Commentary

Texas challenges Florida for No. 1 class

Updated: January 31, 2010, 3:55 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

PLANO, Texas -- Wearing a burnt-orange Texas Longhorns ball cap, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said he didn't know, but his wry grin and big eyes suggested that maybe he did.

"I've talked to him a little bit. I'm not sure where he's going," Jeffcoat said of outside linebacker Jordan Hicks, Ohio's most sought-after high school football player. "Yeah, I just wish him the best of luck for his decision and hope that he makes a great decision. That'd be good, to play on the same team with Hicks."

Sounds like a good future roommate.

Jeffcoat, the nation's No. 2 recruit in the ESPNU 150 rankings, announced his long-awaited commitment to Texas on Friday morning inside the Plano West High School gymnasium. Ninety minutes later and 965 miles away, a similar scene unfolded at Lakota West High School outside of Cincinnati.

Hicks, the No. 4 recruit in the ESPNU 150 and the nation's top linebacker, said no to Ohio State and Florida and yes to Texas.

Mack Brown, long known as "Coach February" for his signing-day coups, has to be smiling in Austin, Texas. Two heavyweight commitments in one morning is quite the haul. If all goes as planned Wednesday -- national signing day, when recruits ink their binding agreements -- Texas' two-step could vault the Longhorns past Florida's heralded class to the top of the 2010 recruiting rankings.

It's a mythical distinction, to be sure, but one Brown and his staff would gladly accept.

Texas and Florida are each expected to sign two top-5 players, with the Gators landing No. 1 recruit Ronald Powell, a powerful defensive end/linebacker out of California, and the No. 3 prospect, defensive tackle Dominique Easley out of New York.

Jordan Hicks
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI Jordan Hicks chose to commit to Texas over Ohio State and Florida. "That'd be good to play on the same team as Hicks," said Plano West defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, a fellow UT commit.

Of the Longhorns' 24 commitments, 15 are ranked in the ESPNU 150, and six are among the top 20, crushing the rest of the Big 12. In the South, Oklahoma is next with six among its 29 commitments. Nebraska, with one, is the lone North program to nab a top-150 recruit.

Florida leads the SEC with 16 of its 25 commitments ranked in the 150. Defending national champion Alabama is next, with 10 of its 24 ranked.

Jeffcoat and Hicks could see playing time quickly. Texas loses defensive end Sergio Kindle, who went to Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas and is projected to be a first-round NFL draft pick. Returners Sam Acho and Eddie Jones are seniors. Texas loses one linebacker, but it's a unit that's open to competition.

"He's a great recruiter," Jeffcoat said of Brown. "He told me straight-up: 'We're not going to promise you a starting spot or anything like that. You've got to come and work, but you're going to get playing time because we've seen what you can do on film.' That was big for me. A lot of places told me that, but I just felt most comfortable at Texas."

Wearing a coat and tie for his announcement, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Hicks told reporters that Texas "was just in my heart. That's where I felt most comfortable."

Brown certainly has a reputation for making players feel at home. As tremendous a job as he has done bringing top talent to Texas, the addition of hustling defensive coordinator Will Muschamp can't go unnoticed. Muschamp, just 38 years old and UT's head-coach-in-waiting, recruited Hicks hard.

Will Muschamp
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesTexas defensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp had made it known that Jordan Hicks was a "linebacker Texas really wants," Roddrick Muckelroy said.

And for him to steal Ohio's No. 1 prospect from Ohio State coach Jim Tressel's backyard is rare and won't make Buckeyes fans very happy.

Back in December, the night before the Longhorns were to begin preparations for the BCS National Championship game, Texas senior outside linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy received a call from Muschamp on the recruiting trail in Ohio.

Muckelroy had shown Hicks around the Texas campus during his visit to Austin, and Muschamp was checking in. Muschamp had made it known to Muckelroy that Hicks was a "linebacker Texas really wants."

"He called me and said, 'You ready for tomorrow [the first day of practice]?'" Muckelroy said of Muschamp. "He said, 'I'll be there. I'll get in about 2 o'clock in the morning and I'll be ready for practice.' So he had about three hours of sleep, maybe, Saturday morning."

Muschamp attacks recruiting the way he teaches defense -- with fire and passion. In his second season, Muschamp molded the Longhorns into the nation's No. 3-ranked defense. It was the backbone of a team that won the Big 12 championship before falling to Alabama in the BCS National Championship three weeks ago.

"It's funny, because every day when I come up to school, I'll come up through the top of where the coaches park, and I'll look to see if his truck is there," Muckelroy said. "I'll usually see every coach's car there, and then at nighttime you'll see a few trucks in there. When all the coaches go home, you'll see his truck in there and some of the defensive GAs [graduate assistants].

"That's the thing I always look for, to see if coach Muschamp is still up there. Because if he's still working, then I feel like I should still be working, watching film or doing something. He's that type of guy."

Asked if there's ever been a time he hasn't seen Muschamp's truck in the parking garage, Muckelroy smiled. "A few times. But that's usually when he's out recruiting."

Soon, Jeffcoat and Hicks, two of the nation's top recruits who might waste little time stepping onto the field, will get a first-hand look at how Muschamp operates.

Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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