At one of the press conferences last year, I asked him why. Brown responded that the academic stresses a student encountered as a University of Texas student were difficult even for a freshman, and that it was unfair to subject a player with potential academic issues to that situation. Brown said that the staff didn't look at the junior colleges, and when they did, they went after initial qualifiers, rather than those who didn't qualify out of high school.
Oh, what a difference a year makes. I asked Brown the same question this year, knowing full well that the Longhorns, at the time, had extended offers to players like JUCO defensive end Quay Evans and offensive tackle Donald Hawkins. The academics were nowhere near Brown's answer this time.
Instead, Brown said that the issue had been one of contacts. In short, the old staff wasn't as connected to the junior college ranks, while members of the new staff had kicked up some dirt on the JUCO trail before.
Those contacts led the Longhorns to offer multiple junior college prospects, and this week, those efforts paid off with the commitment of Hawkins and defensive tackle Brandon Moore. Just like that, in one day, the Longhorns doubled their JUCO take from the Mack Brown era.
Why is this important, you might ask. For one, the Longhorns were one of the few teams in the country not to scour the JUCO ranks. And most of the other ones avoid the junior college ranks via academic imperative. The Longhorns are crippled by no such decree. And in recent years both Alabama — Terrance Cody — and Auburn — Cam Newton, Nick Fairley — made runs buoyed by the talent of JUCO transfers. Shoot, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder has largely constructed his runs on the backs of talented transfers, from Michael Bishop to Daniel Thomas.
Now, there isn't ever going to be a need for the Longhorns to load up on transfers. And part of the reason they've been able to avoid them is that the five-star athletes Texas signs are typically capable of coming in and providing an immediate impact. In short: Texas didn't really need to go the JUCO route.
But there's a major difference between needing JUCO transfers and avoiding them entirely. Within that range is the gray area in which Texas now resides. The Longhorns have roster holes, to be sure, and ones that coaches can't expect to fill based on freshmen. Sure, high school linemen are more ready than ever to carry that mantle. But to expect that of a freshman is a different animal.
And that's where the Longhorns need help. Texas needed an offensive tackle to help take the burden off a young Josh Cochran, and hopefully to help Trey Hopkins slide back inside to his natural guard position. The Longhorns also needed a defensive tackle to take over for Kheeston Randall.
That's the value of the junior colleges for Texas. The Longhorns don't have to pound the pavement of every JUCO from Navarro to Butler, but they may need to dip into those ranks from time-to-time to replenish stock and add depth. Every other major program does it. Why not the Longhorns?
In Hawkins and Moore, Texas addressed two positions of need with older players who have more college experience than the average freshman, and the bigger, more mature bodies to prove it. Hawkins was even a non-qualifier out of high school.
Brown might have pointed at academics at the reason for not opening the junior college door more often. But the new staff's contacts will allow Texas to walk in and out of the room as often as the Longhorns need to. And the program should be better because of it.