The Longhorns' 28-man recruiting class ranked No. 2 nationally, and it's headlined by playmakers on both sides of the ball that filled some major needs. It also included some 11th-hour madness.
As we do every year, the Orangebloods.com staff hands out our signing day awards.
Geoff Ketchum: Johnathan Gray - I'm not sure how you could go with anyone else, given that we're talking about one of the most celebrated running backs in the history of the state of Texas and one of the best pound-for-pound prospects we've seen in the last decade or so. Frankly, you know a guy is special when you spend hours trying to think of a guy he reminds you of and the best thing you can do is settle on a Hall of Fame player (Tony Dorsett) that you heard someone else suggest. That doesn't happen very often, I can assure you. When you speak of Gray's skill set, his speed and explosiveness just jumps right out at you, along with his vision and natural sense for the position. When projecting to the next level, he's a guy that is going to give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares because he will need to be accounted for at all times. This is a kid with superstar potential.
Jason Suchomel: Johnathan Gray - This is a pretty easy call. He's the nation's top running back, he's the only 5-star commitment on offense and he's one of the most decorated running backs in the history of high school football. Texas has good young backs on the roster but Gray's ability makes him a near lock to touch the field early and often in 2012.
Jason Howell: Johnathan Gray - In a class that is being touted by some as the best Texas recruiting class since Vince Young signed in 2002, Johnathan Gray is the cream of the crop. He has rampaged his way through Texas high school football setting records, winning state championships, and grabbing every honor he could get. He was the most highly sought of all the Longhorn recruits, the highest ranked, and is one signee who I can say I see zero chance of receiving a redshirt.
Dustin McComas: Johnathan Gray - Anytime you can land the top running back recruit in the country, he immediately becomes the MVP of the class. It's tough to imagine that Texas will have another freshman running back next season that will be more hyped than Malcolm Brown this year, but Gray is one of the most decorated running backs in Texas high school history. There isn't anything he can't do at the position, and the nation's No. 5 player overall in the Rivals100 should command immediate touches. When he committed in April, in addition to all of the other early commitments, it meant that the Horns would not only have momentum down the stretch but also would be assured of having a top class.
Ketchum: Malcom Brown - I've been doing this line of work for a while and in the last dozen or so years since he first arrived on the scene in Central Texas, I can't remember ever comparing another player with former all-American Tommie Harris, but I consider Brown to be the most dynamic, explosive and playmaking interior line prospect to emerge from this state since the former Killeen Ellison star was opening eyes for the first time. From his elite-level burst to his overall athleticism to his nose for the football to the nastiness that he brings to the field, I'm just a very big fan of this five-star tackle.
Suchomel: Malcom Brown - Another pretty easy call. Defensive tackle was a need position for the Longhorns and they went out and got one of the nation's best. According to Rivals' rankings, there are four DTs better than the big fella from Brenham. I'm not so sure about that.
Howell: Malcom Brown - On the day of the spring game, Brown gave the Longhorns a big commitment. It was a bit of a surprise considering many thought early on he would head up to Texas A&M. Now what makes him so big a get goes beyond his new five-star ranking. In a year in which Texas signed four defensive tackle prospects, Brown is at the top of the list. He could contribute early. He is college ready in a lot of ways. He is big, physically strong, quick, explosive, and is a quick study.
McComas: Malcom Brown - The battle in the trenches is so important in any game, and the Horns have been starving for a truly elite defensive tackle prospect over the last few years. Consider this: the last time UT landed a five-star defensive tackle was when Frank Okam inked with the Horns in 2004. Sure, there have been some big gets on the way, which includes more than a few that have fizzled out, but Texas hasn't landed a guy like Brown in some time. There was some buzz early that it would be a tough battle for UT, but that proved not to be the case.
Offensive early contributor
Ketchum: Donald Hawkins - Did you listen to Mack brown yesterday discussing Hawkins? Yeah, they didn't seriously dabble in the JUCO ranks for the first time since Clinton was in office because they expected the young man to show up, take some time and perhaps even mix in a red-shirt year. No, they brought him in right away to be an impact player on the line and if he can emerge as a starter in the next 6-9 months, the depth and versatility of the line will be in a place we haven't seen in a very long time on the 40 Acres. There is no more important player from this class as it relates to the 2012 season than Hawkins.
Suchomel: Donald Hawkins - Johnathan Gray would be a good choice here but I'll go with Hawkins, who very well could be battling for a starting job in spring football later this month. Texas didn't sign Hawkins to have him come sit on the bench. He'll help the offensive line in some form or fashion.
Howell: Donald Hawkins - I was once told you don't recruit JUCO's to sit and I have a feeling Donald Hawkins will be playing early and often for the Longhorns. I was tempted to go with Johnathan Gray, but Hawkins is a guy I think can come in early and find a place opening holes on the offensive line. There is not any question that Texas has some upgrading to do on the offensive line, and Donald is a guy who can step right in and fill a big need.
McComas: Johnathan Gray - Guys like Gray don't stand on the sidelines for a long time. In this era of college football, it's so tough for a team to pound the rock and depend on just one running back. Texas found out last season how important depth at that position is, and Gray will get touches early and often. Plus, he's a prime candidate to step right in takeover the "Wildhorn" position that Fozzy Whittaker was so successful at in 2011.
defensive early contributor
Ketchum: Brandon Moore - The loss of Calvin Howell chipped away at the defensive tackle depth, which only makes the arrival of Moore from the JUCO ranks even more important. The Texas staff was already looking for a guy that could replace some of the nose-tackle snaps away from the departed Kheeston Randall, so the loss of Howell highlights the need for Moore to step in right away and his being here for spring football and the entire off-season makes him a more solid bet than a guy like Malcom Brown or Torshiro Davis, both of whom will enroll in the fall.
Brandon Moore - I was tempted to go with Malcom Brown here because I think he plays in game one next fall, but Brandon Moore gets the nod for much the same reason I picked Hawkins on the offensive side of the ball. Texas is thin at proven DTs and he wasn't recruited with the idea of helping out in 2013. Texas wants and needs him to contribute right away.
Howell: Brandon Moore - There really was not much of a question on this one for me. Moore did not spend much time in the JUCO ranks. He arrived at East Mississippi after transferring from Alabama where he worked with Bo Davis for two years. Coach Davis and Moore both know the score, and with Kheeston Randall gone Moore is a guy who has the ability to be that big defensive tackle the Longhorns are going to need.
McComas: Malcom Brown - This appears to be even more of a slam dunk after Mack Brown announced that Calvin Howell, a veteran that started games at the defensive tackle position, would be leaving the program. Many Diaz likes to be liberal with his rotations along the defensive line, and Brown has elite tools that should allow him to get in the mix right away.
Underrated offensive player
Ketchum: Marcus Johnson - I've learned my lesson about undervaluing and underrating the kid in this class that simply refused to listen to anyone tell him that he wasn't good enough to play for the Longhorns. At 6-1, 180 pounds, Johnson is a smooth operator on the field, but there's a level of explosiveness and burst that he started to display as a senior that makes me think his best days are still in front of him. There will be a lot of talk about Cayleb Jones and Kendall Sanders, but I'd bet the house that nobody will fight harder than Johnson to get on the field. Again, I'm done doubting this kid.
Marcus Johnson - I actually believe Cayleb Jones is underrated after he took a drop in the final rankings, but I'm not sure there's a player on the commitment list who is more underrated than Johnson. He's big, he's fast, he has good hands, he works his tail off and he's ultra-productive. Plus, he comes in as a fairly polished receiver as far as high school wideouts go. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him play as a true freshman.
Howell: Jalen Overstreet - I did have a little trouble on this one. There are several guys who I think could fit into this mold. Marcus Johnson is one guy in particular. However, I think I'm going to go with Overstreet. I think a lot of people are counting him out and do not think he can be a quarterback at Texas. All I have to say to that is co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin does not go out and personally select a guy he does not think can contribute as a signal caller in his offense. Overstreet is a tremendous athlete with a great arm. He has a big, strong frame. I think he redshirts, but he's definitely a guy I think can be more than a situational, package quarterback for the Longhorns in the future.
McComas: Marcus Johnson - Johnson is probably a little bit taller than the 6-1 he's listed at and put together an outstanding senior season in the Houston area. His size along with improved speed and solid route running warrants a higher ranking than a 5.7, three-star prospect. Johnson does an outstanding job of attacking the football and flashes soft hands with the ability to go up and make a catch in traffic; three-star receivers don't look like this.
Underrated defensive player
Ketchum: Adrian Colbert - I honestly cannot explain what the national guys were thinking in rating him as a three-star player. We're talking about a wildly athletic safety prospect with legit next-level size (6-1, 195 pounds), a mean streak that makes him one of the more violent defenders around and speed that ranks with the best in his class. Yes, he was a little bit of a late bloomer, and yes, he played out in the middle of nowhere, but the tape, size and speed don't lie. Buy stock in this kid now before Duane Akina gets his hands on him because you won't be able to get any once the college transformation starts to take place.
Dalton Santos - Most of Texas' commits are so highly rated that it's hard to find many guys that are "flying under the radar," so to speak. Adrian Colbert is a terrific athlete and I think the Rivals national rankings on him were off, but how in the world is Dalton Santos a three-star prospect? His film and his offer sheet do not lie.
Howell: Adrian Colbert - Texas and Texas fans may not be underrating Colbert, but I think this is the one Rivals.com missed the mark on. There is no question Colbert is an elite-level athlete. He has the size, speed, strength combination everyone looks for. I'll be honest ... I saw him on a night that was not all that impressive for him. That said, you could see the draw. You could see what made him special even on a bad night. He's a guy I'm looking forward to watching in the Longhorn secondary and I think in the end he will be viewed as a guy people point to when they talk about not caring about the star rankings.
McComas: Caleb Bluiett - Some guys are rare athletes that could play multiple positions at the next level, and Texas landed more than one of those types. Bluiett fits that mold, but his athleticism allows him to show a great first step off the edge as a pass rusher. He's got the frame - 6-3, 235 pounds - that fits the position well with a great chance of adding on more muscle. He's got the first step and pass rushing ability, and he was productive in high school. The ability to come off the edge as quickly as Bluiett does and as low as he does with great leverage means that this UT signee is underrated as a 5.6 three-star. Pass rushers are supposed to be premium players.
first player to score a touchdown
Ketchum: Johnathan Gray - I'll take Gray in the first game and possibly even in the first half. His skill set is a perfect complement to the two-headed tandem of Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, and I would think there's a very good chance that he emerges very quickly as a guy that can replace what Fozzy Whittaker did in the Wildcat sets. Bryan Harsin is going to want to play with his new toy as soon as he opens the present from under the tree.
Johnathan Gray - Come on, this one's pretty much a no-brainer isn't it? I'd put it at greater than 50 percent odds that he gets in the end zone in the Horns' season opener next year against Wyoming.
Howell: Johnathan Gray - Hand him the ball and let him work his magic. This one is easy. Cayleb Jones could take this honor too, but I'm going with the ground game and the big play every down threat that is Johnathan Gray. He will play and he will be in the rotation and he will have more chances than any of the other freshmen, at least early on.
McComas: Johnathan Gray - This one doesn't require much thought, in my opinion. Not only will Gray get carries early, but he also figures to be a candidate to punch one in during the garbage time of UT's first game. Like I mentioned early, he could step right in as the "Wildhorn" running back Bryan Harsin will be looking for. That was an incredibly productive offensive set for UT.
Ketchum: Daje Johnson - Honestly, we could argue about this one for a few days because this class has so much speed and athleticism in it that choosing one guy is an nearly impossible task, but few guys have ever tested at a high school combine quite like Johnson, who posted multiple 4.3 showings in the 40-yard dash and also sports a 41-inch vertical jump. Although he only arrives in a 5-10 package, he reminds me a lot of former Texas standout Ramonce Taylor, but with quite a bit more top-end speed.
Suchomel: Adrian Colbert - It's hard to go against Daje Johnson and his electronically timed 4.3 speed, but Colbert is terrific on the football field and on the track. He's a state champion in the 400M and he's planning on running track at Texas as well.
Howell: Daje Johnson - I had to think long and hard about this one, but decided to go with Daje Johnson. He has a 41-inch vertical and a legit 4.34 forty. He could play receiver, running back, punt and kick returner, and cornerback. I've seen him lock down some great receivers at corner and I've seen him blow past or through defenders. It will be interesting to see how he is used at Texas, but when Charlie Ward says he reminds him of Eric Metcalf and Warrick Dunn it catches your attention.
McComas: Orlando Thomas - Players that can make contributions all over the football field at different positions are rare athletes. Thomas projects as a defensive back at Texas, but at Copperas Cove he played quarterback and returned kicks in addition to being a defensive back at times. Plus, Thomas has some track background as well and is one of those types that are instinctive athletes with the ability to play all over the place.
Ketchum: Johnathan Gray - When a guy has a touchdown highlight reel that lasts longer than 20 minutes, it's pretty difficult to go against the grain and choose anyone else.
Johnathan Gray - Daje Johnson almost got my vote here as well, but with the way Gray finds the end zone on just about every carry, how can he not be the choice? He's the best running back to come out of the state since Adrian Peterson and if he can stay healthy, he's going to have an incredible Longhorn career.
Howell: Marcus Johnson - If there was a guy I thought about at best athlete besides Daje Johnson it was Marcus Johnson. Now Marcus Johnson takes the most exciting player award. I remember seeing Pearland Dawson play Clear Springs early in the 2011 season.? I knew who Johnson was, but in only a half of play Johnson went berserk. He made plays at receiver and in the return game and when he did not play the Clear Springs offense was noticeably missing something. He is a big play threat with the ball in his hands and there's no doubt in my mind that Texas got a good one.
McComas: Daje Johnson - Speed kills. The moment Johnson ripped off a sub 4.40 40-yard dash at "The Opening" Nike camp in Oregon is the moment he became a constant topic amongst Orangebloods.com subscribers. With his elite speed, Johnson has the chance to score every time he touches the football. He doesn't do it with a ton of wiggle, but once he finds a crease, he's gone.
Ketchum: Dalton Santos - Santos is the Ivan Drago of this class ? whatever he hits, he destroys. A true classic 4-3 middle linebacker prospect in an era when 4-3 middle linebacker prospects don't seem to grow on trees, Santos has a chance to emerge as a short-yardage specialist for the Longhorns early in his playing career because of his unique skill set. The combination of Santos and Steve Edmond should absolutely juice up the manhood factor in the interior of the Texas defense.
Dalton Santos - The Van product is a prototypical middle linebacker and at 6-3 and 252 pounds, he really packs a punch. When Mack Brown showed the recruits' highlights at his press conference on Wednesday, no player's film drew more ooohs and aaaahs than did Santos.
Howell: Dalton Santos - I really had a hard time with this one. I could go with a pass rusher or one of the big DTs. Let's not forget about the linebackers either. It's at the linebacker position on which I find myself focused and I'm going with Dalton Santos. If there is one thing Santos does it's wreck shop. He is a one-man demolition crew. Watch his highlights and tell me he does not bring the pain. I dare you.
McComas: Dalton Santos - The late addition to Texas' 2012 recruiting class plays with a mean streak, and that mean streak wants to inflict pain any chance he gets. At 6-3, 252 pounds Santos has a lot of weight and muscle that he takes with him to impact each time. If he is able to size you up, there is a chance he could put you out of the game; Santos plays the mentality defensive coordinator's want each of their middle linebackers to have.
best recruiting moment
Ketchum: A week ago I might have listed the meltdown in College Station after the Longhorns locked up the Brenham duo, but how can you pick anything other than Torshiro Davis' signing day switch that not only marked the most exciting NSD moment in the history of the Mack Brown era in Austin, but almost crashed Orangebloods.com?
I loved the Torshiro Davis switch, but I'm going to go against the grain a bit on this one and go with the commitments of Malcom Brown and Tim Cole. There was a time when people thought those two were locked into Texas A&M, but the recruiting efforts of Oscar Giles, Bo Davis and Manny Diaz were able to pry them away. They were huge pick-ups and it was a real kick to the Aggie fan base (and even A&M reporters) who thought Orangebloods.com was crazy for saying for weeks that Texas was in the lead. .
Howell: Torshiro Davis Signing Day switch - Is there really a question? This almost blew up the message board and took down the network. Even though I was told what to expect it still came as a bit of a shock and while I didn't see all the drama on the board, I was the able to see it happen first-hand and see one great signing day scene. There were hats, this was in LSU territory for the No. 2 player in Louisiana, this was a last minute switch. It was a great moment for Texas on the recruiting trail and a big win for coach Bo Davis.
McComas: Under Mack Brown at Texas, the Horns don't normally have much excitement on National Signing Day. That changed in 2012. As Orangebloods' own Jason Howell sped through the night avoiding cops with his plus elusiveness, munching on CornNuts, and listening to old Howard Stern shows he thought there was a good chance he could scoop the biggest recruiting moment of the 2012 season. And he did. Normally, LSU doesn't lose in-state recruits from Louisiana, especially ones that were commitments. However, Mack Brown, and more importantly Bo Davis, helped UT pull off a signing day stunner when Torshiro Davis flipped from LSU to Texas. The moment was so big that Davis' thread on Orangebloods.com reached 19 pages, over 100,000 views, and almost crashed the website.
worst recruiting moment
Ketchum: Gosh, there weren't many. I guess if I had to pick one, it wouldn't be the loss of DGB to Missouri or Mario Edwards to Florida State, but the de-commitment of Thomas Johnson and his eventual signing with Texas A&M. The Longhorns worked very hard to get some traction in the Skyline hotbed and it feels like they might have lost that a little in the last year.
The Thomas Johnson decommitment is an easy choice and while my pick is related to that moment, I'm going with a bit of a different route. My vote goes to some of the remarks that we've seen recruits, including Johnson, make on Twitter. I know they're kids, but recruits need to understand they're being watched by thousands of people at pretty much all times.
Howell: Thomas Johnson de-commitment - Once again I happened to be on the scene for this one. Going into Under Armour week there was a lot of smoke. I thought I was in a car with Cheech and Chong it was so thick. Johnson denied everything at first but then he went back and said he was looking at taking visits. He steadily maintained his commitment to Texas, but looking back something did seem a bit off. Then once he returned home he? made the call and de-committed. What makes this one hurt is that there is no doubt Thomas Johnson is a special player and would have been a big time addition to the Texas recruiting class. He chose Texas A&M on signing day and as much as it may hurt some to say the Aggies got a good one.
McComas: The Thomas Johnson saga. The constant rumors about his impending de-commitment were shot down by Johnson, but the smoke never ceased to exist. It was almost like you'd get a different vibe from Johnson each time anyone talked to him, and eventually the expected result - Johnson breaking away from UT - happened. What stung worse for Longhorn fans is that one of the nation's best receivers ended up signing with the Texas A&M Aggies.