Imagine if the 2003 version of the Houston Cougars‚ offense, the group that won 7 games and went to the Hawaii Bowl, had been playing with, say, the ‘73, ‘79, ‘81, or ‘89 versions of the Cougar defense, or any other of the better Mad Dog groups that played for Bill Yeoman or Jack Pardee. Besides the elated sounds of "He's going to score" and "VINCENT MARSHALL, TOUCHDOWN!" Cougar fans would have had the pleasure of hearing snap, crackle, and pop as big hits were the order of the defensive day rather than the deflating, less-than-dulcet but quite redundant tones of announcers proclaiming, "First down" when the other team had the ball. Most importantly, those 7 wins probably would have been more like 10 or 11. It's imperative that Coach Briles recruit better players on the defensive side of the ball if the Cougars want to become a household name when discussing C-USA championships and Top 25 appearances. The good news is that he and his staff did just that this year, signing 11 defensive players, some of whom should provide an immediate boost and very possibly help to make the 2005 Cougar defense the school's best group since at least the 90's.
The Cougars hit the juco ranks for some of their best defensive recruits, especially in the defensive line and at linebacker. With the upcoming move to the 3-4 defense, UH had to bring in some defensive ends and linebackers who were ready not just to contribute but to start. The bell cow has to be DaVell Lauder (6-3, 240), a 2003 UH signee who played his high school ball at Houston Smiley before moving to Merced College in California, where he led his team in sacks and was a unanimous first-team All-California Junior College selection. In one game last season, Lauder had two sacks, recovered a fumble, and made a bone-crunching hit that caused another, which was returned 50 yards for a touchdown, so he is clearly an impact player. He received serious recruiting attention from national champion Southern Cal and other traditional programs. The question is whether the coaches want Lauder to gain another 10 or more pounds and play rush end or put him at strongside linebacker. The official UH signee list has him as "DL," but others think he's destined to be a Lawrence Taylor-type linebacker. We shall see. Wherever he ends up, look for him to start and contend for all-conference honors, even if the coaches decide to move him to wide receiver! He's a fantastic pickup for the Coogs. Kenny Atkins (6-2, 225) isn't far behind. Atkins is another area youngster who ventured out to the West Coast to play after high school. He was a defensive end and the opposite number of national recruit Alonzo Dotson, who signed with Oklahoma, at Alief Hastings. Atkins brings excellent speed to the defensive front seven and will almost certainly either start or log plenty of playing time. Scott Lee (6-4, 250) was a state Top 100 selection when he played linebacker for Coach Briles at Stephenville High School. Lee signed with Texas Tech but ended up at Saddleback Junior College (CA). He has successfully made the transition to defensive end and should provide invaluable depth at the position and conceivably push for a starting job.
All the other defensive line signees come from the Texas high school ranks. Two quality recruits who may need a little seasoning, as most all freshmen do, but could develop into outstanding defensive ends are Quentin Smith (6-3, 240) of nearby Houston Yates and Anthony Roulette (6-3, 250) of Garland Naaman Forest. Smith could be exactly the kind of recruit coaches love to sign, a guy who showed flashes of great potential in high school (many recruits never progress once they get to college) but is still a couple of years away from peaking and his peak could be as high as Pike's. He was recruited by SEC and BIG 12 schools, he has excellent quickness, good size, and was the president of his class, so it would appear that he has all the physical tools plus the kind of character needed to excel. Roulette is in the same mold. He had offers from Kansas and others and was pursued by Georgia and Missouri before deciding on UH. He also comes across as a player who just needs a little time before he‚s ready to fulfill his potential and make his presence known in a major way. Both Smith and Roulette have the kind of innate quickness that one typically finds in defensive linemen playing in the top programs; they are two of the top schoolboys signed by UH in this class. One of the more interesting signees is DL Andrew Jones (6-3, 285) of West Columbia. At 285, he's not as cat-quick as Smith and Roulette, but if Jones comes in with the right attitude and a powerful desire to excel, he could prove to be the steal of the class. He is the kind of defensive lineman who has the ability to shut down his side of the lineˆagain, attitude is key with this young man.
After signing a couple of junior college linebackers and getting back players such as Brenden Pahulu, Wade Koehl, Trent Allen, and others, UH didn't need to expend more than a ‘ship or two on high school linebackers. After missing on a couple of high-profile types, such as Chris Brown and Tyrell Graham, the Cougars extended a late offer to Chris Mitchell (5-11, 210) of Spring Westfield. Westfield was loaded this year and had players sign with UCLA, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and others. Now the players who signed with UCLA and A&M were defensive players, but guess who was the district's defensive MVP? Yes sir! Chris Mitchell. If Mitchell were 6-3, he could have gone most anywhere, but since, like Mike Singletary, Zach Thomas, Lee Roy Jordan, Mike Curtis, and other greats, he is 6 feet or less and was overlooked. Mitchell had an offer from SMU but committed to Central Michigan before switching to the Cougars. He has everything except a tall frame, and he could easily be the sleeper of this class and a possible future all-conference player.
The Coogs really stocked the secondary pond with this group. UH came in second on blue-chippers such as Quentin Moore of Pearland and Kevin Mangum of LaMarque, but safety and cornerback were blanketed with quality recruits who should develop into fine players. The only junior college player among the group of five or so (at least a couple of offensive players could end up on defense) is Kellen Yancy (6-1, 205), who comes to UH via Los Angeles Pierce. Yancy will provide immediate help to a severely depleted safety position. While Will Gulley and Rocky Schwartz could comprise the finest safety tandem in C-USA, there was next to no depth behind them. There is now that Yancy is onboard. Several high school prospects could flourish at UH. Quinte Williams (5-11, 170) of Houston Yates was an extraordinary high school player who more than held his own against some of HISD's best receivers, Brandon LaFell, to name one, and was also a dangerous return man. Maybe the best adjective to describe Smith is "smooth." He makes it look effortless. The question for him is can he make the switch from safety to cornerback, arguably the toughest position on the field after maybe quarterback. But if he does, he could be a fixture in the Cougar secondary for up to three years. While a lot of so-called recruiting experts think that Chris Mitchell is the Coogs‚ major recruiting heist, some of the coaches will tell you it's Brodrick Bean (6-1, 200) of Kirbyville. Bean could play either strong safety or move to outside linebacker. He's a good athlete, but, man oh man, can he bring the lumber! He has that Jack Tatum-like ability to explode into a receiver and make him think he might as well hold on to a hand grenade as the football. The Cougars stole one, no, make that two, from intradivisional rivals. In the secondary, UH purloined Bay City product Brandon Brinkley from Tulane. Brinkley is an Alan Weddell special, a very fine athlete who should play safety, and along with Coach Weddell, he may help the Cougars develop a pipeline into that powerhouse programs that has at least a couple of highly rated prospects coming out this year. Anthony Reasno (5-11, 180) of Midland Lee is slated for cornerback duty. He was a playmaker at Lee, and even though another Lee defensive back signed with Texas A&M, Reasno was the only Rebel to make first-team all-district. He could have the same kind of impact his former teammate, Wade Koehl, has had and will have on the defense.
Despite all the talk of desperate need at DE and OT, perhaps no position was needed any worse than a punter. The Cougars regularly lost 15-20 yards of field position because of special teams, and a blocked punt against Miami all but proved to be the difference in the game. It got so bad that UH fans thought they would have about as good a chance of catching a Cougar punt as the other team's punt returner. Well, okay, maybe that's a little hyperbole, no doubt about it: if the offensive line was the team's Achilles heel then special teams were a big bunion on the Cougars‚ paw. The good news is the situation may have been remedied. Coach Briles convinced Garrett Lefevre of Klein Collins, winner of a kicking competition held at UH, to become a Cougar. Lefevre is also an excellent kicker, though those duties will likely be handled by former Top 100 kicker Justin Laird so that Lefevre, who will be thrown in the mix from day one, will be able to concentrate on his punting. Wouldn't it be nice to once again see a Cougar punter boot beautiful 50-yard spirals rather than squib 20-yard ducks? Losing huge chunks of real estate can be devastating in close games. One hates to put too much pressure on a true freshman, but punting is different than quarterback or offensive tackle, and Lefevre appears to have the tools to step in and get the job done.
So while the Cougars certainly signed some exciting offensive prospects, it says here that the strength of this class is the defense, especially the jucos. DaVell Lauder hasn't yet played a down, so one has to avoid being too enthusiastic, but he has all the tools to become a great one, yes, a great one at UH. Kenny Atkins is one of those 6-2, 225-pound linebackers who runs like a deer and attacks his prey like a panther, or would "cougar" make for a more fitting simile? Scott Lee was an all-everything linebacker at Stephenville who's now up close to 260 and will provide immediate help. As for the high school defensive players, Andrew Jones is a hit-or-miss type, but if he is a hit, the Cougars could find themselves with a 300-pound linchpin at defensive tackle. Recruited by Arkansas and Iowa, Quinten Smith has all the tools to become a standout defensive lineman. Anthony Roulette needs a redshirt year and some time in the weight room, but Georgia, Arkansas, and several others recruited him for a reason; he has excellent potential. Chris Mitchell was overlooked because of his height much as Wayne Rogers was bypassed by many programs because of speed. Rogers only earned C-USA Defensive Player of the Year honors. A fine group of defensive backs, Kellen Yancy, Quinte Williams, Brodrick Bean, Brandon Brinkley, Anthony Reasno, will bolster the secondary, Yancy this year, and the Cougars nabbed arguably the state's best kicker/punter in Garret Lefevre. This is as fine a group of defensive players that UH has signed in some years, and many of them will be ready in '05 to help a defense that ought to be pretty salty anyway. Cougar fans just may find themselves as concerned with scoring points as they are about stopping opponents the next few years. Wouldn't that be something and wouldn't it bode well for the future of the program?