Alignment. I’m not just writing that to get it out of the way or to inspire you to put some whiskey in your coffee. I’m writing that because it was readily apparent on Thursday when all five offensive assistants were available to the media.
While there was a discrepancy on how often it was said daily in the office with wide receivers coach Drew Mehringer and offensive coordinator Tim Beck putting it in the hundreds, and offensive line coach Derek Warehime putting it in the single digits, it was evident the want to get Texas back to its powerhouse strength permeates through the program, including in how the program recruits.
The Texas offensive assistants come from a variety of backgrounds. Mehringer and Beck both boast strong ties to Mansfield while spending some time in Big 10 country.
Beck was offensive coordinator at Nebraska prior to joining Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State in 2015, while Mehringer spent one season as the youngest Power 5 play-caller at Rutgers.
Associate head coach and running backs coach Stan Drayton was with Tom Herman at Ohio State prior to coaching RBs for the Chicago Bears the past two seasons. Drayton has not had extended stays at any one particular school, but has bounced around and recruited all over at his stops of Syracuse, Tennessee, Mississippi State, and Ohio State.
Tight ends coach Corby Meekins comes to Texas with strong ties to the Houston area, where he was Westfield’s head coach for several years before joining Herman at Houston.
Offensive line coach Derek Warehime has coached all over the southwest, including stops at Arkansas-Monticello, New Mexico, Sam Houston State and Houston.
With these different approaches to get to Texas, each coach has a little bit different approach to recruiting. Some shared 2017 anecdotes, while some went into detail on how they would attack 2018 and future classes.
Warehime talks East Texas, Oklahoma, and two new guys
Warehime comes to Texas as part of a full staff change, with none of Charlie Strong’s assistants being retained.
One of the nine departures include current SMU running backs coach Jeff Traylor. Traylor, a former head coach at Gilmer, is well known around East Texas and helped Texas sign several of the region’s top prospects in his two years at UT.
Texas’ offensive line coach is now charged with recruiting the same region as Traylor. While he admittedly does not hold the same stature as Traylor does in the region, he is no stranger to the area. He is also confident he can bring Texas playmakers from the region.
“That was my area at Houston, and then I’ve been out there every year when I was coaching at the University of New Mexico,” Warehime said. “I’m not an unfamiliar face and I do have a lot of really, really good relationships with a lot of those guys.”
Replacing Traylor is a tall task, but so far, Warehime says those good relationships have been working.
“It’s a unique situation trying to compare my relationships with East Texas coaches to Jeff because you can’t,” Warehime said.“He’s been coaching out there and been a great name out there in East Texas for a long period of time. That relationship for those guys is a little bit different than it is for me. Extremely well received and looking forward to getting a lot of those guys over here for spring practice and stuff like that.”
Under the previous staff, Texas rarely tried to get involved in recruiting Texas’ neighbor to the north, Oklahoma. Warehime comes from a well-known coaching family in Oklahoma, and views it as a fertile recruiting territory Texas can tap.
“We also have to go find the best football players to go win a national championship with,” Warehime said. “We treat Oklahoma like it’s an in-state type place, so to speak, because of proximity, and because of relationship and knowing a lot of those coaches, and recruiting that state at every stop that I’ve had along the way allows us to kind of get into some doors a little bit easier if that makes sense.”
Warehime’s family, including his father, has been coaching in the Sooner state for so long, he recounted a time where he went back home for a holiday and saw one of his father’s former players at his house with his family. It’s just another part of the diverse coaching background Herman’s staff has that he hopes will allow him to recruit at a high level.
Not only will Warehime try to use his relationships to help Texas, but also the talent that has come out of Oklahoma.
Texas has offered four 4-star prospects and one 3-star prospect from Oklahoma in the Class of 2018. Warehime said part of the reason behind those offers is the recent talent the state is producing.
“There’s some good football players up there,” Warehime said.“These past two years up in Oklahoma have been some of the best in history when it comes to talent coming out all at the same time. It just so happens this happens to be one of those years where there’s four, five, six guys coming out of that state this year.”
Finally, Warehime was asked about the two newest Longhorns joining him in the offensive line room, San Antonio Reagan’s Derek Kerstetter and Humble Atascocita’s Sam Cosmi. Herman said during his signing day press conference “the University of Texas does not sign backups.” While there are some fans that consider Cosmi, a former Houston pledge, a backup plan,Warehime is ready to receive both his and Kerstetter’s work ethic in his position room.
“They’re talented people, and they have the measurables to play at this level,” Warehime said. “They have the ability to play at this level and be good at this level.”
Warehime added this anecdote about the 2017 offensive line class:
“Both of those guys, I tried to get in contact with Derek Kerstetter at 6:15 a.m. on signing day and I didn’t get him. I got a call back three minutes later from Derek and he was huffing and puffing. He said ‘hey coach, what’s going on.’ I said ‘why are you breathing so hard?’ He said ‘I was just lifting weights in the weight room. I was on the squat rack. I heard my phone ring but I was in the middle of a set and I didn’t want to stop the set and go answer my phone, so I finished my set.’ That’s him. Right after signing day, right after Sammy’s signing day party, he went to the weight room to go work out. Sammy just went with his grandpa and drove 30 minutes outside of Humble to go find a giant tractor tire for him to put in his back yard to flip over and over and over again. Those things about those kids on top of them being talented and on top of them being really intelligent is why I feel strongly that they’ll be extremely successful here at the University of Texas.”
Following an unsuccessful stint as the youngest play-caller in a Power 5 conference at Rutgers, Drew Mehringer returns to a state he is familiar with. Mehringer played on a team at Mansfield that went head to head with Beck’s Mansfield Summit team, with Beck getting the upper hand.
Mehringer comes to Texas to serve as wide receivers coach, passing game coordinator and to recruit the south side of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. It is somewhat of a return for Mehringer, as he rarely tried to dip into Texas during his tenure in New Jersey. “The number of schools that a player from the Dallas-Fort Worth area would have to fly past to get to Rutgers and ignore regionally was not worth the expense that it would take to go recruit that kid, at least recruiting him the right way,” Mehringer said.
With a drastically different offense from Sterlin Gilbert’s veer-and-shoot, the wide receivers will serve drastically different roles. At X, or the boundary receiver, Mehringer is looking for a “bigger body type, maybe not as fast, but more of your one-on-one matchups.” He would continue by saying sophomore Collin Johnson fits this mold for the offense.
At Z or the field receiver, Mehringer wants to put a “longer, leaner, more vertical threat,” in the mold of junior John Burt. In the slot, look for players in the mold of three players mentioned by name, Demarcus Ayers, Percy Harvin, and Tyreek Hill.
As this applies to 2018 recruiting, the loaded WR class has all three of these types. Offers CJ Moore (Tulsa [OK] Union), Terrace Marshall (Bossier City [LA] Parkway), and Al’vonte Woodard (Houston Lamar) all fit into the Z role due to their length (with the exception of Woodard) and their vertical ability.
For X, prospects like Brennan Eagles (Alief Taylor) and Jalen Preston (Manvel) fit the bill of the bigger body type, but both possess outstanding physical traits that could put them all over the field.
For slot, which Mehringer expects senior Armanti Foreman to play at this season, offers like Jaylen Waddle (Bellaire Episcopal) and Jaquaylyn Crawford (Rockdale) mesh with Mehringer’s vision for the position.
Mehringer brings high standards into recruiting for his position, and repeated an oft-repeated coaching cliché that the best players will play regardless of age. However, Mehringer brings that into his recruiting.
“We’re never going to cook the books in term of ‘hey, we don’t have any players at your position,’” Mehringer said. “No, we’ve got some really good players at your position, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t the best one, and we’re going to play the best receiver. We’re not bringing in anybody in this program, save maybe quarterback or offensive linemen, that we plan to redshirt ever. That’s never happening. If they can’t play as a freshman, we probably aren’t recruiting the right kind of guys.”
Meekins brings Houston ties with him
Texas fans were initially excited to hear that Herman was bringing tight ends coach Corby Meekins with him from Houston. The former Westfield head coach is a respected name in Houston high school football, and was pivotal in helping Houston sign defensive tackle Ed Oliver.
Oliver’s commitment sent waves in the recruiting industry as a consensus 5-star prospect rarely gave group of five schools the time of day, let alone their commitment. Meekins said the same reason Oliver signed with Herman at Houston is the same reason Texas will sign successful classes.
“Coach Herman has a vision,” Meekins said. “He has a plan. Our job is to make sure that the best players in the state realize that they can realize all their goals, all their dreams and get one of the best educations in America and reach every goal, football wise, right here in the state without leaving. That’s the bottom line. There’s nothing like, if you’re from Texas, there’s nothing like putting Texas across your chest and going out and competing with the best in the nation.”
There is still some progress to be made. “We’re not there yet, but we’re closer today than we were yesterday, and hopefully we’re closer tomorrow than we were today,” Meekins said.
Meekins hopes to use his connections to Houston, who has a historically strong skill position crop in 2018, to get those players to want to put Texas across their chest. So far, he said he has heard nothing but positives from his colleagues.
“Everyone’s excited for me,” Meekins said. “All those guys, those are all my guys. They’re not just peers and fellow coaches, they’re friends. Everyone’s excited for me and they’re pulling for a lot of Longhorn success.”
The tight end has been a position seemingly abandoned by Texas for the past several seasons, with only one player from the position group, Geoff Swaim, reaching the NFL.
The tight end is utilized in Herman’s offense much more than it was under Gilbert, who threw to the tight end a handful of times. Part of why Meekins was so comfortable joining Herman at Houston and Texas was because of the shared thinking on the importance of the tight end.
“I never took the tight end off the field because when you take the tight end off the field, you lose a running lane that the defense has to account for gap wise,” Meekins said. “That’s another thing that married up well.”
In recruiting tight ends, Meekins would say 2017 signees Reese Leitao (Jenks [OK]) and Cade Brewer (Lake Travis) fit into this offense because they not only are good football players, but because they are good athletes. Speaking about Leiato specifically, Meekins said part of their evaluations when looking at tight ends is if the prospect plays multiple sports, with a premium added to those playing basketball.
This trait, according to Meekins, shows a base athleticism that translates well to the position.
Meekins’ status as one of the staff’s better recruiters will be put to the test this spring beginning with Texas’ first Junior Day under Herman.
For Meekins, the goal remains the same. “We want to recruit the best players, commit the best players, and sign the best players, whether out of Houston or anywhere it’s going to be the same,” he said.
Drayton talks the importance of getting Texas back, returning to recruiting
One of Herman’s most acclaimed hires is that of running backs coach and associate head coach, Stan Drayton. Drayton comes to Texas from the Chicago Bears, where he coached two extremely productive backs in Jordan Howard and Jeremy Langford.
The back that most associate with Drayton is former Ohio State Buckeye and current Dallas Cowboy, Ezekiel Elliott. Drayton recruited Elliott out of Missouri, and helped him become one of the more complete backs out of college, even though he declared early.
In Texas, where Elliott is now a household name because of his play on the Cowboys, Drayton has a popular and relatable pitch to top-flight running backs, but he has done more than just coach Zeke.
“I’ve had the pleasure to coach a lot of great backs, and Zeke is definitely one of them,” Drayton said. “What I go in there and pound my chest on is I’m trying to convince them that I’m going to raise them as a young man, that I’m going to care about them outside of their helmet. I hope that’s attractive enough.”
Drayton made sure he mentioned not only Elliott’s on-field development, but his off-field development as well in what he tells prospective Longhorns.
“Yes, it does help that I’ve coached people like Ezekiel Elliott, no doubt,” Drayton said. “If you take Ezekiel Elliott off the football field, I’m sure he’ll tell you about the things we did off the field that helped him get to where he is today.”
Drayton went from a winning program with a national championship to the NFL. Now, he comes to a historic program with past prominence, but is coming off of three straight losing seasons. For Drayton, that only serves as more motivation.
“What we perceive Texas to be is not where it is right now,” Drayton said. “It’s not the Texas that we know it to be right now. If that’s not motivation enough, when you come to a place where you’ve got all the resources, you’ve got the support, you’ve got everything you need and you’re sitting in a hotbed of talent, it makes you hungry. If you have a competitive spirit about you, just a little bit, you want to be the one to get this place back to where it used to be.”
Though Texas is thought of as a recruiting hotbed, the talent at running back for the current cycle is much lower than it has been in previous years. Drayton’s recruiting focus will likely extend nationally, where he can use his experience all over the country as a selling point.
When recruiting, Drayton said he is gaging a prospect’s interest and toughness. He asks about toughness because of the way the program is run.
“Don’t come here if you don’t want hard,” Drayton said. “That kind of separates the men from the boys. A lot of people sit there and say they want hard, but they really don’t when it hits them in the face.”
Returning to recruiting is one of the biggest challenges an accomplished coach like Drayton will face in Austin. It is not the same as coaching in Columbus or Chicago due to the talent level within the borders of Texas. One thing the current staff is aligned on is keeping good Texas prospects at home and convincing them to come to Austin.
“One thing I can say is that you don’t have to go far from home here at the University of Texas,” Drayton said. “If you leave the state, you’re leaving the state because you can’t find a certain skillset within the state.”
Beck on recruiting quarterbacks
Within the structure of Herman’s staff, quarterback tutelage is assigned to Tim Beck.
Beck is no stranger to quarterbacks in Texas, as he, along with Herman, helped develop Ohio State’s JT Barrett into the effective quarterback he currently is. He also developed Tommy Armstrong at Nebraska, and won at least nine games every year he was on staff in Lincoln.
Multiple components go into recruiting a quarterback for Beck. His list includes mental and physical toughness, a competitive attitude, arm ability and success at the high school level.
“I’ve always felt like if you’re going to play quarterback at the University of Texas, you’ve got to be good enough that your high school team wins because of you, not in spite of you, but because of you,” Beck said. “You’re a good player, but you make people around you better. Why? I’m really competitive.”
He also said he looked for how players performed in big games. Luckily for Beck, both of the main competitors for the starting job next season, Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele, have big time games under their belt.
In addition to these attributes, Beck looks at several other on-field attributes. Beck said he expects his quarterbacks to be mobile rather than statuesque passers, citing Alabama’s Jalen Hurts and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson as prime examples.
Beck, who as previously mentioned coached at Mansfield Summit, gave the impression that his return to Texas was a long time coming, and that recruiting quarterbacks in Texas for Texas is something a little bit easier than what he is used to.
“You can’t put a price on it,” Beck said about returning to Texas.“Even in recruiting, even at Ohio State, to come down here and recruit the guys that I did, just going and coming back in here, home. Nebraska became a national base and once we left the Big 12 to join the Big 10, kids didn’t want to go to the Big 10. It was a lot harder to get the kids out, and with quarterbacks, you have to go wherever the quarterbacks are.”