Feb. 16, 2015
Relief. Excitement. Closure.
For Matthew Merrick, a grey shirt quarterback commit who grew up watching Vince Young and Colt McCoy score touchdowns, relief, excitement, and closure are just three words that begin to scratch the surface of what National Signing Day meant to him.
Feb. 4 brought 28 new players to the Longhorn roster, which ranked ninth among recruiting classes according to ESPN. However, while a recruiting class brings attention and excitement to the program, history reveals that it does not promise success. In 2012, Texas’ recruiting class ranked third, but finished out the following season barely holding court in the Top 20, whereas Oregon, who received the 18th best recruiting class finished the season ranked second only to Alabama.
The recruiting rankings are highly calculated based on high school film reels and game performances. Players are awarded stars, with five stars being the highest, and are then put on various lists according to their performance at both state and national levels, their positions, and overall skill. Final classes are ranked based on which highly ranked players sign to which teams. But stars and rankings, while important during the recruiting process, don’t follow players to their college careers.
“Once you sign, the stars you had in high school don’t matter. It’s all about how you perform in college,” Merrick said.
Charles Omenihu, a defensive end commit, believes that while the recruiting process is based on a lot of hype, there is some truth to it.
Regardless of whether it’s hype or not, this recruiting cycle brought something new for Texas fans: down-to-the-wire, nail-biting excitement. Alumni believe Strong’s new, bulldog approach in getting players to sign with Texas, as well as his rigid expectations, differs greatly from that of former coach Mack Brown.
Omenihu sees this recruiting class as very important, as the class shows the foundation for what Strong wants to do with the program and the direction he wants to take with his players.
Merrick says that the coaches have made it clear that Texas will not have another seven loss season and once Strong has his choice players, Texas will be back where they should be again, winning national championships.
Beau Baker, a former Texas offensive lineman and member of Mack Brown’s first recruiting class in 1998 believes that recruiting has changed drastically, and not in a positive way.
“Recruiting has become too much of a business and I think its bad for everything,” Baker said. “In the grand scheme of things and on a small scale, it’s gotten out of control.”
Although Baker grew up loving Texas Football and much like today’s players, spent his entire high school career focused on football, his experiences of being recruited were very different from that of players today.
“We didn’t have ceremonies where we put on hats or made a big announcement,” Baker says. “I committed on the spot at Texas.”
Even though the recruiting game has changed, Baker remains invested in the program’s success.
“It’s frustrating because you can’t do more and you know what it took to do what you did,” Baker said. “You try to separate yourself emotionally but it keeps sucking you back in and it’s something where you gave so much to the program and put so much into it and it bothers you when you’re not at that standard.”
Merrick says that getting back to that standard and turning the program back around is what Strong is here for and that he is personally “proud to be a part of it.”
Charlie Strong’s tough, strict personality has a lot to do with getting Texas back to that standard, and impacted recruits and their signing day decisions in drastic ways, helping Texas to get certain players, but scaring others off.
Omenihu believes that guys that are mature enough to understand his expectations are drawn to Texas and view Strong as a balance between strict and laidback, explaining that, “once you get to know him, he’s not as strict as he seems.”
These expectations, as well as the core values are nothing to be afraid of, defensive tackle commit Duvonta Lampkin says.
While the coaches have high expectations for the players, it’s possible that the players’ expectations for themselves are even higher.
For Merrick, this means being one of four quarterbacks competing for playing time. Merrick believes that just being in the mix will make the other players better, in turn making the team stronger. Lampkin says his expectation is to be competing for a starting position, as he doesn’t like sitting on the bench. Omenihu hopes to get better, faster, stronger, and like Lampkin, compete for real playing time.
Texas’ strong recruiting efforts landed them a spot at 23rd on ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Poll, but the true testament to Texas’ recruiting cycle will have to wait until Sept. 5 when Texas faces Notre Dame in South Bend, Illinois.
“It just means a lot to be a part of it,” Lampkin says. “We can start something here- a tradition. Something that people will remember.”
Photo credit: 365thingsaustin