UT Class-Fast, Talented, Versatile, But...How Good

Head coach <B>Mack Brown </B>inked a group of 18 highly skilled future Longhorns to Letters of Intent Tuesday, a class considered to be on the cusp of the Top 10 nationally.

Brown offered 25 scholarships this year, and, uncharacteristically, was not able to seal the deal with a handful of some of the more highly touted prep stars. But, generally, the sixth-year head coach infused the program with the kind of talent that should fill anticipated vacancies for the next couple of years.

Florida and LSU waged a down-to-the-wire battle as the national recruiting winner, while USC and Oklahoma turned in Top 5 classes. BrownÕs group, which includes a couple of Parade All-Americans (TE Tony Hills, DB Tarell Brown) and 14 all-staters, is considered talented enough to have edged first-year Texas A&M head coach Dennis Franchione.

BrownÕs group is heavy on skill positions, particularly wide receiver (Limas Sweed - Brenham; Tyrell Gatewood - Tyler Chapel Hill; Billy Pittman - Cameron Yoe) and at defensive back (Tarell Brown; Eric Foreman - Corrigan-Camden; Brandon Foster - Arlington Bowie; Michael Griffin - Austin Bowie; Erick Jackson - Duncanville; Steve Richardson - Garland).

"These three receivers that we signed today are really good, so itÕs going to be fun to watch them," Brown said "WeÕve got to find someone to replace Roy (Williams), Sloan (Thomas) and B.J. (Johnson), and weÕre not in a position right now to think that weÕve done it. They may already be on campus, but theyÕve got to pick it up if theyÕre there."

The new class also tilts decidedly toward speedy, versatile athletes capable of lettering at more than one position. Tarell Brown is a prime example. The three-year All-American starter at cornerback also earned Texas 5A all-state honors at running back, rushing for 1,885 yards and 28 TDs on 182 carries.

The incoming group, combined with the 15 redshirted members of last yearÕs top ranked bunch (characterized by defensive linemen, linebackers and one, oh-so-tantalizing quarterback), results in the best back-to-back recruiting classes in all of BrownÕs 19 years as a head coach, he believes.

"WeÕre having a lot of retention in our program right now, so weÕre going to have some years where we get heavy in areas because theyÕre available and less in another areaÉThe combination of last yearÕs big guys mixed with a little skill (players), and this yearÕs skilled guys, I feel like itÕs the best combination of two years of recruiting since IÕve been coachingÉWe redshirted most of those big guys last year, so we feel like it puts us in a great position for the future."

Texas sole signee at running back is (6-1, 220) Erik Hardeman from Pflugerville. The second-team all-state selection ran for 1,432 yards and 23 TDs while catching 17 passes for 310 yards and six scores last season.

For the second time during his tenure, all of BrownÕs signees are from the Lone Star State.

"We think we can win the national championship with players from the state of Texas," Brown said. "That was in question when we got here. ThereÕs always some great players out-of-state, but we felt weÕd rather not go out. If we do go out, we do simply because we found something better out than in. And it has to be a lot better."

Brown said coaches opted to withhold a couple of scholarships because of the relative dearth of in-state high school talent (both athletically and academically) this past season.

"I think next year will be a better year in the state," Brown said. "We could have signed two or three more players, but we decided in the end not to go sign someone just to sign them because we think there will be better players out there next year."

Brown is the only coach in the country to have signed four consecutive Top 5 classes before this year. As such, anything less raises questions if perhaps the program has lost some luster despite back-to-back 11-win seasons. The numbers point to a different scenario, Brown contends.

"When we were No. 1 in the country a few years ago we signed 27 guys," Brown told sports media assembled at Bellmont. "If you have 27 guys, and you get points for each guy, and other people sign 22 or 25, youÕre probably going to have higher points than other teams. In a lot of cases, itÕs not the strength of the group as much as it is numbers."

Texas is not actively recruiting any unsigned players, Brown said, although coaches would have liked to have signed that elusive punter who can change field position with one swift kick, not to mention a certain defensive end.

Although pleased with Tyler John TylerÕs Tim Crowder (6-4, 235), Brown said,"We were disappointed that we didnÕt get another defense end." (Undoubtedly a reference to Denton RyanÕs highly-regarded Jarvis Moss, who signed with Florida.)

Brown said UT coaches are more concerned with the ones they got than the ones that got away.

"We feel very strongly that guys who want to come to your place end up playing there," Brown said. "If a guy didnÕt want to come, and you talked him into it, heÕll probably be miserable and heÕll probably transfer. We want guys that are happy here. If they donÕt come here, then thereÕs some reason why they didnÕt want to come."

Part of the dynamic is that high school recruits are, more and more, basing their choices on whether they will play as freshmen, Brown said.

"We had two defensive linemen ask ÔCan we start next year?Õ, because thatÕs popular with the kids right now," Brown said, "and we honestly told them Ôno.Õ WeÕve already got six guys for those two positions, and theyÕre going to have the first shot. If you expect to walk in here and play tomorrow, you can go somewhere else."

Brown said he would like to have signed a quarterback this year, and hopes to sign two next recruiting season.

"You donÕt want to ever sign an average quarterback," Brown said, "and there are a bunch of good quarterbacks in the state, and in the surrounding states, next year. WeÕll cross our fingers and hopefully sign two next year, and that will get us back on track. WeÕre trying to get them in separate classes, not unlike with Major (Applewhite) and Chris (Simms)."

In addition, 12 of BrownÕs signees are honor roll students. UT coaches have increasingly high regard for stellar athletes who are also a team captains.

"If a guy is a leader in high school, he probably continue that leadership role in college," Brown said. "YouÕd like to have as many captains as you can."

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