All signs point to the Cougars signing one of their best classes in years, maybe even better than the stellar 2001 class, which included Anthony Evans, Bryant Brown, Barrick Nealy, Blade Bassler, and other blue-chip prospects. As of today, UH is in on about 25 players who have made a preseason Top 100 list, and many more who could by the end on the season. It's been at least two decades since things have looked this promising on this recruiting front. So here‚s a look at where we stand heading into the summer.
Quarterback will be a priority this year. The coaches would have liked to have signed one last year, but that was all but impossible given that the Cougar signal-caller was arguably the top freshman quarterback in the country. But this year's crop of schoolboy quarterbacks will see that year after next, Kevin Kolb will be the only scholarship quarterback on campus, and if he declares early for the draft, which he very well might do, then the job will be open. At or near the top of the Coogs‚ board is Todd Walker of Pflugerville, who is ranked as the #12 overall player in the most recent Lone Star Recruiting Top 100 list. He‚s athletic, very fast, and has a good head on his shoulders. He's just a little raw as a quarterback prospect in, fact, some schools are recruiting him as an athlete but with a redshirt year and another season learning under Coach Briles and watching Kolb, he could step in and do great things at UH. Chase Daniel of South Lake Carroll is another youngster the coaches love. He's got a bushel of offers from schools such as Kansas State, Stanford, Oklahoma State, and, of course, Houston, but like a lot of good Texas kids, he's said he doesn't want to go too far from home. Daniel, last year‚s Class 5A Offensive Player of the Year, may be the top quarterback in the state. The Coogs also like Marcus Jackson of Houston Westside, another great athlete who just needs polish. Other possibilities include Duane Brooks of Irving MacArthur and Eric Herbort of Fredericksburg. One thing‚s for sure: Coach Briles wants to sign a dual-threat quarterback in February. Dan Marino types need not apply.
While the Cougars aren't desperate for a running back, they‚d be foolish not to try to tap into some of the outstanding prospects available in the state. Jamaal Charles of Port Arthur Memorial is an outstanding back, arguably the best in Texas, and he's considering the Coogs. Holding offers from most every college power in the region, Charles will be able to pick and choose where he goes to school. Hopefully his former teammates Ricky Wilson and Byron Alfred can convince him to wear the scarlet and white. Another good one is local product R.J. Jackson of Houston Westside. Mr. Jackson is a nifty combination of speed and power, a slasher who bursts through the hole like he was shot out of a cannon. The competition for him is fierce. He already has offers from Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and LSU, among others, but his parents would like him to attend UH, so the Coogs have a chance. Another top prospect from the Houston area is Adrian Dennis of Pasadena Dobie, who is pushing 220 pounds and has good speed. He's just an excellent running back, who's been wreaking havoc in 23-5A for three years now. Hopefully his new coach, former Coog Tommy Kaiser, will let him know that UH is a great place to go to school. Keith Demby of Pflugerville Connally is a back much in the same mold as Dennis, a bruiser with speed. Signing either of those two fine prospects would be a real coup for Coach Briles and his staff. Also keep an eye on Casey Harriman of Cuero and Chris Baer of Shiner, two backs who could shoot up the charts with a bullet in the fall.
Any team that frequently uses three and even four wide-out sets has to be well-stocked at wide receiver, so look for UH to ink maybe three speedy receivers. The Coogs are in good shape with several of the state‚s top pass catchers, undoubtedly because those kids saw last year how prominently receivers are featured in Coach Briles‚ offense. Jeremy Broadway of Houston Washington is a player who could very well see his name in neon lights at some point in his college career. He posted a blazing 4.42 at the recent Greater Houston Combine last weekend. The good news is he lists the Cougars as one of his favorites. Another HISD prospect, Lamar's Brandon LaFell, had the Cougars as his top choice about a month ago. He has the kind of height and speed that could make him an ideal outside receiver and deep threat for UH. Derrell Porter of Davis and Nathan Moore of Worthing are two more Houston kids considering representing their home in college. Daryl Jones of Spring is becoming very popular with college coaches because, as his coach, Sonny Karas says, he‚s "a homerun hitter with legit 4.4 speed." The Cougars are also recruiting another highly regarded wideout, Manuel Johnson of Gilmer. Others who could end up on the UH signing list come February include Dwayne Brown of Galveston Ball, Justin Brooks of Hillsboro, Philip Nevels of Dallas Skyline, and out-of-stater Matt Winzeler of Oklahoma City.
With Jon Pritchett off to the NFL and Steve Cucci heading into his senior season, the Cougars will want to take at least one tight end. The top prospect in the state is North Shore‚s Dajleon Farr, a 6-6, 235 pound prototype with 4.5 speed. Farr is about as sure a thing as there is when it comes to recruiting. He now has offers from Miami, Oklahoma, LSU, Tennessee, Texas, among many others, and can go anywhere he wants. Let's hope he wants to stay close to home. Justin Akers of Deer Park isn't getting the notoriety of Farr, but he's a fine player in his own right. The Deer and the Mustangs will play this year. It will be interesting to see which tight end gets the best of it. Justin Kessler of Alvarado is almost as good a basketball player as he a football player, but he'll be on the gridiron in college. Ben Snellenberger of Stratford is a solid prospect that the coaches may be on the verge of offering.
But signing the most talented skill players in the state won't mean squat if the Cougars don't have the big guys up front to open holes and protect the passer. Help is on the way; in fact, the Cougars‚ first commitment of the class of Œ05 is Matt Hart, a young man with good size and great potential. At 6-6, 290, Big Matt, who, like Travis and Austin Griffith hails from Huffman-Hargraves, could well be a fixture at tackle for several years. Last year the Cougars were a finalist with two marquee SEC programs for arguably the two top offensive tackles in the state, Herman Johnson and Ryan Young. Unfortunately, the Coogs just missed on both those linemen, but at least they were in the hunt for the best. The same holds true this year only this time around maybe Coach Briles will get those signatures. Reginald Youngblood of Houston Washington, rated the top player in Texas by recruiting analyst Geoff Ketchum, and Ciron Black of Tyler Lee are two of the best in the nation, and both have the Cougars on their list. Admittedly both are longshots, but better a longshot than no shot. An intriguing prospect who may end up being as good as either Youngblood or Black is Quinton Johnson of Port Arthur Memorial. Johnson, who tips the scales at 310, wowed 'em with his athleticism at a recent Nike Camp. LSU is his favorite, but UH is in the mix. A local prospect, Chris Ptaszek of Tomball is well-liked by Cougar coaches as is Horace Ford of Anuhuac.
So things are looking up on the offensive recruiting front. UH has a great chance to sign one of the top five quarterbacks in the state, several outstanding running backs are giving the Cougars are a hard look, and the Houston area is brimming this year with talented wideouts, many of whom love Coach Briles‚ wide-open offense. And the Cougars are battling some major programs to get the best offensive linemen. Eventually that is going to pay big dividends. And the Coogs are already one step ahead of the game with the commitment of Matt Hart, one of the state's most underrated linemen. We'll have an early look at defensive recruiting in just another week or so.