Eyes of Texas Shining on 'Signing Day'

Texas inked a consensus Top Five national recruiting class Wednesday that stands head-and-shoulder pads above all takers in the Big 12 Conference. The 25 newcomers are comparable to the top-rated group Texas corralled in 2002, head coach Mack Brown said.

"It's obvious that today's group is one of the best in the country based on who they are against high school competition," Brown said. "The true evaluation of this group will be how this class does over a four- or- five-year period, how much they improve and how well they compete with the best college teams across the country.

The last Longhorn to give his verbal, four-star DB Christian Scott, was also the last Texas recruit to fax his Letter of Intent. When Scott's commitment became official late Wednesday morning, Brown's haul ranked No. 4 in Scout.com's final tally behind Florida and a late surge from LSU and USC. All told, Texas' Class of 2007 boasts five members of Scout. com's Top 100 and three First-Team Parade All-Americans (OL Tray Allen, DT Andre Jones, SLB Keenan Robinson).

"I would think that there would be more guys from this class play (early) than most," Brown continued. "This class is probably more like the (Vince Young) class in 2002."

The class is punctuated by its emphasis on DBs (Five-Star CB Curtis Brown, first-team Texas 4A all-stater Ben Wells, second-team Texas 5A safety Christian Scott, Earl Thomas, Brandon Collins) and on O-linemen (everybody's All-American Tray Allen, first-team Texas 4A selection Michael Huey, first-team Texas 4A all-stater Kyle Hix, second-team Texas 4A Aundrey McGaskey and Matt Nader).

"Tray will be a leader on this team," Brown predicted. "He weighs more than 300 pounds (6-5, 310) and has great feet. He told me that people all over the country were still asking him to visit and he asked if I would rather him not. That was a quick answer."

Thomas and Collins were both second-team all-staters at WR but are projected as DBs and return specialists. Brown is also expected to be an impact player on KO returns who, along with Wells, are early enrollees this semester. Allen is Scout.com's and Parade Magazine's choice as the nation's top offensive lineman and can play all four positions on Texas' offensive front. McGaskey, who played on two state champion teams at La Marque, can also play all four spots, Brown noted. (Note: Nader's scholarship will not count against Texas' numbers. The Westlake product, with a heart condition that forced him to give up football last September, was granted an NCAA exception for a prospect who becomes injured or ill. Nader will now be a student assistant at the Forty Acres).

"When you look at our philosophy in recruiting," Brown said, "we try to replace our juniors and maybe our seniors. Our staff, in the beginning, looks very closely at the upper-classmen and who's leaving. For instance, we're losing three defensive linemen this year. We're losing three linebackers over the next two years. We lost seven offensive linemen over the past two years who played a lot. So, we need young offensive linemen coming in."

That's why it may be impossible to keep consensus All-Americans like Allen and Jones off the field this fall. Allen arrives in Austin next month because his school (South Grand Prairie) is on the tri-semester system, and coaches have told him that he will log quality snaps this season. (In fact, Allen has told Inside Texas on at least two occasions that he expects to start). He is a natural inside player but played exclusively at LT during the U.S. Army All-American Game because coaches wanted the West team's best O-lineman on the outside. Jones is a first-team All-American and a three-time all-state selection who should emerge as Frank Okam's primary understudy. The 2006 Texas 4A Defensive Player of the Year, who will participate in spring football at Texas, notched 304 career tackles and was the only four-year starter in school history (El Paso Andress). Jones reported in mid-January tipping the scales at 6-5, but 270-pounds, but Brown said the All-American has gotten "even bigger" just three weeks into Texas' strength-and-conditioning program.

The Horns inked two highly-publicized QBs in Five-Star Mansfield product John Chiles and Three-Star Gilmer product G.J. Kinne. Chiles has told Inside Texas on a number of occasions that his commitment to the Longhorns was conditioned on his getting a shot behind center. Most recruiting services had Chiles listed as either a "WR" or an "Athlete." A three-year starter at both QB and WR, Chiles combined for 2,036 yards passing, 1,248 yards rushing, 694 yards receiving and 56 TDs during his final two seasons at Mansfield Summit.

"John has not played a lot of quarterback," Brown said, "so his future at this position is very intriguing just because it's all ahead of him. He can throw. He's got very powerful legs. We feel like, if he buys into this and really wants to play quarterback, he has a chance to be a really special player."

Chiles was an option QB and typically operated from a two-back set. Kinne, a four-year starter, has operated exclusively from the shotgun in a spread offense. Kinne is a two-time Texas 3A Offensive Player of the Year who transferred from Canton to Gilmer his senior season. He originally committed to Baylor after his father became the Bear's linebackers coach in January, 2006. However, freshman QB Jevan Snead's decision to transfer and Five-Star QB John Brantley's decision to de-commit from Texas prompted Kinne to contact Longhorn coaches. He gave Texas his verbal on December 27. (Brown insinuated that had Texas offered Kinne earlier in the recruiting process, he would have been listed higher than a Three-Star rating).

"It was a life's dream for G.J. to go to Texas," Brown said. "It had nothing to do with us or Baylor. It was what he wanted to do from the beginning."

Brown also landed a couple of solid RBs, including First-Team Texas 5A All-Stater Foswhitt Whittaker (currently on campus). The Pearland product finished his prep career as the sixth all-time rusher in Texas 5A history with 5,717 yards and 51 TDs in three seasons. Second-team Texas 4A all-stater in Cody Johnson (5-11, 230) is also on board. The Waller-product, who rushed for 3,294 yards and 40 TDs during the two past seasons, will play either TB or FB.

"We would like to become more involved in more I-formations," Brown said, "and we'd like some backs who can play both places.

The vast majority of Texas' class were solidly on board six months ago. (Twenty-eight prep stars took official visits to Austin, all accepted and all but three ultimately signed). What little suspense there was for Brown this week was whether First-Team Texas 5A DE Russell Carter would switch to Arizona. Wildcat coach Mike Stoops remained hot on Carter's trail, a native of Arizona who, at one time, attended the same Tempe high school (Coronona del Sol) as fellow signee TE Blaine Irby (Ventura, Calif.). Carter transferred to Houston Westbury during his junior year. A two-year starter, Carter posted career 111 tackles while leading his team in sacks and fumble recoveries. Pass rush has been an Achilles Heel for Texas for several seasons and Carter should eventually infuse the defensive front with speed at the edge.

"Russell is an explosive pass rusher," Brown noted. "He's big and strong. We're constantly looking for pass rushers. If you don't have them, you can't play third-down football. Getting the other team off the field is so vital. There were some rumors about Russell possibly changing his mind. We never felt like that was a factor."

A couple of signees (Sam Acho, Ahmard Howard) can play either DE or TE. Blaine Irby was a California all-state selection at linebacker but is projected as a TE/H-back.

The Class of 2007 represents the first fruits of the Texas' national championship 14 months ago. While Brown said the publicity from the 2005 Rose Bowl win over USC was "priceless", current Longhorn signees were more likely swayed by the consistency the Texas program has shown during the past five or six seasons.

"We've been here nine years and these young guys have seen us win each year," Brown said. "The national championship was part of that but, the last six years, we've won 10-plus games. If you take them through their high school years, and even their junior high years, we've been very successful. I think it's more because we've over the time of their sports life that they've been watching, and they've had an interest in Texas for that reason."

This year's final rankings confirm Brown's assessment relative to other Big 12 Conference schools. Nebraska finished No. 20 in Scout.com's final figures (28 commits, none from the Top 100) while Oklahoma State raised a few eyebrows with a No. 23 class (two from the Top 100). Texas A&M finished No. 26 and Oklahoma checked-in at No. 30 with 20 signees apiece.

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