The 2009 University of Houston football recruiting class may eventually stand out in Cougar history for several reasons. The class includes the first Parade All-American to sign with UH since 1996, though one has to look back 25 years to find a player who made the Parade list and actually wore the scarlet and white. The ‘09 group may also go down as the one that signaled a new strategy in recruiting for UH, one that focuses its energies where many Cougar fans thought it should have been focused for years: the Greater Houston area. Of the 25 players who inked letters of intent with UH, including the junior college signees, 18 played their high school ball in the Greater Houston area. Bear Bryant couldn‘t "put up a fence around" Houston. There are too many good players, and too many schools, from Boise to Buffalo to Boston College, that recruit here. But a strong recruiter can make a mark locally, and Coach Sumlin has done just that. What would be best for Cougar fans, of course, would be for this to be the class that got UH off the recruiting version of a Pop Warner League field and onto the same one where the big boys are playing. Sleepers, diamonds in the rough, hidden gems . . . whatever one calls them, they are out there, and some will become very good football players despite scant recruiting attention. But a school can't set its sights on being a BCS buster if it's competing with Texas State and Louisiana-Monroe for the majority of its recruits. This is the first year in at least a decade or more when more than half of Houston's signees have been offered by major programs, and almost all 25 received some other offers. In years past, UH would sign several players with an offer from UH and UH only. Of course, right now everything is on paper, including the signatures on the dotted lines. Even so, this class could eventually rate as a historic one for any number of reasons. Hopefully it will one day be viewed as the class that got UH to a BCS bowl.
Here's a report card with a grade for each position based on quality, numbers, and need. Yes, it's largely subjective, based on other offers, film, and word of mouth. But the grades are not inflated. The class is compared more with top non-BCS and also BCS programs, though not traditional Top 10 programs such as USC and Florida. That would be unfair. Feel free to throw in your two cents in The Red Zone.
Note: Several players could end up at different positions, especially Broderick Thomas, Jared Pickett, and Jeffrey Lewis. Coach Sumlin said that even Kelvin King may eventually end up on the defensive line. But rather than create an amorphous "athlete" position, and as far as I know, none actually exists, those players will be listed at the position the coaches say they will play them when they arrive on campus.
The Cougars missed out on a tier-one signal caller, but Coach Sumlin still did well. Drew Hollingshead is one of the state's better tier-two prospects, and he's a good fit for UH. He has ideal size at 6-3, 190, and his high school team, Rockwall-Heath, runs basically the same shotgun offense Hollingshead will operate in at Houston. He's an accurate passer and has a good arm. His mechanics need some work, but that can easily be corrected with good coaching. To sum him up, he's an accurate, heady pocket passer with good size, just what Coach Holgerson likes in his quarterbacks. Broderick Thomas (6-3, 190) of Houston Madison is an outstanding athlete, who will be given a chance to compete for the position after Case Keenum leaves. He was offered by Nebraska in the summer, and received a lot of attention from major programs, but he must get his grades in order. Thomas is a work in progress. Obviously he'll need to work on his delivery, read defenses better, quit looking to run at the first sign of pressure, and much more. But a lot of coaches thought the same things about Andre Ware, and he turned out all right. Only time will tell if he develops as a quarterback or is moved to wide receiver. Whatever the case, he's a very good football player and UH did well to get him.
RUNNING BACK: B+
Houston Westbury played Brenham in the second week of the season. Westbury running back Charles Sims (6-1, 185) was questionable for the game with a deep thigh bruise. Yet by the end of the contest, the Rebels had pulled out a 43-36 win behind Sims' four TD effort. He ran for two, caught one, and even threw for one. After the game, Brenham coach Glen West said, "I haven't seen anyone better than him. He broke tackles, caught passes - he's just an incredible player." And he's bringing that talent to UH. Sims has had the Cougar coaching staff's attention for a long time--he committed back in May---because of his obvious ability but also because he's the ideal back for the UH offense. He has great speed, he's a natural runner, and he is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. He's pushing 6-1, and has a frame that should easily handle another 20 or more pounds. He and Brick Beall together may eventually remind long-time Cougars of the days when backs like Warren McVea and Paul Gipson or Kimble Anders and Chuck Weatherspoon were on the same team. Sims may need to get some work done in the classroom first, but there's not a better back in Houston that UH could have signed.
When a program signs a Parade All-American, a former member of the All-Big 10 Freshman Team, a tight end the program's staff thought was the best player in the state to play the big slot position, and arguably Ft. Bend Marshall's best overall athlete, a player TCU, Kentucky, and others tried to purloin, at one position, a grade less than A would be an injustice. The jewel in the crown of the ‘09 class is Parade All-American A.J. Dugat (5-11, 180) of Dayton, the type of player that causes fans to stand every time he gets touches the ball. Dugat, who reportedly runs a sub 4.4 forty, not only led the Houston area receiving, he did so by as wide a margin as he leaves between himself and defensive backs on the field. He had almost 600 more receiving yards than his closest competitor, and almost twice as many catches as #2. He's a gamebreaker, who will see a lot of action next year. James Cleveland (6-1, 205) started as a freshman at Iowa and could come in and start at wideout in ‘09. He's very talented and has both size and speed. Like Dugat, he can be a difference-maker. Tyler Chambers (6-4, 230) of San Antonio Macarthur is a versatile, tough (great blocker), and dependable receiver, who the coaches think will fill Mark Hafner's shoes. He became a hot commodity, but stuck with his commitment to UH. Jared Pickett (5-9, 180) also was courted by several good programs late, but the Cougars held off TCU and Kentucky to get him. Although he's not as fast as Dugat, he'll be tried at the slot, where the coaches hope to utilize his athleticism.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A-
What's little short of amazing is the kinds of offensive numbers the Cougars have put up the past few years with what have actually been fairly mediocre offensive lines. Injuries have decimated the big uglies seemingly every year since ‘05, and UH has played competent but not especially big or athletic types up front. When the Cougars played in the Armed Forces Bowl, the lineman projected to be the anchor of the offensive line was out for the season with an injury, his backup was also lost with torn ligaments, a freshman had been moved to a new position, and a reserve sophomore was starting at another. The point is imagine what the offense could do with five all-conference types clearing holes for Beall and Sims and giving Keenum all the time he needs to find receivers like A.J. Dugat, Tyron Carrier, James Cleveland, Patrick Edwards, et al. This appears to be the finest group of offensive linemen signed in one class by UH in many moons. Roy Watts (6-5, 320) of Navarro JC via Texas via Worthing may be the best junior college offensive tackle in the country. He's rated a four-star prospect by one service and the #17 junior college player in the country. Look for him to step in and start from day one. Another juco, Jarve Dean, came to campus tipping the scales at 340. He's a prototype guard, but he'll be tried at tackle; in fact, Watts and Dean are the likely starting OTs for next season. Although the high school recruits didn't get quite the press clippings the junior college players did, they are an impressive bunch. Missouri's head coach, Gary Pinkel, made a late visit to the home of Kevin Forsch to try to sway him to Missouri. At 6-5, 300, Forsch is a superb run blocker, and already bigger than most of the offensive linemen now on the team, as is Ty Cloud (6-4, 300) of state power Flower Mound Marcus. Coach Sumlin says Cloud could see early playing time. According to Sumlin, Keenan Flax is a player that grew, literally and metaphorically, in stature as the coaches watched him. He gained weight and an inch or two and became the linchpin of the offensive line for one of the city's best teams. He's long with big hands, and if he continues to fill out, he could be a steal, not that other programs weren't interested. Ralph Oragwu of Hightower has gone from 250ish to 283 pounds. His father is 6-7, and Oragwu Jr. wears size 18 shoes and has huge hands. So he may yet one final growth spurt. It will be interesting to see just how well the Coogs can do with an offensive line that stacks up against any team they play.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
Had Darryl Jackson qualified and signed, this position would probably merit an A. But a B+ isn't half-bad. Radermon Scypion (6-4, 225) of Pt. Arthur Memorial is one of the top defensive ends in the state. He was recruited by Texas and Oklahoma and offered by Colorado, possibly others. Scypion is very quick off the ball, and has the kind of frame that should put on some 40 pounds with no problem. Sumlin made a point to say that Scypion could help next year. The other defensive end, Zeke Riser of LaVernia, was a little overlooked, though he was recruited by TCU. But the coaches are high on him. He's 6-4 and already pushing 245. Westbury's DeAnthony Sims (6-3, 300) was one of HISD's best defensive lineman, and gives UH a huge presence in the middle. He'll be counted on to bull rush and stuff the run. Tyrone Campbell (6-1, 270) of Channelview needs a year or two in the weight room to get up around 290. He missed much of the season, and was a little overlooked, though Nebraska went after him, so he obviously can play. Look for him to bulk up and play over the guard and sometimes even the center. He looks a lot like a nose tackle.
Go Speed Racer, Go! The speed of this crop of linebackers will stultify offenses down the road. George Bamfo (5-11, 200) blitzes like he was shot out of a cannon. Zero to 60 in two seconds for that fellow, who runs a 4.5 and played at Rockwall-Heath. Phillip Steward (6-1, 200) of Hightower was a key cog in the Hurricanes' drive to the state championship game. A hard hitter who plays the run and pass well from his outside linebacker position, Steward should be up to 220 in no time. Cleveland's Steven Robertson (6-2, 225) anchored a defense that pitched four shutouts and surrendered only six points per game in the regular season. The coaches are very high on Robertson, who combines good size with speed, and a nose for the ball. He was inexplicably overlooked early, possibly because he plays at a small school, but recruiters picked up his scent and started tracking him down later in the process. But he's yet another who stuck with his commitment despite pressure from other programs, something of a new phenomenon at UH. Robertson is likely the future for the Coogs at middle linebacker. Kelvin King looks impressive on film. He's not the burner Bamfo and Steward are, but he's much bigger and still retains good quickness. He could be a fine strong-side linebacker, but he's a growing boy who's pushing 250 now. According to Coach Sumlin, if he gets much bigger, he may end up as an interior defensive lineman before he's done.
DEFENSIVE BACK: B
UH addressed two immediate needs with the signings of junior college prospects Jacky Candy and Devin Mays. Candy (6-1, 205) should step right in at strong safety for the departed Ernest Miller. Candy is a little bigger and also faster than Miller. He plays the run extremely well, and he's not at all a liability in coverage. Speaking of coverage, Mays (5-11, 170) is one of the top cover corners in the juco ranks this year. An Oregon signee, Coach Sumlin tried to get Mays to go to OU a couple of years ago, and raves about his coverage skills. Mays, who runs a 4.4, will likely start opposite Brandon Brinkley at cornerback and the Cougar pass defense, as long as opposing quarterbacks don't have all day to find a receiver, could be much improved. Thomas Bates (5-11, 180) of Baytown Lee hasn't garnered nearly the accolades one of the top defensive backs in the state deserves. Maybe that had something to do with Bates's early commitment to UH? Whatever the case, he is a good one. Iowa tried to get him to switch, but Bates held firm. With Mays on board, Bates may be able to redshirt and then possibly take over for Brinkley in ‘10. Madison's Jeffrey Lewis (5-9, 180) wasn't highly recruited, but the coaches noticed that every time they watched film on Madison, Lewis was making plays, whether he was returning a kick, catching a pass, making a block or tackle, etc. Sumlin claims Lewis has the kinds of instincts good DBs have, so he'll come in as a cornerback.