The scope of sports recruiting has grown with the evolution of technology. Nowadays anyone in the stands can film and share a highlight with just their phone. However, finding a future star athlete has not always been not so easy (and still isn’t today). Teams that have a keen eye for under the radar talent, and a gift for player development, are the ones that go far.
In the 21st century, most of the Longhorns’s star players have been highly touted coming out of high school. Take, for example, Vince Young. Young is one of five players in the history of 247Sports’s recruiting rankings to have earned a perfect rating. The five-star athlete led the Longhorns to a BCS National Championship in the 2006 Rose Bowl, the first Longhorns title since the 1970 season. However, a large portion of Texas’s success has stemmed from the the development of less touted recruits.
I have created a list of the top 10 Longhorns football players since 2000 that were less than four-star prospects (courtesy of 247Sports). One thing that I took into consideration is the return on investment that the player provided, in relation to his original recruiting rating. In addition, the 2017 Longhorns recruiting class will be the last one that is considered as those players are still fleshing out their Longhorn careers. Today, we will take a look at defense and special teams.
Breckyn Hager – LB (3-Star; 2015)
Notable Season (2016): 65 total tackles, 6 sacks and 1 forced fumble.
Malcolm Roach – DL (3-Star; 2016)
Notable Season (2019): 40 total tackles and 3 sacks.
Brandon Foster – DB (3-Star; 2003)
Notable Season (2007): 57 total tackles, 4 INTs and 3 TDs.
Hager and Roach were two key defensive pieces for Tom Herman, who coached his first season with the Longhorns in 2017. The two versatile athletes played a large role in getting Texas back to playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game, which they did in 2018 with the Sugar Bowl. Brandon Foster, on the other hand, spent multiple seasons backing up Texas legends and Jim Thorpe Award winners, Michael Huff and Aaron Ross, before having a breakout year in 2007.
10. P.J. Locke III – S (3-Star; 2015)
Notable Season (2018): 77 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles and 1 INT.
Locke proved his value during the 2018 season as he helped anchor the Longhorns defense in their most successful season as of late. He also was a valuable asset off of the field, mentoring (then) freshman Longhorns safety, Caden Sterns.
9. Charles Omenihu – DL (3-Star; 2015)
Notable Season (2018): 45 total tackles, 9.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble.
Omenihu was recruited by Charlie Strong and his staff, but made his mark under the Tom Herman regime. His performance improved each season and he quickly became a fan-favorite. Following his senior season, Omenihu was named the 2018 Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year.
8. Michael Dickson – P (N/R; 2015)
Notable Season (2017): 84 punts and an average of 47.4 yards per punt.
The 2017 Texas Bowl, against Missouri, was the game in which Micheal Dickson proved to the world that punters are athletes too. In the game, Dickson downed 10 punts within Missouri’s 20-yard line and was rewarded with the bowl’s MVP award. 2017 proved to be a fruitful year for Michael as he also won the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation’s top punter, and was named as a unanimous first team All-American.
7. Blake Gideon – S (3-Star; 2008)
Notable Season (2009): 49 tackles and 6 INTS.
Gideon was as consistent as they come, being a four-time All-Big 12 honorable mention selection. In addition, the hard-hitting safety started in 52 consecutive games, which is the second longest streak in Longhorns history.
6. Cedric Griffin – CB (N/R; 2001)
Notable Season (2005): 71 total tackles.
Griffin was one of the key pieces on the 2005 Texas Longhorns championship team, a team that was absolutely loaded with talent in the secondary. However, Griffin was not even rated coming out of high school. Afterwards, Cedric was drafted in the second round 0f the 2006 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings and had a decent playing career.
5. Dylan Haines – S (N/R; 2012)
Notable Season (2014): 86 total tackles, 11 passes defensed, 4 INTs, 1 forced fumble and 1 TD.
“Why is Dylan Haines so high on this list?” you might ask. Because not only was he not rated coming out of high school, but he was also a walk-on. Talk about a valuable return on investment. Haines finished his Longhorns career tied for fifth place in career interceptions with 13.
4. Brian Robison – DL (3-Star; 2002)
Notable Season (2005): 58 total tackles, 7 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.
Robison was another key member of the 2005 National Championship team. In addition to Robison’s football success, Brian also played an integral role on the Longhorns track and field team. Following his career with the Longhorns, Robison had a largely successful 10 year NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings.
3. Earl Thomas – S (3-Star; 2007)
Notable Season (2009): 77 total tackles, 8 INTs and 2 TDs.
You could argue that Earl Thomas was the most dominant defensive player for Texas since 2000. Recognized for his efforts, the ball hawk safety was named as a first-team All-American in 2009. However, Earl possibly could have been listed higher on this list had he played more than two seasons (redshirted the 2007 season) with the Longhorns. Thomas capitalized on his stellar 2009 season by entering the 2010 NFL Draft, being selected 14th overall by the Seattle Seahawks. Earl, now a seven-time NFL Pro Bowler, is still regarded as one of the top safeties in the NFL.
2. Nathan Vasher – CB (N/R; 2000)
Notable Season (2003): 43 total tackles, 26 pass breakups and 6 INTs.
Vasher leads the Longhorns all-time list in career interceptions, with 17, and pass breakups, with 64. Furthermore, Vasher’s presence was also felt on special teams as he leads Texas in career return yards. Vasher was a stat sheet stuffer and was one of the founding members of “DBU” under then Longhorns defensive backs coach, Duane Akina.
1. Michael Huff – S (N/R; 2001)
Notable Season (2005): 87 total tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT and 1 TD.
Huff was a two-time All-American and earned consensus first-team honors during his senior season with the Longhorns (2005). In fact, Huff also won the Jim Thorpe award in 2005, which is given to the nation’s top defensive back. Michael showcased his consistency as a four-year starter for the Longhorns, starting in 50 games throughout his career. However, his most important contribution might have been his late game tackle against USC, on fourth-and-two, that set up the game-winning drive for Vince Young and the Longhorns offense in the 2006 Rose Bowl. Huff was later named as the game’s Defensive MVP.
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