Texas landed the top class of recruits by signing stars from the
state's inner cities
The sentiment expressed by Vincent Young, a quarterback at
Houston's Madison High and the consensus national player of the
year, illustrates how far Texas has come in landing top recruits
from the state's urban areas. In explaining why he signed with
the Longhorns last week, Young said, "When I went down there, it
was everything I was looking for in a college. I didn't need to
go anywhere else. I am a Texas player, and Texas is my home
Oh, how Longhorns have longed to hear those words. For the second
time in four years, according to recruiting experts, coach Mack
Brown signed the top incoming class in the nation, this one led
by Young, a 6'5", 200-pound quarterback who passed and ran for a
total of 3,819 yards and 59 touchdowns last season. Of the 27
players the Longhorns got (counting two who enrolled in January),
22 are from Texas, including four from the state's urban areas.
"Three of the top cities in size are within three hours of
Austin," Brown says. "Unless you can recruit Houston, Dallas and
San Antonio, you're not going to make it here."
For years the best urban talent considered Texas as hip as Kmart.
Brown's predecessors, John Mackovic and David McWilliams,
couldn't lure the top city players to Austin. The gravy train of
talent that came out of Dallas's Carter High in the last 15
years--including linebacker Jesse Armstead (Miami), cornerback
Clifton Abraham (Florida State), tailbacks Darren Lewis and Greg
Hill (both Texas A&M)--bypassed Texas.
To help change that pattern, Brown hired Carter High coach Bruce
Chambers as his assistant soon after arriving in Austin in
December 1997. "When I got to Carter, the [cool] school was
Houston," says Chambers, who played at Carter and coached there
for 14 seasons. "After Houston, it was Baylor. After Baylor, it
was Texas A&M. After A&M, it was Texas Tech." It never became
Texas, and Chambers professes not to know why, but others do.
Texas assistant athletics director Bill Little, who has worked in
the athletic department since 1968, said, "People thought coach
Darrell Royal was a racist, even though he's not." After the
Royal era, which ended in '76, Texas had difficulty attracting
minority players from urban areas. Things began to shift in the
mid-'90s after James Brown became the second black quarterback to
start for the Longhorns. (Donnie Little, in 1978, was the first.)
Mack Brown says he didn't consciously attempt to correct the
imbalance, but he agrees that "there was a race question here.
We have been very direct with recruits about race, and it's no
longer an issue." The two men who have the most daily contact
with the players, director of operations Cleve Bryant and
strength coach Jeff Madden, are black, and Brown points out that
all 11 starters on the Texas defense last season were black;
1991 was the last year in which white starters outnumbered black
starters on defense.
One of those starters, end Cory Redding, was the USA Today High
School Defensive Player of the Year in 1998 and a crown jewel of
Brown's other top-ranked class. "I have never encountered racism
here, in the city or on campus," says Redding, who graduated from
Houston's North Shore High. "If you don't take the time to come
see it when you're being recruited, you don't know."
Several hours after he signed his letter of intent on Feb. 6,
Young, who led Madison to the Texas 5A semifinals last fall, was
feeling good about his decision. "Everywhere I go," he said,
"people are telling me I made a good choice."
Florida's New Coach
Zook Hits the Ground Running
Ron Zook walks fast and talks faster, but not even he could cram
a year's worth of recruiting into three weeks. Zook, who was
named as Steve Spurrier's replacement at Florida on Jan. 9, did
well to sign highly regarded players like quarterback Gavin
Dickey of Tallahassee's Lincoln High and tailback DeShawn Wynn of
Reading High in Cincinnati. Still, Spurrier's sudden departure
left the Gators vulnerable, and their rivals pounced.
Florida State signed the four best players in Jacksonville,
traditionally a Florida stronghold. Also, wide receiver Devin
Aromashodu from Miami Springs High, who orally committed to
Florida last month, changed his mind at the last minute and
signed with Auburn on Feb. 6.
"You try to develop a relationship with a player based on trust,"
Zook says. "We were trying to develop that relationship in three
weeks. In the end the length of time that we had caught up with
us." Florida signed a solid class of 20 players, and though
experts said it was a good class, they ranked it below the groups
recruited by Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina in the SEC,
not to mention Miami and Florida State.
The Gators failed to fill their needs on defense, especially at
tackle. That may be a reflection of Zook's decision to hire his
offensive assistants first, believing that he had to reassure
recruits that he wouldn't junk Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun.
Zook, who left Florida in 1996 for the NFL, in which he was an
assistant for three teams and was most recently the Saints'
defensive coordinator, was stunned at how recruiting had changed
in six years, especially because of the explosion of websites
that track teams and their prospects. "The information that's out
there is ridiculous," Zook says. "Recruits don't know who to
With signing day passed, Zook can move on with filling out his
staff and hiring a defensive coordinator. There's also tape to
watch, spring practice to prepare for (the Gators start on March
12) and, most important, a house to buy. "My wife asked me if I
could look at a place this weekend," Zook says. "I told her to
pencil it in. Don't write it in ink."
The Bad Luck Of the Irish
The Florida State coaching staff had so little faith that
All-America running back Lorenzo Booker of St. Bonaventure High
in Ventura, Calif., would choose the Seminoles over Notre Dame
that none of them stayed in the office on Feb. 6 to wait and see
if Booker faxed his letter of intent to Tallahassee. Then,
before Booker's nationally televised press conference, Seminoles
recruiting coordinator John Lilly decided to come back to the
office and give Booker one last call. When he hung up, Lilly
held out slim hope that Booker would sign with Florida State.
Minutes later later Booker surprised many by announcing that he
would attend Florida State.... Last fall Virginia coach Al Groh
said that in terms of recruiting, his roots in the state would
permit him to overcome having spent the previous 12 years in the
NFL. Groh, who attended Virginia and recruited there for more
than a decade, was right: The Cavaliers signed their first top
top 10 class in school history. Among Virginia's top recruits
were linebackers Ahmad Brooks of Woodbridge, USA Today's
Defensive Player of the Year, and Kai Parham of Virginia Beach.
However, the top quarterback in the state, Marcus Vick, who was
also courted by Virginia, followed in brother Michael's
footsteps and signed with Virginia Tech.... The wall that
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano hopes to build around New Jersey to
keep its bounty of talent in-state remains under construction.
The Scarlet Knights signed the state's top player, linebacker
Berkeley Hutchinson of Long Branch, but Notre Dame, Boston
College, Penn State and even Connecticut lured away many of New
Jersey's best players.
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL Young, who had a hand in 59 touchdowns last fall, was the prize of Texas' stellar crop.