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The Tom Herman Recruiting Machine Is Off And Running In Austin

Photo: USA TODAY Sports Images

Not too long ago, some were legitimately worried about the ability of Tom Herman and his new staff’s ability to recruit. This past cycle, the new staff came in with limited time to work, had to pick up where Charlie Strong and his staff left off, and had to try to close some of the best recruits in the country. Not long after their arrival, Walker Little announced that he was going to play his college ball in Palo Alto. Later on down the line, K’Lavon Chaisson spurned the in-state Longhorns to head to Baton Rouge and play for Ed Orgeron after silently being committed to Texas.

After Longhorn fans witnessed an epic closing on NSD the year before, many were left a little dazed and confused when NSD came and went quietly without any kind of fireworks. This should have been expected, given that transition classes should come with tempered expectations. With Herman being the head man in Austin, many had high hopes that he would pull a rabbit or two out of his hat and finish with a flurry. There was no flurry to finish off the 2017 cycle, but it hasn’t taken long for Herman and his staff to get their feet under them for the 2018 cycle.

NSD 2017 was simply the calm before the storm brewing beneath the surface that has brilliantly been dubbed #revolUTion18.

It started during Junior Day(s) with the big flip of then-Florida State commit Justin Watkins and getting the state’s top recruits buzzing about Texas in a major way. Flipping Watkins from the Noles certainly grabbed the attention of many, but recruits leaving campus sold on what Herman and his staff were selling was absolutely imperative and was a bit of a tone-setter for what was to come down the line.

March came and went quietly, but things revved back up in April as the rangy and athletic Fort Worth Eastern Hills linebacker Byron Hobbs opted to commit to Texas over other regional programs like Oklahoma and Texas A&M. His commitment was followed a few days later by Casey Thompson, which gave Texas its [first] quarterback commitment for the class in the form of an Oklahoma legacy. This is where things get interesting in more ways than one. With Thompson in the boat, most assumed that Texas was done at quarterback despite there being some chatter of the staff wanting two quarterbacks in this class due to the lack of numbers on campus.

In the words of my man Lee Corso: Not so fast, my friend! After hosting him on a visit during the spring game, Cameron Rising aka the California Kid decided he wanted to represent the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl in October rather than head for Crimson and Cream colored pastures. There was no hype or build up to this one. Just a simple tweet that set the recruiting world on fire as Texas flipped its archrival’s QB1, and at the same time, potentially opened some doors out West for the staff to walk through on the recruiting trail.

The fun didn’t stop with Rising either. The next day, Reese Moore, hailing from Seminole, got into the boat as the West Texas representative for the 2018 class and gave the Longhorns an athletic, raw, high upside offensive tackle to help protect their investments in Thompson and Rising. Moore’s commitment fills a big need this cycle for offensive line coach Derek Warehime and now allows the staff to focus on landing the likes of Rafiti Ghirmai out of Frisco Wakeland or Louisiana tackle Cameron Wire.

Just when you think this story couldn’t get any better, it does. With Rising and Moore now sporting the Burnt Orange, the Texas staff dug deep and went for the trifecta as they set their sights on heavy Sooner lean Ron Tatum, III. Tatum resides in the Sooners’ backyard North of the Red River and only visited Austin once this spring before announcing his decision date. The math in this one seemed pretty simple even though Tatum loved his trip to Austin. One thing I’ve learned covering recruiting is that things are never as simple as you think. The night before Tatum’s scheduled announcement, word got around that the pick was going to be Texas; the next day, Tatum put on a Longhorn hat and t-shirt during his announcement in his high school gym.

In boxing that is what folks like to call a haymaker, and the Texas staff landed it squarely on Bob Stoops’ chin. After years of Oklahoma poaching Texas talent, Herman has promptly put the shoe on the other foot and is making the Sooners have to protect their state borders. This should be fun to monitor going forward.

Kickers need love too, so I can’t write this piece without mentioning Lake Travis’ Cameron Dicker getting the month kicked off (see what I did there?) properly by giving Herman and his staff their second specialist commitment since they arrived in Austin late last year. Dicker is ranked third nationally by recruiting services and it shows that Herman isn’t leaving anything to chance when it comes to special teams.

Just when you think they are out of surprises, this staff continues to show that they have their aces lodged somewhere up their sleeves. With Cy-Springs safety Leon O’Neal Jr. looking like a safe bet to end up in College Station and trending towards the Aggies, many wondered what the backup plan would be. This staff apparently doesn’t believe in Plan B’s, because they promptly focused their efforts on Cibolo Steele stud safety and LSU commit Caden Sterns.

A few days ago had you asked me what the chances were that Texas would flip Sterns from the Tigers, I would have said less than 5%. He had been very vocal about his love for LSU and seemed bent on playing his collegiate career in Baton Rouge. Always expect the unexpected in this thing called recruiting, folks. The Texas defensive back brain trust that consists of Jason Washington, Craig Naivar, and Michael Huff must have put one hell of a sales pitch together, because after showing up on campus midweek, Sterns was floored to the point that he called Ed Orgeron and Corey Raymond and said he was staying home to play for Tom Herman, again putting the recruiting world on its ear.

To say the least, this first spring under Herman has been eventful in more ways than one. I don’t think that even the “brightest on sunshine” pumpers could have predicted that the new staff would be off to this kind of start in recruiting before putting some W’s in the win column. I certainly expected them to land some good players, but I didn’t foresee them flipping commits from Florida State, LSU, Oklahoma, and landing heavy Sooner leans.

As my man Ryan Bridges put it, what Herman and his staff are doing right now feels like December/January Charlie Strong in the way that he would blitz kids and close them late. Except, it’s May. It also feels like the Mack Brown days where he would land studs early on in the process and go on cruise control for the rest of the cycle. Like with Brown and Strong, Texas fans are having to adjust to the way that Herman’s staff operates.

For me, it’s almost a blend of Herman’s predecessors’ recruiting styles in the sense that he isn’t afraid to push for early pledges, he won’t wait until late in the cycle to hit the gas in recruiting, and he certainly isn’t afraid to get into dog fights with blue bloods down the home stretch. With Brown, we saw him at times fill up on “bread” by taking early commitments rather than try to get into contested battles down the line, and with Strong, we saw him allow schools to gain the upper hand with recruits early in the process and try to be the comeback kid, which worked in some cases, but in others, not so much.

With Herman at the helm, there is a completely different feel to recruiting in Austin and it makes things that much more fun to cover and follow throughout the cycle. With the way the staff has sprinted out of the gate so far, it’s impossible to not start thinking about what could potentially unfold down the line if they meet their expectations on the field. With a productive spring under their belt, and a potentially promising summer on deck, this cycle could end up being what the 2017 cycle was supposed to be had the team produced wins. I don’t want to oversell what this staff is doing so far, but right now, they are way ahead of schedule considering where the program has been prior to their arrival. It’s just the beginning.

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