Last-minute defensive signees highlight Charlie Strong’s first recruiting class

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Offensive Lineman Terrel Cuney (top left), quarterback Jerrod Heard (bottom left), safety Edwin Freeman (top right) and cornerback Jermaine Roberts (bottom right) sign their letters of intent on Wednesday to play football for head coach Charlie Strong at Texas.

Drew Lieberman

Texas inked 20 commits to bring the 2014 class total to 23 on Wednesday at National Signing Day. Recruiting website Rivals ranked Texas’ class as the 20th best in the country and second best in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma.

There were no surprise flips to or from the Longhorns on Wednesday, but Texas did land two key defensive players.

The first was defensive tackle Chris Nelson from Lakeland, Fla., where head coach Charlie Strong spent a lot of time recruiting in the past. Despite plans to not officially announce until after 1 p.m., Nelson signed his letter of intent in the early morning.

By 10:40 a.m. it appeared that all 22 expected letters of intent were signed, and the Longhorns were only waiting on ESPN Top 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford’s decision between Missouri, Purdue and Texas.

Ford chose the Longhorns before noon, giving Texas its second signing day commitment at a position of need. After Strong replaced former head coach Mack Brown, Texas lost all three of its projected defensive tackle commits within a few days.

“It’s just so hard to find defensive linemen, so when you have a chance to grab a couple, you have to get them in your program,” Strong said.

After signing zero defensive linemen last year, landing the pair of tackles who had committed to Louisville while Strong was the head coach there is an important step for the Texas defense.

In total, six of the Longhorns’ 23 new players are from outside of Texas, a ratio almost unfathomable during the Mack Brown era.

“You just have to make sure you go get your needs wherever that might be,” Strong said of the high number of out-of-state recruits. “But we are always looking to control this state and stay within this state.”

One of the concerns that seem to be building up after a couple of lackluster recruiting classes and performances on the field is Texas’ hold on talent within the state.

Texas landed zero of the state’s top nine recruits as ranked by Rivals and ESPN this year. Texas’ struggles to land the top Texas recruits has been apparent as in-state recruiting rivals Baylor and Texas A&M made their presence known, picking up four of those nine.

Though this may be a cause for concern, Strong said Texas is still Texas and should always have a chance to land elite Texas recruits.

“We’re still the University of Texas. We will always be the flagship university of this state,” Strong said. “You know you are going to get in every door you can, so now it’s just about selling the University and selling this town and just selling ourselves and the program.”

The good news for Longhorns fans? The last time Texas had the 20th ranked class by Rivals was 2005, the year the program claimed its fourth national title.