Tom Herman’s first ever recruiting class as head coach at Houston was a rather underwhelming haul of talent. The Cougars landed just 21 signees for a 2015 class which ranked just 91st overall in the nation in 247Sports’ composite class power ranking.
The fact that Herman was unable to put together a highly ranked 2015 class isn’t surprising, considering he had just a little over two months between the time he was hired and National Signing Day.
Fortunately for new coaches, the pressure to produce a great recruiting class doesn’t come until after they’ve spent a full year in the recruiting cycle at their new school. Cougars fans will be expecting Herman to deliver a much more heralded class in 2016, especially given the former Ohio State offensive coordinator’s reputation for being an ace recruiter during his days in Columbus.
Though National Signing Day isn’t for another eight months, the new Cougars coaching staff has already begun assembling its 2016 class. Houston currently has commitments from five 2016 prospects but there are two players in particular who stand out not just because of their talent, but because of what they represent.
5-star DT Ed Oliver and 4-star DT Jordan Elliott are the latest additions to the team’s 2016 class. The highly touted tackles are two of the most lauded high school players to ever commit to the Cougars. They also both happen to be Houston natives. Oliver plays for Westfield High School, while Elliott suits up for Westside High School.
Their commitments to the program aren’t set in stone just yet. With so much time left in the recruiting process before players sign a letter of intent, big-name programs will surely continue trying to poach both of them before National Signing Day. Still, their current pledges represent a culture shift as well as a change in attitude for a team that has been mired in mediocrity since the departure of Kevin Sumlin after the 2011 season.
Both Oliver and Elliott chose Houston over offers from much more prestigious programs such as Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma and Texas. That shows that Herman and his staff are prepared to go toe-to-toe with power programs in recruiting battles for top-tier talent. More importantly, though, it shows that the new staff realizes that keeping homegrown talent in Houston is a key factor to the program’s overall recruiting success.
Houston is a true hotbed for outstanding high school football talent. In 247Sports’ composite prospect rankings for the 2015 class, 13 of the top 100 prospects from the state of Texas were Houston natives.
The Cougars were able to convince only one of those 13 prospects: 3-Star RB Tyreik Gray from Lamar High School, to stay in Houston. The rest all passed on the opportunity to play their college ball in their hometown, choosing instead to go play for a bigger program.
With Herman now at the helm, that looks like it’s about to change soon.
If you check the coach’s official Twitter page, you’ll see plenty of posts with the hashtag #HTownTakeover. In the broad sense, it’s a viral campaign used to publicize the goal of growing the program for the future, but it’s also a phrase that’s applicable to one of the team’s most important recruiting strategies.
One of Herman’s main focuses in recruiting is to build a mythical wall around Houston and get many of the plethora of talented prospects in the area to stay home. At this point, the Cougars simply don’t have the type of resources needed to compete with the big-name schools in the region for the elite blue-chip talent in the state of Texas. But what they do have is the ability to sell local talent on the idea of staying home and building something special in H-Town.
Herman expressed the importance of that strategy in a recent interview with Cleveland.com.
“Everything we do, every picture we put on the wall, every piece of carpet we put down, everything you do has to be through the lens of a 17- or 18-year old kid and make sure the University of Houston is as appealing as it can be for local prospects.”
Oliver, Elliott and fellow Houston native Dixie Wooten III—a 3-star OG from Lamar HS who also recently committed to the Cougars—have all bought into the “Takeover” mantra. Now Herman can turn his attention to some of the many other big-name prospects in the 2016 class who also call the talent-stocked city home.