Okam, Kelson, Receivers Highlight Top 10 Class

Longhorn head coach <B>Mack Brown </B>inked what is generally considered a Top 10 recruiting class when he received 19 National Letters of Intent on Wednesday, including 10 of the top 25 members of the final Texas Hot 100. The signees are punctuated by the late addition of Texas 5-A All-State DL <B>Frank Okam</B> and five of the top receivers in the Lone Star State.

The strength of this year's group is its across-the-board diversity of a group of highly accomplished athletes, Brown said.

"The strength of this group is that they've won, they're competitive, they've got a passion for football and a lot of these guys can play in different places," Brown said. "A lot of these guys can be wide receivers. A lot of them can be defensive backs. Some can be really good running backs. It's probably the diversity of this class that helps us because they give us a lot of options of where they can play and because they can fill a need. There's a guy at every position in this class who can play every position on our football team except quarterback."

"Except quarterback" was the early moniker for the list of 2004 UT signees -- particularly since Brown announced this time last year that he was holding on to two scholarships in order to sign a couple of signal callers from the bumper crop of Texas QBs available this recruiting season. That's why with no QB on the Texas docket, and what with both the state's top QB (Rhett Bomar) and top RB (Adrian Peterson) signing with Oklahoma, Okam's 11th hour announcement to sign with Texas provided a much-needed exclamation point to a talented class.

A fixture in the Dallas Lake Highlands starting lineup since he was a sophomore, Okam (No. 5 Texas Hot 100) registered 170 tackles (including 14 TFL and seven sacks) during his career. The 5-A All-State selection in both football and track and field did not inform Brown of his decision until approximately 10:20 p.m. Tuesday. Then, Okam was en route to announce his decision during a Fox Sports Southwest broadcast but called Brown en route to the television station.

"Frank was really important for us," Brown said. "I had thrown up from six o'clock to 10:20 waiting for the call. I knew he was going on TV at 10:30 and I was wondering if I was going to hear from him before I caught him on TV. He and his mom called the house on the way to the TV station, so that's how late I got the word. It was a great way to take momentum into the day because he's a great player and an outstanding young man."

Okam (6-5, 300) is cut in the same mold as DT stud Rodrique Wright and is expected to see action next fall.

"He's an impact guy," Brown added. "He can step in and help right away if he's in shape."

A pair of standout DBs should also vie for playing time next fall. Safety Andrew Kelson (No. 4 Texas Hot 100) and safety/cornerback Bobby Tatum (No. 11 Texas Hot 100) will be among the candidates to fill the cleats of graduating CB Nathan Vasher and FS Dakarai Pearson. Both bring size and speed to the secondary.

"Drew Kelson brings a bigger guy (6-2, 210) than we've been playing at safety with the same speed," Brown said of the Houston Lamar product who reportedly has been clocked at 4.4. "He's got great intelligence. He carried a 4.0 GPA. He's a real leader. He's very mature. He's one guy that you will be really impressed with."

A three-year starter at safety, Kelson was a second-team Texas 5-A All-State selection who posted 164 tackles and six INT (three returned for TD) during his senior year. He also carried the ball 8 times for 738 yards and 11 TDs in 2003.

Tatum comes from excellent pedigree. The great nephew of NFL All-Pro DB and Super Bowl champ Jack Tatum, Bobby was an honorable mention 4A All-State as a junior at North Crowley before earning second-team All-Dallas Fort Worth area honors in an injury-plagued senior season at Fort Worth Dunbar. He tallied 75 tackles, two INT, five PBU, and three fumble recoveries as a senior. Already enrolled at Texas, Tatum did a mock signing Wednesday in front of the team.

"Bobby is working out with the team now and is an outstanding defensive back that can also play running back," Brown said. "Bobby Tatum has the ability to play in a lot of places."

Texarkana WR Nathan Jones (No. 14 Texas Hot 100) headlines a quintet of highly regarded receivers that, collectively, may be second to none (at least on Signing Day). Although his father was a starting Arkansas cornerback, Jones has wanted to attend only Texas ever since he was wearing Burnt Orange diapers. He also grew up as neighbors with Texarkana native Nathan Vasher.

"We've kidded Nathan Vasher that the best Nate is still to come," Brown said. "He's tall (6-2, 180), he's well-coached. He's a mature receiver and a great student as well."

Now that SE Roy Williams and company have completed their eligibility, Brown continued to stockpile talent at wide receiver by signing Round Rock McNeil's Myron Hardy (No. 17 Texas Hot 100), Burnet's Jordan Shipley (No. 21) and Houston Westbury's George Walker (No. 22).

The Texas Sports Writers Association choice for the 3-A Offensive Player of the Year, Shipley is the state record holder for career catches (264) and for career yards (5,424, which is No. 2 all-time nationally). The two-time first-team 3A All-State pick can contribute immediately, Brown said, despite the fact that Shipley hails from the relatively smaller Burnet program.

"He can play, and he can play under pressure," Brown said. "They had prime time national TV (coverage) up there in Burnet this year. They've had great crowds. They were in a situation like we are where they won enough so everybody has to beat them to save their season. They have pressure to compete and win every week. They were really well coached in a power offense. He stayed on the field every play as a defensive player (DB, 21 career interceptions) and as an offensive player so we do think he's a guy that can come in and play right away."

Brian Orakpo (No. 20 Texas Hot 100) was probably overshadowed by his more heralded Houston Lamar teammate Drew Kelson, but is expected to bring much-needed size (6-4, 220) and explosiveness to the DE position.

For the second consecutive year, all of Brown's signees are from the Lone Star State but this time with a heavier concentration from the central Texas area (Hardy, Shipley, Westwood's Greg Dolan, Round Rock's Peter Ullman and Belton's all-purpose stud Ramonce Taylor, plus walk-on LB Luke Tiemann from Pflugerville).

Legacy prospect Kenton Thornton's absence from the signing day list was the day's only surprise. It's unclear why Thornton, a TE from Dallas St. Mark's who pledged to Texas in mid-January after taking an official visit to the Forty Acres, did not sign. (We hope to have more on the Thornton story shortly.)

For the complete list of signees, click here.

For the latest team recruiting rankings, click here.

For the Signing Day Texas Hot 100, click here.

And remember, starting tomorrow with Rashad Bobino and Jeremy Campbell, IT will be featuring each of the Horns' '04 signees, with extensive comments from their high school coaches and photo essays on most.

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