Tight end Juan Davis (6-4 / 215) Fort Worth (Everman), Texas
An all-district quarterback in high school … slotted at No. 49 among athletes and No. 102 in the state of Texas by ESPN ranked the No. 3 athlete and No. 60 overall in the state by Dave Campbell's Texas Football ... a PrepStar All-Midlands Region selection ... was a quarterback and receiver in high school … has caught 39 passes for 766 yards (19.6 ypc) and seven touchdowns, and rushed for 778 yards and 11 touchdowns on 98 carries (7.8 ypc) in 11 games this season … also competed in track and field … competed in the 200 meters, triple jump, 4x200-meter relay and 4x400-meter relay … logged a 24-second 200-meter dash and 43-foot triple jump as a sophomore in the spring of 2019.
“We believe Juan is one of the best players in the country at his position,” Herman said. “Obviously, he played his senior year at quarterback, and has played wide receiver, running back, defensive end, linebacker, defensicve back — you name it. [He is a] big athlete with great movement skills, who can go up and get it. We’re really excited to see what Coach (Yancy) McKnight and our strength and conditioning staff can do with that frame and athletic ability.
Defensive back Darion Dunn (6-1 / 192) — Oakdale, Louisiana (McNeese/Oakdale)
Elected to transfer from McNeese in August 2020 … named to the 2021 Reese's Senior Bowl Top 250 Watch List … earned 2020 Preseason HERO Sports FCS All-American third team honors … selected 2020 Preseason All-Southland Conference 1st Team … appeared in 29 games at McNeese, making 23 starts, and recorded 83 tackles, seven interceptions and 20 pass breakups … tabbed first-team All-Southland Conference in 2019 … also ran hurdles with the track and field team at McNeese and won a bronze medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the Southland Conference Outdoor Championships … finished third in the 60-meter hurdles at the SLC Indoor Track Championships in both 2018 and 2019, before setting a school record and winning the event in 2020 with a time of 7.89 seconds … was named to the SLC Commissioner's 2017 Fall Academic Honor Roll
Linebacker Derrick Harris Jr. (6-2 / 215) —
New Caney, Texas
A two-time all-state and all-district honoree … ranked No. 190 nationally, No. 20 among outside linebackers and No. 32 in the state of Texas by ESPN … ranked the No. 3 outside linebacker and No. 63 overall in the state by Dave Campbell's Texas Football ... helped lead New Caney to the state playoffs in 2020 … a first-team honoree on Dave Campbell's Texas Football Super Team in 2020 … a PrepStar Top 350 All-American ... also swam in high school.
“Derrick missed his senior year due to injury, but is still someone we are extremely, extremely excited about. “DJ” is actually a competitive swimmer. I’m sure (Texas swimming coach) Eddie Reese will be calling me at any moment to get the 411 on DJ and his competitive swimming, but I know in my time at Texas, probably in my time as a coach, he’s probably the first signee that we’ve had that is a competitive swimmer.
Tight end Gunnar Helm (6-5 / 230) — Englewood (Cherry Creek), Colorado
An All-Centennial League performer from the state of Colorado ... ranked No. 15 at his position and No. 7 in the state of Colorado by ESPN … helped lead Cherry Creek to back-to-back state titles and 23-straight wins over his final two seasons … was named a first-team All-Centennial League selection in 2020 ... caught 28 passes for 367 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior … also played basketball.
Defensive back Jamier Johnson (6-0 / 170) — Pasadena (Muir), California
A two-time all-league and all-area honoree who played both ways on offense and defense in high school … slotted at No. 287 nationally, No. 17 among cornerbacks and No. 25 in the state of California by ESPN … has not played in 2020 so far, with John Muir expected to play a spring schedule due to the COVID-19 global health crisis … a PrepStar Top 350 All-American ... logged 32 total tackles (27 solo), three tackles for loss, four interceptions, one pass breakup and one forced fumble as a junior … also blocked one punt and blocked one field goal … helped Northview to a 7-4 overall record, including a 4-1 league mark, and an appearance in the first round of the Southern Section Division 8 playoffs in 2017.
“[We’re] really excited about his length and athleticism,” Herman said. “He plays extremely physical for a defensive back. That’s one of the things that we were really drawn to — his physicality. He has impacted the game on both sides of the football.”
Offensive lineman Max Merril (6-4 / 280) — Houston (Strake Jesuit), Texas
A first-team all-district performer … ranked No. 66 among offensive tackles and No. 123 in the state of Texas by ESPN … a PrepStar All-Midlands Region selection … battled injuries but anchored a Strake Jesuit offensive line that rushed for 1,869 yards on 316 carries (5.9 ypc) in 2020 … the Fighting Crusaders also scored 17 touchdowns on the ground and averaged 207.7 rushing yards per game … helped the Fighting Crusaders finish with a 10-3 record and reached the third round of the Texas 6A D2 state playoffs.
Defensive lineman Byron Murphy II (6-1 / 295) — DeSoto, Texas
An all-state and all-district honoree and four-year varsity letterman … slotted at No. 33 among his position and No. 73 in the state of Texas by ESPN … ranked the No. 2 defensive tackle and No. 36 overall in the state by Dave Campbell's Texas Football … rated No. 19 in the Dallas Morning News Area Top 100 ... a PrepStar All-Midlands Region selection … has compiled 57 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, eight pressures, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble as a senior … helped DeSoto to a 9-3 overall record, including a 5-2 district mark, and an appearance in the 6A Division 1 area playoffs in 2018.
Punter Isaac Pearson (6-2 / 215) — Newcastle (University of Newcastle), Australia
Played Australian rules football until 19 years old then moved to Melbourne, Australia, to train in American football … trained with Prokick Australia … joins current junior punter Ryan Bujcevski and 2017 Ray Guy Award winner Michael Dickson as Prokick Australia alums to sign with Texas.
“Obviously, we’ve had tremendous success, both here and other places, going down to Prokick to find our punters, and we expect Isaac to be much the same,” Herman said. “This is a guy that was working as a mechanic … in a coal mine when he was approached by Prokick, and trained with those guys for a year or two, and now we’re excited to see him enroll in January.”
Athlete Ja'tavion Sanders (6-4 / 220) — Denton (Ryan), Texas
An All-America, all-state and two-time all-district honoree … selected for the 2021 Under Armour All-America Game … named a finalist for the 2020 SI All-American team … chosen as a finalist for the 2020 Mr. Texas Football award … ranked No. 13 nationally, No. 2 among athletes and No. 2 in the state of Texas by ESPN … ranked the top defensive end and No. 3 overall in the state by Dave Campbell's Texas Football … tabbed mid-season 5A co-Player of the Year by the Dallas Morning News in 2020 … rated No. 2 in the Dallas Morning News Area Top 100 … a PrepStar Top 150 Dream Team selection ... a first-team honoree on Dave Campbell's Texas Football Super Team in 2020 … helped Ryan to a 14-1 overall record, including an undefeated regular season and a 6-0 district mark and title, and an appearance in the 5A Division 1 state semifinals in 2017 … also played basketball at Ryan.
“You’re going to run out of superlatives talking about JT,” Herman said. “We are extremely excited about him and the versatility that he brings on both sides of the ball. He will play both sides of the ball here at Texas. In what capacity — we haven’t quote ironed that out just yet. We’ve got time to figure that out, but we feel like he’s too good of a talent not to. (He) routinely makes game-changing plays.”
Defensive lineman Barryn Sorrell (6-3 / 250) New Orleans (Holy Cross), Louisiana
An academic all-state honoree and all-district selection who played defensive end, defensive tackle and tight end during his high school career … ranked the No. 94 defensive end nationally and No. 28 overall in Louisiana by ESPN … listed No. 13 among the 2020 Top 50 New Orleans area recruits … named an iHigh Great American Rivalry Series scholar-athlete in 2020 … tabbed a 5A Academic All-State honoree … named first-team All-District 9-5A … holds a 4.6 GPA at Holy Cross.
Defensive lineman Jordon Thomas (6-3 / 240) — Port Arthur (Memorial), Texas
An all-district honoree … named a finalist for the 2020 SI All-American team … rated No. 222 nationally, the No. 23 defensive end and No. 40 in Texas by ESPN … ranked the No. 5 defensive end and No. 38 overall in the state by Dave Campbell's Texas Football … listed No. 25 on the Austin American-Statesman's Fab 55 … a PrepStar Top 350 All-American ... recorded 65 tackles, including 19 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, two pass breakups, two forced fumbles, one blocked punt and one blocked field goal as a senior … helped Memorial to a 9-1 record overall with an undefeated regular season, including a 7-0 district mark and title, and an appearance in the 5A Division 1 bi-district playoffs in 2020 … a third-team honoree on Dave Campbell's Texas Football Super Team in 2020 … missed his junior season in 2019 with an ankle injury.
“We feel like he can play a bunch of positions up front,” Herman said. “He will start off at defensive end, but we feel like he could play all four positions — well, maybe not nose, but a multitude of positions up front (and) he could fill in, maybe, at the JACK position, as well.”
Quarterback Charles Wright (6-1 / 195) — Austin, Texas
An academic all-state and two-time all-district honoree who was a four-year varsity letterman … ranked the No. 12 quarterback and No. 99 overall in the state by Dave Campbell's Texas Football ... a PrepStar All-Midlands Region selection ... finished his high school career with more than 8,000 passing yards and 80 passing touchdowns … named second-team 6A Academic All-State by the Texas High School Coaches Association in 2020 … completed 222-of-345 passes for 2,759 yards and 35 touchdowns with nine interceptions rushed 112 times for 442 yards and five touchdowns in just nine games as a senior … also played lacrosse at Austin High School.