- Carter Strickland, Reporter, HornsNation
AUSTIN, Texas – In 2012 Texas was the program stealing away with last-second recruits.
The first two in that trio have already paid dividends for Texas. Santos became a special teams standout and emergency linebacker. Johnson proved to have the ability to break a game open when given that opportunity. Even Davis entered the fray a time or two as a backup defensive end.
But even with those successes there were a few players from within the state that Texas went after and didn’t land, as well as one that landed across the line from the Longhorns in 2012 and proved that Texas made a mistake in not going after him.
Player: Mario Edwards
Position: Defensive end
ESPN Ranking: No. 1 in ESPN 150
Schools interested: Texas, Oklahoma, LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Michigan
Signed with: Florida State
Edwards was a player desperately wanted and, given the fragile nature of Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas could have definitely used in 2012. The defensive end would have provided some depth at the position as a true freshman and be in the running as a starter opposite Jeffcoat in 2013.
Texas covered up the loss well by getting Davis. Reggie Wilson and Cedric Reed have also proved to be solid defensive ends. Still someone with Edwards' talent would have certainly given the Longhorns an extra edge on the edge.
In his first season at Florida State, Edwards started slowly, as expected, but came on late. After injuries decimated the FSU line, Edwards saw more playing time and had 10 tackles in his last two games. He played in 11 games with one start, had 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Player: Devonte Fields
Position: Defensive end
ESPN Ranking: No. 73 in ESPN 150
Schools interested: Texas A&M, Arizona, Baylor, Michigan, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Kansas
Signed with: TCU
Rarely does a freshman on either side of the line make the impact that Fields did in 2012. He started all 13 games and was selected as Big 12 freshman of the year. He had 53 tackles, 18.5 solo tackles and 10 sacks. In other words, playing in the same conference as Texas’ Alex Okafor, he was nearly as statistically as good as the senior. (Okafor had 68 tackles and 12.5 sacks, including four in the final game.)
Fields would not have been a starter at Texas but would have been given a shot for playing time after the Jeffcoat injury. Whether he could have beat out Wilson and Reed, both physically more mature, is a question. But since the coaches were also trying to push Davis into playing time after the Jeffcoat injury, Fields would have undoubtedly been given a shot.
Player: LaDarrell McNeil
ESPN Ranking: No. 12 S
Schools interested: Southern Cal, Notre Dame, Miami, Michigan. Nebraska, Kansas State
Signed with: Tennessee
Texas is in need of safeties. So much so that Quandre Diggs could move to that position in 2013. And had any of the 2012 defensive back prospects Texas signed been ready to play that position as true freshmen, the Longhorns would have undoubtedly thrown them out there. That's how dire the situation was.
McNeil was thrown out there, albeit for a team considerably worse than the Longhorns. Although Tennessee was not as poor a tackling team as Texas was in 2012, as the Vols also finished slightly better than Texas in run defense, 85th as compared to 88th.
McNeil started the final seven games of his freshman season at Tennessee. In fact, when he was put into the starting lineup against Mississippi State on Oct. 13, he became the first true freshman of the 2012 class to start for the Vols. In his last nine games, McNeil had 55 tackles, an average of 6.1 tackles per game. Mykkele Thompson, who started next to Kenny Vaccaro at safety, had 59 tackles in 13 games.