Strong facing uphill recruiting battle at Texas

Texas spends its days on the recruiting trail chasing players who could go anywhere. When you can go anywhere, a fractured relationship is naturally more prone to end a recruitment.

That was the challenge Charlie Strong faced in replacing Mack Brown. He had just 30 days to hold together Texas’ class and lost high-profile commits like OLB Otaro Alaka and DL Brandon Garrett to rivals Texas A&M and Oklahoma, respectively. He lost three more defensive linemen since taking over, including Sione Teuhema and his brother Maea, one of the top prospects in the 2015 class. Sione signed with LSU on Wednesday and his 346-pound brother is expected to follow next season.

Strong faced plenty of questions about the losses after introducing his 23-man recruiting class on Wednesday, but he preferred to point to Texas’ late successes like grabbing Poona Ford, a four-star, 275-pound tackle who ranked No. 24 nationally at his position and Chris Nelson, the nation’s No. 39 defensive tackle.

"You can’t be concerned and worried about the ones you didn’t get, you have to be worried about the ones you do have because those are the ones that could get you beat," Strong told reporters on Wednesday. "With the ones that decommitted, if they decided that the other place is the best for them, there isn’t much you can say because you recruited them and it just didn’t happen."

Despite the focus nationally on Texas’ late drop in the recruiting rankings because of the decommitments, the Longhorns did hang on to their two top recruits who could make an early impact: Quarterback Jerrod Heard (No. 2 QB) and defensive end Derick Roberson (No. 9 DE).

"Jerrod is an outstanding player and once he made a commitment, he stuck to it," Strong said. "What we tried to do as a staff to make sure the guys that we had committed was to bring them in the last weekend so those guys that hadn’t had a chance to meet our staff had a chance to meet the staff."

Regardless, Texas (No. 16 class nationally) finishing below rivals Texas A&M (No. 7) and Oklahoma (No. 13) is never welcome, and the Aggies recent rise, highlighted by Johnny Manziel’s Heisman Trophy and a half-decade of surging on the recruiting trail gives Strong a clear task moving forward, even if he doesn’t concede that Texas has been passed up as the state’s most prominent program.

"We’re still the University of Texas," Strong told reporters. “We will always be the flagship university of this state."

Texas signed just two of Texas’ top 15 players. Texas A&M signed three, Baylor signed two and even LSU grabbed a pair, not including Teuhema, who was the No. 40 player in Texas. The Longhorns signed six players from outside Texas.

"What’s going to be key is we have to control this state," Strong said. "If we do decide to go out-of-state, we will go out-of-state for a specific need. You can’t make a living in those other states. You’ve got to take care of this state."

Strong also took a shot at Texas A&M when he suggested he won’t be copying Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin’s "Swagcopter" strategy. Texas A&M’s head coach sometimes spends Friday nights flying around high school fields in Texas to visit prospects.

"The university speaks for itself," Strong said. "We don’t need gadgets. We’re not going to be a gadget program."