North Texas had a banner day in the first day of recruiting. Technically this is the “early” period but increasingly teams like to wrap it all up as soon as possible. There were sixteen announced signees.
Seth Littrell called his class solid and thought they had some guys that can contribute right away. There are still spots to fill and he expects some transfers to come in before February — or some late signings. NT is in a good spot with this group. It is the most talented crop of new players that NT has had in the recruiting service history. It is also the result of the work on and off the field by everyone that has been a part of the program.
The headliner is Caleb Johnson. He was a surprise signee — the recruiting team for the program teased the announcement a few times and he made a big splash among the recruiting reporter types. He has blazing speed and that is of course important but even more so in this downfield passing offense that NT has migrated toward. Jaelon Darden made a name for himself this season beating guys deep — and Deonte Simpson, Austin Ogunmakin, Jyaire Shorter et al have made huge plays getting vertical. Johnson can do that and evade guys in the open field. He had offers from Oklahoma and was set to move there as recently as October. Alex Grinch, the defensive coordinator was pushing him. Johnson was ranked the 33rd corner nationally. I imagine the flip to NT came down to his preference for playing offense and the imminent departure (and success) of Jaelon Darden. The pitch that starts with “Hey this could be you” and then showing the 35+ TDs Darden had this season is a solid way to convince a guy to come to Denton.
Let us break down the rest of the class by grouping.
We will start here as this is the primary concern for most Mean Green fans. While we all love offense, we know that NT is averaging 500+ a game and leads the conference in points and yards. This program needs a little defense. NT lost a couple of DEs to SMU and other schools — decommited. Littrell’s staff competed with mostly low-Power 5 schools but did lose out on Jimmori Robinson to UTSA. They may have altered their approach after the Murphy boys started impressing. There are four DT signings. Let’s break it down.
Trent Ward: 3 Stars out of Spring, TX — 6’3″ 265 lbs
The offer list was some FCS and a couple of low-G5 programs. He’s the highest rated defensive end of the signees. He showed some strength on the tape and that is about where NT is lacking. If we say the Murphys are bringing the pass-rush, then the rest of the stoutness needs to come elsewhere. Enter Trent Ward, et al.
Kalvin Hutchings: JUCO 3 Stars out of Longview, TX – 6’4″ 298 lbs
Hutchings was recruited by Louisiana, Troy, and UIW. He’s more size in the middle and the above applies to him. He has experience and so he should be a contributor sooner than later. Even if he is simply depth, that is useful.
Kevin Greene: 3 Stars out of Del City, OK — 6’3″ 280 lbs.
Greene is another Oklahoma guy with a limited recruiting profile. He was considered a 3-star DT by 247 and the 104th best DT in the class. He has good size and the tape shows a DT that is just bigger than the competition.
Fatafehi (Fehi) Vailea: 3 Stars out of Las Vegas NV — 6’2″ 290 lbs
Vailea had offers from Charlotte, Idaho, and Nevada. He’s another guy to be big in the middle and eat up space. The recruiting line on him is that he’s a run-stopper and that is definitely what NT needs.
Chris Wright: 3 Stars out of Aledo, Tx — 6’3″ 220 lbs
He is in the Texas High School playoffs right now. He played DE but is projected as a linebacker at NT. It will take some time to adjust to the position but he will be playing behind some starters anyway so look for him to develop into a contributor over time.
Willie Simmons III: 3 Stars out of Elgin, TX – 6’2″ 208 lbs
Simmons is another in the mold of the linebackers NT wants. He’s tallish, and has a good frame. His tape shows a guy that can move a bit and find the ball. We can expect him to contribute down the road.
Harold West: 3 Stars out of Arlington, TX — 6’1″ 190 lbs
He is a safety ranked 105 in the nation with offers from some FCS squads. He showed some hitting ability and good ball skills on the tape. He is not likely going to contribute immediately but should settle into the system quickly.
Robert Johnson: 3 starts out of Memphis, TN — 6’1″ 190 lbs
Johnson had a solid G5 recruiting list. He is likely a safety but played a lot of wide receiver. That transition will obviously take some time. He’s the same mold as West.
Transfer > Logan Wilson: 3 Stars out of Dallas, TX — 5’10” 165 lbs
He was a three-start athlete coming out of high school and was enrolled at K-State before transferring to ULM. After Covid hit, he decided to come home. He is likely to “play all three” positions in the secondary according to the DRC interview.
The offense is Seth Littrell’s calling card and it has performed well. The initial classes were about finding talent that could develop here. Since the first couple of productive seasons it has been about finding game-changing talent.
Bryce Drummond: 3 Star out of Pawhuska, OK — 6’3″ 205 lbs
My wife already knew who this kid was, because she watches the Pioneer Woman.
He is a good QB, also and was coached up by Mason Fine himself. He set a bunch of records and threw a bunch of touchdowns. Given the way that Austin Aune and Jason Bean were swapped we just might see Drummond step up and step in relatively soon. In truth, this is just deepening the QB room.
He has nice touch and a cannon, two things you want as a QB.
Gabe Blair: 3 Star out of Denton, TX — 6’3″ 303 lbs
Blair is also still in the Texas HS playoffs. He had a long P5 list of offers including Va Tech, USC, and Colorado. This is an important signing, as it represents North Texas getting into the P5-caliber talent pool. The star rating has some issues but one way to evaluate talent is to see if the person you want is coveted by other talent-rich schools. That is the case here. North Texas has built up the quality of its OL for the last few seasons and this is more of that, and better.
Rayvon Crum: 3 Stars out of Pinson, AL — 6’5″ 325 lbs
More of the same above. Crum had offers from Arizona State, Georgia Tech, Kansas, and West Virginia. Add to that stellar G5 programs like UCF and you have a guy that was rated very highly.
Transfer > Jacob Farrell: 3 Stars out of Sulphur, OK: 6’6′ 280 lbs
Farrell transferred away from OSU after violating team rules. He’s a talent and had a lot of offers out of high school. OSU has had a history of good offense and knows what kind of guy that can fit in their system. It stands to reason that there will be a good fit here for Jacob.
Var’Keyes Gumms: 3 Stars out of Houston, Texas — 6’3″ 230 lbs
He’s big and can move and has good hands. He was too much for his competition in HS, just outrunning or overpowering his competition. LSU offered him a spot (and so did Louisiana Tech and UH). There will be plenty of opportunity for him to contribute early at NT.
Bryson Jackson: JUCO 3 Star out of Houston, TX: 6’0″ 182 lbs
Jackson is a former TCU player who transferred to JUCO Blinn. He looks good in the open field and shifty with the ball. He is another in a line of NT receivers that can get deep or make plays when the ball comes to them short. He will likely have an opportunity to get some time early. NT likes to rotate their WRs often.
Caleb Johnson: 3 Star out of Greenvile, TX: 6’0″ 180 lbs.
We discussed him above but wanted to note again how huge of a signing this was. He had offers from big time programs — like not just P5 but recent college football playoff teams. Johnson is the highest rated recruit NT has ever signed according to 247, just edging out Riley Dodge.
Zhighlil (Zy-Lil) McMillan: 3 Star out of Frisco, TX — 6’1″ 190 lbs
He’s in the HS playoffs right now and had offers from Vandy, UAB, and ULM. He has decent height but his primary asset is his speed. He gets behind the defense. Again, that is what North Texas wants. This season there were three or four instances per game where NT had a guy running free behind the secondary. If McMillan shows he can do the same and catch the ball he can go ahead and call himself a starter.
Keith Jackson: 3 Star out of Missouri City, TX — 5’11” 205 lbs
He is a little slighter than some of the other backs we have seen. NT likes a speedy scat back — DeAndre Torrey — and likes the bulldozers like Tre Siggers and Oscar Adaway III. Jackson is more of the former, displaying some shiftiness and speed. He even showed some nice hands catching the ball out of the backfield in HS. Boise, Nevada, Colorado, Ole Miss, and Tennessee all had an offer to him.