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August 29, 2013

Longhorns among those looking to live up to hype


MORE: Rivals100 | Rivals250

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

It was not long ago that the Texas Longhorn football program was one that few wanted to see on the schedule and even fewer wanted to tangle with in recruiting.

Four consecutive top five finishes in the Rivals.com team rankings indicate that the Big 12 program is still a force on the recruiting trail, but a 22-16 record on the field since 2009 implies that those players are not being developed.

The Labor Day weekend marks the beginning of college football. Rivals.com took a look at the rosters across the country and found numerous former members of the Rivals250 presented by Under Armour who are still looking to justify the hype out of high school. There was no shortage of Texas signees.

Players such as Mason Walters, Reggie Wilson, Chris Whaley and John Harris were all highly touted when they arrived in Austin but so far haven't lived up to the hype.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell says that he and his team have no problem admitting mistakes in the evaluation process, but when there are this many former four- and five-stars on one roster it is not on their shoulders.

"I think when talking about Texas specifically, there is no doubt in my mind that it is a developmental problem and not an over-ranking of the talent," he said. "I can't speak individually for the players there -- whether they are working out, learning the playbooks, or whatever -- but when there are that many guys that are potentially being labeled as a bust, it is a problem at the top. It is a problem with Texas football."

Also on the list of those who need to step up but at other programs are a pair of former Longhorn quarterback washouts, class of 2009 five-star Garrett Gilbert and class of 2010 four-star Connor Wood.

Ashton Dorsey was a player who was starting to blossom into what many expected when he was the No. 107 player in the class of 2010. He led the Big 12 in tackles for a loss over the last two seasons, but Texas announced Tuesday that Dorsey would be transferring as well.

Chip Brown covers the Longhorns for Orangebloods.com, and he says that a lot of the blame falls at the feet of Mack Brown.

"In 2011 -- after the 5-7 season -- Mack admitted that as a staff they made mistakes in player evaluations during recruiting as well as in player development," Brown said. "I think that has shown more in the last three years than in any part of the Mack Brown era.

"Part of what went wrong was that they missed out on Garrett Gilbert, but that was not entirely (Gilbert's) fault, in my opinion. When they brought in Gilbert, it was to run a spread offense; and then they switched course and tried to run a power-run offense without having the other pieces around him. They also didn't take a quarterback in the class before (Gilbert's) and didn't have anything to fall back on."

Compounding the quarterback situation is the fact that the Longhorns have not had an offensive lineman selected in the NFL Draft since 2008.

Walters was the No. 29 overall player in the class of 2009 out of Wolfforth (Texas) Frenship. He has started 38 games at guard but has not been the five-star force many expected. With a senior season in front of him, he could snap that streak with a solid season.

Wilson was also the No. 29 overall player in his class of 2010 from Haltom City (Texas) High. Now a senior, Wilson is listed as the second-team defensive end. While he has flashed moments of brilliance, he has never been a consistent contributor.

The Longhorns also chose to take Whaley as a running back over Christine Michael.

Whaley, the No. 91 overall player in the class of 2009, was listed as an athlete at 6-foot-3, 232 pounds. Heading into the 2013 season, Whaley is penciled in to start at defensive tackle at 6-foot-3, 295 pounds.

Farrell and Brown have been astounded by what has happened to Whaley.

"We didn't know where to rank him out of high school, so we put him at athlete," Farrell said. "He was really too big to project at running back, but he insisted that was his position and Texas took him there. He scored a touchdown in the U.S. Army All-American game on a pass from the backfield, but we still thought he would be a defensive end or a rangy linebacker.

"There is no way in the world I would have ever thought that he would get to 300 pounds and be a defensive tackle."

Brown said that the commitment of Whaley was another that set into motion this downward spiral.

"I think that everyone knew Christine Michael was the better player in that class, but the staff went with Whaley," Brown said. "Whaley has a chance to be a very good defensive tackle and really is the mold of a Henry Melton-type player, but that is not what anyone expected when he got here."

Whaley can justify his ranking with a solid senior season, but Longhorns fans had to watch Michael go on to win the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year award in 2009 for Texas A&M and then get selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks.

Harris could finally be a factor this season after being the No. 218 player in the class of 2010. The receiver from Garland (Texas) Naaman Forrest has barely registered on the 40 Acres, catching just four passes for 49 yards in two seasons and moving to tight end for the Longhorns.

The four Longhorns are just a few of the many players who still have time to change their fortunes this year, and each can start this week.

Below is a list of other former Rivals250 members who need to step up to justify their high school hype.

Player: Kiehl Frazier, safety. Ranked No. 89 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2011.
Buzz: Frazier busted as a quarterback for Auburn, starting five games in 2012 but finishing with two touchdowns and eight interceptions. He was moved to safety during the second week of this year's fall camp and apparently has impressed everyone with how quickly he's caught on. Gus Malzahn and DC Ellis Johnson both say he's going to play this season. He's a boundary safety behind sophomore Joshua Holsey right now.
Player: Ross Apo, wide receiver. Ranked No. 108 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2010.
Buzz: Apo saw quite a few passes his freshman year from a fellow freshman, quarterback Jake Heaps. Heaps transferred the next year, and BYU went with a running quarterback. It can be argued that has played a factor in Apo's numbers being low, but the overall feeling is Apo has not shown his talent. This year he has been dropped to second string and since has shown more aggression and desire, getting BYU fans hopeful this is his breakout year.
Player: Gabe King, defensive tackle. Ranked No. 30 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2010.
Buzz: King has added nearly 40 pounds and has slid inside to defensive tackle. He is currently listed as one of three players sharing the No. 2 spot on Cal's depth chart. King is joined by Viliami Moala on the line but, as the No. 99 player out of Sacramento (Calif.) Grant in 2011, Moala has been a disappointment as well. King has four career tackles in 10 games off the bench while Moala has 11 tackles in 25 games. Each are expected to contribute but neither have been as promised.
Player: Connor Wood, quarterback. Ranked No. 113 overall in Rivals250 Class of 2010.
Buzz: After transferring from Texas, Wood saw action in five games as a redshirt sophomore last year with the Buffaloes. He struggled, throwing four interceptions and just one touchdown. Wood has looked like a different quarterback in practice this off-season, was voted a team captain and named the starter for the season opener. He is more much comfortable in the new offense implemented by the new staff at CU which, while at San Jose State last year, coached up David Fales into one of the nation's most efficient quarterbacks
Player: Christian Green, wide receiver. Ranked No. 61 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2010.
Buzz: The former Rivals100 receiver has barely done a thing in his career at Florida State. Green has 29 career catches with zero touchdowns, and while he has shown some flashes in practice, Green has never really become a significant part of FSU's offense. In the team's recently released depth chart he fell to No. 2 at Y-receiver behind Kenny Shaw and could be a forgotten man barring injury or the need to get into four-receiver sets.
Player: Ray Drew, defensive end. Ranked No. 9 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2011.
Buzz: Drew has shown some flashes of what he can do -- he logged a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss as a freshman and 10 tackles against Georgia Tech in 2012 -- but hasn't quite lived up to the five-star billing yet. He has been behind other guys on the team's depth chart and is battling Sterling Bailey for the starting spot this season. A position change from outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense to defensive end hasn't helped, and it took him a year to acclimate to the new spot. The 2013 season is a big one for Drew as he will be counted on in a defensive front that is expected to heavily lean on a deep rotation.
Player: Michael Dyer, running back. Ranked No. 11 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2010.
Buzz: Dyer is on his fourth school in three years. He was a 1,000-yard rusher for Auburn during its national championship run before attending -- and being dismissed from -- Arkansas State and then Arkansas Baptist College. Dyer is immediately eligible and should see playing time for the Cardinals this year. He is among a handful of former Rivals250 players who could contribute for UL in 2013, joining former Florida tight end Gerald Christian -- the former No. 81 overall player -- and former Tennessee receiver Matt Milton -- No. 135 in his recruiting class.
Player: DeOnte Arnett, offensive guard. Ranked No. 93 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2009.
Buzz: Thought to be an outstanding edge pass-rusher out of high school, Arnett switched positions in the middle of his redshirt freshman year and has seen action in 15 games including nine starts as a junior. He moved from right guard to left guard this summer and the reviews have not been great; but for an offensive line that has steadily underachieved, he will likely see a lot of time and be expected to elevate his game.
Player: Seantrel Henderson, offensive tackle. Ranked No. 2 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2010.
Buzz: In his four years on campus, Henderson has bounced between the doghouse and the starting lineup. He has never shown the passion nor the dedication to the game that is needed to be a standout football player and has relied on natural ability and size. He has played in 31 games in three seasons and started 18 of those contests; he was named to the All-ACC honorable mention list in 2012. In Miami's recently released depth chart, Henderson was listed on the second team behind Jon Feliciano for the game against Florida Atlantic.
Player: Cameron Gordon, linebacker. Ranked No. 233 overall in Rivals250 Class of 2009.
Buzz: Gordon switched from receiver to safety in 2010 and then from safety to linebacker in 2011. He is listed as a starter on the team's depth chart largely due to an ACL injury to Jake Ryan but Gordon was expected to see a lot of action either way. He has appeared in 33 games and made 13 starts during his time on campus, but changing positions three times may have slowed his development. He has been a three-time Academic All-Big Ten choice and now could justify his ranking on a team expected to make a run at a Big Ten title.
Player: Kyle Prater, wide receiver. No. 3 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2010.
Buzz: Prater transferred to Northwestern after catching one pass for six yards at USC, and he did not do too much in his first year on campus for the Wildcats. Last year he tallied 10 receptions for 54 yards and no touchdowns despite entering the season with a reputation as a red zone threat. He enters the 2013 campaign as part of a rotation at X-receiver with Tony Jones and Mike McHugh but hopes are that he can make more of an impact during his second year on campus.
Player: Dior Mathis, defensive back. Ranked No. 177 overall in Rivals250 Class of 2010.
Buzz: Mathis is unlikely to see many starts at corner and could make his biggest impact at the nickel position. He appeared in 10 games last season and made 16 tackles to go with two interceptions. He is well behind Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu on the depth chart; both played as true freshman and have started ever since. Mathis is one of the fastest players on an incredibly quick team as he also runs the opening leg of the university's 4x100 team that posted the sixth-fastest time in program history.
Player: Savon Huggins, running back. Ranked No. 58 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2011.
Buzz: Heading into his junior season, Huggins is still looking to make his mark. Last year, he carried the ball 119 times for 410 yards and two touchdowns. He chose to stay home over offers from Notre Dame, Auburn, and Florida -- among others -- but is being pushed by three-star freshman Justin Goodwin, redshirt freshman Desmon Peoples and sophomore walk-on Paul James. If the Scarlet Knights are going to make a trip to a BCS bowl in their first and only season in the AAC, Huggins will have to step up.
Player: Garrett Gilbert, quarterback. Ranked No. 18 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2009.
Buzz: Gilbert graduated from Texas in three years and transferred to SMU with two years of eligibility remaining. Last season he started all 13 games and threw for nearly 3,000 yards with 15 touchdowns, but most of that went unnoticed nationally as the stain of his time at Texas lingers. This year he will have more weapons as SMU has become a reclamation haven with offensive lineman Thomas Aschraft (class of 2009, No. 198) and running back Traylon Shead (class of 2010, No. 227). All three are expected to have very good seasons in the Mustang offense, but Gilbert still has the most to prove.
Player: Aaron Lynch, defensive end. Ranked No. 28 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2011.
Buzz: Lynch went to Notre Dame and appeared in 12 games, starting six, as a true freshman before sitting out last season as a transfer to USF. He enters the program with plenty of expectations as he totaled 33 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks for the Fighting Irish. He is already slated to start for the Bulls and pushed his way ahead of redshirt senior Ryne Giddens, which has only added to the expectations.
Player: Victor Blackwell, wide receiver. Ranked No. 131 overall in Rivals250 Class of 2011.
Buzz: It may not be fair to single out Blackwell, as a thin roster and sub-par performance for the Trojans as a group may put a lot of players on the spot. But Blackwell -- as well as De'Von Flournoy, the No. 226 player in 2009 -- will need to step up and lessen the blow of attrition at the receiver position. Last season, Blackwell had one catch in the opening game against Hawaii but nothing after that while appearing in five games. He is expected to do much more than that as a redshirt sophomore.
Player: Joel Caleb, running back. Ranked No. 84 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2012.
Buzz: Upon arriving at Virginia Tech, Caleb moved to receiver; but earlier this year he was switched to running back. Another former four-star, No. 125-ranked Zack McCray, also switched from defensive end to tight end, but it looks like Caleb may have the better chance to break out. His debut as a redshirt freshman will have to wait for the second game of the season as he's suspended for the opener vs. Alabama due to a violation of team rules. But with the dismissal of Michael Holmes and a season-ending injury to Tony Gregory, Caleb's in position for good playing time, especially with the uncertainty of JC Coleman -- who has two sprained ankles entering the season.
Player: Ivan McCartney, wide receiver. Ranked No. 37 overall in Rivals100 Class of 2010.
Buzz: McCartney has played in 33 games and started 11, but he has struggled for the most part since his arrival in Morgantown. He left the program in the middle of the 2012 season but rejoined the team recently and has one season of eligibility remaining. He has the talent to put up some nice numbers in West Virginia's high-flying offense if he will push himself. As a sophomore. he was third on the team in catches and piled up 131 yards against Connecticut.

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