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(Re)Born on the Fourth of July: The Opening

NCAA Football: Texas Spring Game John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

Howdy, Barkers!

Off the bat, let me apologize for my extended absence from the halls of The Carnival. When Scipio returns from sabattical, he never fails to regale with tales of applying illegal Triangle Chokes to boxing kangaroos in hastily-arranged cage matches whilst on walkabout in Perth. Unfortunately my story doesn’t carry a commensurate cool factor - since January, I’ve been working with the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles as they launched history’s first fan-run football team while also getting ready for the debut of the Interactive Football League in 2018.

The Screaming Eagles’ season ended on June 16th, and from there it was a straight dive into prep and writing for Longhorn Football Prospectus: Thinking Texas Football 2017. With this year’s guide wrapped up and in the midst of the techmogrification process, I finally managed to unravel the mystery of how to log back into my damn SBNation account and, you, know...write stuff!

There’s all manner of stuff to catch up on, but it seemed timely to take a look at some of the recruiting landscape as this year’s version of The Opening Finals just wrapped up in Portland, Oregon. Nike’s annual confluence of consensus 4- and 5-star high school talent saw teams like Vapor Speed, Savage Pro, Vodka Wolf, Alpha Menace, Cialis Falcon, Turgid Gryphon, Hyper Strong and Striated Glute square. The nation’s elite QBs, receivers and defensive backs showed their wares while the top offensive and defensive linemen...also attended.

It’s definitely an event that sets up for skill guys, and it sets up with plenty of interest for Longhorn fans given the large number of commits and targets that were on hand in Oregon this year. Tom Herman’s efforts to revitalize the Longhorn brand and take it national are bearing fruit, and plenty of guys on the Burnt Orange radar made noise over the long weekend.

For the second straight season, Thinking Texas Football is enriched by a recruiting overview from the great Eric Nahlin of Inside Texas. Below is a look at some of Texas’ top commits and targets at The Opening, their current 24/7 and 24/7 Composite recruiting rankings, an overview of their skill set from this year’s TTF and a look at how they performed against the elite:

CB Anthony Cook, Lamar (Houston, TX) - 6-foot, 175

247/Composite Ranks: 5 (8)

TTF 2017 Says: Very athletic directionally and in his back-pedal, Cook is a great technician with quick feet and swivel hips. The lone knock on him is he lacks top-end speed, but he has the natural traits to overcome that.

The Opening: Cook didn’t disappoint against some of the nation’s top receivers. His physical style might have drawn more than a few flags on any given Saturday, but his stout fundamentals and aggression re-affirmed his status as one of the absolute best gets at corner for 2018.

S B.J. Foster, Angleton (Angleton, TX) - 6-foot-1, 195 (LONGHORN COMMIT)

247/Composite Ranks: 12 (16)

TTF 2017 Says: Despite missing most of his junior season, Foster's stock didn't suffer much, if at all. That's no surprise for a guy who’s been the consensus best player in the state since his sophomore season. I may quibble with that a bit, but he's an elite defensive talent who is athletic enough to play running back as well. I love his versatility as a safety. Whether it's covering the field, or filling in the boundary, Foster can do it all.

The Opening: Foster started off rusty after having missed most of his junior season following an ACL tear. It didn’t take long for his absurd athletic tools to shine through, though, as Foster swiftly rounded back into form. He gained comfort rep by rep, got more and more involved as 7 on 7 play went on and ended up grabbing the game-clinching interception for his squad in the 7 on 7 finals. He’s a class bell cow that should have Longhorn fans extremely excited, particularly with the emphasis on all-around safety play that Todd Orlando’s defense puts on the table.

DB Caden Sterns, Steele (Cibolo, TX) - 6-foot-1, 190 (LONGHORN COMMIT)

247/Composite Ranks: 49 (36)

TTF 2017 Says: The versatile Sterns should start off at cornerback where the staff will ingrain coverage fundamentals and technique, but I think he's a safety long term because of how big he'll get. I love his instincts, range, and length, and how he so clearly puts them to use defending the pass. He's also not afraid to trade paint, as you'd expect from the brother of run-game stalwart Jordan Sterns.

The Opening: Even though Sterns’ trademark toughness and football IQ are more set up to shine in 11 on 11 action, he acquitted himself well with tight coverage and several INTs one things moved into 7 on 7 work.

WR Brennan Eagles, Alief Taylor (Houston, TX) - 6-foot-4, 210

247/Composite Ranks: 50 (23)

TTF 2017 Says: His stock really took off after an absurd testing performance on a day when very few fared well. At his size he clocked a 4.51 40, but more impressively clocked a 3.99 shuttle. Despite that shuttle, he's a bit stiff, but as an X WR he'll likely be running the higher numbers of the route tree. He's strong and should become a plus blocker on the perimeter.

The Opening: Eagles had an up and down start, looking somewhat iffy getting out of his breaks before hauling in some long TDs late. His size, speed and penchant for one-handed grabs will keep him high on everyone’s recruiting list, but he’ll likely need a little more polish before truly breaking through at the college level.

CB Jalen Green, Heights (Houston, TX) - 6-foot-1, 175

247/Composite Ranks: 68 (66)

TTF 2017 Says: Green is the Kris Boyd to Anthony Cook's Holton Hill. Like Boyd, Green has spent much of his high school career on offense. Meanwhile, like Hill, Cook has about 10,000 more reps as a corner. Green is the superior athlete and that's why I project him as the best corner in the state and perhaps the state's best overall player. Texas leads right now but I get the sense we could see some plot twists in this one.

The Opening: Green didn’t light things up in early 1 on 1 work but ran wild in team competition, bagging five interceptions including a pick six over his team’s last few games. His elite athleticism translated well at both corner and safety, and opinions that he could carry the highest ceiling of any DB in the Lone Star State this year may well have been confirmed.

WR Rondale Moore, Trinity (Louisville, KY) - 5-foot-9, 175 (LONGHORN COMMIT)

247/Composite Ranks: 82 (213)

TTF 2017 Says: Known for his very uncommon testing numbers (4.33 40, 4.01 shuttle, and 42.7" vertical), what really has my attention is he combines that athleticism with actual skill. He's not just going to run by you, though he can do that too. As a slot receiver in this offense he'll receive touches in myriad ways.

The Opening: Moore’s combination of elite speed and softer skills in route running were on full display - he was among the real standouts at wideout. He struggled early with physicality in 7 on 7 work but rebounded with several long scores in the final day of team competition. Herman found a stud in St. Louis.

TE Luke Ford, Carterville (Carterville, IL) - 6-foot-7, 250

247/Composite Ranks: 131 (91)

TTF 2017 Says: This could end up being another Texas versus Alabama fight. Ford will visit both this summer. He has great size and should become a good player in both the passing and blocking game. If I'm Bama, this is the guy I pursue, and I think they will.

The Opening: Ford turned plenty of heads with his size and fully developed frame, though opinions varied on how smoothly and effectively he got through his routes. He’s a bona fide stud, though his air-game upside could be somewhat up for debate.

WR Al’vonte Woodard, Lamar (Houston, TX)- 6-foot-1, 190

247/Composite Ranks: 165 (74)

TTF 2017 Says: Woodard will announce two days before Eagles and that should also be a good day for Texas. He's also a bit tight in his hips but he's improving his route running and has good straight-line speed. As a Z, he'd complement Eagles well on the opposite side.

The Opening: Woodard was another guy who didn’t wow observers early before hauling in some bombs late in the action. He’s a classic Z receiver with impressive footwork and quicks, but his athletic gifts may not give him the pure upside of other wideouts in this class.

CB D’Shawn Jamison, Lamar (Houston, TX) - 5-foot-10, 175

247/Composite Ranks: 157 (141)

TTF 2017 Says: One of the most electric players in the country, he's also perhaps the best pound-for-pound player in the state who punches well above his weight. He's a ball of energy who thinks he's the biggest player on the field. He can play corner, but I really like him more in the middle of the field throwing himself around. He'll likely be a nickel. Jamison's timeline is August but an announcement sometime in mid-July wouldn't surprise me.

The Opening: Jamison showed versatility but looked to be an ideal fit at nickel as he showed the frame and fierceness to battle receivers inside and also made multiple plays in zone coverage. He’s another guy who’ll show more when the pads are on.

WR Tommy Bush, Clemens (Schertz, TX) - 6-foot-4, 190

247/Composite Ranks: Currently outside 24/7 Top 250

TTF 2017 Says: He's an athlete on the level of Eagles while bringing more fluidity to the table. The big difference between the two is that Bush’s tape is lacking. Still, the upside is obvious and his trainer raves about his projection and calls him a quick learner. Bush also scores high in the character department. Even though Texas has some ground to make up, if they recruit him as hard as others then UT has a chance.

The Opening: Bush had his share of struggles against elite competition, which wasn’t surprising for one of the most raw prospects in attendance. He’ll need work on route-running nuance and understanding what defenses are trying to do against him, but down the road his size and fluidity could make him hell on wheels downfield.

That’s a look at some of the Longhorns’ top targets in the nation’s top prep showcase. We’ll be diving into plenty more preview action as we battle through the long, hot summer, but it’s good to be back.

- Hook ‘Em!