Late to the Game: The One That Got Away


Assistant editor Chris O’Connell isn’t from Texas; he’s from New Jersey. That’s OK though—he’s here now. But without growing up in a place that cherishes college sports the way many parts of the South—and especially Texas—do, Chris has taken it upon himself to learn more about all aspects of college athletics in a series we like to call Late to the Game.

Ah, recruiting. It’s that time of the year when we learn where Skyline High School is located. It’s when we actually have a rivalry against A&M. It’s when we really, really care about the height and weight of children born after the original Jurassic Park was released in theaters. Recruiting is odd, it’s sometimes tedious, but it’s necessary. Like cleaning the bathroom.

If you’ll look back on those halcyon days of early February, you’ll remember that Texas came away with a pretty stellar recruiting class. Of high importance—beyond the quarterback position, of course—was shoring up the defensive line. Standouts Cedric Reed and first-round draftee Malcom Brown are gone, and, as the lone silver lining for the Longhorns last season, the unit needed some replenishment. Despite losing out on all-world defensive tackle Daylon Mack to—gulp—the Aggies, Strong and crew thought they came away from their first full recruiting experience on the Forty Acres with some depth on the DL. Minus one, as of this week.

Du’Vonta Lampkin, the three-star, 6’4″, 300-pound defensive tackle from Cypress Falls High School in Houston—now you know where that high school is—announced in a surprise tweet (the best kind) on Sunday that he does not intend to enroll at Texas. Lampkin was originally committed to Oklahoma as a high school junior, but Texas DL coach Chris Rumph got the big guy to flip on January 23 of this year. Now he’s flopping back to OU, if they’ll have him. Here’s what Lampkin had to say in his goodbye tweets to Longhorn Nation:

“If anything, I may land at Oklahoma. I’m very comfortable with their coaching staff. So, as soon as everything dials down, I’m going to contact (Bob) Stoops and see if they have any scholarships available for me.”

I’m sure Bob Stoops has a ton of scholarships just lying around, but that’s not the point. The point is … hold on, I have one … uh … it’s that our coach has tigers.


Badass, no? Turns out—unfortunately—that these tigers do not belong to Strong. A friend of the program brought them by. Still, badass.

Is Lampkin comfortable with Oklahoma’s coaching staff because they are too afraid to bring ferocious beasts into their facilities? We may never truly know the answer.

What we do know is that Lampkin says he didn’t complete his academic requirements because he was afraid of failing and having to go to junior college instead of Texas or another Division I school. Sounds like another case of those risk-averse, line-walking group of ascetics known as Millenials. Shoot for the moon, man.

Texas has an out, though. Since Lampkin signed a letter of intent with Texas, the school has to release him before he can play elsewhere. Now that he’s declared he’d like to head up I-35 to Norman—with, if he’s smart, a quick pause at the Czech Stop—it’s unlikely the Longhorns will comply. Take that.

But it’s hard not to feel spurned by the guy. Although he was likely a redshirt candidate this season anyway, there’s now more pressure on Strong’s staff to recruit DL depth for 2016 and beyond.

This got me thinking, though. I’ve long heard of near-misses on the recruiting trail, and thus, as I did some research. It’s all very scientific. Here are the ones who got away from Texas football:

The Heisman Twins

This is the example I always hear from disgruntled, long-suffering (for them) Texas football fans. Heck, it has been a full decade since the last national championship. Rutgers hasn’t won one since … ever, unless you count the 1869 season, in which Rugters went 1-1 technically sharing the title with the only other college football team, Princeton. Which, of course, I do.

Anyway, the reason, according to my Longhorn friends, that Texas hasn’t competed recently is that what was once a laughable field of opponents in the Lone Star State is now quite the opposite. Baylor, TCU, and Texas A&M are all reasonably good, respectable teams, and with that, each school has a shot at the highest in-state talent. What was once a recruiting cakewalk is now whatever the exact opposite of that would be. A broccoli-sprint? Yuck.

The best examples of this notion are Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III. Standouts from Kerrville and Copperas Cove, respectively, allegedly neither player was recruited by Texas. The rumor was for years that Texas actually wanted both players to head to Austin, but as defensive backs, as they are both undersized for the quarterback position by traditional standards. Both won the Heisman Trophy as quarterbacks, in consecutive years, Griffin at Baylor in 2011 and Manziel at A&M in 2012. Mack Brown, head coach at Texas at this time, has denied these rumors, and while deciphering actual NCAA recruiting methods is akin to catching the Zodiac Killer at this point, I’m going to take a stab at it anyway, because I live without regret.

Brown says he never offered a scholarship to Manziel, but that doesn’t mean his staff didn’t recruit Johnny Football. Maybe they just couldn’t get close enough before A&M signed him. Brown also says that “[Griffin] wasn’t interested” in coming to Texas, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t try to change his mind before he went with Art Briles.

Regardless, these are two huge fishes that Texas football fans wish Brown could have reeled in. Metaphors.

The Question Mark

This is my favorite one, because there is really no way to know how this may have turned out, and it involves a potential two-sport athlete. As a child of the 1980s, I am obsessed with two-sport athletes.

In 1998, the Cincinnati Reds selected New Caney High School senior Adam Dunn with the 50th overall pick. Dunn, a quarterback signee at UT, had to work out a deal where he could play minor league ball in the offseason, and return to campus for football in August.

His first season, he backed up fan-favorite Major Applewhite. Just before his second season, fan least-favorite Chris Simms committed to Texas. The coaching staff asked Dunn to switch positions to tight end. Instead, he switched permanently to designated hitter. He left school, made two All-Star teams, hit 462 home runs, and struck out a lot. Dunn is tied for third all-time in golden sombreros. For the uninitiated, that means only two other players in the history of baseball have struck out four times in a game more than him. That’s impressive.

Though Dunn had a very good baseball career—at least in the hitting-dingers-category—it’s tempting to wonder what the 6’6″, 285-pound athlete could have done at DKR.

The Who Cares Club

Texas has also recruited a ton of star high-school players who either barely stepped on the field during a game or even made it to the Forty Acres at all, and the team was better off having missed out on them. There’s a lot of quarterbacks in this list. Jevan Snead, a blue-chipper coming out of high school, was supposed to be the next Vince Young, but could never pass Colt McCoy on the depth chart, eventually transferring to Ole Miss. Chance Mock was a no-doubter coming out of The Woodlands, but threw just eight passes while at Texas, though he did play one season in Austin … for the Arena League team the Austin Wranglers. And, of course, there’s Conor Brewer, now onto his third team, Northern Arizona, after transferring once from Texas to Arizona. He has never taken a snap in a college game, and he has already graduated!

The best example of the Who Cares Club, which is kind of a heartless section title on my part, but, again, I live without regret, is Marquis Johnson. By all rights, Johnson should have been a stud. He had height (6’3″), speed (he ran a 4.5 40-yard dash), and every top school in the country wanted him. He turned all of them down to come to Texas. He never made it here, as academic struggles kept him out of his burnt-orange uniform. Johnson played at a community college for a bit, finally ending up in Lubbock as a Red Raider, where he caught 21 passes before finishing his career. A bust all around.

What have we learned about recruiting today? Probably not much. There are no predictors for success when you’re looking at 18-year-olds—no way to tell if the grades are good enough, if the passion and the patience to get better is there, or if the recruit is actually a major league slugger and not a football player at all. But it’s a fun ride all the same.

What you may have learned is that Charlie Strong brought tigers to campus once, an experience that (unconfirmed) no other coach can match.


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