Houston Cougars’ Top 10 Returning Players in 2024 Include Donovan Smith, A.J. Haulcy

    The Houston Cougars enter the Willie Fritz era in 2024, and the top 10 returning players will help him begin the rebuilding process.

    Willie Fritz takes over a Houston Cougars program in a rough place, but he’s already retooled the roster to get them back on track. A good mix of returning talent plus incoming transfers will contribute in 2024, and we look at the top 10 players returning to college football with Houston that will help Fritz’s cause.

    Houston Cougars’ Top 10 Returners in 2024

    Analyzing the returning players at every school is a difficult task in the transfer portal area. As such, we’ve included transfer-portal athletes on each team’s roster page to open spring camp in addition to the rostered players from last year.

    10) Jeremiah Wilson, CB

    It’s no secret that the Houston Cougars must improve against the pass. After finishing 117th in pass defense last year, Fritz went out and found a few players to compete for starting spots on the back end of the defense.

    While Syracuse finished 79th in pass defense, their track record has been more consistent than the Cougars. Jeremiah Wilson worked into the rotation for the Orange last year, posting five passes defended and one interception. With the new direction on the Cougars’ defense, the staff expects him to immediately compete for one of the starting spots.

    9) Teagan Wilk, S

    A wildly underrated addition in the portal. Staying on the field will be Teagan Wilk’s biggest obstacle, but we’ve seen exciting things from him when he is healthy. The former ECU safety was a multiyear starter for an underrated Pirates defense, and he now joins a secondary that could use experienced players.

    8) Joseph Manjack IV, WR

    Some might call him a psychopath for not wearing gloves as a receiver, but you could argue that Joseph Manjack IV doesn’t need them. He’s capable of making highlight reel catches with just his bare hands, and he returns to an offense that should be fun to watch throw the ball downfield.

    7) Maliq Carr, TE

    The tight end position has been underwhelming for the Cougars offense for a while now, and the fanbase hopes that Fritz and his staff can fix that. One of the more intriguing additions from the portal was former Michigan State tight end Maliq Carr.

    At 6’3″ and 245 pounds, he brings a good frame to the offense, along with 711 yards and five touchdowns from his four seasons in East Lansing. With the wide receiver position largely set, Carr’s presence could have a significant impact on the passing attack.

    6) Kendre Gant, LB

    A natural playmaker, Kendre Gant comes from Louisiana to be a starter for the Cougars defense. Gant produced his best season in 2023 with 64 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and six sacks, and now takes on a new challenge of competing in the Big 12.

    MORE: 2024 Big 12 Power Rankings 

    As a leader for the Ragin’ Cajuns defense, Gant also produced three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries last year. He knew how to get to the football and how to dislodge the ball carrier from the ball. If he can repeat that success with his new school, he’ll help inject energy into a group that needs it.

    5) Parker Jenkins, RB

    If you don’t know the name Parker Jenkins yet, get familiar with him. When the Cougars lost Alton McCaskill to the transfer portal, it left a huge hole at the position. Fortunately for them, Jenkins was waiting for his chance. A promising first season leads many to believe this will be a breakout year for their star running back.

    Even in early practices, Jenkins was breaking ankles and running hard. That transitioned to the regular season, where he led the team with 464 yards and three touchdowns. Fans hope that Fritz can put more of an emphasis on the rushing attack this year because it seems criminal to let a talent like Jenkins go to waste.

    4) Samuel Brown, WR

    Losing Tank Dell was always going to hurt, but the Cougars did well finding ways to replace his production. Transfers were a big help in that regard, and former West Virginia transfer Samuel Brown inserted himself into the rotation quickly.

    Brown led the team last year with 62 catches and 815 yards. Now, he has his sights set on a 1,000-yard season. The 6’2″ and 200-pound receiver has taken great strides in these two seasons with the Cougars, and he should achieve his goals once he becomes familiar with the new offense.

    3) Keith Cooper, DE

    Losing Brian Early to Missouri hurt this team more than any other departure, but Fritz and his staff continue working to lessen that blow. There’s still plenty of talent returning, and the staff even brought some familiar faces to campus.

    Keith Cooper posted his best season in 2023 with career highs in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks. At 6’4″ and 260 pounds, he has a good frame to compete in the Big 12 and should help the younger players around him get up to speed.

    2) AJ Haulcy, S

    The Houston native returned home after a year with the New Mexico Lobos, and he led the team in tackles in his first season. A.J. Haulcy is a leader in the secondary, and the staff should be excited about his potential in their system.

    Defensive coordinator Shiel Wood showed at Tulane that he can find creative ways to get his safeties involved in the game plan, and now he has one of the more intriguing players in the Big 12 heading into 2024.

    1) Donovan Smith, QB

    There will be a quarterback competition heading into the season, but it’s tough to deny Donovan Smith’s talent. Louisiana transfer Zeon Chriss will challenge him, but the 6’5″ and 235-pound Smith brings things to the table that others cannot.

    Smith is recovering from an injury, allowing Chriss to get comfortable and learn the system better. Once Smith is back, we’ll get a full picture of where things stand, and both players should help elevate the offense with their skill sets.

    KEEP READING: 2024 Big 12 QB Rankings

    The former Texas Tech Red Raider threw for 2,801 yards and 22 touchdowns last year but also threw 13 interceptions. Fritz and his staff helped former Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt become a good decision-maker, so the fanbase is hoping the same can be done for Smith. If so, this offense could take off in 2024.

    Miss any action from the top college QB Rankings during the 2023 football season? Want to track all the movement with the college football transfer portal? College Football Network has you covered with that and more!

    College Football Transfer Portal Tracker

    Never miss a beat with the CFN-exclusive College Football Transfer Portal Tracker, listing the student-athletes entering and exiting the transfer portal.

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