By most standards Mack Brown had a signing day worthy of a
champagne toast. By 9 a.m. on Feb. 4 the fax machine in the Texas
coach's office was spitting out a steady stream of high school
players' official commitments. An hour later, as the last
scrawled signature arrived, a healthy 19 of the 24 recruits who'd
made official visits to Austin had pledged allegiance to the
Longhorns. But that day Brown fielded as many questions about
the in-state players who had slipped away to archrival Oklahoma
as about his new class. "The first thing you have to say is
that OU runs a great program," Brown said. "Some of the good
players, especially in the northern part of the state, are
gonna go up to Oklahoma."
Make that the best players, this year. While co-national
champions USC and LSU topped the major recruiting experts'
rankings, the most decisive victory--for control of talent-rich
Texas--was scored by Oklahoma. In 1999, a year after he arrived
in Austin, Texas coach Mack Brown hauled in the country's best
recruiting class, studded with the state's best talent, including
Cory Redding, now of the Detroit Lions. In each of the next three
years the Longhorns signed the consensus top Texas senior and
ranked among the top five recruiting classes nationwide. But this
year, on the heels of the Longhorns' fourth straight loss to
Oklahoma, a 65-13 rout in October, Brown watched the state's two
best prospects head across the border: Palestine High tailback
Adrian Peterson, who has drawn comparisons with Eric Dickerson,
and Grand Prairie High quarterback Rhett Bomar. "Oklahoma pulled
a lot of great high school players out of Texas back in the
'70s," says Jerry Bomar, Rhett's father and high school coach,
"but the talk around here is that this has to be the first time
the Sooners stole the state's top running back and top passer."
Texas did its best to land the two. Brown and his assistants
started sending letters to Bomar during his sophomore year, after
he had attended a football camp in Austin, and they called his
house at midnight last May 1, the first day coaches were allowed
to telephone '04 recruits. In talks with Bomar, who has a 4.3
GPA, Brown stressed the vast business connections of Texas alums.
"They played the Texas card quite a bit," says Jerry, a former
safety at Texas Tech. "At one point Brown said, 'C'mon, Rhett.
You even have a Southern name, a Texas name. Don't turn your back
on your home state.'" In one meeting with the Longhorns' coach,
says Rhett, Brown "wouldn't stop hugging me. He was such a nice
guy. But in the end that stuff didn't make too much of a
If Brown's personal touch didn't win over the nation's top
quarterback and his father, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops's focus on
football did. After a visit to Grand Prairie last spring, Stoops
and three assistants talked strategy with Jerry and his staff for
hours. In a phone call Stoops, who coached Heisman-winning
quarterback Jason White last season and runner-up Josh Heupel in
2000, told Rhett he could be the next Sooner in line for the
trophy. Throughout the recruiting process Stoops scoffed at the
notion that players were under any obligation to play in their
home state. "Bob had a great line," Jerry recalls. "'What's going
to happen down the road when you're drafted to play for New
The argument to stay home didn't resonate with Peterson either.
Two days after a Texan named Russell Norton bought a full-page ad
in the Feb. 2 edition of the Palestine Herald-Press encouraging
Peterson to remain in his home state, the nation's No. 1 tailback
signed with the Sooners. "OU keeps beating them," Peterson told
The Dallas Morning News. "That's why players want to go there."
Brown did bring in enough talent--all from Texas--to finish with
the No. 2 recruiting class in the Big 12, and he rationalized the
loss of the state's top two players. "We have a sophomore
quarterback [Vince Young] set to start and a starting senior
running back [Cedric Benson] returning, and I'm sure that made a
difference," says Brown. "As Lou Holtz once said, 'You've got to
worry about the players you do get, not the players you don't
get.' I'm worried about getting better in spring practice and
getting Texas its first national title since the 1970s."
That might be what's needed to shut the door on Oklahoma
recruiters. "Mack Brown has been touted as a recruiting giant
recently, but what does he have to show for it?" says Jerry
Bomar. "Stoops had a national champion in 2000 and one of the top
teams in the country ever since. OU's proof is in the pudding."
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: CHRIS COVATTA
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK CROW/THE PLAIN DEALER/AP
COLOR PHOTO: HERNI BIENVENU/TECHE NEWS
COLOR PHOTO: RIVALS.COM
COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF AL BYERS
COLOR PHOTO: CHARLES TRAINOR JR./MIAMI HERALD
COLOR PHOTO: NIGEL COOK, DAYTONA BEACH NEWS-JOURNAL/AP
COLOR PHOTO: MIKE SCARBOROUGH/TIGERBAIT.COM
COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN BOHANNON/AP
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRIS COVATTA LEAVING HOME Texas schoolboy stars Peterson (left) and Bomar will cross the Red River to play for the Sooners.
THE TOP 10 SIGNINGS
Oklahoma landed two of SI'S top three high school seniors, but
co-national champions LSU and USC nabbed a pair of players among
the first 10 as well. Here's a look at the best of the class of
1. ADRIAN PETERSON
RB PALESTINE, TEXAS
Rushed for 2,960 yards and 32 TDs on 252 carries as senior
2. TED GINN JR.
Shut-down corner was MVP of U.S. Army All-American Bowl
3. RHETT BOMAR
QB GRAND PRAIRIE, TEXAS
6,097 yards passing (58 TDs), 1,623 rushing (33 TDs) in three
4. EARLY DOUCET
WR ST. MARTINVILLE, LA.
The total package: excelled at QB and TB as well as receiver
5. KEITH RIVERS
LB LAKE MARY, FLA.
Had 111 tackles as a senior and can already bench 350
6. JEFF BYERS
C LOVELAND, COLO.
Extraordinary footwork for size (6'4", 280)
7. WILLIE WILLIAMS
Immediate impact player--if legal woes don't delay his debut
8. XAVIER LEE
QB DAYTONA BEACH
Set state marks for career passing yards, completions and TDs
9. XAVIER CARTER
WR MELBOURNE, FLA.
Fastest in '04 class, 6'3" 190-pounder is a sprint star too
10. BRIAN BROHM
Threw 119 TD passes, 10 INTs as three-year starter at Trinity