Down the Recruiting Home Stretch

Many Cougar fans think the way back to becoming a Top 25 program is by focusing on good Houston players and getting about 15 or so of them to stay home. Sumlin seems to be doing just that, and the recruits he's winning over, for the most part, are well-regarded, not prospects out of the blue with no other offers.

"It's the most wonderful time of the year!" Or so goes the Christmas song. But for recruiting junkies, that wonderful time is the recruiting season, especially when your school is harvesting a bumper crop. Now for UH fans, the fields have been largely untilled the past few years under Art Briles. Following the ‘06 C-USA championship, the Cougars were able to ink a handful of solid tier-two players--essentially, recruits who may make a Top 100 list or two and have mid-level BCS school offers--which is a handful more than they had in the previous few years. But about half the class had only non-BCS offers, if they had any at all. That doesn't mean they won't be good players, but if every college coach who recruits Texas (and nearby states from which UH signed some players) scouted some of these kids, well, one has to wonder: Why didn't they get more offers?

Coach Sumlin was brought in to win recruiting battles about the same time that enemy flags were being raised at high schools across the state. Because of his commitment to Oklahoma, which he kept, Sumlin was not able to start running on the recruiting trail until the first week of January, some four weeks before Signing Day. And he still had to hire a staff. Nonetheless, Kevlar, as he has been dubbed by the Cougars' beat writer, Michael Murphy, may end up signing one of the top two or three classes of this decade at UH, which, to be honest, isn't saying a great deal given that three of Briles' classes had a combined total of one three-star player, according to Rivals. Dana Dimel signed some notable recruits, but they were often risky prospects who ended up leaving UH after a year or two for sundry reasons, if they ever got on campus at all. But for the here and now, coach Sumlin has reeled in some impressive local talent, the kind of players that have largely been thumbing their nose at the Cougars for a long time, and he may still bring in some more.

Like it or not, as great a school as Cougar fans rightly think their university is, as a non-BCS program that averages 21,000 per game, UH simply is not going to out-recruit regional BCS powers that average 80k no matter how adroit a salesman the coach is. Even so, if one bases the quality of a class on the star system, he should be happy with what Sumlin has accomplished at this point. Now stars are certainly based at least in part on site subscriptions. Major web sites such as Scout and Rivals are businesses, after all. No non-BCS school but BYU, which just happens to average 65k and has a nationwide following, ever finishes among the top half or so of Division I-A teams. Last year they were ranked #42 by Scout and #51 by Rivals. But some of the star system is similar to the chicken-and-egg problem. Who's to say that fan following isn't why BYU is perennially rated higher than a number of BCS schools in recruiting? At any rate, with several weeks to go, Scout.com rates UH as the #1 class in C-USA, and the Cougars‘ point total will rise as more commits come on board. The Cougars have verbals from one four-star player and four three-star prospects--if that isn't too confusing. And if a few things break the right way, about half of coach Sumlin's first class will have solid BCS offers, and UH will also sign players who spurned top non-BCS programs.

So far, the headliners of the class are linebackers Anthony Lewis and Jarvis Smith, athlete Jackie Hinton, and wide receiver Isaiah Sweeney. Some of the schools offering those players include Nebraska, Kansas, Boston College, Purdue, Oklahoma State, Arizona, Kansas State, and, according to one report, the Coogs‘ four-star verbal, Jarvis Smith, had an offer in hand from LSU. Additionally, some of the best non-BCS schools--Boise, UCF, TCU, and Fresno--have offered Cougar commitments. The offers a school's recruits receive may be a better gauge of that class's quality than anything else. If so, this group should rank with the 2001 class as the best of this decade.

UH, like every non-BCS school, is going to sign some sleepers. Some promising prospects who weren't weighted down with other offers include defensive tackle Blake Sargent, linebacker Leonard James, offensive lineman Jacolby Ashworth, and defensive backs Nick Saenz and Kris Johnston. James and Saenz must not be too shabby given that both are rated three stars by Scout.

More good news may be on the way. The Cougars are in the hunt for several top local prospects, and are hosting some good ones this weekend. Lamar's Tracy Robertson is one of the city's best defensive linemen, and he appears to have UH at or near the top of his list. Bryce Beall, who could end up at running back or safety, claims offers from Missouri and Kansas, and will be touring the UH campus with his teammate, Cashas Pollard, this weekend. Doran Guillory, a defensive tackle and Iowa State commitment (and one would think ISU head coach and former UT defensive coordinator Gene Chizik wouldn't pursue a defensive lineman unless he was a good one), could switch his verbal to UH after his weekend stay on Cullen Blvd. Metroplex powerhouse Arlington Bowie, where former Cougar defensive back Kenny Perry heads the football program, has several quality players looking under the Cougars' hood. These recruits, defensive end Mohammed Usman and linebacker Marcus McGraw, were chased by Washington State; in fact, McGraw committed to those other Cougars. But it just so happens that the coach who recruited them for Wazzu, Leon Burtnett, is now the good Coogs' linebacker coach. Additionally, one of the nation's top junior college defensive tackles, Blake Gumm, could become a Cougar. And coach Sumlin may yet pull some rabbits--or Lions or Mustangs or other such creatures--out of his hat.

No, UH isn't going to beat UT this year in the recruiting rankings, but it does seem obvious that coach Sumlin is doing a better job of getting some of the top local talent to stay home, something that wasn't happening under the previous regime. Last year, out of a class of 26 recruits, the Cougars signed eight from the Houston area, a total of only 31%. This year, UH has 12 verbals from local players, could very well get more, and will probably sign about four to six fewer players than they did in ‘07. At this time roughly 18 players have said they'll wear the scarlet and white. But what's important is that Sumlin will likely sign almost twice as many Houston recruits in this class than Briles has been annually signing. Many Cougar fans think the way back to becoming a Top 25 program is by focusing on good Houston players and getting about 15 or so of them to stay home. Sumlin seems to be doing just that, and the recruits he's winning over, for the most part, are well-regarded, not prospects out of the blue with no other offers. Of course, a commitment isn't worth the piece of paper it isn't signed on; things could change. But at this point, UH is positioned to sign a quality class, very possibly the best in C-USA.


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