Best Class Since Briles!

Winning Conference USA obviously paid dividends this year for the University of Houston as Coach Art Briles and his staff put together what is, on paper, their best recruiting class since arriving at UH.

If economics is the dismal science, poetics the gay science, and phrenology the pseudo-science, recruiting must be the indeterminate science. The layman obviously can't be the final arbiter of a recruiting class, but then neither can a recruiting guru nor really even a college coach. How players develop physically, whether they will be able to handle the rigors of being a college athlete, both on the field and in the classroom, and how hard they are willing to work to succeed are impossible to know. And coaching, how a player fits into a system, and more are also critical; nonetheless, one can try to evaluate a class based largely on talent, athleticism, ratings, and what other schools offered a scholarship to the recruit.

Winning Conference USA obviously paid dividends this year for the University of Houston as Coach Art Briles and his staff put together what is, on paper, their best recruiting class since arriving at UH. The Cougars signed a fine group in '03, with touted players such as Kevin Kolb, Anthony Alridge, DaVell Lauder, and Bennie Swain, but after those top recruits, many of the signees were marginal with few, if any, having other offers, though some have turned out to be very fine C-USA players. This year, there's more quality. A prospect such as Rodney Brisbon, rated four stars by, was one of the top signees, but Cory Bailey, rated three-stars by Rivals, was a good get in the offensive line as well, as were solid recruits such as Chris Thompson, Justin Freeman, and Mike Sanchez. All told, the Cougars raked in 11 players who had been designated three stars by one service, as well as one four-star recruit. In the two preceding classes combined, UH had only six three-star players, three of whom were junior-college recruits. The Coogs have not signed a four-star prospect in five years, and he was the only one since the internet services started rating recruiting classes. Probably even more encouraging than the star ratings, however, are the programs that offered scholarships to UH recruits this time around. Last year, amazingly, only one UH signee who qualified claimed an offer from a BCS school. One—just one! But in this class, at least nine future Cougars were offered by BCS programs, and that does not include Tyrell Graham, a transfer from Arkansas. Schools from the Big 12, Big 10, PAC 10, and Big East wanted UH recruits in their programs. No, the Cougars didn't out-recruit Texas, USC, or LSU. But they don't need to do that. What they do need to do is sign players that programs such as Kansas and Arizona want, and that is what they did. Those mid-level BCS programs need those kinds of players not to win their conferences but to be good, 8-4-type teams and go to bowl games. If UH gets those players in C-USA, it probably means league championships just down the road. And several players picked UH over top non-BCS schools such as Southern Miss and Utah. So here, then, is a look at the class of 2007, the best one since Briles!

The Coogs did not sign a quarterback this year, unless one wants to count Demetrius Woods. Actually, Justin Johnson and Chris Tate were also high school quarterbacks, but it is expected that all three will end up at other positions. On the surface, it seems disappointing not to have signed a quarterback, but it's not as if the cupboard is bare. Blake Joseph has been impressive as a passer, Oklahoma State transfer Al Pena is working hard to get eligible, L. J. Castile is an impressive athlete, and Case Keenum could develop into a very fine signal caller. Additionally, walk-on Tremaine Dorsey has largely been overlooked by UH fans, but he's quite the athlete himself. Only Pena is an upper classmen, so quarterback was not a priority. The Cougars will, however, want to sign one or two in '08.

The gem here, maybe something of a hidden one, may be Terrance Gannaway, not that he was hidden from Tulsa, SMU, or Rice; in fact, he had committed earlier to the latter two schools, and Tulsa made a late push to steal him. C-USA schools (and the coaches at those programs have to be experts at finding under-the-radar players) were giddy over this kid. Based on the film I saw, he appears to have good size (6-0, 199) and be a smooth runner. It's almost as if he runs thinking no one can tackle him. Of course, he is playing at a lower level in 2A, and his speed may be a question mark. But, again, most every program in the West Division of C-USA would not have made a hard run at him unless they thought he would excel in their league. Justin Johnson actually was the more highly regarded prospect, garnering a three-star rating from Rivals, and reportedly receiving offers from Arizona, Washington State, Iowa State, Wake Forest, and others. Johnson is listed as an athlete, and could end up at safety, but the coaches are hoping he'll be a good fit at RB. He was a running quarterback at Richardson Berkner, gaining some 1500 yards despite missing part of the season with an ankle injury. He's listed at 208, but he reportedly is closer to 220. Whichever, he'll be bigger than any RB on the current roster, and should get bigger after time with Coach Jackson. So the worries about UH not signing a running back in this class have evaporated.

Despite losing receivers‚ coach Jason Phillips at perhaps the most critical juncture in recruiting, the Cougars were able to sign five talented wideouts. Chris Tate rates highest of the crew on most recruiting lists. He made most every state newspaper's Top 100 list. A high school quarterback at Hempstead, Tate is an impressive athlete, one a fan could easily envision taking a five-yard hitch pass and turning it into a 15+-yard gain. But Tate's position may not be set in stone. He could possibly end up at cornerback. Tyrone Carrier of Houston Worthing fits Coach Briles‚ offense to a T, and may be the ideal replacement for Vincent Marshall . Carrier, last year's state 200 meters champion, has Marshall‚s speed and height, but is a little huskier. He also has good hands, and somewhat overcomes being vertically-challenged with his leaping ability. Carrier had track offers from some of the top programs in the nation. Another flyer is E. J. Smith of Mississippi, who reportedly has been timed at 4.3 in the forty. Smith was offered by Southern Miss, and received strong interest from Alabama. He and Carrier on the field at the same time may darken the drawers of some C-USA defensive coordinators. Bakari Maxwell , another Houston area product, is a track star as well. Maxwell is also an Eagle Scout. That undoubtedly attracted Coach Briles, who places a great deal of emphasis on character. Joey Florence of LaMarque was a late addition to the class. Florence had several good offers, but like his teammate Michael Ray , waited to commit, and those offers began to dry up. At 6-4, he may remind Cougar fans of Jeron Harvey . Florence is also an accomplished basketball player. Unfortunately, three-star Cougar commitment Jeff Daniels didn't make his grades and signed with Blinn Junior College. Maybe he'll end up wearing the red and white before it's all said and done.

This is probably the best group signed at UH in over a decade. Rodney Brisbon of Northwest Mississippi Junior College is the leader of the pack. He's 6-6, 330, a four-star recruit, and held offers from Miami and Oklahoma State, among others. He could dominate at right tackle, and he may be ready to go just as the best run blocker on the roster, Sir Vincent Rogers, returns from his injury. Brisbon does have some class work to do, but indications are that he will get it done, possibly in time for the fall, but at least by spring of '08. Another one from the Magnolia State, Cory Bailey, is a three-star offensive lineman. At 6-5, 280, he supposedly has good feet and excels at trap blocking, which is the bread and butter of the Cougars' blocking scheme. Nasari Eteuini (6-4, 305) was a second-team All-American at Butler Community College last year. A center who played in a shotgun offense, Eteuini ought to be a good fit at UH. He can also play guard. Another center is Mike Sanchez of Sharyland. Sanchez started for four years and served up a stack of pancakes most every game. His dad is the head coach at Sharyland. While Justin Freeman of Cuero and Chris Thompson of Hitchcock were not weighed down with offers, both are very good prospects, better on paper, at least, than Dustin Dickinson and Jeff Akeroyd, both of whom were named to at least one all-conference team, were coming out of high school. Freeman is listed as one of the top 25 offensive linemen in the state by Texas Football. Thompson made the Best of the Rest list, and received attention from Oklahoma State and UTEP before making an early commitment to UH, where his former high school teammate, Josh Bell, is also an offensive lineman. Chad Mullen is a bit of a project, but at 6-6, 270, he certainly has the kind of size coaches like; if he has the feet as well, he could be a good one.

The Cougars reeled in one of the state's best interior defensive linemen in Demarcus Lattier, a 6-2, 285-pounder from South Garland. Rated the seventh-best defensive tackle in Texas by Rivals, Lattier had offers from Boston College, Oklahoma State, Arizona, Indiana, and more. Although there is talk of UH switching to a 4-2-5 defense, Lattier eventually may give the program the dominating nose tackle it needs to make the 3-4 an effective defense. Tramaine Williams (6-3, 255) was a sack master at NW MS JC, dropping opposing quarterbacks 15 times last season. He hopefully will, at a minimum, provide good depth at weak-side defensive end. Michael Ray of LaMarque likely is slated for the same position, though at 6-2, 236, he may need to redshirt and gain some muscle. Ray is simply a very good football player. He doesn't have the fastest forty time, and he's not 6-6, 280, but he was named the most valuable offensive player in a district filled with college prospects. Cedric Hall, another Mississippian, flew a little under the radar, but he looks to be a fine athlete, coming in at 6-3, 230 and running a 4.8. No doubt the coaches will want him up to 260 or so in a couple of years. It looks as if the coaches realize how deficient the pass rush was this season, and are trying to address the problem by stocking up at rush end. Great players at every position are hot commodities, but top defensive linemen are prime beef. Schools such as UT and OU scoop them up faster than football season. So Lattier is a big get for the Cougars, and one or more of Williams, Ray, and Hall could develop into a difference-maker at defensive end.

UH inked only two linebackers, but both are potential all-conference players. Tyrell Graham, a former Yates Lion, transferred from Arkansas. He was one of the best defensive players in Houston in '04, and had offers from Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and others. He's about 6-3, 220, has good quickness, and should provide immediate help; he could even start. Bo Mosley of Friendswood may have been the most overlooked player in the Greater Houston area. He was named a Super Teamer by Texas Football, largely because of his athleticism. He was injured as a junior, and that caused some schools to back off. But Mosley is too good not to take a chance on. An inside linebacker, he should be in line to step in for Allen or Lubojasky after they graduate. The linebacker class certainly isn't deep, but UH nabbed two potentially outstanding prospects in Graham, who will be a sophomore, and Mosley.

The offensive line is probably the highlight of the offensive class, and defensive backs may be the top position on defense. The Cougars signed six. All are solid prospects, and none stand out more than the others as, say, Brisbon does in the offensive line. One could make the case that Ryan Tennison (5-11, 190) is the best. He's reminiscent of USM's Brandon Sumrall, a big hitter with good speed. He's a prototypical strong safety, who had offers from Iowa State, Kansas, and Baylor. Loyce Means of Houston Madison is probably the most highly rated of the DBs signed by UH. A Scout three-star prospect, Means could have signed today with Oklahoma State, Indiana, Baylor, and others. Means is a burner. He needs to get bigger, but he could develop into a shut-down corner. Ricardo Bates comes to UH from Alabama. He's a versatile athlete, who could play safety or cornerback, but the coaches apparently see him as a safety. Like Tennison, he can knock your head off. A. J. Edwards of Brenham was considered one of the top juniors in the state last year until he suffered a season-ending injury, which dropped him on many recruiting wish lists. But he's very much like Mosley: an outstanding athlete who could emerge as a big-time player if he stays healthy. Converse Judson's Roisean Haynes was an early commitment, and is penciled in at cornerback. B.K. Johnson starred at Silsbee.

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