The University of Houston is poised to have one of its best classes in years. Here is a look at the offensive players the Cougars are recruiting. The numbers in parentheses are an educated guess at how many UH will sign at that particular position.
The Cougars do not have to sign a quarterback this year. With First-Team All-C-USA quarterback Kevin Kolb back for three more years, a talented transfer in Kendal Briles, a solid reserve, Blade Bassler, who should only get better, and a capable walk-on in Matt Stanley, the Cougars‚ quarterback cup overfloweth. Still, conventional wisdom claims that it is wise to sign one QB per class, and the UH staff is talking to a few high school signal callers.
The top target is probably Mike Jones of Fort Bend Austin. Jones is a marvelous athlete who may just need a little spit and polish to become an outstanding college QB. He is listed at 6-3, 190, and reportedly has a 4.4 forty to his credit. Competition for his services is fierce, however, with Arizona State and Oklahoma State the early favorites. Jordan Chambless (6-1, 200, 4.5) of Corpus Christi is another fine athlete; in fact, he is so versatile that he could play other positions. UH may like him as a slot receiver, a position at which he could utilize his 4.5 speed. Whether Chambless signs with UH may be a question of how aggressively UH pursues him. Billy Garza of Porter is an impressive passer. While interest in him may be picking up, he appears to be a lock for Illinois. The Cougars will shock the recruiting world if they sign a quarterback already committed to a Big 12 school but still considering UH, but to get this all-everything prospect, Coach Briles will have to sell him on switching positions.
RUNNING BACK (0-1)
Running back is another position where the Cougars are in good shape with talented young backs such as freshman Jackie Battle, sophomore Anthony Evans, transfer Ryan Gilbert, and true frosh Anthony Alridge. If anything UH could probably use a fullback more than a tailback. Matt Schirmer and Carl Francis will both be seniors next year. But there are always so many good running backs in the Lone Star State that it's tough not to go after at least one.
UH has offered local prospect Kenny Hicks of Klein Forest, but his size and speed (5-8, 180, 4.4), may make him a better candidate at inside receiver than RB. Hugh Charles of Keller was a player the staff loved because of his great acceleration, but he committed to Colorado. Wayne Singleton (6-1, 200, 4.6) of Cy-Springs is a solid prospect who could step in at fullback after the departure of Schirmer and Francis. Don't be surprised if scholarships that could have been used on running backs go to additional offensive or defensive linemen. The Hawaii Bowl showed the nation that few teams will have two better backs returning than Anthony Evans and Jackie Battle; and LSU transfer Ryan Gilbert and last year's heralded recruit, Anthony Alridge, will also be available. So unless a great one is available, UH probably won't sign a RB in this class.
WIDE RECEIVER (2-3)
During the Run-N-Shoot Era, the best receiver prospects in Texas looked at UH like California tailbacks used to look at Southern Cal. That kind of interest may be returning as several of the state's best wide receivers are considering the Cougars. UH has some excellent young prospects returning. Vincent Marshall, who electrified the nation with his 81-yard touchdown reception in the Hawaii Bowl, is back along with Chad McCullar, who also caught a TD pass in the bowl game, Leonard Gibson, and Mark Hopkins. Sitting out redshirt years were bluechipper Bennie Swain, formerly of Houston Madison, Donnie Avery from Alief Hastings, and Perry McDaniel of Lubbock Frenship. Swain and Avery are fliers who could be major contributors next year.
UH has received commitments from two high school wide receivers, Curtis Shaw (6-1, 185, 4.5) of Beaumont Ozen and Sylvester Walker (6-2, 200, 4.4) of Cedar Hill. Both were heavily recruited. Shaw, in fact, decommitted from Baylor when he gave his verbal to the Coogs. He also heard from Texas and LSU. Walker was well-liked by Texas A&M and Iowa. What these two prospects have in common is great athleticism, a word Cougar fans will be hearing a lot whenever a discussion of UH recruits occurs. Shaw played quarterback and receiver; Walker was a running back until this year. It should be noted that one, conceivably both, of these recruits could end up in the secondary where their speed is sorely needed. Shaw was a headhunter at safety for Ozen. But Coach Briles and his staff aren't yet through at this position. Two of the state's elite receivers, Tory DeGrate (6-0, 170, 4.5) of Waco High and Donald Massey (6-0, 165, 4.4) of Hillsboro are both considering the Cougars.
TIGHT END (2)
The Cougars would have been in a pickle at tight end if Steve Cucci had not received another year of eligibility. Jonathan Pritchett graduates, and there's not much depth at the position. If he's healthy, Cucci could be all-conference next year. Travis Griffith has the size and speed to excel, and should come into his own after a year at the position. But unless Mark Hopkins is moved to tight end, Cucci and Griffith are all she wrote. So obviously tight end is a position of need for this class.
Coach Briles realized that early and went out and got two key commitments, Brian Boehme (6-5, 220, 4.6) of Victoria Memorial and Mark Hafner (6-5, 220, 4.6) of Waller. Boehme is an excellent blocker; in fact, his high school coach mentioned that he could gain weight and move to the offensive line. But he's also a capable receiver who just didn't get a lot of chances in Memorial's ground attack. Hafner is ‘here we go again' a super athlete. He's fast, one of the area's top baseball players, and he ought to have no trouble putting on 25 or more pounds.
OFFENSIVE LINE (4-5)
Offensive linemen are practically the lifeblood of college football programs. They have become probably as valuable a commodity in the recruiting world as any position. Teams must have linemen who can open holes and protect the quarterback. Signing some of the state's best linemen is a priority this year for the Cougars. The left side of the Cougars‚ offensive line guard Roy Swan and tackle Phil Hawkins return, and David Douglas, who split time with Brandon Evans at right guard will also be available. Transfer Sterling Doty, who played under Coach Briles at Stephenville, is expected to take over for Lombardi Award nominee Rex Hadnot at center. John McGilvray and Jeremy Davis from Port Neches-Groves should both contend for playing time. The Cougars signed five offensive linemen in last year‚s class and redshirted all of them. The ones to watch are Byron Alfred and Jeff Akeroyd, both of whom could play guard or center, and Beau Tuft, a prototype left tackle. But after those trench warriors, depth is thin.
The Cougars already have two commitments from offensive linemen, center Jake Ebner (6-2, 270) of Friendswood and guard Cody Pree (6-3, 270) of Hooks. Ebner is a weight-room fanatic with excellent strength, and Pree, who was his district‚s defensive MVP, was highly sought by several programs. The Coogs may have a shot at Herman Johnson, arguably the best offensive line prospect in the state. At 6-7, 340, Johnson dwarfed the high school competition. OU and LSU consider him the top lineman on their boards, so it would be quite a coup for the Cougars to land him. Coach Briles and his staff also love a local prospect, Joseph Longacre (6-3, 310) of Katy. Longacre was as instrumental to the Tigers‚ success this year as anyone on that team. He is also being courted by Arizona. Sheldon Watts (6-3, 270) of Ft. Bend Hightower and Cody Harris (6-5, 270) of Cypress-Creek are two other locals the Coogs are pursuing. Watts is a fine prospect who was overshadowed by his teammate Ty Byrd. Harris can bench press the Cy-Creek cafeteria. Eddie Rollman (6-4, 280) of Burnet is another one the Coogs like. And apparently UH is in the sweepstakes for Hawaii's Chris Perry (6-3, 280), supposedly one of the best players to come out of the islands in years. Perry is also drawing heavy interest from Pac-10 schools.
So it appears that Coach Briles and his staff are bringing in the kinds of players they want and need on offense. While not all the Cougars‚ commitments will be on the bluechip lists, all will be good athletes and fine football players who fit Coach Briles' plan to get UH back into the Top 25. After going to a bowl in his first year, is there any doubt that he'll do just that? We'll take a look at defensive recruiting next.