AUSTIN, Texas -- By now Texas usually has all its cards fanned out on the table.
It is mid-May after all. The Longhorns typically have a royal flush of recruits or something close to it by the time triple digits arrive on central Texas thermostats.
In fact, from 2007-2011, 72 percent of Texas recruits had pledged their allegiance by the end of February. This year 11, of what is expected to be a class of somewhere around 20-22, have committed.
Since the end of February, Texas has added three recruits. True, no one in the Big 12 has more commits. Neither does Alabama or LSU, the two teams at the top of college football. But this is Texas. Typically, the Longhorns don’t slow play like Doyle Brunson holding aces. At least they didn’t used to.
But the paradigm has shifted for both the recruits and the coaching staff.
First the recruits. Sure there are those like Jake Raulerson still out there; the high school kid who bleeds for his state school. In that world, the recruit doesn’t see much beyond Texas because he never saw anything else.
Those players are still out there. The 11 commitments in February are indicative of that. Texas was the school they wanted. When the offer came they saw no reason to look past it. Even though now there might be a glance at another school here or there -- Daeshon Hall and Texas A&M -- by and large these are firm, lasting commitments.
Increasingly though, more players are looking at opportunities beyond what Texas has to offer. They might ultimately end up at Texas. But first there are other offers to hear and futures to contemplate. Additionally, the increased exposure -- all-star games, the media’s hot pursuit, etc. -- has persuaded some recruits to take their time.
Dates get pushed back -- Robert Nkemdiche, Dontre Wilson -- programs are put on hold. Fans collectively either gasp breathlessly or hold their collective breath. Some of the delays might be due to genuine confusion, but another contributing factor is undoubtedly the limelight.
The point is more and more schools are accessible to more and more players. And the miles between a player and his family are considerably less daunting with the world shrinking into the palm of everyone’s hand.
As for the Texas coaches, they appear to be slightly more sage as well.
The first substantive thing Mack Brown addressed when he stepped to the podium to introduce the 2012 class was retention rate. Brown, who adroitly self criticizes the obvious in an effort to diffuse the room, spoke of how Texas would be more judicious in its evaluations to insure the best possible player-program relationships in the future.
So it has been with measured steps that Texas has parsed out scholarship offers for the 2013 class. Possibly it has caused Texas to miss on a player here or there.
Those who follow the recruiting game lamented the loss of wide receiver Eldridge Massington (Mesquite, Texas/West Mesquite) to USC. When his teammate, Kameron Miles added Penn State to his list of increasing offers it served as a shot across the bow for others.
Where was Texas on these players? Still evaluating. Still weighing its options.
Texas is no longer willing to hand out offers to players it is not 100 percent convinced can contribute, quickly, in a positive way. The 2011 class has spoiled the coaches.
Think about it, Texas played 18 of the 22 players it signed. Another, M.J. McFarland, is on his way to being the starting tight end in 2012. The staff looks at those results, sits back, evaluates, scratches its head and starts to think why it shouldn’t be able to have those type of impactful players every year.
The next thought is how to get those types of players. What are common denominators running throughout that string of players? And how does the staff make sure that string runs throughout future classes?
That’s why secondary coach Duane Akina has been more selective. That’s why wide receiver coach Darrell Wyatt has looked long and hard before he jumped on a player.
Now add to the more cautious recruiting evaluation process, Texas’ recent success at closing late and taking players from other programs and you have a program that believes it is getting the right players for its system as well as a program that believes it still has the cache to sway a recruit late.
So there’s no need to show those cards early. Instead Texas can hold them close to its vest and let everyone try and guess what it is up to.