The recruiting game in Texas has changed.
The combination of Texas A&M's emergence, TCU's move to the Big 12 and Texas' mediocre 22-16 record over the past three seasons caused a philosophical switch in the Longhorns' recruiting strategy toward the 2014 class.
For the first time in the Mack Brown era, Texas offered scholarships to high school juniors six months earlier than ever before. Instead of waiting until the Longhorns' February Junior Days, Texas offered several players in early August, taking many by surprise.
"I'm not going to say an offer from Texas has been watered down, I don't think that's the right wording for them going 22-16 over the last three years," said William Wilkerson, who covers Texas recruiting for ESPN at HornsNation.com. "But I do think something needed to be changed. It was the right move for Texas. I think it's paid off so far."
Early returns have been bountiful for Texas, which holds commitments from seven recruits.
In that group are five four-star rated prospects, including one of the top offensive lineman in the country, Demetrius Knox of Fort Worth All Saints, and one of the top-rated dual threat quarterbacks in the nation, Jerrod Heard, who led Denton Guyer to the 2012 Class 4A Division I state title.
"I feel like UT is the best place for me as a college and after college," said Knox, who committed in November. "The connections you get along the way going to UT, then getting that degree and getting a job in Texas is crazy."
Knox's teammate at All Saints and best friend Daniel Gresham committed in August after attending a camp in Austin. He was shocked when he found out Texas offered.
"It was truly a blessing. We went up there to the camp and they called our coach on the way back and told coach [Aaron] Beck they were interested," said Gresham, a 235-pound fullback who rushed for 979 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
"So I started talking to a lot of people and reporters about Texas maybe offering me and they were telling me that Texas doesn't reveal who they're going to offer until Junior Day and things like that."
But days later, while Gresham was in a movie theatre with friends, he received a text from Beck saying that Texas had officially offered, and minutes later his phone was bombarded with one text after another from the media.
"It really just caught me off guard, to be honest," Gresham said.
Texas' early blitz caught everyone off guard, but it has been successful. Now the challenge is following through, gaining momentum and signing the type of class that Longhorns fans have become accustomed to.
"I think time will tell. The big battle right now is Texas and Texas A&M," Wilkerson said. "I think it's still Texas' state but I think it's more of a coin flip than it ever has been before. I think in 2014-15 the biggest statement will be made because Texas A&M will still be reaping the benefits from Johnny Manziel and to the contrary Texas is supposed to be really good in 2013.
"Mack Brown has been telling everyone this is the year, that the young guys are becoming upperclassmen, this is the year Texas is going to do some damage. We'll see."
Jarret Johnson, 817-390-7760