Texas coach Mack Brown is a man in motion. With just days to go before February 6--national signing day--a to-do list races through his head.
Who does he need to call today? What recruits are coming to campus this weekend? What home visits does he still have to make? But the internal frenzy is belied by his placid exterior. Brown knows he is about to tie a bow around what many think is his best recruiting class ever.
"Going in, it would be," he says.
That's a Texas-sized mouthful when you consider Brown is regarded as one of nation's best recruiters. But this collection of Longhorn wannabes is among the nation's best classes in the last 10 years.
"It could go down in the recruiting annals as the best ever," says Jeremy Crabtree of Rivals100.com.
Best ever? That's a big statement, even for college football recruiting, which is filled with more hyperbole than a Don King press conference. But all of the hot air about this Texas class may be legitimate.
The guy generating the most babble is Vincent Young, a 6-5, 195-pound quarterback from Houston's Madison High.
When Young took his official visit to Austin the weekend of January 11-13, he wasn't planning on committing. Why should he? A long, lean passer with 4.4 speed, Young was considered the nation's No. 1 prospect by Rivals100.com. Parade magazine had named him its co-National Player of the Year (along with running back Lorenzo Booker of St. Bonaventure High in Ventura, Calif.). Young, who threw for more than 5,000 yards and ran for more than 4,000 in his high school career, was in position to commit wherever and whenever he wanted.
But as Young was leaving the Baylor-Texas men's basketball game on January 12, a fan recognized Young and shouted his name. Young responded by flashing a "Hook 'em Horns" sign. That caused a spontaneous cheer from thousands of Texas fans as they inched out of the Erwin Center.
"That brought a tear to my eye," says Young.
Forgive Texas fans if they weep joyfully upon seeing a roster packed with several of the nation's most highly-sought blue-chippers. Joining Young are:
* Justin Blalock, a 6-4, 325-pound offensive tackle from East High in Plano, Texas.
* Marquis Johnson, a 6-3, 190-pound receiver from Centennial High in Champaign, Ill.
* Edorian McCullough, a 5-11, 190-pound cornerback with 4.3 speed from North Garland (Texas) High.
* Bryan Pickryl, a 6-6, 225-pound defensive end from Jenks (Okla.) High.
* Rodrique Wright, a 6-5, 330-pound defensive tackle from Hastings High in Alief, Texas.
"Texas did particularly well in-state," says Bobby Burton of Rivals100.com. "Nobody has dominated this state from a blue-chip perspective like Texas did this year."
Of course, it's as easy to accurately project how a group of recruits will develop over four or five years as it is to get Texas mascot Bevo to lay down and roll over. That's why Brown wants to temper the enthusiasm of its face-painting/replica-jersey-wearing fans.
"I like to evaluate them going out," he says. "So let's look at it four or five years from now and see if these guys develop like they're supposed to."
But the group figures to have an immediate impact. Texas has amassed the best collection of incoming linebackers and defensive linemen in the nation. Among them, linebackers Garnet Smith, Brian Robison and Aaron Harris and linemen Wright and junior college transfer Sonny Davis could work into the rotation immediately. The three linebackers offer a solid blend of speed and power, and Wright and Davis have the size and strength to compete in the Big 12.
Offensive line is the toughest place for a true freshman to make an impact, but Blalock has the size, quickness and balance to play right away at guard. His chances are further enhanced by the fact Texas lost three starting linemen from 2001.
As for Young, he may have to wait for his chance at quarterback. The coaching staff has promised him an opportunity to compete for the starting job, but Young wasn't guaranteed anything with senior Chris Simms returning.
"They aren't gonna give me the job," says Young. "I have to compete for it. But I love to compete. Any decision to redshirt me likely won't be made until midseason. We'll just have to see how it goes."
Expect Young to compete with sophomore Chance Mock for the backup role. Athletically, Young is unlike any quarterback on the roster. His ability to make plays with his rifle arm and nimble feet is remarkable. He just needs experience.
Like Young, Pickryl, McCullough and Johnson likely will have to wait a year to make an impact. Texas already has Cory Redding and Kalen Thornton at end, which doesn't bode well for Pickryl. Johnson will be met by one of the best receiving corps in the nation, and McCullough may not qualify academically. But even if this class' contributions are muted next fall, you can be sure the Longhorns will feel its effect in years to come.
"They signed a starting quarterback, running back, fullback, receiver and two linemen," says Burton. "On defense, I think they got four linemen, two linebackers and two defensive backs. That's possibly 14 starters in one class."
But with the arrival of yet another top-notch recruiting class in Austin--Texas has signed top-five classes each of the last four seasons--the focus on the ability of Brown, who has yet to win a league championship in four years at Texas, to weave talent into titles becomes more intense.
"When I was younger, I used to worry about what other people thought," says Brown. "I really don't worry about that anymore. Our record stands for itself on the field."
He has a point. The 2001 Longhorns won the Big 12 South and were the first Texas squad to finish ranked in the top 5 since 1983. In addition, Brown has guided Texas to at least nine wins each of his four seasons, which hadn't happened since 1961-64. This year's team figures to be his best yet.
"Anyone who is winning most or all of their games is a good recruiter," says Brown. "So we probably have gotten too much credit for recruiting and not enough for coaching. And others have gotten too much credit for coaching and not for recruiting. I don't see many teams in January that don't have good players."
No doubt Texas has good players, which means we probably can expect to see Brown and the Longhorns playing next January--maybe even in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship.
Only time will tell how this year's Texas recruiting haul matches up with the great classes in college football history. But the early word is that it stacks up quite nicely with those of the recent past.
The modern-day standard of a great recruiting class was set by Notre Dame in 1990. Of the Irish's 23 recruits, 13 were picked in the NFL draft, with five--Jerome Bettis, Jeff Burris, Aaron Taylor, Tom Carter and Bryant Young--going in the first round. But that Notre Dame class signed 12 years ago. In the last decade, four other classes compete with this year's bunch of Longhorns to be the pick of the litter
1. Florida State, 1993
Marquee names: K Scott Bentley, LB Peter Boulware, QB Thad Busby, LB Daryl Bush, RB Warrick Dunn, WR E.G. Green and OL Tra Thomas.
This was the most touted class in school history for good reason. Bobby Bowden landed 20 prospects on signing day, including Dunn, Bush, Thomas, Bentley and Busby, all considered among the best in the nation at their respective positions.
2. Texas, 2002
Marquee names: OL Justin Blalock, WR Marquis Johnson, DB Edorian McCullough, DL Bryan Pickryl, LB Michael Williams, DL Rodrique Wright and QB Vincent Young.
No team has dominated the talent-rich state of Texas in recruiting in the past 10 years like the Longhorns have in 2002. Young gives the class star quality.
3. Florida 2000
Marquee names: QB Brock Berlin, WR Carlos Perez, DL Ian Scott, OL Shannon Snell, OL Max Starks.
Florida finished with a flurry two years ago, earning commitments from several blue-chip prospects within the final 24 hours before signing day. Starks, Snell and Scott headlined an offensive line class that was considered one of the best of the past decade.
4. Notre Dame, 1995
Marquee names: RB Autry Denson, RB James Jackson, QB Jarious Jackson, LB Kory Minor, WR Randy Moss, OL Mike Rosenthal and OL Jerry Wisne.
That's right--Moss and James Jackson signed with the Irish, though they never set foot on campus after their recruiting visits. Minor was considered the nation's best defensive prospect that year, and Rosenthal and Wisne were part of a vaunted offensive line unit.
5. Michigan, 1998
Marquee names: K Hayden Epstein, RB Justin Fargas, DB Larry Foote, QB Drew Henson, DB Cato June, WR David Terrell and WR Marquise Walker.
This class epitomized an outstanding skill-position class and likely is the best in the last decade in that regard. --Bobby Burton, Rivals100.com
E-mail staff writer Tom Dienhart at firstname.lastname@example.org