Every year the NCAA recruiting trail produces some of the craziest scenarios, wildest storylines, and biggest upsets in terms of where top prospects are expected to land and where they actually do.
It’s no different in the Lone Star State, where football is a religion. It was no different in 2016, when Texas unveiled one of its most talented classes to date.
Two years later, these players are spread across the nation, some still with their original targets. Some have moved onto junior colleges and are waiting for a chance to re-join the major conference ranks. And yet others either saw their position usurped or are buried on depth charts when better options may have been elsewhere at the time of their signing.
1. Jared Mayden (4-star DB, Sachse)
Major Conference Offers: Florida State (ACC), Georgia (SEC), Michigan (Big Ten), Oklahoma (Big 12), Oregon (Pac 12)
The 6-foot, four-star defender from Sachse, Texas, was one of the best talents in high school football before the Crimson Tide took him off the market and led him to back-to-back NCAA DI title games and a 2017 National Championship victory. Alabama was one of four schools he visited and the second to last before signing with the university on Feb. 3.
Mayden experienced limited play because the ridiculous accumulation of talent on the Crimson Tide’s depth chart, but he may have been an immediate starter at one or more of the 38 other programs jockeying for his services. Both Oregon and Texas were in the bottom third in terms of total defense, allowing 4,799 and 4,753 yards, respectively.
Florida State was near the middle of the pack at No. 18 and Oklahoma didn’t crack the top 50.
Best fit: Texas
2. Jalen Hurts (4-star QB, Channelview)
Major Conference Offers: Arizona (Pac 12), Mississippi State (SEC), Texas A&M (SEC), Texas Tech (Big 12)
Sometimes hindsight really is 20/20.
The Aggies have been in a quarterback carousel since Johnny Manziel and Kyler Murray’s departures. the Red Raiders’ have had a void at the position since the draft of Patrick Mahomes. Freshman Tua Tagovailoa’s apparent ascension to starter status in the Crimson Tide’s depth chart threatens his choice to leave the Lone Star State.
Anywhere but Alabama, it seems, was a better choice for Hurts — who chose Alabama over finalists Texas A&M and Mississippi State after former Crimson Tide Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin traveled to Channelview, Texas to watch the 6-foot-2, 208-pound talent chuck the pigskin.
While he may not have reached two national title games as only sophomore, Hurts future could have a more clear future as a Aggie, Bulldog, Red Raider, or Wildcat.
Mississippi State lost Nick Fitzgerald to a gruesome ankle injury in late November and is now banking its future on lightly-proven freshman Keytaon Thompson. A durable dual-threat like Hurts could have changed how their record looked at the end of a rough-and-tumble South Eastern Conference run.
Not only would have Hurts been a near-perfect heir apparent to Mahomes in Lubbock, resident quarterback whisperer Kliff Kingsbury could have gotten the most out of his arm.
Best fit: Texas Tech
3. Deontay Anderson (4-star DB, Manvel)
Signed: Ole Miss
Major Conference Offers: LSU, Ole Miss, Texas
If he’d known about the recent problems at the University of Mississippi — including NCAA-mandated sanctions — Anderson’s dream scenario probably would have laid somewhere outside of the deep south.
Thirty-nine teams vied for his services, with LSU, Ole Miss, and Texas at the top of the list. Nearly two years after Anderson committed as a Rebel via a skydiving video, months after Hugh Freeze resigned as head coach amid allegations of violations of morals clauses in his contract.
Instead of bolting to either of the of his top two in the wake of Freeze’s departure, he skipped town and followed in Shea Patterson’s footsteps in late December, catching a flight to the nearest major Texas city.
The former No. 2 prep safety in the country, the No. 8 player at any position in the state of Texas, and No. 52 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board had 32 tackles (1.5 TFL), and an interception as a NCAA freshman in Oxford.
In Anderson’s case, Houston is the best fit — past, present, and future — for him to thrive. The Cougars have produced more than a few NFL-caliber defenders in the past five years. Now-Raven Tyus Bowser and Bengal William Jackson III are on that list.
So are Detroit’s DJ Hayden and Green Bay’s Derrick Matthews. Pairing Anderson with uber-talented Spring Westfield product Ed Oliver isn’t a bad move, either.
Best fit: Houston
4. Kendell Jones (4-star DT, Killeen)
Signed: Alabama (most recently at Copiah-Lincoln Community College (Wesson, Miss.))
Major Conference Offers: Alabama, Michigan, Texas, Texas A&M
Kendell “Hulk” Jones had the size (6’5, 375) and ability to plug opposing offense’s running at Killen Shoemaker High School. An offer and subsequent signing with Alabama — which he failed to qualify for — was almost set in stone.
Jones had 26 total tackles (20 solo), four sacks, and two forced fumbles as a Wolf but had limited offers and none at the Power 5 Conference level.
The nation’s No. 12 defensive tackle in the Class of 2016 graduated from Copiah-Lincoln in December. He elected to forgo football last year in order to focus on improving his grades.
He did that, finishing his first semester with a 3.0 GPA.
His run-stuffing talent would have fit into the ACC, Big 12, or Big Ten or SEC given the NCAA’s plethora of talented running backs. Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and Texas Christian University’s Kyle Hicks immediately come to mind when regarding those teams’ run through the 2017 college football season.
Had he qualified for his scholarship, he would have been a national champion with the Crimson Tide.
Nick Saban’s emphasis on defense would have made him an immediate impact player. A recent offer from the University of Louisville in April may mark his return to the highest level of collegiate football.
Best fit: Alabama
5. J.C. Chalk (3-star TE, Argyle)
Major Conference Offers: Auburn, Bayor, Oklahoma, SMU, TCU, Texas, Texas
Chalk’s NCAA bloodlines run deep as the grandson of famed Alabama head coach and Texas A&M “Junction Boys” athlete and Head Coach Gene Stallings.
The now redshirt sophomore Tiger instead chose a program outside the state and claimed a national championship with Dabo Swinney, Deshaun Watson, and Clemson University. Chalk, formerly the 21st best tight end in the state of Texas, had 48 receptions for 545 yards and seven touchdowns and claimed first-team unanimous all-district selections as a junior and a senior.
Chalk also helped Argyle High School earn a 15-2 record, a 5-0 run to a District 6-4A Championship and berth in the UIL 2015 state championship game. He was the team’s third-leading receiver behind fellow seniors Drew Estrada and Gage McCook and one of quarterback Dane Ledford’s most valuable pass catchers.
His choice, however, came before Texas Christian University’s ridiculous influx of talent a year later.
Chalk, if paired with fellow Texans Shawn Robinson, Omar Manning, Jalen Reagor and Kennedy Snell, could have turned into one of the most prolific and dangerous offenses in the NCAA — one that could match or best a roster at Oklahoma that boasts Kyler Murray (Allen), CeeDee Lamb (Richmond Foster), and Rodney Anderson (Katy).
Best fit: TCU
Marcus Matthews-Marion is the managing editor of TexasHSFootball, covering prep football throughout the Lone Star State and collegiate and professional football throughout the country. Follow him on Twitter, @TheMJMatthews, and read more of his content here.
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