Amongst a national recruiting season played out across Twitter, certain trends began branding themselves to each school. For the University of Texas, recruiting tweets typically included a three-item checklist: the longhorn emoji (there are two, but either will suffice), the hashtag #LetsRide, and lastly, the budding phrase #Finessin. To be specific, four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal said it means, “doing and being the best at all times.” It became a mark for Texas commits – one that attributes rather well to a now top-ten recruiting class.
But finesse also has another definition. When playing the card game bridge, finessing is a trick move where you use skill to steal your opponent’s higher card. After convincing six prospects to flip their commitments the last week before signing day, I’m not sure which definition fits this team better.
As contradictory as it is, an early commitment from a recruit doesn’t mean much anymore. At this point, neither does a late commitment. Losing a prospect to another school no longer means find a new player, it means recruit them harder. Charlie Strong knows this and capitalized on it.
“Our staff was relentless. We had guys who just kept going and going, and they were not going to take no for an answer. You can’t take no for an answer until the fax comes across your desk or it goes somewhere else,” Strong said.
The crucial last-week commits began when four-star cornerbacks Kris Boyd and Holton Hill committed to Texas on an Austin news station. With Boyd listed as 6’0” and Hill as 6’2”, the two provide the longhorns with more height at the position to match up against tall receivers – a factor Strong prioritizes in defensive backs. Their announcement also came at a vital time, just 15 hours after the top quarterback in the nation, Kyler Murray, stuck with his decision to go to Texas A&M over Texas. The disappointment lulled and the momentum was back.
Then two days before signing day, Texas received its biggest relief – a quarterback. Kai Locksley, from Maryland had been committed to Florida State since July but switched to Texas on Monday. After coaching with Locksley’s father in Florida, Strong utilized that relationship and a late in-home visit to win over the dual-threat quarterback.
As National Signing Day began, more recruiting news rolled out in favor of the Longhorns. Just two days before, three-star safety P.J. Locke posted a tweet affirming his commitment to Oregon saying, “Final decision.” That is, until Charlie Strong had something to say about it. The Texas coaching staff extended him an offer just three days before signing day, one he decided to take them up on the final morning.
Possibly the most interesting of them all was four-star safety Ryan Newsome. After a long recruiting battle between Texas and UCLA, Newsome called Strong around 1:30 a.m. the night before his announcement last week to tell him he chose Texas. But come that afternoon, Newsome placed the Bruins hat on his head. After taking a step back for a couple days, Strong got right back in the game. As midnight of signing day rolled around, Newsome called Strong and told him it would be Texas. A few hours later, his letter of intent trumped the blue and gold hat.
Lastly, in the true spirit of recruiting flips, four-star running back Chris Warren took it one step further, flipping a coin to make his decision. Heads Texas; tails Washington. It was heads, and Texas added its 14th ESPN-300 recruit.
Strong’s first full recruiting class topped off with 28 players, nine of whom had previously committed elsewhere. This new era of devalued commitments is undeniable. Coaches can either resist it and lose last-minute recruits, or hop on board. Texas chose the latter. Whether Strong is finessing his cards, or simply finessin’, he’s got it down.