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College Football
Ivan Maisel
February 18, 2002
Urban Cowboys Texas landed the top class of recruits by signing stars from the state's inner cities
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February 18, 2002

College Football

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Urban Cowboys
Texas landed the top class of recruits by signing stars from the state's inner cities

The sentiment expressed by Vincent Young, a quarterback at Houston's Madison High and the consensus national player of the year, illustrates how far Texas has come in landing top recruits from the state's urban areas. In explaining why he signed with the Longhorns last week, Young said, "When I went down there, it was everything I was looking for in a college. I didn't need to go anywhere else. I am a Texas player, and Texas is my home state."

Oh, how Longhorns have longed to hear those words. For the second time in four years, according to recruiting experts, coach Mack Brown signed the top incoming class in the nation, this one led by Young, a 6'5", 200-pound quarterback who passed and ran for a total of 3,819 yards and 59 touchdowns last season. Of the 27 players the Longhorns got (counting two who enrolled in January), 22 are from Texas, including four from the state's urban areas. "Three of the top cities in size are within three hours of Austin," Brown says. "Unless you can recruit Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, you're not going to make it here."

For years the best urban talent considered Texas as hip as Kmart. Brown's predecessors, John Mackovic and David McWilliams, couldn't lure the top city players to Austin. The gravy train of talent that came out of Dallas's Carter High in the last 15 years—including linebacker Jesse Armstead ( Miami), cornerback Clifton Abraham ( Florida State), tailbacks Darren Lewis and Greg Hill (both Texas A&M)—bypassed Texas.

To help change that pattern, Brown hired Carter High coach Bruce Chambers as his assistant soon after arriving in Austin in December 1997. "When I got to Carter, the [cool] school was Houston," says Chambers, who played at Carter and coached there for 14 seasons. "After Houston, it was Baylor. After Baylor, it was Texas A&M. After A&M, it was Texas Tech." It never became Texas, and Chambers professes not to know why, but others do.

Texas assistant athletics director Bill Little, who has worked in the athletic department since 1968, said, "People thought coach Darrell Royal was a racist, even though he's not." After the Royal era, which ended in '76, Texas had difficulty attracting minority players from urban areas. Things began to shift in the mid-'90s after James Brown became the second black quarterback to start for the Longhorns. (Donnie Little, in 1978, was the first.)

Mack Brown says he didn't consciously attempt to correct the imbalance, but he agrees that "there was a race question here. We have been very direct with recruits about race, and it's no longer an issue." The two men who have the most daily contact with the players, director of operations Cleve Bryant and strength coach Jeff Madden, are black, and Brown points out that all 11 starters on the Texas defense last season were black; 1991 was the last year in which white starters outnumbered black starters on defense.

One of those starters, end Cory Redding, was the USA Today High School Defensive Player of the Year in 1998 and a crown jewel of Brown's other top-ranked class. "I have never encountered racism here, in the city or on campus," says Redding, who graduated from Houston's North Shore High. "If you don't take the time to come see it when you're being recruited, you don't know."

Several hours after he signed his letter of intent on Feb. 6, Young, who led Madison to the Texas 5A semifinals last fall, was feeling good about his decision. "Everywhere I go," he said, "people are telling me I made a good choice."

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