Mike Roach talks Texas football recruiting, new book ‘The Road to Texas’

Texas football Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Texas football Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

This week, Horns247 recruiting editor Mike Roach took the time to talk with Hook’em Headlines upon the release of his new book about Texas football, recruiting, and particularly some of the biggest Longhorn recruits and players of the last few decades, which is called The Road to Texas: Incredible Twists and Improbable Turns Along the Texas Longhorns Recruiting Trail. Roach’s book is set to release on Tuesday, Oct. 4.

Horns247 recruiting editor Mike Roach joins Hook’em Headlines to talk Texas football and recruiting from new book ‘The Road to Texas’

AM: Why did you decide now was the right time to write this book The Road to Texas: Incredible Twists and Improbable Turns Along the Texas Longhorns Recruiting Trail?

Mike: It kinda just fell in my lap. Triumph Books reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in doing it. They’ve done a couple of other schools, I think they’ve done Alabama, Michigan, and Georgia. As a writer, writing a book has always caught our attention, and I think for most of my life I’ve thought it would be awesome to write a book. I thought a good starting point would be something that is planned out for me, something that was someone else’s idea.

I took it on probably not knowing what I was getting into. It was definitely some stressful times meeting deadlines and getting everything done. At the end of the day, I’m extremely glad to get everything done and extremely proud to have done it.

AM: One of the things that seemed to come up a lot in the book was the topic of NIL. Looking back on it, if some form of NIL in the current landscape and the current impact on college football, do you think it would’ve helped Texas or hurt past coaching regimes such as Mack, Tom Herman, Charlie Strong, etc.?

Mike: I would’ve been very interested to see how Mack Brown would’ve dealt with it because I don’t think it fits what he envisions for the sport. But at the same time, in the Rod Babers chapter, he talks about how Mack was often early on at the forefront of the changes of college football. He saw what was coming and adjusted to it. Maybe I’m short-selling him there.

Just to be clear, I started my career at the end of Mack Brown’s tenure, so I never really covered most of his recruiting classes. He seemed to think that paying the players was dirty and didn’t want to be part of any of that. So, I would’ve been interested to see his thoughts on it.

He probably would’ve been well-equipped for success in NIL. Bryan Carrington now being at TCU and getting involved in NIL and a lot of the presentations and pitches, so they would’ve probably benefitted a lot from it.

AM: It’s easy to see the way recruits looked at Texas in the 2000s and early 2010s when they were able to watch Vince Young, Colt McCoy, Cedric Benson, and some of those guys. How have you seen the roles shift in the state of Texas in the way that some top recruits view the Longhorns compared to some other top programs in the area?

Mike: I think fans look at it and say, how could you not want to go to Texas look what they did with Colt McCoy, Vince Young, Ricky Williams, etc. But it’s like, the kids now don’t really know who those guys are. I can remember Zach Evans when he was a recruit, he visited Texas and they sat him down with Ricky Williams and he had a long talk with him. I asked him after, and he said yea it was cool, but I have no clue who that guy is.

To me that’s unfathomable, but you have to remember, it’s been a long time. I think what’s funnier is that the parents are more into some of these guys. I think we’re certainly coming full circle in that loop of, where if you look at some of those guys that I covered that were earlier Mack recruits, the Derrick Johnsons, Rod Babers, and the Rod Wrights, they said you knew something was building at Texas.

If they can show that something is building at Texas now, then you can start that cycle again. But they’re past the days of just saying that you can just be a part of that.

AM: In the book, you covered some big-time Texas recruitments from the last few decades. For some of these recruitments, how would you compare the intensity of the media coverage of Arch Manning’s recruitment to some of the players in this book?

Mike: It was night and day. It was something I thought about a lot that recruiting is not only changing yearly, but it is almost changing daily. I remember before I got into this business, I was just a guy that was really into recruiting. I read Rivals, 247Sports, and all those things. Back before social media, the only way that you could get your recruiting news was through those sites or through a newspaper or news report. And you didn’t have the 24-hour coverage.

When Twitter became a big platform for recruits, they could start controlling their own messages. It was no longer these big companies breaking commitments and visits and all those sorts of things, it was recruits putting their own messages out.

That was an interesting thing that I talked to some of the guys in this book about. I thought Blake Brockermeyer had an interesting perspective of it. He went through a recruitment himself where he was a big-time recruit. And then, having two kids that were big-time recruits that signed with Alabama in the 2021 class, they had now gone through it on this end. So, he got to go through it from the parent’s perspective and see both sides of it.

AM: One of the things that you harped on in the book, and something that I remember from Bijan Robinson’s recruitment was the relationship he had with Stan Drayton. Do you think that Texas does get Bijan Robinson on board if Drayton isn’t there? Also, do you see similarities between the recruitment of Bijan and Texas’ recruitment of Cedric Baxter now?

Mike: Cedric’s recruitment mirrored a lot of Bijan in a way. It’s just two different players with Bijan and Stan and then Cedric and [Tashard Choice]. I detailed this a lot in the chapter, but Tim Beck had a very underrated role in Bijan’s recruitment.

I don’t think Texas was very aware of Bijan until Beck came across at him and having coached in that state before he knew the high school coaches there. He was the first boots on the ground in that recruitment. And even late in the process when Beck knew he would be gone at the end of the season, he went and had an in-home with Bijan and told him this was the place for you and there’s a reason you chose this place. He’s a big reason that Bijan kept his commitment.

A lot of it was Stan Drayton. The two just clicked and I think Bijan felt that he was the guy that could lead him through his college career. I think maybe if Tashard Choice is there, maybe they would click and Texas would still win it. I think a lot depends on who was there, and I don’t think there was a person to win it than Drayton.

AM: One of the most interesting chapters I thought was the one on Michael Huff. He was one of the best Texas DBs throughout the 2000s. Watching Huff in interviews, film, etc., he was just a little bit different. But it seemed like Huff was big on and prioritized track, correct me if I’m wrong there, coming out of high school. Yet, he came in at Texas and was stellar right away at DB. What did you see from Huff that was special about him that set him apart and how can some of the current Texas DBs and recruits can take away and learn from him?

Mike: I have a really unique perspective on Huff because were both from the same city and we were two years apart in high school. He played at our crosstown rival at Nimitz, and I went to Irving High. I certainly knew who Michael Huff was because he was such a good athlete. Add onto that, one of my best friend’s dads was the secondary coach at Nimitz, so he was his high school coach and played a big role in getting Huff to Texas.

For me, Huff was one of the top guys I needed to get into this book. That was because I knew his story so well because of the connections I had to him, and me being a guy from Irving, TX, I wanted another guy from Irving, TX, in the book.

It took a long time to get Huff to agree to interview for the book. And when I finally talked to him, he was like “why do you want to talk to me, I was a two-star recruit, I have nothing going on like there’s not much to say about my recruitment”. But I was like, that’s the interesting thing about it, you were a two-star recruit that was going to go to Houston for track. Then, you turned into a Jim Thorpe Award winner and a first-round draft pick. That’s the story I’m trying to tell.

The Vince Young story is compelling, but he turned out to be what everyone thought he was going to be. These are the stories that are compelling.

My buddy’s dad ended up calling a connection he had at Texas and saying if you need a kid that is a really good program player that is smart and athletic and can do everything you ask of him, he’ll turn out good for you.

Huff was a special case. He was a pretty fascinating case study in the way we evaluate players now because I think back then, a lot of it was on the eyeball test. I think if Huff comes around now, with the way we evaluate players at 247Sports, he’s a 6-foot-1 DB who runs in the 10.4-10.5 range in the 100 meters, that’s an NFL defensive back.

AM: I found all the parts in the book talking about Cedric Benson really interesting. He was an incredible high school running back. Was he the best high school RB that you’ve ever seen or heard about in Texas high school football? That might be a lofty thing to say.

Mike: I think he’s certainly, if not one, he’s in the discussion. For me, yes, he would rank around there. I do this job in part because I’m such a lover of Texas high school football. Again, it goes back to there not being social media and games streamed every Friday night. Cedric Benson was this mythical figure to us. Like he was a guy you heard about if you grew up as a kid in Dallas in this far away place called Midland. And it was like, he was putting up these insane numbers and won three state championships straight and just carried Midland Lee to those state championships.

So when Texas signed him, it was a huge deal. They’re getting the best running back in the country. I was enthralled with him as a high school player. I loved watching him as a high school player. I guess it bothered me a little bit that he had so many troubles off the field once he was in the NFL because he was such a tremendous talent. And it was very sad to hear when he passed. It was something that when you talked to those guys that were on the team when he was, they knew he was special from the day he arrived in Austin.

For me, he is on the shortlist of the best Texas high school football players of all time.

Next. 3 key Texas commits taking OVs elsewhere this fall. dark

AM: I want to thank you Mike for taking the time and all of us at Hook’em Headlines appreciate the great work you do with Horns247. We look forward to the release of the book The Road to Texas: Incredible Twists and Improbable Turns Along the Texas Longhorns Recruiting Trail on Tuesday, October 4th.

Mike: Thank you for taking the time and getting the word out.