With nine players in the 2008 recruiting class already enrolled at Texas, it was a slightly shorter trip this year, but there's still ten different athletes for us to meet on the road.
This past week was the southeastern leg of the recruiting road trip. Two weeks ago, myself, lead writer Bill Frisbie and photographer Will Gallagher set out on the first leg of the trip, which took us to the Metroplex.
We had three stops in the DFW area, but the one that was the most intriguing to me, like it was last year, was Dallas St. Mark's. There we met with both Emmanuel Acho and St. Mark's head coach Bart Epperson.
Acho is the younger brother of Texas defensive end Sam Acho. Like his brother, Emmanuel immediately floored us with his intelligence and perspective. It's nice to meet the kids with perspective, ones that truly appreciate what they have and the opportunity they've been given, players like Ryan Roberson (more on that later).
Emmanuel and his family traveled to their native Nigeria in December on an aid trip, just as they have over 20 times before. His father is a pastor and physician and his mother is a nurse and she is currently finishing her graduate degree. They bring other doctors and specialists with them and set up camp at their compound, distributing medicine, care and food. They see thousands of patients and take day trip out to the surrounding villages to help.
The Acho brothers, being of their significant physical stature, assist in providing security and crowd control. Needless to say, they've had their share of interesting experiences on the trip. Emmanuel is hyper-intelligent, thoughtful, reflective and showed a worldly appreciation for what he has, given that he's over and over again seen, and helped, those who have so little.
After that, it was over to Arlington to meet up with Antoine Hicks and head coach Terry Cron at Mansfield Timberview. Hicks is much more on the quiet side, but a very confident leader. He played quarterback for Timberview, but has been told by Texas coaches that he'll probably line-up at wide receiver for Texas.
Cron believes that the transition will be very smooth for his quarterback and he's got plenty of reason to believe it. Inside Texas has interviewed Cron before, back when he was the head coach at Mart, back when a former player of his decided to leave his baseball career behind and sign with the Longhorns. Quan Cosby was Cron's quarterback at Mart and made the same transition that Hicks is about to undertake. Cron also sees a lot of Cosby in Hicks, from his playing style to his work ethic to his quiet confidence. He's very excited that both will be on the same team and made multiple mentions of how much he trusts Mack Brown with his players.
The final stop of the Metroplex leg of the tip was over at Cedar Hill. Unfortunately, defensive tackle Jarvis Humphrey was not available to meet with us (he wasn't in school that afternoon, but rather in Plano attending to a family matter), so we talked with Humphrey's D-line coach, Corey Jennings.
Humphrey is a big man, but the little things are what coaches appreciate from him. Not only does he work hard on the practice field, he dedicates extra time to helping the athletics program off it and is always around the coaches' office. He answers the phone, helps out with equipment, participates in all manner of sports and genuinely wants to help the program.
"Sometimes you get guys who are seniors who say, 'Oh, I've been through all this before,' but that's not Jarvis," said Jennings. "He does all the little things in practice and really helps the younger guys."
We also stopped in Cedar Hill at a spectacularly delicious joint called "Sam's Pizza". Great calzones and stromboli.
The second leg of the trip was this past week, as myself, Gallagher and IT publisher Clendon Ross traveled southeast, starting with Brenham High School, where we met a couple of future Longhorns.
Both Luke Pohelmann and the aforementioned Roberson hail from Brenham, which makes this the second year in a row that Texas has received a pair of players from the southeast Texas town of 13,507. Tight end/defensive end Ahmard Howard and wide receiver Brandon Collins came from there in the 2007 class and, going back even further, departing receiver Limas Sweed went to high school in Brenham.
Roberson is another athlete who has gained great perspective through struggles. The transition to college is when most students first head out on their own, but for the past two years, Roberson has lived in an apartment in Brenham with his brother. His brother works at a prison in Navasota, but Roberson has worked a variety of jobs himself and they've not all been fun.
For example, this past summer Roberson washed dishes for 11 hours a day. Certainly he could have gotten an easier line of work than this, but Roberson told Inside Texas he chose it so that he could learn what working a "real" job was like.
"I wanted to make my own money and see what it was like for me to do blue-collar work, just in case I don't make it to the NFL, I know how it feels to go work 12 hours and work hard to support my family," said Roberson.
After talking with Roberson, we met Pohelmann, who came to Brenham specifically for football. His family moved from the nearby 1-A town of Burton and is very grateful for the sacrifices his parents made for him (for more, on Pohelmann's story, as well as some more tidbits from the Road Trip, see last Friday's Inside Scoop).
Pohelmann is one of the few players who will go into the 2008 season knowing that he'll redshirt. The 6-foot-5 tackle only weighs 255 pounds and plans on taking the opportunity to bulk up. In addition, there is the academic and experience advantage.
"I might as well get five years of school than four, get the most out of it," said Poehlmann.
From Brenham it was down to the gulf coast for Angleton high school. There we met D.J. Monroe and his head coach at Angleton, Finis Vanover.
Monroe, he...hmm. Hard to describe. I left my rather lengthy conversation with him convinced that he will be a great player at the Division I level and beyond.
Why? Because he said so.
I've never encountered a more confident athlete than Monroe. He is dead certain that he's going to be the greatest you've ever seen...but it's not arrogance. It's difficult to describe accurately. It's similar as to how some of the things Vince Young has said in his career can be read as arrogant statements, but if you hold a full conversation with him, you see a bit more where he's coming from and why it transfers into confident leadership.
Monroe, even more so. He doesn't care that he's 5-foot-9. He doesn't care that he's not the highest rated player. He doesn't care that he's been doubted time and time again. He will beat you and no one can tell him otherwise.
As for his height, I don't think that'll be a massive issue because of his 43-inch vertical. And yes, he does have a ridiculous, 43-inch vertical. He had no problem showing it off. As we were talking to him in Angleton's gym, he displayed it by nonchalantly, with no run-up mind you, leaping and grabbing the rim on the basketball goal. At 5-foot-9, he can dunk with ease. I don't think height will be an issue.
Next we traveled up through Houston to Klein Oak High School in Spring, Texas. We met with receiver DeSean Hales and his head coach, David Smith. Hales was a do-everything player for Klein Oak, but he'll play slot receiver for Texas.
He could also being playing soon. Hales likes Texas' new policy of not pushing any player to redshirt.
"They want you to go out there and compete for a spot," said Hales. "Only time will tell, but if I handle my business, I can compete for a spot."
Most players mention the family atmosphere at Texas as a major influence in their decision to come to Texas, but it really stood out to Hales. He was surprised with how easy it was for him to talk to Brown.
"He makes you feel like you were his child," said Hales. "It was a different atmosphere from anywhere I went...You feel like you're right at home."
Hales plans on studying business at Texas and made mention, without prompting, of how important getting a degree from UT is. Although he's not sure in what field yet, he wants to own his own business.
Finally, we ended the trip in way over by the Louisiana border, traveling to Beaumont to meet defensive tackle Kheeston Randall and head coach Mike Long at Monsignor Kelly Catholic High School.
You want to talk about a well-mannered, polite, humble player, look no further than Randall. He came wearing a polo shirt and pressed khakis and actually wore a full suit and tie when he took his first took his visit to Texas, which, according to Long, floored Mack Brown.
It was all yes-sir, no-sir from Randall, who talked about Texas actually being the first team to find him at the small private school out in Beaumont and how much that meant to him. Coach Long actually said that the day after Randall's commitment story came out on various publications, he received calls from several schools, including Oklahoma and LSU to inquire about this little-known DT.
Long is actually from the Austin area and asked if we'd ever been to Poodie's. Well, of course I had. You got to love Poodie's Hilltop Bar. I told him about the time I saw Ray Wylie Hubbard play at Poodie's and a quite inebriated Jerry Jeff Walker randomly showed up. Ray Wylie invited him up on stage and Jerry Jeff sang his songs, drink in hand.
Coach Long laughed. Kheeston looked confused. Then again, Kheeston didn't seem the type to be a Jerry Jeff Walker fan.
Beaumont was the last stop on the trip and it was back to Austin. On the way out of the Golden Triangle we stopped in Dayton, a smaller deep-East Texas town, and ate at the Branding Iron. It was a nice local stop with some good country cooking. One of the things I like about the trip is the random little places we stop to eat. Good stuff.
We still have two players left, the two CenTex guys that are still in high school. During this and next week we'll meet with Aaron Williams at Round Rock McNeil and D.J. Grant at Austin LBJ leading up to signing day on Wednesday, February 6th.
It's quite a journey, but the Recruiting Road Trip is a rewarding experience each year. It's great to get out on the road and meet the players and coaches face-to-face. We've still got a lot of phone calls left to do to gather info for the Recruiting Yearbook (still got to talk to the coaches of all the players who are already in school and maybe even head out to California to meet up with Darrell Scott...we'll see), but the issue of Inside Texas Magazine is going to be one of the best yet. There's a quality group of players that make-up this year's recruiting class and the underrated group could actually turn out to be Texas' best.
Especially if D.J. Monroe has anything to say about it.