Denver Johnson joined the Colorado staff as offensive line coach earlier this year and was assigned the southern section of Texas in recruiting.
Johnson grew up in Oklahoma and played college ball at Tulsa. He's familiar with how football takes over entire towns down south during the fall and how the passion for the sport and expectations on young men helps build a boatload of talented players.
Johnson has spent nearly 25 years in coaching and during much of that time he has tried to recruit players from Texas. He has lengthy relationships with high school coaches he believes will serve him well, but he also says Colorado is fighting an uphill battle in trying to get many of the best players from Texas to even consider coming north.
"It's going good," Johnson said. "We're getting a great reception. The problem that we face is something we face a little bit everywhere, is everything has been accelerated so far up now. You know all those kids in Texas can visit all those schools in Texas unofficially, and all these early offers and then they start getting the squeeze put on them. Sometimes they feel like they are forced to commit before they're ever able to go anywhere. It's hard for them to get here on an unofficial visit. We've almost got to wait until their senior year to get them here on an official visit. Sometimes they're kind of pressured into committing before that's possible."
One myth about the good old days at Colorado in the 1990s is that those teams were built on Texas recruiting. There was certainly some top-notch talented brought to Boulder from Texas by former coach Bill McCartney, but a far greater percentage of players were recruited from California even then.
Alfred Williams, Kanavis McGhee, Matt Lepsis, Koy Detmer, Bryan Stoltenberg and Chris Hudson all came from Texas. But a good year in the Lone Star state for CU has always been between 3-6 recruits. A good year in California is generally closer to 10.
Johnson said college football recruiting has become a lot like real estate. It's all about location, location, location.
"So the biggest thing we're fighting is just the geography of it and the logistics of it," Johnson said. "If we can ever get them here, our chances of signing them are pretty good I think. It's just the way recruiting has gone now, all these early offers and early commitments and stuff before they ever see Colorado. It's the same thing in California and for anyone who is having to negotiate any distance. It's kind of where we're located. If you're not from the Denver area, you're a long way from here. Once you leave the Front Range, it's pretty sparse until you hit the coast or Chicago or Texas."
CU signed three players from Texas in the 2009 recruiting class, and, at least one of them will likely play right away this season. Johnson said getting more players to attend CU summer camps will help the Buffs land more players from Texas in the future.
CU has more than tripled the size of its camps since Dan Hawkins was hired in 2006. The program hosts a team camp, a passing camp and a big man camp for offensive and defensive linemen now, bringing thousands of boys and young men to campus each summer. Dozens of them are highly regarded prospects in high school. It will probably be the best way for Colorado to recruit more Texas players in the future.
"If a kid has got the financial means to travel and attend a camp, absolutely, because you see film and you see all this other stuff, but there is nothing like being able to work with a kid and get to know his personality some. What kind of guy is he? How he responds to coaching. How he learns. With your own eye and at your own directive, seeing him move around and do some things, that's the absolute best evaluation you can have."