Following his departure from Utah State and assuming the reigns as Texas Tech’s football coach, Matt Wells moved forward with the idea that he could succeed with the talent on the team instead of rebuilding with new talent.
Now, Wells has the chance to do both.
Due to newly instated COVID-10 eligibility rules, seniors during the last season will now be eligible for one more year of college football. This is ideal for Wells’ system, who last year was backed on the defensive end by a flurry of seniors.
The Red Raiders’ second leading tackler and fourth leading tackler, linebackers Colin Schooler and Riko Jeffers, made the decision to return to Tech for, essentially, another senior year, according to Wells. Cornerback DaMarcus Fields, receiver McLane Mannix, safety Seth Collins and tight end Travis Koontz will also return in red and black.
However, there will be seniors departing the program, too. The fifth-year senior T.J. Vasher, who underwent knee surgery at the end of the season, has decided to rehab his injury and pursue the professional route, according to Wells. Eli Howard and Thomas Leggett have also opted to leave Tech.
The grey area resides with a small group of players in particular - the tandem of Zech McPhearson and Jacob Morgenstern, who have yet to decide if they will return, Wells said. He did not list remaining players.
“We still got three or four still trying to decide; they just got home (and are) spending time with their families,” Wells said.
But with a flurry of talent hovering around Tech’s program, a new wave will enter for the upcoming season, a recruiting class among the top of the Big 12 conference, according to 247Sports.
One of the most outstanding prospects is quarterback Behren Morton, who, after the offensive coordinator change at Tech, was wavering on his decision. However, Morton stuck through with Tech and made his decision official on signing day.
“I know his heart, I know his family,” Wells said. “This guy is a Red Raider.”
Growing up in Lubbock, Morton saw a lot of Tech football. His father is the head coach at the Lubbock-based high school Monterey.
“He’s been throwing his guns up for a long time … This is his childhood dream.” Wells said.
Morton comes with a loaded resume. Beginning as the ninth-highest football recruit in program history, the pro-style quarterback has made himself known. District 3-3A Division Offensive MVP two-years in a row, four-star recruit, the 33rd best player in his state and the no. 6 ranked pro-style quarterback in the country are just a few of the numbers that come with Morton. And now, he is a member of the Tech football program.
Jerand Bradley, out of DeSoto High School, is the next of three four-star recruits heading into Tech. The Under Armour All-American chose Tech over a host of schools inclusing Arizona, Iowa State, Baylor, SMU and many others, according to Tech Athletics.
“Explosive, red zone and can high-point a football,” Wells said.
But the most dominant factors of Bradley’s game are his size and route running.
“He’s a really, really good route runner for a young guy in a long body. He’s six-foot-five-plus.” Wells said.
The tandem of E’Maurion Banks and Jed Castles will also join Tech next year following being teammates at Rider High School.
Banks is a defensive lineman by the name of “Dooda” who received Sports Illustrated All-America recognitions as a senior, according to Tech Athletics. He is considered a three-star prospect by ESPN while being the 34th-ranked defensive tackle in Texas.
“He is very athletic … Dooda is a true four technique for us,” Wells said.
His running mate, Castles, operated on the other end of the ball as a tight end. As a junior, he caught 45 passes for 556 yards with nine touchdowns, earning his team a deep run to the 5A state quarterfinals.
The same year, he earned Offensive Newcomer of the Year honors.
“He can run, he can block, really good hands and he’s got the speed that is really going to be a tough mismatch for linebackers,” Wells said.
Along with Banks, Wells added Charles Esters III on the defensive line.
“Charles is more of a true D-end that can really rush the passer. He’s very, very athletic.” said Wells.
Esters attended Cedar Hill High School and contributed to the District 11-6A Division II title. As a junior he compiled 14 sacks as a consensus three-star recruit, according to Tech Athletics.
On the offensive line, Jacoby Jackson committed to Tech out of Mansfield Summit High School as a three-star prospect.
As a two-sport athlete, Jackson competed in both football and track and field for his high school. As a junior, he earned first team All-District 7-6A honors.
“Big man that can play multiple spots on the o-line, bright future here at Texas Tech.” Wells said.
Isaac Smith serves as the only recruit from out of state for Tech, coming from the depths of Wagoner, Oklahoma, at Wagoner High School. Smith was part of one of the top football teams in the state, according to Tech Athletics, helping lead his team to a state title as a senior with 122 tackles and 13 sacks.
ESPN considers Smith a three-star prospect; he was the 20th-ranked player in Oklahoma.
“Isaac is an extremely athletic multi-sport guy; the sky is the limit for this guy,” Wells said.
Wells’ second tight end of the class, Mason Tharp, is a three-star prospect, according to ESPN. The Klein High School product chose Tech over Colorado, Kansas, Michigan State and Virginia, according to Tech Athletics.
“Bright future … Soft hands, really good route runner, ability to stretch the field vertically.” Wells said.
Tharp checks in at six-foot-six and 235 pounds, a big target for Tech as they will look to get more into utilizing tight ends down the road.
“Add to that tight end room, play in some more tight end packages. I think that’s something that we can do, that we need to do because of how we’ve recruited to that tight end room.” Wells said.
Another addition to Tech’s offensive line is Jack Tucker, who was part of a state title game as a senior. At Argyle High School, Tucker’s team garnered a 13-1 record. Tucker is ranked as a three-star prospect by ESPN and the number 98 player in the state of Texas by the same site.
Out of the backfield stems four—star signee Cam’Ron Valdez, who finished his high school football career at Rockdale High School as their all-time leading rusher, according to Tech Athletics. Over just three varsity seasons, Valdez compiled 4,278 rushing yards and 62 touchdowns on the ground.
But the versatile back has more than just the ground game. Through the air, Valdez caught 24 passes for 381 yards and was named the Offensive MVP of his district his junior season.
On a national scale, 247Sports has him ranked as the 39th running back in the country. Rivals has Valdez ranked as the No. 6 all-purpose back in America.
“Cam’Ron’s got it all; he can run with speed, he can take off and hit a home run … But he can also run with power and he’s got good vision. Really, really strong running back,” Wells said.
Wells’ talented freshman class will be taking to the Tech campus as very soon. In fact, Morton, Bradley, Tharp and Jed Castles will enroll on Jan. 20th, 2021, and will be on campus, said Wells. He added Valdez will be on-site in June.
"All five of those guys will compete for immediate playing time ... I think they're talented enough to do that," he said.