- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
Ask the players themselves and they'll tell you: Texas A&M's move to the Southeastern Conference matters.
When it comes to a reason for recruits in the 2013 class choosing the Aggies, many say the SEC is near the top of that list.
"That's a big reason," Manvel cornerback Tavares Garner said. "The SEC, it doesn't get bigger than that. It's the best conference, really."
For a player like Garner, who wants to challenge himself against the best competition at the next level, the SEC offers that in a convenient package, and not far from where he currently lives, just southeast of Houston.
"All the best talent is there," Garner said. "Speed, physicality and everything, that's where I want to be."
One of the Aggies' recent commitments, safety Shaan Washington (Alexandria, La./Alexandria), said that playing in the conference that produced the last six BCS champions was a major factor.
"I always wanted to play in the SEC so when they moved into the SEC, that was good," Washington said. "I always wanted to play at a big school and a big conference."
Linebacker Darian Claiborne (Port Allen, La./Port Allen), who committed to the Aggies on July 3, said the Aggies' SEC membership is a big deal to him.
"I think [the SEC is] where the heat's at. You have to beat the best to be the best."
And while the affiliation is scoring big with recruits, it's also helping Texas A&M recruiting from a geographic standpoint.
"There's no doubt that being in the SEC has increased our footprint nationally, and particularly moving east," coach Kevin Sumlin said at SEC media days. "Our ability to really move east into Louisiana, Mississippi, I think just looking at our recruiting over the last five or six months, I would say we've probably gotten a few more visits or returned phone calls or campus visits from some guys that may or may not have looked at us before we were in the SEC.
"I don't know, people ask me all the time, 'How much has that affected your recruiting, how much has that boosted it?' It's hard for me to say because I wasn't here last year. But I do know that our brand at Texas A&M, our history, our tradition, our location, being part of the SEC has not hurt us one bit in recruiting in the state and moving east, and really nationally."
Evidence of that is clear in the 2013 class, which includes four commitments from Louisiana. The Aggies have also offered players on both coasts and plenty of states in between.
Still, the staff's recruiting base will continue to be the Lone Star State. Sumlin is hoping that the SEC membership will help the Aggies continue to have a reach outside of Texas when they need it.
The staff that Sumlin hired will be key in the expansion. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder has ties to Florida after coaching at South Florida for the last two seasons. Special teams coordinator Brian Polian and defensive backs coach Marcel Yates bring western connections: Polian was at Stanford the last two seasons while Yates was at Boise State for nine. Defensive line coach Terry Price has been in the SEC for more than 15 years, linebackers coach Matt Wallerstedt came to A&M after spending four seasons at Air Force and receivers coach David Beaty's last job was at Kansas.
And the Aggies are in no danger of losing their Texas ties. Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Clarence McKinney and offensive line coach B.J. Anderson all worked for Sumlin at the University of Houston.
"Our primary state is always going to be Texas," Sumlin said. "There's a lot of great players in the state. But in order to be the program we want to be, we're going to have to have a national recruiting prowess. I think we've hired coaches that have that background and understand it. I think our numbers are starting to bear that out."
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
4dEdward Aschoff and Greg Ostendorf