Movin' on Up: An Early Look at UH Recruiting

The players currently committed to UH reportedly have or had offers from Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Iowa, TCU, and others. Scout.com has nine of the Cougars' commitments rated three stars and one a four star.

Although the University of Houston football team is headed to its fifth bowl in six years and hopefully will win its 26th game in three seasons, to maintain or even exceed that level of achievement, UH must bring in a strong group of recruits in February. This is a critical class. While there are some very talented youngsters on the roster, several positions are severely lacking in depth and talent. Several freshmen--Bryce Beall, Tyron Carrier, Patrick Edwards, Marcus McGraw, and others--give Cougar fans reason for optimism, but UH needs to fortify its lines, find a few fast linebackers, sign some defensive backs who can cover, ink a quarterback to groom behind Case Keenum, and add some more receivers, hopefully gamebreakers, to the Coogs' pass-happy offense. If most or possibly all of those positions are not addressed in this class, the Cougars may have trouble clawing their way to a divisional or conference championship soon despite the return of Case Keenum and the impressive freshmen; the shortage of linemen and depth could be too much to overcome. But if Coach Sumlin does find the right pieces, UH may have a shot at being a BCS buster down the road. So far, so good. In part, Sumlin got the job because of his impressive credentials as a recruiter, and he hasn't disappointed. On paper, the ‘09 class is shaping up to be best since at least 2001. The Cougars will bring in some 26 recruits. About 21 players are committed, though a few of those pledges are firmer than others, and you never know until the fax comes through the machine. And there may be fireworks in store before it's all said and done. Word is the Cougars may pull of a major surprise or two. There are also some intriguing transfer possibilities out there. Here, then, is a look at UH recruiting position by position. The number in parentheses is an estimate of how many UH will likely sign at each position.

QUARTERBACK (1-2)
The next two years are in the capable hands of Case Keenum, who may become one of the all-time Cougar great signal callers before he's done. His backup, Blake Joseph, will be a senior next year, and while Cotton Turner and Crawford Jones are better than your average walk-on, UH is going to be high and dry in a couple of years if at least one QB isn't signed in February. The Cougars' top targets, Cody Green and Jacob Karam, committed elsewhere. The Cougars did, however, receive a pledge from a solid second-tier QB, Drew Hollingshead of Rockwall Heath. He looks like a good fit for UH. Hollingshead is a pocket passer with good size (6-3, 190) and accuracy. With a redshirt year and plenty of practice time with Coach Holgerson, he may take over for Keenum in 2011. The Cougars may possibly sign a sleeper prospect as well. UH coaches are in contact with a number of signal callers flying mostly under the radar. And if there is a surprise this class, it could conceivably be a QB. Schoolboys surely have noticed that UH is consistently looking a lot like the offense that produced Andre Ware and David Klingler, and that Kevin Kolb is the future for the Philadelphia Eagles.

RUNNING BACK (1)
With freshman phenom Bryce Beall (6-1, 180) along with sophomore Andre Kohn and frosh fullback Justin Johnson just getting started at UH, the Cougars are in great shape in the backfield, but the coaches are enamored with Charles Simms of Westbury, whom they think fits the offense like a glove. Simms committed to the Cougars in May. It's easy to see why the coaches like him. A few times this season he simply outran defenses to the end zone. He's a good cutback runner, he has the strength to break tackles, and he catches the ball. As a matter of fact, he's not at all dissimilar from Beall. UH would find room for a highly rated back such as Kendial Lawrence, whom the Coogs have offered, but chances are Sims will be the only RB in this class.

WIDE RECEIVER (3-4)
If the Cougars hold the receivers they have committed, this bunch could be one of the top 20 groups of receivers signed by anyone in the nation, and getting top-flight receivers is extremely important if UH is going to field the kind of offense good enough to beat good BCS teams. A.J. Dugat is the gem at this position and the jewel in the crown of what is shaping up to be an outstanding class. He's been rated as high as the #11 player in the state. A great athlete, really just a great football player, Dugat could excel at receiver or safety. He could be a difference-maker for UH. A commitment that hasn't garnered the attention he should is James Cleveland. A Baytown Lee product, Cleveland (6-2, 200) was hotly pursued out of high school and offered by the likes of Arizona State, Texas A&M, and others, but ended up at Iowa, where his high school coach's son was the quarterback. Cleveland was good enough to start as a freshman, he had 36 receptions for a 13 yard average, and he made the Big 10 All-Freshman Team. But he left the program, and came back to Texas to play at Trinity Valley Junior College. Cleveland could play outside receiver or possibly be Mark Hafner's replacement at big slot. He was a tight end at Baytown Sterling. Willie Jefferson is another big-time recruit for UH, one who‘s made several Top 100 lists. He has great size at 6-6, 190, and he's a fantastic athlete, who may play basketball as well. The Cougars may take one more if they can snag a player as special as the ones they have committed. Smurf speedster Josh Turner of Hitchcock looks like a natural in the slot, and Josh Gordon of Houston Lamar is one of the state‘s best wideouts, though he may be leaning to Baylor. But with the first and second-year players on campus, the three good ones in tow may be plenty.

TIGHT END/BIG SLOT (1)
Senior Mark Hafner has been the indispensable man this season. As special as Bryce Beall and Tyrone Carrier have been, only Case Keenum has been as important to the offense as Hafner. He has always been there to net the key first down and make the tough catch. Wesley Scourten or possibly transfer James Cleveland should take over the position next year. But both will be juniors, and there's no one else behind them. Enter Tyler Chambers (6-4, 220), a versatile athlete who played wide receiver and quarterback at San Antonio MacArthur. Chambers committed to UH back in the spring. The coaches hope he can come in and be as effective as Hafner has been.

OFFENSIVE LINE (5-6)
With Sebastian Vollmer, Sir Vincent Rogers, who missed most of the season with an injury, and Mike Bloesch leaving the program, and starting center Carl Barnett along with key reserves this year, Josh Bell and Matt Hart, entering their final season, signing several good offensive linemen is a priority this year, not only because of the quality of the players graduating or entering their senior year, but also because there's a paucity of young linemen coming up the ranks. The only second-year scholarship offensive lineman on the roster this season was Chris Thompson. Three true freshmen--Jacolby Ashworth, Blake Sargent, Ari Tatum, and Ken Van Huele--were redshirted and should help a year or two down the road. But only five offensive linemen in two classes isn't enough, and if Josh Bell hasn't recovered from his injury, UH will start spring practice with only one tackle who isn't a freshman. So the Cougars went fishing in the junior college ranks and reeled in two of the best. Roy Watts (6-6, 335) signed with Texas out of Worthing High School three years ago, but he transferred to Navarro Junior College and committed to UH. Like a big fish that's been hooked, the coaches have to work to ensure that Watts isn't the one who got away. He recently visited Miami and came away very impressed, but he's making an official visit to Cullen Blvd. this weekend, and his family wants him to stay home. He's a four-star prospect, and if he's half as good as advertised, he should step in at left tackle, and give the Cougars one of the best offensive linemen in the conference. The other juco is Jarve Dean (6-3, 330), who was an All-Greater Houston pick the same year as Watts, and was about as highly regarded a prospect. He also went the junior college route, and was rated the #52 juco prospect in the nation by one service. He can play guard or tackle, but chances are he'll end up at right tackle so that the coaches can move Chris Thompson back to guard, his natural position. The high school prospects all come from the Houston area and have a lot of potential, more than the typical offensive linemen signed by the previous staff. Keenan Flax (6-5, 265) of Cy-Ridge could develop into a first-rate left tackle. He was the bell cow on an offensive line that got its team to the third round of the state playoffs, and he received strong interest from several BCS programs. Ralph Oragwu (6-4, 260) is another Hightower product. He needs some work in the weight room, but like Flax, he's athletic and if he can add 40 pounds and keep his quickness, a few Big 12 schools will wish they would have shown him more love. The best run blocker of the bunch is Kevin Forsch, a 6-5, 300 pounder, who won't need a couple of years in the weight room to bulk up, though Forsch may not have the athleticism of Flax or Oragwu. But he could be a steamroller at guard, a position where UH seriously needs depth. Forsch is an excellent student, who was recruited by Wake Forest and could play early. Flax and Oragwu are more sleepers, but in a different sense. They aren't the crapshoots some sleepers are. The question with both of them is not so much will they develop but rather how long it will take. With Coach Jackson working with them, it hopefully will be sooner rather than later. So if these five recruits hold firm, the Cougars will be getting immediate help at a position of need with Watts and Dean, and also three schoolboys with the potential to develop into superior C-USA offensive linemen after a redshirt year and dedication in the weight room.

DEFENSIVE LINE (5-6)
The Cougars will never have the kind of defense their fans keeping hoping for season after season unless the coaches can put together a dominant front four that can pressure the passer and stuff the run. Some quick linebackers and speedy defensive backs who cover well are also important, but it all starts up front. Apparently the staff realizes that because they've gone out and gotten commitments from some of the best defensive linemen in the Greater Houston area. The coaches have secured pledges from three top defensive tackle prospects. Tyrone Campbell of Channelview (6-1, 270) is a quick, fireplug-type, who packs a wallop (I‘ve spoken with a one of his teammates, who occasionally had to go up against him in practice) and could be a good fit for the seemingly oxymoronic 4-3 nose tackle position. Campbell is a three-star prospect, and holds an offer from Nebraska. DeAnthony Sims is another good one. He's a biggun (6-3, 310) who can stuff the line of scrimmage. Although schools such as Oregon and Texas A&M wanted him to visit, Sims made an early commitment to Texas Tech; however, that fell through, and the Cougars are more than happy to add him to their class. Sims is another three-star recruit. Darrell Jackson (6-4, 300) is a legacy Cougar; his dad, also his namesake, was an all-conference offensive tackle for UH in the mid-80s. Jackson's been contacted by Alabama and Arizona, but last at last check, he hadn't yet been offered by those programs. He is the third three-star DT recruit--three out of three; that's pretty impressive. Defensive end Radermon Scypion may be the highest-rated of the defensive line prospects. In the preseason, he made a state top 50 list and was rated the #44 player in Texas. Scypion was recruited by Texas and Oklahoma. He wasn't offered, but he was on those schools' recruiting boards. After A. J. Dugat, he is arguably the Cougars' top high school recruit. The other DE is more a natural sleeper. Such players often hail from smaller schools, and that is true of Lavernia's Zeke Riser. This recent Cougar pledge plays for a 3A school, is 6-4, 235, and had 10 sacks this season. On paper, this may be the best group of defensive linemen that UH has signed since the bunch that included Glenn Montgomery, Alfred Oglesby, and Craig Veasey.

LINEBACKER (3-4)
UH has to get more speed at linebacker if the defense is going to improve. True freshman Marcus McGraw started this year, and with a senior at middle linebacker and an injured outside linebacker, an incoming freshman could find playing time. As of now, the Cougars have three linebackers committed. Steven Robertson (6-1, 230) may be the best. He spearheaded a stingy Cleveland defense that ranked first in the state in points allowed, only 53. Robertson, yet another three-star recruit, may be Cody Lubojasky's heir-apparent at middle linebacker. Kelvin King, the nephew of Cougar hoops great Michael Young, looks like a nose tackle and runs like a flanker. He could be just what the doctor ordered at strong-side linebacker. The Coogs' most recent pledge, Phillip Steward (6-1, 205) comes from what is becoming familiar haunts for the coaching staff, Fort Bend Hightower, the school of UH commits Ralph Oragwu and Jared Pickett and last year's recruit, WR Isaiah Sweeney. Steward is the fastest of the group and could be very effective on the weak side rushing the passer and also in coverage. So as of now, it appears that UH has a commitment for every linebacker position in the 4-3. With McGraw and Anthony Lewis from last year's class, the Cougars' problems at linebacker will hopefully be solved before long.

DEFENSIVE BACK (3-4)
If there's a flurry of late commitments at one position, it will likely be defensive back. As of now, Thomas Bates (5-11, 180) of Baytown Lee is the only DB committed. And he's a good one. Texas A&M showed major interest in the summer, and Iowa has offered and is trying to pull him away. He's the type of defensive back UH needs if pass coverage is going to improve as it must do. Actually, the Cougars have a number of promising young DBs on campus. Jackie Hinton, Nick Saenz, Kris Johnston, Ricardo Bates, B. K. Johnson, Roisean Haynes, and A. J. Edwards are all freshmen and should contribute next year. But both starting safeties are seniors, and it's unclear whether any of the youngsters are ready to fill those jobs. The most likely candidate is Saenz at free safety. And cornerback has been a major weakness this year with no immediate relief is in sight. UH is involved with several high school prospects, but expect the Cougars to sign a couple of junior college DBs. The staff wants a juco corner and a safety that can start pronto. The biggest name was cornerback Dejon Gomes from San Francisco CC, but he recently committed to Nebraska. There's an outside chance he'll still visit, but at this point it's doubtful. Laron Scott of Butler JC is the next corner on the board. Jacky Candy (6-0, 200) of Coffeeville CC is a physical safety, who could be an able replacement for Ernest Miller at strong safety.

OVERVIEW
It's very easy to lose one's objectivity when it comes to recruiting. Fans tend to look for the best in even the lowest-rated, most obscure recruits. But there are hardly any that fit that description this year. The players currently committed to UH reportedly have or had offers from Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Iowa, TCU, and others. Scout.com has nine of the Cougars' commitments rated three stars and one a four star. And another service has an additional two more UH commits rated three stars. That's 12 out of 21 recruits rated three stars or better. For some perspective, the Coogs had four three-star and one four-star, who did not qualify, last year. In 2006, only one UH signee was rated higher than two stars. Scout presently has UH rated first in C-USA and #40 nationally, and if a pleasant surprise or two does materialize, that ranking could possibly move up the charts. BYU is the only non-BCS school rated higher. This class, assuming it holds steady, is a remarkable accomplishment. UH has been a regular tenant in the 60s-70s recruiting class range the past several years. And what's especially encouraging is how many recruits are from the Houston area. Only three high school commitments are not from Greater Houston. Even the junior college prospects played their high school ball in or within 20 miles of H-Town. No, this class isn't comparable to UT's or Southern Cal's. But UH will never get there. What Houston has to do is beat middle-of-the-pack BCS schools for local recruits, and lasso a major difference-maker or two (see Dugat and Watts) in each class. If UH can manage that, and they're on the right track with this group, they'll be positioned to dominate C-USA much as Boise reigns in the WAC, and possibly even get to a BCS bowl every few years.


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