Historic class a sign of change at Tech?

DALLAS -- At 5 a.m., Tommy Tuberville arrived at the Texas Tech football facilities, food for his assistants in hand.

The rest of his staff would arrive shortly.

The sun followed about two and a half hours later. Seven of his 27 recruits ready to sign letters of intent were on the East Coast, and he'd like to avoid any fax machine shenanigans.

"Those guys can start faxing in letters at 6 a.m. local time, so you've got to be ready," Tuberville said with a laugh.

Of course, anyone can attest climbing out of bed is a lot easier when you know a good day awaits. By its end, Tuberville had signed what Texas Tech says is the highest-rated recruiting class in school history. More encouraging? It's Tuberville's first "full" class, and he doesn't even believe he's had a chance to complete his recruiting process. He took the job on Jan. 9, 2010, less than 13 months ago.

"To me, recruiting really is a two-year process for a player," Tuberville said.

The process starts with evaluation, by far the most important stage, Tuberville says. During a prospect's junior year, Tuberville collects all his film, evaluates the prospect and before spring practice, decides whether or not to extend an offer.

He had three weeks after taking the job to complete that process last year for his 2011 class before kicking off spring practice.

"If you wait until mid or late summer, some of them might have already committed, and there will be a lot of guys committed before late spring," Tuberville said.

As a result, he likes to have every scholarship offer out before spring practice begins.

What's at risk isn't an impressive "recruiting class ranking," but finding contributors.

"It’s essential that you have an 80-90 percent rate of kids that come in and maybe they're not be great players, but they can contribute to wins at your school," Tuberville said.

He estimates that about half of his 27 signees will have a chance to either start or be in the rotation as freshmen.

This year, Tuberville didn't have to hear questions about whether he'd throw the ball.

At his post-signing day rallies in Dallas and Houston last year, it seemed like that's all boosters and alums wanted to know.

"And I said, listen, do I look stupid?" Tuberville said. "We’re going to take the players we’ve got and do what we need to do to be successful. We’re going to run it a little bit more, but we’re going to try to do whatever we can to keep what you’ve built here in the last few years."

On Thursday, the day after signing day, Tuberville made the rounds again. He flew to Houston from Lubbock in the morning, and flew from Houston to Dallas in the afternoon to present his new class via a photo/video slideshow to the program's supporters.

What he showed them was a class full of speed on both offense and defense and a collection of pass rushers, exactly what Tuberville believes he needs to have success in the Big 12.

"In the Big 12, if you don’t have a good pass rusher, I don’t care how good your DBs are, you have to have a good pass rusher or you’re getting beat," he said. "So we signed five or six guys that are 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 with good wingspan."

A good pass rush doesn't mean racking up sacks, Tuberville says. Especially in the Big 12. The prevalence of the quick passing game and the shotgun means that goal is unrealistic. What's not unrealistic is making a quarterback go through through as many reads as possible by getting those long arms in passing lanes and making a quarterback throw on the move.

The last piece of his class who can offer that came late.

Defensive end Cooper Washington had committed to Oklahoma in April 2010, and remained a solid commitment for most of it. But Tuberville did what he does with plenty of committed recruits.

"You’ll have guys who commit really early to Nebraska or a Texas or Oklahoma and we’ll tell him, 'Hey, you're committed. We understand that. But just stay in contact. Make a phone call once a week or whatever, hey, how you doing? Everything going alright? Stay in touch in case something happens,'" Tuberville said.

Last Sunday, something happened. Washington began doubting that commitment. He placed a call to Sonny Cumbie, his recruiter. Playing his college ball seven hours away suddenly wasn't as attractive as doing the same an hour away from his hometown of Muleshoe, Texas.

Monday morning, Cumbie had a welcome message for Tuberville. Washington wanted to be a Red Raider. On Wednesday, in front of banners at his school congratulating him for signing with the Sooners, he signed with Tuberville and Tech.

"It wasn’t anything we did," Tuberville said. "It was just a decision of, do I want to go there or stay home? And when you’re the home team, usually you’ve got a little bit of an advantage."

But that philosophy of keeping in touch helped quite a bit.

It's not often that Texas Tech swipes a recruit from one of the Big 12 powers, but it could be happening more often as Tech tries to become one under Tuberville.

And if that's going to happen, it'll have to start with recruiting.

"If we can get a defense to go with the kind of offense we’ve got, we’ve got a chance, but we’re not even close defensively right now," Tuberville said. "But [on signing day], we helped it a lot."