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The One That Got Away

Examining what might have been in recruiting through the years.

NCAA Football: Alabama-Birmingham at Texas A&M John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Last week on twitter, I asked the question: which TCU recruit do you most wish the Frogs had landed?

It was a question that drew a lot of responses from Frog fans, mostly guys that were recruited during the Gary Patterson years. And a lot were defensive players, which isn’t surprising. Many are also players that had middling success at the collegiate level at other programs - and also not surprisingly - people believe they would have been better fits in Fort Worth.

With that in mind, and fully aware that this is a TCU blog, let’s take a look at some guys whose careers may have gone differently had they matriculated to Funky Town instead.

Daylon Mack (DT)

5* recruit (2015) | #18 National, #5 DT, #3 TX

For a good while, it appeared that TCU might land their first-ever five star recruit, as the defensive wizardry of GP was alluring to the defensive lineman and his family. And TCU fans haven’t forgotten that, as he was far and away the most named player in our informal survey. Mack had 20 offers out of Gladewater, TX, and while the Longhorns were in heavy competition, many believed the final battle would come down to Texas A&M and TCU.

And then, Mack’s family filed to trademark the phrase “WRTS” (we run this state), something that Texas A&M was using, and whispers of money trading hands for the use of the hashtag got louder. And TCU’s chances got slimmer.

Mack had a middling start to his career in College Station, recording just eight sacks in his career to go along with 52 tackles and 27 tackles for loss. He endured multiple coaching changes - both in the head and coordinator roles - and dealt with program scrutiny and instability his first three years. He was called out by Jimbo Fisher for being woefully out of shape when the $75 million dollar man arrived on campus, and had clearly lost his drive. There’s not a comparable DT in TCU’s 2015 class (the careers of both Joseph Broadnax and Jozie Milton were cut short due to injuries), but, you can look at three total seasons worth of Corey Bethley and Ross Blacklock and see what Mack’s potential may have been playing in a rotation with those two players and the impact having rush ends like Ben Banogu, Mat Boesen, and L.J. Collier might have had on his numbers.

Drafted in the fifth round this past April, Mack’s football playing days are far from over. But it’s not crazy to think that his college career might have gone much differently, and much better, had he spent those years working under Gary Patterson. TCU might have won a few more games, too.

Johnathan Gray (RB)

5* recruit (2012) | #6 National, #1 RB, #2 TX

Johnathan Gray was the first five star recruit that TCU was in serious play for in the Big 12 era, a top rated player nationwide who broke the all-time scoring record in a state known for producing top talent. He had just five offers though, all from Power Five universities found in the state, and many believed the Frogs had a good shot with him.

Oh, what might have been.

The second most listed one that got away, Gray chose the University of Texas, much to the heartbreak of Frog fans. TCU instead signed BJ Catalon at running back, adding Kyle Hicks a year later.

Though he had a solid career for the Longhorns, Gray never met the expectation he came in with out of powerhouse Aledo High. He never rushed for more than 800 yards in a season for UT, averaging just over 50 yards per game in his career, and scored 17 touchdowns across 46 games. His sophomore season looked to be his most promising - he averaged 4.9 ypc and 86 yards per game - but a season-ending injury cut short his campaign and he was never quite the same after. Gray went undrafted but earned a spot in the Giants’ rookie camp, though he would never play a game at the professional level. The injuries didn’t help - nor did the fact that Texas was pretty bad during his four years on campus - whereas the Horned Frogs won 23 games over what would have been his junior and senior seasons. They also had some solid offensive lines and one of the most dynamic playmakers in college football at quarterback in Trevone Boykin (plus future first rounder Josh Doctson at wide receiver) which might have impacted his production.

Injuries are unpredictable (just look at at what TCU went through in 2015), so who is to say what might have happened for Gray and the Frogs. But it sure would have been fun to see a local kid shine in the purple and white.

JaMarr Chase (WR)

4* recruit (2018) | #19 National | #4 WR | #1 LA

I still get miffed when I think about JaMarr Chase. The speedy wide receiver was all but a lock to be a part of a signing class that would include another Louisiana standout in quarterback Justin Rogers. He was also going to bring some big-time publicity to the Horned Frogs, as he was scheduled to announce on the NFL Network during The Opening. But, instead, the TV time went to eventual Tennessee DE Greg Emerson - who was higher ranked - giving Chase time to think it over.

Now, I have no problem with a kid having second thoughts and being absolutely sure of where he wants to attend... but also, having Chase opposite Jalen Reagor would have made any QB the Horned Frogs rolled out looked better. Eventually choosing LSU, Chase hasn’t had the best QB play either, but still managed 23 receptions for 313 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman. Would those numbers have been better in Fort Worth? We will never know.

Tyson Thompson

5* recruit (2000) | #32 National | #5 RB | #4 TX

Noted TCU fan and former NFL Network host Marc Istook brought up running back Tyson Thompson, who should have been the first big signing of the Gary Patterson era (though he was recruited from Dennis Franchione) and the Frogs’ first ever five star. Fresh off of the success of LaDainian Tomlinson, Thompson was set to take the mantle from the Heisman candidate and carry TCU into the next century.

Instead, after rushing for nearly 2,500 yards as a senior, the non-qualifier enrolled at Garden City Community College and eventually landed at San Jose State. After rushing for 800 yards in his lone season at the Division I level, he declared for the draft (though he wasn’t selected), and ended up having a short stint with the Cowboys.

There’s little doubt his career would have been different were he to have made it to TCU - the Frogs were on the cusp of becoming a winning program and won double digits in three of the four years he could have been on campus.

Oh, and welcome back, Marc. It’s good to have you back in Fort Worth-Dallas :)

Mark Pierce

It’s hard to find recruiting rankings on Pierce, but the Weatherford standout was one of DFW’s top players when he signed with Arkansas as a member of the class of 2001. Geoffrey Craig remembers his well, though:

TCU was in the hunt for the 6’, 247 pound freak of nature who ran a 4.5 40, needing to replace a legend in LT.

After announcing his presence as a true freshman with a three touchdown day against Ole Miss, Pierce moved to fullback - where he still managed a touchdown per every eight carries. He looked bound for the NFL (this was an era where fullbacks were still en vogue), before a series of injuries and off the field events ended his career. He’s now serving a 15 year sentence in maximum security prison after killing a man in a drunk driving accident in 2008.

Lorenzo Joe

4* recruit (2014) | #279 National | #44 WR | #28 TX

Joe was brought up by former TCU offensive lineman Bobby Thompson, who hosted the 6’2.5” receiver who dominated from that position, as well as quarterback, at Cooper High in Abilene.

According to Thompson, Joe was a “really tall guy. Having both him and Josh Doctson in the line up would’ve made for some serious height at WR”. Having two players like that, with a quarterback like Trevone Boykin, would have maybe been enough to win one particular game in 2014 that we would all rather not think about ever again.

Joe had TCU in strong consideration, but eventually chose Texas. It was not a good time to be a wide receiver at Texas, as quarterback play was less than ideal and winning was in short supply. He played in 45 games in his four seasons, starting 13, finishing with just 35 receptions for 457 yards and two touchdowns. You can all but guarantee that he would have put up better numbers at TCU during the same time period, one where the Frogs were one of the most explosive offenses in the country (at least in 2014 and 2015).

Andrew Billings

4* Recruit (2013) | 137 National | #12 DT | #18 TX

Nominated by our friend The Frog Cast, he Waco native has had a successful NFL career, so it’s safe to say that things worked out okay for the former Baylor star. Signing as a member of the class of 2013, Billings was the best defensive player for a Bears’ team that didn’t do much right on that side of the ball, but he was so good that he overcame his team’s ineptitude to become an All-American and co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year (along with Emmanuel Ogbah).

Billings had just 7.5 career sacks, but 5.5 of those came during his breakout junior season - which also included 15 tackles for loss. He was a dominating presence in the middle for Baylor, the kind of lineman you game-plan away from. Can you imagine him alongside Chucky Hunter, Davion Pierson, Terrell Lathan, and Chris Bradley on that 2014 defense? As good as they were - and they were damn good - adding a super star in the middle to go alongside the pass rushers that littered the first two levels would have made them nearly unstoppable.

Billings was expected to go in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, but fell all the way to the Bengals in round four. Maybe that would have been different had he played for a well-respected defensive coach like Gary Patterson?

Tyrone Swoopes

4* Recruit (2013) | 202 National | #7 ATH | #29 Texas

Hawk, I love you, but if TCU Football had signed Tyron Swoopes, we might never have gotten to see Trevone Boykin play quarterback.

And that’s not a world I want to explore.

While it’s fun to speculate what might have been, TCU Football has been recruiting at an impressive clip while also developing lesser-heralded players. Seeing some of these big names matriculate to campus would have been awesome, of course, but for every action, there’s a reaction, and maybe some of our favorite players would never have made it to Fort Worth if the players on this list had.

Additionally, it’s important that fans realize that these are kids making what they truly believe is the best decision for them - and only they can decide if they were right or wrong. This was certainly meant to be nothing more than a fun exercise. (so don’t tweet at recruits).

Lastly, I am sorry I didn’t get to everyone’s suggestions, but this was a lot of work! Let us know who we missed in the comments!