Early commits a game-changer for Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas -- When Fort Worth (Texas) All Saints teammates Daniel Gresham and Demetrius Knox snuck off to junior days last weekend, they didn’t mean any harm.

Gresham went to Ole Miss because All Saints lineman Markham Parkune wanted a buddy to come with him to Oxford. Knox visited Oklahoma with two teammates simply to get out of the house for the weekend.

The Texas 2014 pledge didn’t take those trips to scare Texas fans and raise questions about their level of commitment. They’re kids. Kids like going out of town.

“The thing is, growing up as a child loving college football, it’s always been a childhood dream to take my five officials and go out and see the colleges,” Gresham said. “Even if I don’t plan on going there, I want to see them.”

That’s the kind of issue Texas signed up to deal with when its coaching staff broke from tradition and began accepting commitments from juniors last August.

Texas goes into its first junior day on Sunday with seven verbal commits already on board. The Longhorns are about to find out that having those early 2014 commits is a serious game-changer, in ways both good and bad.

The good: Texas will have seven young salesmen embedded in its group of visiting recruits this weekend. Along with Knox and Gresham, expect Denton (Texas) Guyer quarterback Jerrod Heard to be a vocal presence. Texas coaches expect him to be a leader for this class, and it’s possible Heard will attend both junior days this month.

“It’s going to be fun,” said Lorenzo Joe, Texas’ first 2014 commit. “We’ve all got another year, but after that year it’ll be pretty cool to see us all in burnt orange and playing together. We’re all excited.”

The Abilene (Texas) Cooper receiver knows it’s not his job to be this year’s Jake Raulerson. He’s glad he’s one of many guys who are passionate about the Longhorns and motivated to make the class even better.

From a numbers standpoint, getting seven commitments early lays a major foundation. Texas has locked up a future quarterback, two running backs and two receivers. It’s a strong start.

But none of them are truly locked up, and that’s what brings us to the tough part of taking junior commitments.

By accepting these commitments, Texas entered into a non-binding agreement that has to endure a long, long time.

“Some of these kids we're going to have to keep a year and a half,” Texas coach Mack Brown said Wednesday. “If one of them backs out on you in December, it really hurts you.”

That’s why Brown doesn’t want his commits taking visits elsewhere anymore. He gave Knox and Gresham permission to take their trips last weekend, but don’t expect him to do so going forward.

Gresham said he’s completely OK with that and understands Brown’s stance.

“I have to be careful. I’m not going to take any more visits,” he said. “I know A'Shawn [Robinson] made it kind of uneasy and kind of ruined it for us.”

He’s not wrong. Texas let A'Shawn Robinson take three official visits elsewhere, and the ESPN 150 defensive tackle said all the right things -- that Texas was still No. 1 -- throughout. Then he decommitted the weekend before signing day, leaving the Longhorns with no options to replace him.

Decommitments are commonplace now. Commit to Texas and you’re practically guaranteed to get more offers and interest from other schools.

Gresham has to think for a moment when asked if he’s confident all seven of Texas’ early commits will sign with the school next February.

“I do feel like guys will decommit,” he said. “I also feel like a lot of guys won’t want to commit so early. They’ll start to kind of look out. I feel like commits will start to talk to other coaches also.

“I hope we stick together. But it’s really hard, having as much talent as we have.”

It’s not a reflection of who Texas landed as much as much as an honest assessment of today’s recruiting world. Once college coaches are permitted unlimited texting to recruits on Aug. 1, it’s only going to get worse.

You’d think it would help Brown and his coaches since they can now check in with their commits at all times and ensure guys won’t stray. But it’s everyone else Texas has to worry about. Gresham admits it’s about to get a lot harder to stay true to a commitment.

Imagine, he said, how a kid will take it when the school he’s committed to loses a game or gets in trouble with the NCAA, and he gets texts from a rival recruiters saying, ‘Did you see what happened?’

“As high school kids, we let our mind ramble too much a lot,” Gresham said. “If something bad happens, we start thinking bad things are going to happen -- like, dang, should I be committed here?”

Texas’ first seven 2014 commits will have to weather the impending storm.

After losing five pledges and finishing the 2013 class with a thud, fresh faces are about to walk in the door. Time to start over, and Texas is already off to a fine start.

“I’m sure coach Brown right now is extremely uneasy,” Gresham said with a laugh, “and he just wants to see the 2014 commits and take a deep breath.”