With 21 recruits from across the nation inking their futures in Fort Worth on Wednesday, Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs now prepare to usher in a new group of talented players in preparation for upcoming 2017 season.
Patterson spoke to members of the media Wednesday afternoon, giving the full rundown on the process of selecting the next batch of athletes to put on a Horned Frog uniform over the next four to five seasons.
“It’s a good class,” Patterson said. “They’re all ‘paper tigers.’ We’ll see how they all do once they actually get here.”
With the road ahead now that much clearer, here’s what you need to know upon the culmination of yet another wild recruiting season for TCU and all of college football.
A physical group
Patterson highlighted the need for a more physical group of players during his talk on Wednesday, evidenced by the Frogs’ acquisition of four linemen all at least 6-feet-2-inches and weighing in right around the 300 pound mark. Those four players – DL Corey Bethley from Katy, Texas; DL JUCO transfer Ezra Tu’ua from L.A. Harbor College in Los Angeles, California; DL George Ellis from Miramar, Florida; and OL Quazzel White from Tacoma, Washington.
“We felt like when went back and evaluated the season, we needed to get bigger on the inside,” Patterson said, “So, you went out and got four guys near or over 300 pounds.
Tu’ua comes from a unique situation, joining the program at 24 years old after returning from a mission. If you’re looking for resiliency, Tu’ua has it, as he previously played one full season with a broken foot.
“He was a blessing,” Patterson said. “Like a lot of Polynesians, he’s really strong. He plays with a passion when he’s on the field.
The physical talent doesn’t stop with just those four players though. Patterson also expressed praise towards Terrell Cooper, a 6-foot-2-inch 260 pound DL from Lindale, Texas, and Dennis Collins, a 6-foot-2 248 pound DL out of powerhouse West Monroe High School in West Monroe, Louisiana.
“Terrell fits into a three-technique category,” Patterson said. “Dennis is also someone we desperately needed. He has a lot of ability and plays with motor, a lot like guys like Chucky Hunter, James McFarland and some others.”
When it comes to pure athleticism though, the headliner is the three-star quarterback recruit out of nearby DeSoto High School – Shawn Robinson.
“Your program really starts with who you have at quarterback,” Patterson said. “He’s already in school, and going through the offseason with us will really give him a jump on things.”
The dual-threat quarterback let DeSoto to a state title in 2016, and speculation has already begun as to whether Robinson will take the snaps as a true freshman for the Frogs in 2017. Though the potential is sky-high or Robinson, Patterson said there is still a significant learning curve.
“He has to learn the system,” Patterson said. “I don’t think spring will be that time, just with learning the offense and getting stronger and getting bigger. His advantage is that with this semester he’ll get those first 15 practices over with, and he’ll have a lot more confidence by the time the other guys get here in June.”
Whether Robinson takes the field in 2017 or decides to redshirt, he’ll likely be on the field along with Christian Williams for at least one season, a 6-foot-four 230 pound tight-end who transferred from Fullerton College in Orange County, CA.
“We needed a tight end and we were very fortunate to find him,” Patterson said.
Patterson said that while size matters, being physical is more than just a matter getting big before the season begins.
“It’s a mindset,” Patterson said. “It already showed dividends during the bowl game, and even in the first half against Oklahoma State when it was just 10-6. We just couldn’t keep it up in the second halves.”
The wild, wild west
More and more in recent years, the Frogs have brought in talent from the West Coast, such as wide-receiver walk-on Daniel Walsh and running-back transfer Colten Christensen just to name a few players who have taken the field for the Frogs in recent seasons. The Frogs landed several recruits from the region once again this signing day, with Tu’ua, Williams, LB Alex Bush and athlete Michael Onyemaobi all coming from schools in the greater Los Angeles area in addition to Washington-native White.
While there are plenty of hypotheticals for the spike in players from the sunny pacific coast, Patterson had a few explanations for the trend.
“Almost 30 percent of TCU students are from the west coast, and 26 percent from California,” Patterson said. “A lot of folks from the west coast have their friends coming here. We’ve learned TCU is very well known out there from LaDainian Tomlinson and our time in the Mountain West Conference. The overall level of football too has been a factor.”
While the school’s popularity has skyrocketed in the region ever since the Frogs won the Rose Bowl in January 2011, name-recognition wasn’t the only factor that gave TCU an advantage recruiting out west, as Patterson added two coaches with Pac-12 experience last month – former Cal head coach Sonny Dykes and Arizona State offensive line coach Chris Thomsen.
Patterson said that Dykes’ familiarity with the west coast in addition to Louisiana from his time as head coach at Louisiana Tech has been critical in familiarity with recruiting hot-spots outside of Texas.
“It really enhances us and says a lot about TCU and them” Patterson said. “Sonny being from Louisiana at Louisiana Tech and then at Cal only helps you in the recruiting aspect and all the knowledge of the places they’ve been. It’s been a slam dunk.”
While Dykes and Thomsen have had an influence on recruiting though, no coach may have been a bigger asset to Patterson in the process than defensive line coach Zarnell Fitch.
“He’s a rock-star, the pied-piper,” Patterson said. “Kids love him. He’s been unbelievable going on the road and truly has a pure heart. He’s a good coach, great recruiter, great family guy and he’s tireless.”
The receiver stockpile
The Frogs inked three wide-receivers on Wednesday, and two are among the best in the business: four-star recruits Omar Manning and Jalen Reagor.
Manning comes to Fort Worth ranked the 6th best receiver in Texas and at No. 26 in the nation in his class. Manning excelled at Lancaster High School just outside of Dallas, receiving 33 offers from schools all across the country.
Reagor on the other hand may just very well be the highest rated recruit in program history. The Frogs came up big when they flipped the No. 2 wide receiver recruit in all of Texas from Oklahoma back in October. Reagor recorded 20 touchdowns between 2015 and 2016 at nearby Waxahachie High School, with 14 coming during his senior year in 2016.
The Frogs also added 6-foot-tall 190 pound wide-receiver Al’Dontre Davis from Lutcher, Louisiana to top things off at the position, which TCU is well beyond stockpiled in when it comes to talent.
While not a receiver, the Frogs also gained an offensive weapon in the signing of Reagor’s teammate from Waxahachie; running back Kenedy Snell. Patterson described Snell as a speedster, very similar to wide-receiver KaVontae Turpin in his ability to return kicks.
In regards to two stand-out receivers coming to TCU and potentially competing for the limelight, Patterson said that while it’s hard to track great receivers, the process of getting them to both commit to the same place is simpler than it seems.
“You put one on each side,” Patterson said. “If you only have one great receiver, they’ll just double cover him. You have to have great ones on both sides. If all of your players are great, other teams have a lot of trouble.”
The Frogs led the nation in dropped passes, and while that will be something that all returning receivers will be focusing on correcting this off-season, look for Reagor and Manning to pick up the slack in that department.
A change in the process?
As the game of football changes over years, so does the process of recruiting. Patterson said several significant changes in the landscape have been increasingly evident to him of late, from competition to policies and beyond.
Patterson spoke about the notion of Texas recruits leaving the state to play in conferences other than the Big 12. Though the number of recruits with the Big 12 on their radar has decreased since 2012 when Texas A&M left the conference for the SEC, Patterson remarked that many critics fail to account that the Big 12 is without also without now without three other tradition-rich programs in the forms of Nebraska, Colorado and Mizzou.
Patterson added though that the trend of more Texas players considering schools outside of the region may very well be the result of a recently-instated recruiting policy in which schools are allowed to fully expense travel for not just recruits but also their families on official visits, making it easier for Texas based recruits to fly out to distant big-name schools and take in all that the programs have to offer.
Patterson went on to add that there is a dark side to the policy as well.
“With the new rule about flying out families, official visits become vacations,” Patterson said. “Now when a kid comes from out of state, I’ve got to figure out why he is actually coming here. Is he really interested in the school?”
Deciphering the true intentions of recruits may be a more daunting task than it once was, but that clearly hasn’t stopped Patterson and his staff from landing yet another stellar recruiting class in 2017, flipping and luring players from some of the biggest brands in college football. Now the countdown to the annual spring game in April begins.