The National Letter of Intent signing period came and went on Wednesday, and when the dust cleared, the Cougars were 20 players stronger than before, in addition to the two junior college players who had signed during an earlier period. Houston brings in one of the top classes in Conference USA, both plugging some immediate holes, and shoring up some positions for the future. Here's a position-by-position of what the Cougars needed, and what they got.
Signed: Bram Kohlhausen (Lamar HS)
With a trio of quarterbacks returning who fall somewhere between "having shown flashes of ability" (David Piland, Cotton Turner) and "on the precipice of shattering the NCAA record book" (Case Keenum), there's obviously no immediate need here. But both Keenum and Turner enter their final years of eligibility this year, and the only other scholarship quarterback - Drew Hollingshead - has been kept away from the playing field at all costs by the current coaching staff, so for the future, it was imperative that they got somebody. Who they got was a quarterback who didn't put up great numbers in an offensive system that was focused on running the ball, but who possesses enough physical tools to garner a scholarship offer from Utah. Basically, they could afford to take a prospect, so they did. Both Scout and Rivals list Kohlhausen as a three-star prospect.
SB Nation Houston Positional Grade: B. I'm not blown away, but I give the Coogs a comfortable passing grade.
Signed: Daniel Spencer (Grandview HS)
Similar to the quarterback position, running back in a position stocked with depth in the form of Charles Sims, Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes. Xavier Brown is also a well thought-of recruit from last year's class who took a redshirt this year, and Chris Wilson is a capable backup with two years of eligibility left. So again, no real pressing need. While Spencer didn't grab the attention of any big-time programs, he looks like the type of running back/receiver hybrid that Charles Sims was in '09, the type of weapon that fits perfectly in the Houston offense. Unlike Sims, he may have to wait his turn to see the field, but I have a good feeling about what will happen when he does.
SB Nation Houston Positional Grade: B+.
Signed: C.J. McElroy (Clear Creek HS), Dewayne Peace (Blinn College), Mark Roberts (West Orange Stark HS)
The early pick for fan favorite in this group is McElroy, who is on the small side (listed from 5'9" on Rivals to 5'11" on the UH official site), but has blazing speed. Think Tyron Carrier, 2.0. That is, if Carrier also played baseball for the Coogs. Peace has taken a circuitous route since graduating Grand Prairie High, verbally committing to Michigan, backing out and switching to Arizona, redshirting a year, and then transferring to Blinn. Hopefully he can find a home with Houston, because one expects that the talent scouts at so many impressive schools can't be wrong. Peace will have three years of eligibility left. A consensus three-star recruit, Roberts is the big man of the position, standing at 6'4". But big doesn't mean slow - he's also another one of those high school track stars that UH loves to stockpile. While receiver has been a position of huge depth for the Cougars in the last few years, we're about to see a major changing of the guard. James Cleveland and Kierrie Johnson are gone, and Carrier and Patrick Edwards are entering their senior seasons. Look for junior-to-be Isaiah Sweeney (right up there with Carrier and Edwards for best pure speed on the team), redshirt freshman DeAndre Perry, and probably one or two faces you least expect to start to make a big difference at this position. That also means you might get to see one or more of McElroy, Peace and Roberts sooner than later, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
SB Nation Houston Positional Grade: A-
Signed: Zachary Johnson (Norman [OK] HS), Emeka Okafor (Sunnyvale HS), Kourtland Atkins (Lamar HS)
If there was one position where the Cougars were hit by some early verbal commitments defecting, it was the offensive line. Atkins was the long early verbal to stay put, along with two of his Lamar teammates, and looks like a stud in the making. Johnson and Okafor appear to have been back-up plans after players the staff previously thought they had in the bag looked elsewhere. Both have good size (Johnson is listed at 6'7", 300; Okafor 6'5", 320), but both should probably be considered projects. The Cougar O-line graduates four contributors in Roy Watts, Isaiah Thompson, Jordan Shoemaker and Jaryd Anderson. The current staff has been hitting this position pretty hard in recruiting since they arrived, and it's time for those efforts to show. Besides stalwarts Chris Thompson and Jacolby Ashworth, the majority of the line will have to consist of guys who have been on campus three years or less. I'm looking at you, Ralph Oragwu, Rowdy Harper, Kevin Forsch, Ty Cloud, et al. Hopefully none of the members of this year's class are forced to contribute immediately - in a healthy program, you almost never see offensive linemen playing right away - so it'll be hard to accurately grade this group for a while. But it's probably the most underwhelming position in the class. For now.
SB Nation Houston Positional Grade: C, and it would be lower, but I really like Atkins. Johnson and Okafor, you are now officially allowed to prove me wrong.
Signed: Joey Mbu (Foster HS), Dominic Smith (Blinn College), Alex Cooper (Second Baptist HS), Keithen English (A. Maceo Smith HS)
The most under-performing unit of the 2010 season gets four new members, although like the O-line, Houston will be pondering the one that got away - specifically Alex Villareal, who was poached by Oklahoma State at the 11th hour. Cooper was his replacement in the class, and looks like the most long-term investment of the group, but with his size (6'5", 240), one could imagine him becoming an effective player if he fills out his body under legendary Strength & Conditioning coach Larry Jackson. You do have to like the size of this group. After Cooper, the other three all check in over 300 pounds. Still, it would have to be considered a disappointment if English and Mbu see the field in 2011. Not because they're bad players, but because the trenches are not a place for kids fresh out of high school. And it's time for all of those D-linemen that have already seen entirely too much of the field as underclassmen - Radermon Scypion, Zeke Riser, Tyrone Campbell and Ameen Behbahani - to join senior David Hunter and put together a defensive line that holds up its end of the bargain.
SB Nation Houston Positional Grade: B+. Villareal would've been nice, but Smith could be an immediate contributor, and Mbu and English look like future stars. Can't complain.
Signed: Derrick Matthews (North Shore HS), Desmond Pulliam (Louise HS), Everett Daniels (Trinity Valley CC), Lloyd Allen (Mississippi Gulf Coast CC)
Like receiver, the linebacker position has seen some steady faces who are about to move on, which means some players in this class, or other recent classes, are about to get handed the torch. The ageless wonder, Matt Nicholson, has finally exhausted his eligibility, and playmakers Marcus McGraw and Sammy Brown enter their senior seasons. After that, there is a lot of talent, but a lot of uncertainty, a fact that the staff acknowledged by bringing in a couple of JuCo players to contribute immediately. Matthews may be the future star of the group, playing with reckless abandon, and loads of athleticism. But the more immediate question will be whether the likes of Daniels and Allen, along with returnees Phillip Steward, Efrem Oliphant, Kris Johnston and George Bamfo, among others, can turn this into a unit that is a consistent strength, rather than just a couple of occasional big play-makers.
SB Nation Houston Positional Grade: A-. There's a lot to like about this group, especially Allen and Matthews. Enough to like that I'm actually cautiously excited to see this group play next season.
Signed: Chevy Bennett (Navarro JC), D.J. Hayden (Navarro JC), Earl Foster (Lamar HS), DeVonte Potier (Wheatley HS)
The secondary was probably the strongest overall defensive unit in 2010, but takes the biggest hit due to graduation. Gone are Jamal Robinson, Loyce Means, Jacky Candy and Devin Mays. The only returnees who have seen much of the field at Houston are Nick Saenz, Roisean Haynes, and Kent Brooks. So to call this a position of need would be an understatement. And boy, did the Cougar staff ever move quickly to meet that need. D.J. Hayden is my favorite player in the incoming class, having chosen the Coogs over offers from Arkansas, Baylor, Kansas State, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, among others. His Navarro teammate Bennett is another who could see the field right away, and Foster is good enough that Oregon State was flying him out for a last minute visit to try and sway his commitment. Potier was something of an unknown before signing day, but was named to a 4A all-state first team by one publication.
SB Nation Houston Positional Grade: A. The secondary was the biggest immediate need for this team, and the coaching staff recruited the position better than any other.
Signed: Kenneth Farrow (L.D. Bell HS), William Moore (James Madison HS)
The Cougars also pulled in two recruits who they have not officially decided on a position for. Moore is listed as a defensive end by both Scout and Rivals, and Farrow is listed at running back. However, both could end up at safety.
The bottom line is that there is nobody who can accurately predict how high school and junior college athletes will transition to Division 1-A football. But on the face of it, this looks like a class that both patches some immediate holes, and continues laying a strong foundation for the future. There is a lot of size and a lot of athleticism. So make sure to bookmark this page, and in three or four years when we all figure out how good this class was, have a look at how close I was.