HD Mailbag: Annabel Stephan Answers Questions

Scout recruiting and college football reporter Annabel Stephan answers questions from HD subscribers in our weekly HD Mailbag with a national or regional expert.

HookedonHorns2797 asked: 1. Who is the most interesting character you have ever interviewed? 2. What surprised you most when you started covering recruiting and college football?

1. There have been a few, but I have to go with Mike Leach. I was actually really nervous interviewing him, but he was such a nice man (no, really) and gave me a really great interview. We even spoke about the Pirate. 2. Fan insanity. Growing up in Texas, I always knew that people take football seriously, but I was surprised by how mean some fans could be! Early on, I reported that a commit to a certain school was going to flip and got called a liar, a homer, etc. To work in this business, you have to be tough, and I realized that pretty early on.

MBHORNSFANS asked: 1. Biggest difference in covering Texas under Strong versus Mack? 2. Best recruit/player you saw in person who was not offered by anyone? (Or maybe offered very late etc) 3. The best player in the 2016 class in Texas. 4. Best high school stadium to watch a game? 5. I am a foodie so your top 3 places to eat in Austin?

1. I think what I've noticed throughout the first season is how different press conferences are with Charlie Strong behind the podium. With Mack Brown, answers were very coach speak and nice, but predictable. I love going to Strong's press conferences because you never quite know what he'll say. He doesn't tend to skirt around questions; he's very direct and unapologetic with his answers, and I really respect that.

2. I've been covering recruiting for a few years and have seen some very under-rated athletes in both California and Texas, but the one that most recently comes to mind from the 2015 class is Temple (Texas) running back Jeff Carr. I watched him play both his junior and senior season and even though he's on the smaller side, was blown away by his speed and his ability to find holes on the field and make a play. He was offered by Oklahoma State just before Signing Day, his only offer, and signed with the Cowboys. I really believe he could eventually be an impact player for their offense.

3. I like to base this on players I've seen in person, and with that in mind, I'm going with Killeen (Texas) defensive lineman Kendell Jones. He’s overly physically gifted for the high school level and absolutely dominates on the field. I can see him being a big time run stuffing defensive tackle in the mold of Shaun Rogers.

4. I covered a Southlake (Texas) Carroll game this year and could not believe the turn out. Completely packed, tailgaters in the parking lot. If an out-of-stater wanted to see what Texas high school football was all about, I would direct them to Dragon Stadium.

5. I recently tried two new barbecue places and loved both: Terry Black's BBQ on Barton Springs (the ribs fall of the bone and I did not have a bite of anything I didn't love) and the La Barbecue food truck on Cesar Chavez. (disclaimer: only tried the pulled pork sandwich and brisket because they ran out of everything else and the line was over an hour long, but the food was insane. I'd advise getting there early or just trying your luck at 2 p.m. with what options are left). And of course, Uchi. One of the best meals I have ever had.

DiggsTX asked: 1. What is your favorite event to cover over the course of recruiting season? (Under Armour, The Opening, Signing Day, etc.) 2. Favorite 3 games/sporting events you've ever covered?

1. I really like covering the Nike Camps and the Elite 11. Texas is so spread out and often times I have to do phone interviews with recruits. I like the opportunity of being able to see and speak with some of the state's top talent face to face. 2. UCLA/USC at the Rose Bowl in 2012, when the Bruins beat the Trojans 38-28 and for the first time since 2006, the National Championship this past season, and Texas/OU because I love the rivalry.

dvdrisk asked: How did you get to where you're at now? Did you start by blogging, newspapers, etc? How does someone make their way into this field? I'm just curious, because I've always paid close attention to sports and love them, so I have a lot of interest in what y'all do.

After I graduated (with a theater degree), I moved to New York and quickly realized I needed a "real job". I was hired at ESPN and worked in television production/content development for the Year of the Quarterback project, specifically on the Elite 11. Eventually, I was transferred to Los Angeles and after a while, I was offered a job by Scout to start reporting, which is what I realized I really wanted to do. My best advice to people who want a job in sports is to work really hard and make connections by asking for advice, not for a job. Don't ever think you're "too good" for a job, especially when you are just starting out. There were days when I was hanging clothes and making copies, and those days make me appreciate my job now even more.

bigbevo1 asked: Which OOS QBs is Texas still recruiting & which ones have strong interest in Texas?

Two guys who stand out are Xavier Gaines and Josh White. Both showed heavy interest in Texas early, and Gaines obviously has ties to the program with Cecil Cherry. However, I'm not sure how realistic any of the OOS quarterbacks are presently. If I was looking for a second quarterback for this class, I would look to in-state guys ala Bowman Sells and even Tristen Wallace. I feel like an in-state quarterback could be more realistic. Another I'd watch is Dillon Sterling-Cole if he keeps performing the way he has at recent events.

TexasMofo asked: Will Wickline be the next coach to not be renewed?

This is a hard question, because it’s basically asking which coach gets fired/not retained next, something about which I really have no knowledge. But I will say this: I know o-line recruiting seems to be lacking right now, but a big part of what Wickline brings to the table is how he’s able to translate talent to the field. Before we write him off, let’s see how the offensive linemen that he has personally recruited develop over the next two seasons. Much more on Wickline from Chip Brown in HD ONLY this week.

Hornsreport23 asked: Do you see Charlie Strong bring something else new to recruiting like a satellite camp In Florida or International Camp to begin recruiting the nation?

Charlie is an old school coach and he's pretty steadfast in a few ways. He’s going to enforce his core values, regardless of talent; he’ll always talk about how defense is the most important to winning football games. However, we have already seen his ability to adapt to put the team in what he feels is their best chance to win, such as moving to more spread, uptempo offense. That being said, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Texas set up satellite camps in talent rich areas such as Florida (where he already has success recruiting), Southern California, and Louisiana.

ChuckStrong asked: Are there any high school coaches in particular who are huge fans of Charlie Strong? Any word on QB Sam Ehlinger out of Westlake?

I'd say that the Horns are in good standing with Cedar Hill head coach Joey McGuire, who was offered a job last season, as well as with Gilmer, where new Texas coach Jeff Traylor coached last season. Defending state champion Cedar Hill is a talent hotbed, and Traylor will be able to recruit not only Gilmer, but also the rest of the talent-rich East Texas area. Todd Dodge, at Austin Westlake, has ties to Texas and I think it only strengthens the relationship that his top prospect last year, linebacker Breckyn Hager, signed with Texas. Westlake is a school I'll see play this spring in 7-on-7 and I'll hopefully get an update on Ehlinger's recruitment, but I was very, very impressed with him versus Temple this season. 2017 quarterback recruiting will be interesting with Ehlinger, Denton Guyer's Shawn Robinson, and even Refugio's Jaylon Mascorro.

2football asked: Has Devonaire Clarington really attended 4 high schools? And if so, any idea what some of the reasons for changing were?

I reached out to my good friend Amy Campbell, our Scout reporter based in Florida, who covered Clarington's recruitment for over two years. Clarington did attend multiple high schools and transferred for personal reasons. However, Amy commented that Clarington "is a great athlete with a ton of potential" and that with the right coaching, he could really be successful on the field. My takeaway is that if he was good enough to sign with Texas and be a national recruit with such a chaotic coaching process in high school, imagine his ceiling working with the Texas staff for a few seasons.

girlistic1406 asked: Your top 5 must get recruits regardless of position for Texas next year currently not committed?

1. Kendell Jones (see reason above). 2. One of the elite safeties: Eric Monroe, Brandon Jones, Christian Wallace, Deontay Anderson (there has never been this number of Texas safeties this elite in one recruiting class and you just can’t miss out on landing at least one, hopefully two, of the four). 3. Erick Fowler - I see him fitting in at that fox position currently manned by Naashon Hughes and Malik Jefferson. His skills set seems perfect for that role, which is one of the most important positions in Charlie Strong’s defense. 4. Eric Cuffee - Texas took such a great cornerback haul in 2015 so need at this position isn’t great. If the numbers are small, I think you go get the most elite guy, and to me, Cuffee is far and away the best corner in Texas this year. 5. Jean Delance - he's the best offensive lineman that is currently uncommitted. OL is a huge need in this class and he represents the best chance to fill that need.

Thanks for all the great questions this week! Really enjoyed answering them.

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