LSU was considered the nation’s best team for the majority of this past season.
The Tigers fell to Alabama in the national title game but still had a much better season than Texas, who capped off an 8-5 season with a win over California at the Holiday Bowl.
But on Signing Day, it was the Longhorns that beat out LSU. Four-star defensive end Torshiro Davis, who had been committed to play for the Tigers since last February, changed his mind and decided to sign with Texas Wednesday.
Davis’ last-second change of heart, however, was not an isolated incident. Mack Brown and his coaching staff poached prospects from several different programs, most of which have been more recently successful than the Longhorns, who are 13-12 over the last two seasons. That 13-12 mark has been used to ridicule the UT Board of Regents’ unanimous decision last week to extend Brown’s contract four years through 2020. But the fact that Brown was able to reel in a recruiting class ranked among the top five in the nation, despite that 13-12 record, should be a sign that the extension was justified.
“I’m more excited than I think I’ve ever been,” Brown said. “I didn’t like what happened two years ago. I’m sure excited about what happened this year, even though it’s not what we want. It’s headed back in the right direction.”
Texas is used to racking up commitments early in the recruiting process, and this year was no different: The Longhorns picked up 12 pledges last February. But the 10 commitments Texas got since the beginning of last December were uncharacteristic, particularly the four that reneged from one school to play for the Longhorns this past weekend.
Van middle linebacker Dalton Santos, who committed to Tennessee in August, decided Saturday to play for Texas. Hendrickson High School’s Daje Johnson, who will play both running back and wide receiver, backed down from TCU the following day to sign with Texas, and Plano West defensive end Bryce Cottrell snubbed Oregon and chose to commit to Texas the day after that.
“Some of the guys told the schools they committed to that ‘if Texas comes back, I’m going,’” Brown said. “Our coaches did the best job since I’ve been here of keeping in touch with kids.”
Brown also resorted to other tactics, such as signing junior college transfers and out-of-state players, to compile another top-notch recruiting class. Before this year, only two players came from the junior college ranks to Texas during Brown’s tenure. The Longhorns doubled that total by picking up offensive tackle Donald Hawkins and defensive tackle Brandon Moore. Meanwhile, Texas signed four players from outside Texas, including junior college transfers Hawkins from Tunica, Miss. and Moore from Montgomery, Ala., with quarterback Connor Brewer from Scottsdale, Ariz. and Davis from Shreveport, La. being the other two.
“The junior college thing is different,” Brown said. “But we’ve recruited out of state about every year. And we haven’t gotten many. The ones that we’ve gotten, by and large, have had ties to the University. We’ve had some great out-of-state players.”
Thanks to Brown’s willingness to try new things and incorporate different philosophies, Texas is well on its way to restoring its football program back to the days of perennial national-title contention and double-digit win totals. It’s recruiting classes like this one that warrant contract extensions.
“I think I’m the luckiest coach in the United States,” Brown said. “[Men’s athletic director DeLoss Dodds and President Bill Powers] want me to be the football coach here. And they want me to do it was as long as I can do it and as long as I’m having fun and being productive.”
The 13-12 record the Longhorns have posted over their last two seasons stand out like a sore thumb. Texas can’t have two more seasons like that. But in the social media crazed what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society we live in, it’s hard to realize that past successes really do matter. Because if not for the 128 wins and 12 consecutive nine-win seasons before the 2010 debacle, Texas would not have signed the outstanding recruiting class it did Wednesday.
“These guys were in the fifth grade when we won the national championship and they all remember where they were and what they were doing,” the longtime Longhorns head coach said. “Those years still have a huge impact on kids wanting to play at the University of Texas.”
Those fifth graders are now approaching the freshman year of their college career. By the time they’re done at Texas, they might be the ones elementary school children admire as they hoist a crystal ball.