Thursday, January 23, 2014
Shifting power: Texas
By Damon Sayles
Texas A&M has gone through and overcome a major case of the “you can’ts.”
You can’t leave the Big 12 and compete in the SEC.
You can’t win with Kevin Sumlin, a coach off a successful stint at Houston in mid-major conference play.
You can’t outrecruit your archrival Texas. You can’t win. Period.
For every negative critique, Texas A&M has managed to silence the doubters. With everything positive that’s happened with the Aggies the last two seasons, this year’s recruiting class may be the biggest accolade next to winning back-to-back bowl games under Sumlin. With 21 commits – including 10 ESPN 300 players -- Texas A&M has the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, just behind Alabama.
Once an afterthought for prospects from the state of Texas, Kevin Sumlin has turned Texas A&M into a place the state's prospects can't ignore.
Historically, Texas has been the recruiting power of the Lone Star State. While the Longhorns are still considered a traditional giant, Texas A&M has taken over the recruiting limelight.
The balance of power, for this year, has shifted, and the Aggies are hoping the recent success is just the beginning.
“It’s the old adage: Winning makes everything right,” said Cedar Hill (Texas) High School head coach Joey McGuire, who watched two of his players, running back Ben Malena and receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez, contribute for last year’s Texas A&M squad.
“The splash they made last year in the SEC, with Johnny Manziel being such an exciting football player, I think that helped make a huge difference in recruiting. They’re winning in the SEC, and they’ve been the hottest thing going the last two years.”
Even hotter than the Longhorns? From a recruiting standpoint, the numbers are pointing in the Aggies’ favor.
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Texas has a solid 2014 recruiting class, featuring 22 commits, including eight ESPN 300 players. The Aggies’ class, however, features the No. 1 defensive end in Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/Martin), the No. 1 athlete in Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr) and the No. 1 pocket-passing quarterback in Kyle Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain). Sixteen of Texas A&M’s 21 commits are considered at least four-star athletes.
ESPN 300 athlete Nick Harvey (Richmond, Texas/Travis), the nation’s No. 6 athlete, went back and forth between Texas A&M and Texas before choosing the Aggies on Nov. 26, 2012. Both programs were elite in his mind, and both were close enough to home, but Harvey said there was something about College Station and its atmosphere that put it over the top.
“Playing in front of the 12th man, you’re either with them or against them,” Harvey said. “It was tough because the top athlete in Texas usually ends up at UT, but at the same time, it’s not about the history; it’s about the future. I’m trying to start something different and great at A&M.”
The combination of a hard-working group of assistant coaches and a never-say-die attitude radiating throughout the locker room has given Texas A&M life in a new conference. Couple that with a new-school attitude Sumlin has instilled in the program -- a live DJ at the spring game, multiple combinations of new uniforms and recruiting trips in a helicopter dubbed the “Swagcopter” -- and it’s no surprise why the Aggies are shining with its current recruiting class.
That swagger has found its way into the 2015 class, as well. The Aggies have five members of next year’s class, and all five are ESPN Junior 300 players.
One player who many thought would choose Texas over the Aggies was safety Justin Dunning (Whitehouse, Texas/Whitehouse). Dunning called it “probably one of the hardest decisions I had to make,” but when the decision needed to be made, he said the family atmosphere won him over.
That, and the idea of playing the Alabamas, LSUs and Missouris of the world in front of a raucous crowd that has built a healthy reputation for supporting the home team.
“It felt like more of a family atmosphere in Aggieland,” Dunning said. “It’s SEC ball and the 12th man. Gig’Em, baby.”
No longer are the Aggies hearing about what they can and cannot do. Now, many are wondering if there’s an in-state recruit they can’t get. It’s the recruiting attitude they’d hoped for.
“A lot of people are seeing what Coach Sumlin’s doing,” McGuire said. “He’s always been a great recruiter, but that swagger has helped them to really get going in recruiting.”