Those assembled in the hospital lobby assumed the patient was dead. The subdued atmosphere was understandable given the tragedy. If anything, those who gathered for the deathwatch showed great restraint by not sobbing convulsively. The University of Houston's 2006 recruiting class would be six feet under before it had even had time to put on a uniform. But to quote that American literary icon, Mark Twain, "The rumors of [its] death have been greatly exaggerated." Suddenly, heartening news arrived from Rosenberg. A relief package that appeared headed for Tempe, Arizona was on its way to Houston. And infusions of new blood had already been delivered from Kansas, Waco, and Stillwater, not to mention some 30 cities and towns in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. Now word has come that a new medicine has been shipped from California. Was the class everyone had thought was dead on arrival beginning to show signs of life?
Admittedly, the 2006 class is not as flashy as some other UH classes have been, but fans must understand that the chasm between the BCS and non-BCS schools grows wider every year. It's not as if UTEP, Tulsa, or Southern Miss signed classes dotted with three and four-star recruits. According to Scout.com, USM had two three-star prospects, both of whom are junior-college players that the Golden Eagles will have to sweat out getting into school. Tulsa had one three-star recruit, and he was a junior college tight end with only an offer from Nevada. UTEP signed one player with a three-star rating, a Dallas high school recruit just as UH had one three-star signee, a Houston area quarterback. Scout.com puts BYU's class atop the non-BCS pile, but even so, those other Cougars only ranked 46th nationally. The next closest non-BCS school was Utah at #60. So it's saying the non-BCS schools have a tough road to hoe is an understatement. Even so, a season in which UH contended for a BCS bowl or at least stuck its head inside the Top 25 window would help; it would give the Cougars a better chance to beat middle-of-the-pack Big 12 school such as Missouri and Oklahoma State for Houston and East Texas recruits, a few of which the Coogs lost out on this time around. Yes, those defections hurt the class, but a couple were unlikely to qualify anyway, and one or two others were projects.
UH does have a route back to some sense of national prominence, and it's already happening right under Cougar fans' noses. Coach Briles must beat local C-USA teams for recruits, which he did, find players that fit his system, which he did, take a few chances on jucos and high school kids who are academic risks, which he did, and get former Houston area bluechippers who signed with BCS schools to transfer back to their hometown university, which he did as well. All that did indeed happen this year, and it will only get better if the Coogs have the breakout season their fans are hoping for in '06.
Offensively, the '06 class is heavy on the skill positions. The most highly touted of the Cougar high school signees is LaMarque quarterback L. J. Castile, who often looked like a man among boys playing for those 4A Cougars down I-45 South. He is a true dual-threat, capable of threading the needle or scampering for a nice 15-yard run when necessary. Case Keenum was somewhat overlooked playing at tiny 3A Abilene Wylie, but he passed for almost 6,800 yards in his career, and he's elusive as a butterfly when running the ball. He and Castile are very likely the future for UH at quarterback.
Three (four if you count the new transfer) talented running backs cast their lot with the Coogs. Randall Antoine picked UH over Southern Miss, and Tommy Bryant of Dallas Hillcrest hopes to follow in the footsteps of another prodigious Hillcrest back, Ryan Gilbert. Antoine has great speed. If he were a little bigger, LSU would have pursued him more vigorously. Bryant is a slasher who loves to get through the hole then break to the sideline for big gains. When I watched him on film, I never once saw a defensive back catch him from behind. Although Marquis Lowe is likely headed to a junior college, the Cougars would not have signed him if they did not expect to get him back a year or two down the road. With the explosion of comic-book hero movies, maybe The Flash will soon make it to the big screen. If so, Lowe should audition for the title role. This dynamo made the state 100 meter final as only a freshman, and he led his school's 200-meter relay team to the state championship. He rushed for over 2,000 yards as a junior and was the #1 athlete on the UH recruiting board. Don't be surprised if he ends up as a slot receiver at UH—think Vince Marshall only closer to 190-200 than 170. The wildcard is Texas A&M transfer Derrick Brown, who was considered one of the elite backs in Texas just a few years ago. Brown is an incredible athlete. He reportedly has run a 4.4 and bench pressed 355 pounds. He was last listed at 5-11, 210. Brown did not spend his time riding pine at A&M. He was Courtney Lewis's top backup as only a freshman going into the 2004 season but then transferred to a junior college in California, presumably to get his grades in order. He has a world of potential. Don't be surprised if Derrick Brown is lined up behind Kevin Kolb when the Coogs run their first play of '06.
While the relief package from Rosenberg was late qualifier Jonathan Lister, a talented wide receiver that the Coogs beat Arizona State for, the prize of the receiving corps has to be transfer Biren Ealy. Ealy was a four-star recruit out of Cy-Falls, who was considered a rising star in the PAC-10 before leaving Arizona. He was the Wildcats' leading receiver in '03 and was expected to shine in '04 before suffering an ankle injury that kept him on the bench much of the season. He didn't see eye to eye with his coaches (could they have been asking him to play hurt during a 3-8 season?), and he's now a Cougar. Expect him to combine with Vincent Marshall and Donnie Avery to give UH the best receiving corps in C-USA. Navarro J.C. transfer Jamaeil Dickerson (LaMarque) is expected to add size and blocking at WR. Lister could develop into an all-conference receiver. The Coogs are probably deep enough at the position to redshirt him, but he may be good enough to earn his way onto the field. Ladarius White was a bit overlooked because his teammate, Deon Beasley, signed with Texas. And Beasley is a great athlete, though Lister, who was on a regional track team and played baseball, is as well. But the 5-9 Beasley, who will likely play WR at Texas, was a high school quarterback. The 5-11 White made all-state as a WR. Who is the better receiver? We won't know the answer for another two or three years. The Coogs also went fishing near the Atlantic Coast to reel in Andre Kohn, a sleeper from Jacksonville in the talent-rich Sunshine State.
Tight end is a little hard to get a good read on because it's difficult to say which of these players will stay at TE and which will move to different positions. The bell cow is, fittingly enough, Josh Bell. A Kansas transfer, Bell was a state Top 100 prospect in '04. He's now about 6-6, 250. If he gains much weight—and I get the feeling he will—he could end up at DE. Wherever he plays, he should be a valuable addition to the team. Cameron Hackney was listed for a time as a Rivals Texas Top 100 prospect. He dropped shortly after his commitment to UH. Amazing, huh? Texas Football also had him listed as its second team tight end. The Jacksonville product (6-3, 245) is obviously an excellent prospect who was passed over when schools saw he would not qualify. He's someone who will go the juco route and that the staff will hope to resign in two years. Hackney can also play fullback. Wesley Scourton (6-6, 210) will provide a big target for the Coog's next quarterback. The mystery player is Rodney Hannah (6-7, 245), who was a power forward on the basketball team last year. Hannah looks like a swarthy statue of a Greek god. If he is half the football player that he is an athlete, then the Cougars will have found a true diamond in the rough—or, in this case, the hardwood.
UH has stocked up on offensive linemen the past few years, and most Cougar fans expected more of the same in '06. At one time, UH had commitments from Lon Roberts and Alan Pelc, but both players eventually committed elsewhere. Those two along with the two, possibly three, offensive linemen the Cougars did sign would have brought another bountiful harvest, but considering that Roberts wound up not signing with anyone, and Pelc, an obvious project player, had only one other offer, I'm not sure those were major losses. Really, after filling the OL cupboard since '03, the Cougars didn't need more than the two or three offensive linemen they signed. Jordan Shoemaker (6-3, 270) of Midlothian ought to become a bull dozer of an offensive tackle. At the Nike Fort Worth training camp, which attracted many of the state's best players, Shoemaker tied for first among offensive linemen in the bench press. The Coogs beat intra-divisional rivals UTEP and SMU, among other schools, for his services, so that's an added bonus. Stephenville's Matt Parker (6-2, 250) is set for guard duty. Parker is a project, but he's unusually quick for an offensive lineman. The question is will he be able to keep that quickness after gaining some 40 pounds of muscle. If so, he could be a cornerback's worst nightmare as he leads the way on sweeps. Although the 6-4, 310-pounder from Tatum, Isaiah Thompson, is listed as a defensive lineman, don't be surprised if he ends up at offensive guard. With his size, pairing him with Shoemaker would make for a formidable twosome on one side of the line.
UH went heavily for defensive linemen. I've already mentioned Thompson. The one Coach Briles was crowing about on Signing Day was junior college transfer Jamaal Mouton (6-1. 300). This young man is good enough to step in and start next year, and if no one steps up at the end position opposite Cody Pree, he just might. But the plan is to have Mouton back up Marquay Love. It was essential that the Cougars find someone to give "Big Love" occasional breathers, since the nose tackle takes a beating in the 3-4 and is probably about as important to the defense as quarterback is to the offense. So UH needed to find a good one, someone that wouldn't spring a leak in the defense when Love was on the bench. The Coogs may have found their man in Mouton. They may have also found one of the top sleepers in the state in Alto's Jared Lindsey (6-3, 280), a two time district MVP as well as a member of his school's honor society and also the FFA. Lindsey lettered in basketball, baseball, golf, and track as well. You'll have to ask him when he was able to eat and sleep. The staff is excited that he's going to be a Cougar. Raymond Alake is something of a project, but at 6-4, 250, the coaches think he can be up to 280+ after a year or two in the weight room. Xavier Richard (6-2, 250), Gerard's "little" brother, has good quickness but will also need to put on some muscle. He should ultimately prove to be a more productive player than his brother was.
In the 3-4, linebackers are critical, so UH went out and found five of them. Trent Allen is going to have to improve to fight off a challenge from transfer James Francis, Jr. (6-1, 220) at inside linebacker. Francis is talented. He started as a true freshman at Baylor. Shomari Williams (6-2, 235) of Canada is already enrolled and will also compete for a position at inside linebacker in the spring. Britton Maxwell would have had offers from most everyone if he were 6-3 instead of 5-10 (though he, nonetheless, had them from UTEP and Purdue), but Alan Weddell, who coached a guy named Dat Nguyen, another sub-six-footer, loves Maxwell, and his opinion is good enough for me. And he probably loves that 4.5 speed Maxwell possesses as much or more than his nasty disposition on the field. Actually, Maxwell is faster than some strong safeties, so he could end up there, but I think he'll be an inside linebacker. J.T. Rudd is a player the coaches think could be a very good one. He's not as fast as Maxwell, but he's not slow—he was a high school running back—and he has something Maxwell doesn't have: a 6-2, 220-pound frame. With the loss of Todd Cox, the Cougars needed depth on the inside, and it appears they came up with a veritable cornucopia. With Wade Koehl, Brendan Pahulu, Chris Pilot, Kenny Atkins, and, hopefully, DaVell Lauder, UH is in pretty good shape at outside linebacker. The one they did get is Antonio May of Arkansas (6-4, 220). But UH will need to sign some players at this position in next year's class.
The word "athletic" is the best way to describe this year's crop of defensive backs. Josh Lee (6-2, 185) of Houston Reagan is a do-it-all type who could blossom into an all-everything safety at UH. He was an all-everything everything at Reagan, where he played some four different positions. Carson Blackmon (5-10, 170) is going to be an outstanding cornerback. The coaches love his quickness; Blackmon can play and would have likely been a hotter commodity had he been a couple of inches taller. Antonio Staton (6-0, 195) of Arkansas is more a strong safety type but fast enough to play free safety; he ran track in high school. He was highly regarded going into '05 but dropped some on the recruiting charts for whatever reason. Teric Williams (5-10, 180) played quarterback for the simple reason that he was his team's best athlete. A district MVP, he also lettered in hoops and baseball. The coaches think he and Blackmon could develop into a pair of shutdown corners. Stephen James (5-10, 205) transferred from Oklahoma State after prepping at North Shore. He has speed to burn and will be eligible in '07. Look for him to contend for a starting job at strong safety in 2007. As athletic as those players are, none may be more than Roddy Green of Mart, a high school quarterback who was ranked the #8 player in Central Texas. Mart (6-1, 190) was a late qualifier, which explains why the recruiters weren't filling his mailbox with offers. He and Josh Lee give UH two super athletes to put at free safety after Will Gulley takes off for the NFL.
So while this group may not be flashy, it is deep, it fills immediate needs, it includes players who fit the offensive and defensive systems, it has a few risks but ones good enough to take a chance on and likely get back in a year or two regardless, it includes some great athletes and good students, and there are five transfers (three of whom were consensus state Top 100 players), who will step in and make immediate contributions when they are eligible, including three next year. So it's just wrong to say this is a bad class. No, it doesn't rate with the '73 or '77 or '85 groups, but I'd rather have some 30 kids who didn't make the guru's lists (though some did) but will develop in the program and be here for the long haul rather than a handful of three-stars that we can brag about on Signing Day but then hear about them dropping out of school a year or two later.