North Texas seems like the last place Ikaika Ragsdale would find a familiar face.
Ragsdale grew up in Las Vegas and developed into a standout running back at Bishop Gorman, the local private school with a national powerhouse football program.
But that is exactly what happened when Ragsdale came to visit UNT, where Jonathan Pickett is headed into his freshman season as a defensive end with the Mean Green. Pickett played at Desert Pines, another school in Las Vegas.
The pair played together on a middle school all-star football team.
“Jonathan told me North Texas is a great place,” Ragsdale said. “He loves the staff and the players.”
That connection played a key role in UNT landing a pair of players from Nevada over the weekend. Ragsdale committed to the Mean Green on Saturday as a late addition to their 2020 class. UNT followed up later in the day when defensive tackle Fatafehi Vailea, another Desert Pines product, committed. Vailea is a 2021 recruit who is headed into his senior year of high school.
UNT rarely ventures far from the talent-rich Dallas-Fort Worth area, and Texas in general, when it comes to football recruiting. The exceptions come when the Mean Green have an opportunity to grab a player with difference-making potential.
UNT may have landed two in Ragsdale and Vailea.
Ragsdale played a key role for Bishop Gorman and was an honorable mention selection on the Las Vegas Review-Journal‘s 2019 All-Southern Nevada team. He also played in the 2020 Polynesian Bowl, a high school all-star event.
The 6-foot, 207-pound high school graduate had offers from Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and Hawaii but was still on the market this summer when those offers started to dry up. Time was running out for Ragsdale to decide where he would continue his career when UNT first contacted him about two months ago.
UNT running backs coach Patrick Cobbs quickly developed a relationship with Ragsdale, who visited the school before committing.
“North Texas felt like home when I went out there,” Ragsdale said. “Everyone is amazing, especially coach Cobbs and the staff. It felt like home.
“It’s a weight lifted off my shoulders to commit. I have a place to call home.”
Ragsdale is rated as a three-star prospect by 247Sports, which lists him at No. 89 in its composite rankings of the top running backs in the Class of 2020.
Ragsdale plans to enroll at UNT in the next few days and join the team when it opens fall practice. A UNT source confirmed he will be blueshirt addition, meaning his scholarship will be backdated to the Mean Green’s 2021 class.
Ragsdale said he met NCAA qualifying standards coming out of Bishop Gorman.
“I feel that I can go up there, put in the hard work and compete, and hopefully have a chance to play,” Ragsdale said.
Vailea is also a highly regarded player. The 6-foot-2, 290-pound senior is rated as a three-star prospect by 247Sports, which lists him at No. 95 on its rundown on the top defensive tackles in the Class of 2021.
San Diego State, Nevada and Charlotte, one of UNT’s rivals in Conference USA, were among the schools that also offered Vailea a scholarship.
Vailea also announced his decision on Twitter, where he thanked Jesus, his family, friends and coaches before announcing his decision.
“With that being said I am blessed to say AM COMMITTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS!!!,” Vailea wrote.
UNT is rebuilding defensively under new coordinator Clint Bowen and has loaded up on defensive linemen in the 2021 class. The Mean Green previously picked up commitments from defensive tackles Kevin Greene of Del City, Oklahoma, and Trent Ward of Klein Collins, as well as defensive end Chris Wright of Aledo.