Sarkisian closes out transitional class with three national signing day additions, one graduate transfer

Carter Yates

Steve Sarkisian inherited 19 signees in the class of 2021 when he took over as head coach Jan. 2, but he and his newly assembled staff inked four new signatures by the end of national signing day. 

Texas added four-star cornerback Ishmael Ibraheem and a pair of three-stars, wide receiver Keithron Lee and defensive end David Abiara, on Wednesday afternoon. The Longhorns finished the 2021 recruiting cycle with the No. 17-ranked class in the nation according to 247Sports, their worst ranking since 2017 in former head coach Tom Herman’s transition class. 

Despite the lower ranking, Sarkisian said the real value of this class won’t be known until years down the line. 

“We have to be the best developmental staff in the country,” Sarkisian said. “Everybody feels good on signing day. It doesn’t matter if you’re ranked No. 1 or No. 30… at the end of the day, they really should rank signing classes three years later.”

Sarkisian already filled a need on the defensive side of the ball via the transfer portal on Jan. 20 with the addition of LSU graduate transfer outside linebacker Ray Thornton.

“We really went there first with Ray Thornton as a grad transfer from LSU, a guy I competed against the last two years,” Sarkisian said. “The versatility he brings (and his) pass rush ability is somewhere we can uplift the roster.”

The new coaching staff wanted to ensure they had available scholarships heading into spring football practice, Sarkisian said. After signing day, Texas still has four spots available on the roster they can fill through the transfer portal.

“We didn’t want to reach too far and just fill up all of our numbers,” Sarkisian said. “We wanted to make sure we left ourselves enough wiggle room and versatility to get through spring ball and maybe address a few more needs that may come down the road.”

The headliner for the class of 2021 is five-star Ja’Tavion Sanders, who played wide receiver and defensive end at Ryan High School in Denton, Texas. Sarkisian said Sanders will get reps on both sides of the ball before confirming the athlete's position.

“My job is to put him in the best position to have success,” Sarkisian said. “That does not mean whichever side of the ball, that he’s not going to play on the other side, because I owe it to him to give him the best opportunity to be successful.”

Even though junior wide receiver Brennan Eagles declared early for the NFL Draft, Sarkisian feels confident in the depth the Longhorns have at the wide receiver and tight end positions. However, the same can’t be said for the offensive line.

Texas only signed two offensive line prospects, three-star tackles Hayden Connor and Max Merril, and whiffed on numerous in-state prospects.

“On the offensive line, we really only signed two kids in this class,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve had a little bit of attrition in the (transfer) portal. So I do think moving forward, that is going to be a position we’re really going to have to focus on in the ‘22 class.”

While new signees are always exciting for a coaching staff, Sarkisian knows that his job is just getting started.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in developing the players on our current roster,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got a lot of work in developing the players that we just signed … that’s where we can really increase the value of our team.”