Thoughts on Signing Day, Willie Fritz and UH Football

Willie Fritz met with the media on Wednesday to detail the two signings on the former National Signing Day. The day has pretty much lost its luster nationally as most high school players sign in December. Below is a series of thoughts and observations from interactions with Fritz and his assistants:

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UH added a four-star running back – J’Marion Burnette from Andalusia, Alabama – and punter Liam Dougherty from Australia. Fritz said he called Burnette by his nickname “Phat” until very recently and even spelled out the word for us.

Dougherty comes out of ProKick Australia, where Dane Roy and Laine Wilkins trained. He is left-footed and was featured in the New York Times last fall in a story on Aussie kickers. The Times says he was working as a teacher’s aide and tending bar when friends suggested he use his powerful leg to become a punter.

“What’s that?” he replied.

After discussing the new roster additions, Fritz talked about several other subjects: spring football, the staff’s plans for the next month, a new defensive line coach, and something he told QB coach Shawn Bell. We’ve had the chance to talk to Fritz, both coordinators, the assistant head coach, and the guys who will coach QBs, WRs, OLs, and corners. To a man, they are aligned in the goals for the team, the direction they’re going, and the expectations that Willie has for them and their units. After five years of ad hoc madness, it’s refreshing.

Spring football begins March 4 and will end April 13 with a spring game at the Carl Lewis Track and Field Complex. The NCAA allows for a 34-day window to conduct 15 spring practices. The team will practice three times the first week, take off for spring break, and then return for 12 more practice days, spread over four weeks, culminating in a spring game on April 13.

Because of construction on the new football operations center, TDECU Stadium is unavailable during the Spring.

Suppose everything goes correctly with MBB in the NCAA Tournament. What a nine-day stretch that could be for Cougar fans: besides softball, golf, tennis, and track and field, Houston could be in the Final Four on April 6/8 in Glendale, Arizona, Santiago de la Fuente will play in his first Masters Tournament, baseball hosts Texas for their only Big 12 series, and a football alumni reunion and the Spring game on the 13th.

Cougar golfer Santiago de la Fuente celebrates winning the Latin America Amateur – getting him into The Masters // Courtesy


Sizing up Willie Fritz after a handful of meetings and encounters: Fritz has a unique ability to seem casual, folksy, and direct simultaneously. He doesn’t linger but always makes time for you. His personality is businesslike but also charming enough to win over donors, and he obviously can woo players in recruiting.

To a man, every person has said that Willie’s program is about relationships. Coaches will spend the next month getting to know the current UH players in-depth, as they’ve spent the last month organizing themselves and on the road recruiting. Fritz said much of January was focused on 2025 players instead of trying to backfill the 2024 class. UH has signed 36 players: 22 transfers and 14 high school kids. Going forward, I don’t expect more than a handful of transfers in any one class.

Fritz invited the media to attend every Spring practice and to have access to players and coaches after each of the 15 sessions. Honestly, we have not seen that sort of access since Kim Helton, and it will be fantastic. Media who do their job will be able to tell the stories of many players and staffers in the program. We’ll start to understand position battles and be able to communicate how coaches interact with players.

And while Dana Holgorsen wanted desperately to be a CEO coach, Willie Fritz is somewhat different. He’s in charge but will be active; I want to observe how he conducts practices and interacts with players. I believe he’ll spend more time instructing and less time wandering around (as Dana did). Several coaches, including Fritz, have talked about doing every job in a program (painting lines, S&C coach, PR, etc), and it will be fascinating to see how that yeomanlike work ethic will affect their day-to-day coaching.

First impressions: new football coaches Sherman, Bell, and Etheridge

First impressions: New offensive and defensive coordinators


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“As a University of Houston alum, I am honored that the University of Houston Athletics chose our firm to be their official and exclusive personal injury law firm,” says Stewart J. Guss, the firm’s founder.