The year was 1998, and Texas spent the season loading up a power back, with deceptive speed to boot, with carries. Ricky Williams helped to restore much of the school’s lost football credibility, won the Heisman Trophy and set the stage for the current Texas run of successful seasons. He was the perfect man at the perfect time, and his return for his senior year marked the most important recruiting job of the Mack Brown era, according to Brown himself.
Wait a minute. Did I just compare a high school senior to Ricky Williams? Bear with me for a second.
Often with big-time recruits, it’s easy to trend into hyperbole. All of us are old enough to remember a time when people predicted multiple Heisman Trophies for Ron Powlus of Notre Dame.
That hype also leads to lofty comparisons for unproven talents.
In football, it means a tall, slender pocket passer might have his ability compared to Peyton Manning. Lanky wideouts with breakaway speed turn into Randy Moss. And little backs with shifty moves become Barry Sanders. Anybody who saw Alabama last season tired of the Mark Ingram to Emmitt Smith comparisons.
A few years after coaching Michael Vick, a wunderkind college quarterback with 4.3 speed and a howitzer for an arm, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said his video player was flooded with DVDs from high school coaches who claimed to possess the next Vick. Beamer’s take? None of the prospects were anywhere close to Vick’s ability.
And now you have Brown, a special package of skills, from size (6-foot-1 and more than 220 pounds) to speed, from burst and soft hands to balance and vision. According to many coaches throughout the state, Brown’s the best running back the state has produced since Adrian Peterson shredded Lone Star defenses on Friday nights. Some coaches in the state have compared Brown to Peterson. Others have said he’s a lot like LaDanian Tomlinson.
The rankings would seem to back up that claim: Brown is Scout.com’s No. 1 running back, the first state-of-Texas back to hold that ranking since Peterson came out of Palestine in the class of 2004. He’s earned that ranking through his unbelievable production on the field, averaging 11.1 yards per carry in rushing for 2,192 yards on 197 carries a year ago. He scored 24 touchdowns.
But then for every Peterson and Beanie Wells, there has been a Darrell Scott-type bust, or even players like Antone Smith, talented starters who never quite reached expectations.
Here’s what we do know: based on games over the last few seasons, the Texas coaching brain trust has made a collective decision to emphasize the running game more. Now that doesn’t mean that the Longhorns will be lining up and running the ball 60 times per game. Texas has access to too many explosive players at receiver to make that move.
What it does mean is that Texas wants to be able to run the ball in moments of need, to maintain possession, to keep the defense’s plays down and to run out the clock at the end of games. In Brown, Texas added the top downhill runner in the class, a player with power and fight who rarely goes down on the first hit. Add in Brown’s speed and big-play ability, and he’s an ideal fit for what the coaches want to do, a power back who can carry the load while also providing some explosiveness and help in the passing game.
Even more, Brown’s commitment shows Texas’s commitment to going that direction. The Longhorns have gone offensive line-heavy in this class, and have largely forgone the lanky, athlete type linemen to bring in road graders like Christian Westerman and Sedrick Flowers who should have huge impacts on the running game. Adding Brown to run behind the six maulers landed in this class offers Texas the versatility and balance that the coaches have been looking to achieve offensively.
And so Brown might or might not have the level of impact that Ricky Williams had — few backs in NCAA history have made that sort of impact — but he is probably the first elite-level back that the Longhorns have landed since the dreadlocked one powered through campus.
And like Williams, Brown comes at just the right time.