- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
The impact that Texas A&M's membership in the SEC has had on recruiting is noticeable. The Aggies currently have a whopping 27 commitments in their 2013 recruiting class even though fall practice hasn't even started for Texas high schools. Many of the Aggies’ commitments have said that the SEC membership is among the top reasons they chose Texas A&M.
Coach Kevin Sumlin has acknowledged that impact, noting that Texas A&M has "probably gotten a few more visits" and his coaches have had a few more "return phone calls" from recruits who might not otherwise have considered the Aggies if they weren't in what's widely considered to be the nation's premier football conference.
In its home state, it can be a selling point, since Texas A&M is the only school within the state that can allow a Texas high school football product to stay close to his home and still play in the SEC. And Sumlin has acknowledged that while the Aggies can and will recruit nationally, Texas will continue to be their primary emphasis.
That's justified, considering that Texas produces hundreds of Division I signees every year. But what about other SEC schools? Does Texas A&M's entry into the league mean that coaching staffs across the SEC will attempt to increase their recruiting within Texas? At SEC media days last month, coaches' opinions were varied.
LSU coach Les Miles, whose staff has recruited players from Texas and particularly from Greater Houston, said the Tigers’ presence could increase.
"I think there will be a greater opportunity to go in there and recruit, as well, because it's a great conference and certainly Texas A&M represents that in that state," Miles said. "We'll be able to go in and say to them, 'If you want to play in that conference like Texas A&M, certainly LSU and those other schools in our conference would represent that.
"I think there will be a little bit more open door policy in Texas. I think there will be an understanding by the Texas high school coach, 'This is a nice choice or prospect for my player.' I think that will be a natural piece. We've been in Texas pretty continually. I think we'll just be in Texas more."
Florida coach Will Muschamp has a fertile state of his own to recruit in, but having previously been an assistant at Texas, he understands the value of having a footprint in both states.
"I work in a great state for players and high school coaches," Muschamp said. "When you have a recruiting base like we have, like they have in the state of Texas, it makes our job a little bit, I don't want to use the word 'easier,' but it makes it better because you have such a great recruiting base. The pride they have in the state of Florida, having been in Texas, I know they have the same pride."
Not every school will necessarily look to make inroads in Texas, however.
"We have plenty of ballplayers in South Carolina and our border states,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “We sort of call Florida a border state, but it's not. Florida, Georgia, North Carolina are mainly our targets right there, and our state. We're not going to go into Texas and compete against Oklahoma, Texas, all them guys.”
While he was in the Big 12, Gary Pinkel and his staff had a presence in Texas. As Missouri makes the move to the SEC with Texas A&M, Pinkel said he and his staff might have to tweak their approach.
"We've had great success in Texas," Pinkel said. "A lot of NFL players. That's kind of multiplied over the last few years.
"We're making a transition now. There's great high school football in the SEC (states). We're making a transition into Georgia, into Florida. I expect us to tweak that a little bit as it goes. That's going to be part of the ongoing part of transition to this league. Exactly where it's going to go, I'm not sure. We'll make those decisions when we feel it's important and we can put ourselves and align ourselves in the right way."
Ultimately, Pinkel feels that no matter where a coach recruits, the success will rely on the institution and the program itself and how that school's recruits fare in their careers after they've signed.
"The greatest seller that you have always, how we build a reputation in Texas, is your players come up from Atlanta or wherever they come in, Jacksonville, they come in, have great success, they come in, go back, tell their high school coaches, they tell their counselors, their old teammates, the young guys, 'Hey, Missouri is a great place, go there,'" Pinkel said. "That's the greatest sale you can get and that happens over a period of time."
And it doesn't appear Texas is slowing down in the number of players it produces, based on the quality of the high school football played.
"I think the high schools in Texas play a great brand of football," Miles said. "I think there's no way that that will change significantly."
6hMark Schlabach and Sharon Katz
1dCFB Vegas Experts