Texas A&M Aggies: Qualen Cunningham

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- As part of Texas A&M's nightmarish 2013 season on defense, the Aggies linebackers endured more than their fair share of struggles.

Whether it was a position change, someone playing out of position or something as simple as inexperience keeping the Aggies from playing well, the group never quite found its footing in 2013.

The first week -- and even just the first day -- of training camp provided linebackers coach Mark Hagen with reason for optimism in 2014.

One area the Aggies' linebackers -- and the defense as a whole -- struggled with was communication. Sometimes when the ball was snapped, players were out of position or not certain of their assignments.

So far on the practice field there is much less of that, according to Hagen.

"Night and day,” Hagen said of the difference in communication. “The biggest thing we lacked last year were guys that had been there and done that ... I don't have to relive the 2014 season for you guys. It was constantly swimming uphill. And even though we got some pieces in the right place, the communication was never where it needed to be.

“We've got a different feel right now. It wasn't perfect. Going back to Friday, the first day of practice, even though it wasn't totally clean out there, there was never a time where you had guys looking left and looking right, [while the offense is] snapping the ball .... We got lined up and we played fast when the ball was snapped. That doesn't mean we played perfect in terms of the fits and the coverages, but we operated as 11 instead of 9 or 10 guys being on one page and a couple guys being on another page. That's a recipe for disaster."

Defensive line depth improving

One of the key tasks for Texas A&M’s defense since joining the SEC is building the type of depth needed to compete in the league. The defensive line is especially important in that area.

The Aggies have focused on the defensive line in recruiting and in 2014 were able to bring in five true freshman defensive linemen in the recruiting class plus a junior college transfer.

“It’s going to help everybody this season, not just me,” Julien Obioha said of the increased depth. “It’s going to help Alonzo Williams, Hardreck Walker, Daeshon Hall. There are two or three guys behind all those guys.”

Obioha was a true freshman who started in 2012 and is now entering his third season in Aggieland. The improvement in overall talent across the defensive line is evident to him.

“Depth is amazing compared to what it was [in 2012],” Obioha said. “Freshman year, we were playing maybe six guys [on the defensive line]. This year we’ll be able to play 12-14 guys.”

Defensive line coach Terry Price was able to secure top-flight talent in 2014, including the nation’s No. 1 defensive end, Myles Garrett, as well as ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham and three-star defensive end Jarrett Johnson. Price seems pleased with what they’ve shown him thus far.

“Our biggest deficiency last year, to me, was speed on the edge of our defense at the defensive end spot,” Price said. “We went out and tried to find the best we could find, which have added speed and depth to our defense which is huge.”

Competition at kicker

Walk-on kicker and former FC Dallas goalkeeper Josh Lambo emerged as an unlikely hero last season for the Aggies, making a game-winning field goal as time expired at Ole Miss. Midway through the 2013 season, Lambo assumed place-kicking duties from Taylor Bertolet, but just because Lambo finished the year as the starter doesn’t automatically make him the go-to guy.

Bertolet, a junior, is having a strong training camp according to special-teams coach Jeff Banks, making this year’s battle at kicker a close one. Last season Bertolet was 2-for-3 on field goals and 23-of-26 on point-after attempts. Lambo was 8-for-10 on field goal tries and 50-of-51 PATs.

"I'm in a great position,” Banks said. “To have two Division I guys who can kick the ball 60 yards and have a little depth, length and distance .... I'm in a great position from that standpoint; I'm in a tough position in [deciding] who's going to be the best guy for the job. It's probably a lot like quarterback. If you name a guy right off the bat then the other guy might get discouraged.”

“So we're not going to do that. We're going to continue to compete during fall camp. We've still got at least 15-18 practices before we get ready for South Carolina and we have to do the best job we can to evaluate who is the best for the job.”

Lambo sat out the first week of training camp, recovering from a groin injury but said he should be 100 percent soon.
When it comes to Texas A&M's spring, the first question surrounding the Aggies often relates to the quarterback battle and who is in the lead to succeed Johnny Manziel.

The next question is usually relates to the defense, and how much better -- if at all -- the unit will be after a disastrous 2013 season.

While neither can be definitively answered, when it comes to the defense, there is at least some reason for optimism coming out of spring football. The Aggies can't get much worse than they were a year ago, when the ranked last or near last in the SEC in virtually every major statistical category, but there were signs during spring practice that indicate that brighter days are ahead for defensive coordinator Mark Snyder's group.

One reason the Aggies have to feel better about their defense is the experience they'll have. Last year the root of the struggles seemed to be the youth and inexperience up and down the depth chart, with the Aggies having as many as a dozen freshmen in the defensive two-deep.

Though the Aggies will still be relatively young in some areas (particularly linebacker), most of the players who are candidates to start or see significant time were thrown in the fire last season.

Middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni is a perfect example. Though he'll only be a sophomore this fall, he started against Alabama last Sept. 14 and in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Duke. Mastrogiovanni called it "overwhelming," but as the guy getting first-team work at his position this spring, coaches have heaped praise upon the former ESPN 300 prospect.

Should defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne return from suspensions (both missed the spring after February arrests), they too will benefit. Both started a large portion of the season as true freshmen.

Other players who could be in position to contribute, such as linebacker Shaan Washington or cornerback Noel Ellis, weren't starters but saw enough field time to give them a taste of what life in the SEC is like.

Add to those young players a host of returning veterans, such as the starting secondary of Deshazor Everett, De'Vante Harris, Howard Matthews and Julien Obioha, Gavin Stansbury and Alonzo Williams and the Aggies can begin piecing together a more experienced defense.

With so many players returning (nine starters return from last year's defense) and a top-five recruiting class on the way, the Aggies will continue to add to their talent level on defense. One defensive player is already on campus (defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson) and showed flashes of his potential during spring football.

With players like defensive end Myles Garrett, the nation's No. 4 overall prospect, ESPN 300 athlete Nick Harvey, who will be a defensive back at Texas A&M and other ESPN 300 prospects like Deshawn Washington, Otaro Alaka, Qualen Cunningham, Armani Watts and Josh Walker, competition will only increase when preseason training camp starts.


The increased depth on the defensive line could be the biggest factor in helping the defense improve. Snyder indicated how critical it was earlier this month.

"Up front for the first time, we're going to be able to roll people," Snyder said. "I told [defensive line coach] Terry [Price] … that when we get to the fall, we're going to have to practice our rotations, which is a great thing."

For the Aggies, there really is nowhere to go but up defensively. They could be another year away from being the kind of defense they hope to be, but the developments this spring suggest at least some improvement is in order in 2014.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Building the proper depth along the offensive and defensive lines has been one of Texas A&M's chief goals since joining the SEC.

In a league often dominated by line-of-scrimmage play, the Aggies know they have to be up to par if they want to be long-term contenders in the conference. On the offensive line, that hasn't been an issue. They've stayed relatively healthy and had high-level players across the front five.

Zaycovian Henderson
William Wilkerson/ESPNEarly enrollee Zaycoven Henderson is making an impact at Texas A&M.
On defense, it's another story.

While the Aggies had the luxury of a mostly veteran line and a highly productive defensive end in Damontre Moore in 2012, their inaugural SEC season, the 2013 season brought something totally different. The Aggies were young, inexperienced and not particularly deep as they continued to recruit in an effort to get better numbers on the defensive line.

After the Aggies' 13th practice of the spring on Wednesday, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder indicated that they're making progress toward that effort.

"Up front for the first time, we're going to be able to roll people," Snyder said. "I told [defensive line coach] Terry [Price] yesterday that when we get to the fall, we're going to have to practice our rotations, which is a great thing."

Snyder and Price could look at opponents such as Alabama, Auburn and LSU last season with envy. Those programs have enough talent on their defensive fronts to freely substitute and not worry about a drop-off in level of play. Texas A&M hasn't had that luxury the last two seasons, but with a heavy focus on defensive line recruiting in recent seasons and a highly regarded group coming in from the 2014 recruiting class, the Aggies are taking steps toward having that ability.

One benefit is that the Aggies return virtually their entire defensive line from 2013. Those same players who were rushed into duty as youngsters, such as defensive tackles Isaiah Golden and Hardreck Walker and defensive ends Daeshon Hall and Jay Arnold, will no longer be freshmen and have a year of SEC experience under their belts.

Add into the mix five-star prospect Myles Garrett, ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham and four-star defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson as part of a five-man defensive line class, and suddenly the pieces begin to come in place.

Garrett, Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson are a trio of defensive ends due in Aggieland in the summer and it has pushed the incumbent defensive ends, such as junior Julien Obioha, to raise their level of play this spring.

"Obioha's fighting for his life because competition makes us all better and he knows what's coming," Snyder said.

Henderson is the only one of the five defensive line recruits to enroll in January and he'll be joined in the summer by Deshawn Washington. Henderson has already made waves in his short time on campus, but he still has progress to make this summer.

"(The new) guys, (they) don't know how to practice. (Henderson is) a little bit out of shape," Snyder said. "He does have a big rear end and he's a plugger in the middle. When he's fresh, he's not bad. ... Right now he's three plays and he's done. He's going to bring some beef up front for us."

Veterans such as Obioha, senior defensive end Gavin Stansbury and junior defensive tackle Alonzo Williams, who have two years of experience, are expected to have significant roles again this season. With those returnees, a redshirt freshman entering the mix [Justin Manning], the returning youngsters and incoming recruits on the way, the future on the defensive front looks a little bit better for the Aggies after a disastrous 2013 on defense.

"We're not there," Snyder said of the defensive depth. "We still need another recruiting class, but we're way, way, way closer."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One of Kevin Sumlin's top priorities since becoming Texas A&M's head coach more than two years ago has been building a team that could compete in the trenches in the SEC.

[+] EnlargeGavin Stansbury
Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty ImagesGavin Stansbury will be in the mix to be a big contributor on the Aggies defensive line.
Central to that effort is building the caliber of offensive and defensive lines necessary to win in the league. With a strong offensive line already on campus upon his arrival, Sumlin and his staff have been able to focus their efforts on recruiting SEC-caliber defensive linemen. So far, the Aggies appear to have done a good job stockpiling talent on the defensive line in the last two recruiting classes.

While young players continue to come in, that puts the onus on veterans on the roster to step it up. That's certainly the case at defensive end, where the Aggies had two true freshmen see time last year (Jay Arnold and Daeshon Hall) but also have a handful of veterans (Gavin Stansbury, Julien Obioha, Tyrell Taylor and Tyrone Taylor).

Arnold and Hall are both sitting out spring recovering from injuries and Stansbury has been limited as well, but Sumlin addressed the state of his defensive ends on Monday.

"Obioha has been good," Sumlin said. "He hasn't had any problems with that back, which has been great for us. Stansbury, we know what he can do so we just want him to be completely healthy, which has given the Taylors a lot of reps because we don't know what they can do. They haven't been put in those positions to have to play a bunch of snaps and be counted on. Gavin has proven to us what he can do on Saturdays when he's healthy. When he's not healthy, it's a different guy. So we want to make sure he's healthy for the fall."

Once Arnold and Hall are healthy, it stands to reason both will figure into the mix at defensive end in the fall since both did enough to earn playing time a season ago. But the current crew will also be joined in the summer by a trio of highly touted freshmen from the 2014 recruiting class: five-star prospect Myles Garrett, ESPN 300 prospect Qualen Cunningham and three-star prospect Jarrett Johnson.

That means now is the time for inexperienced players to prove they're worthy of playing time, because the competition will only get stiffer come August.

"That puts some of the onus on the Taylors to kind of show us what they can do and get them going because we've got two other D-ends in the program who have shown what they can do in Jay Arnold and Dae Dae (Daeshon Hall)," Sumlin said. "They're getting healthy and out running now. And the guys we recruited are obviously guys we expect to come in here and compete to play. In our way of thinking ... it's time for the Taylors to show what they can do and we're giving them every opportunity to do that right now."

Though the Aggies have been precautionary with Stansbury this spring, Sumlin was encouraged by his progress last season and feels like he is now a proven commodity.

"Defensively, Gavin was probably the most improved player that we had coming through the year," Sumlin said. "That's why I said, when he's healthy, he's really, really effective for us."

Obioha is a two-year starter who said earlier this spring that he feels good. His veteran presence will be welcome in the fall, too.

For the Taylor twins, Tyrell (a senior) and Tyrone (a redshirt sophomore), now is the time to perform, Sumlin says.

"What we're trying to do right now is get the guys healthy that have experience and the Taylor twins, who don't have that type of experience, they need to prove where they are in their capability to be able to help us win," Sumlin said.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M’s work toward putting a defensive product on the field that is drastically better than the one that lined up in 2013 is among the most important offseason tasks.

Climbing out of the SEC cellar in major defensive statistical categories is critical if the Aggies wish to succeed in the SEC West. Central to that goal is the performance of the Aggies’ defensive line, a unit that is a work in progress this spring.

[+] Enlarge Julien Obioha
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJulien Obioha is a season contributor on the Aggies' DL. Now he's looking for some help.
There’s a mix of missing bodies due to injury (defensive ends Jay Arnold, Daeshon Hall and Tyrone Taylor) as well as one to a suspension (Isaiah Golden, who recently withdrew from school but is expected back). That has given a chance for new faces to get turns in the rotation and show their worthiness to the coaching staff.

“Zaycoven [Henderson] has continued to impress,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said of the true freshman, who enrolled in January.

Henderson, at 6-foot-1 and 310 pounds, appears to be a possible instant-impact player. The four-star 2014 prospect, who was previously committed to TCU and Texas before eventually landing in Aggieland, brings the size and ability the Aggies need to improve their quality and depth at defensive tackle. That’s significant for a run defense that allowed 222 rushing yards per game and ranked 110th nationally (as well as last in the SEC) in that area.

Another defensive tackle making waves this month is one from the previous recruiting class: 2013 signee Justin Manning.

Ranked as the top defensive tackle in the state of Texas in his class, and the ninth-best nationally, Manning didn’t see a snap of game action last fall while he redshirted. But Golden’s absence has allowed Manning to get some time in the two-deep this spring and show the improvements he has made.

“[He] showed some twitch that he had in high school,” Sumlin said. “He lost a little weight; when he got here he was out of shape. He has come on.”

If Henderson and Manning can contribute, that helps bolster the Aggies up the middle, where they already have veteran Alonzo Williams and sophomore Hardreck Walker, who also contributed as a true freshman. With ESPN 300 defensive tackle DeShawn Washington arriving this summer and Golden expected to return, the Aggies could begin to show the kind of depth Sumlin has been pining for since taking over the program.

At defensive end, there’s a mix of veterans and youth. Julien Obioha, who has been a starter since his true freshman season, is now a junior. Senior Gavin Stansbury is coming off his best season in Aggieland, showing flashes of his potential last fall. Senior Tyrell Taylor is back also and has been getting turns this spring.

The two young players at the position who are sitting out with injuries this spring -- Arnold and Hall -- both saw time as true freshmen last season, suggesting a promising future for each. And in the summer, the Aggies will welcome the services of five-star recruit Myles Garrett as well as ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham and three-star prospect Jarrett Johnson.

Obioha said he is looking forward to the increased depth.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “My first couple of years here I had to play 60-70 plays [per game] and you don’t want to play that much. When you think about a two-deep or a three-deep, you want to play maybe 35 plays and having those 35 plays be where you can come 100 percent every play and you’re not tired.”

Defensive line coach Terry Price’s message to his group this spring has been clear.

“Last year, bottom of the SEC, bottom 25 in the nation, that’s not going to happen this year, that’s been the message,” Obioha said. “We’re going to be completely different this year from the bottom to the top and it all starts with the D-line.”

Top overall position classes in 2014 

February, 21, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at which programs compiled the nation's best overall position classes in 2014. For the full top position classes series, click here.

Quarterbacks: Florida
The Florida Gators had a major need at quarterback in the Class of 2014, and Will Muschamp and staff more than filled it, signing two of the nation’s top signal-callers. Third-ranked dual-threat prospect Will Grier (Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day School) is already on campus and preparing for spring practice, while No. 7 dual-threat prospect Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) was a huge signing-day flip from Florida State. Both prospects are great athletes who are accustomed to operating up-tempo offenses. This should also help newly hired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who will install a similar scheme in Gainesville.

Top position classes: DL 

February, 14, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and SEC)
Texas A&M went into the 2014 class knowing that size and athleticism was an absolute must on its defensive front. And Kevin Sumlin and staff delivered on those glaring needs. Leading the way is No. 1 defensive end and five-star player Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/James Martin), who has the size, speed and power combination to be a difference-maker early on next fall. The 6-foot-5, 247-pound Garrett is joined at defensive end by ESPN 300 No. 203 Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton), and high three-star Jarrett Johnson (Katy, Texas/Seven Lakes), who has a nonstop motor. While the Aggies have some talented young defensive tackles, continuing to add size and athleticism to the interior was a must. No. 150 DeShawn Washington (Nederland, Texas/Nederland) and four-star early enrollee Zaycoven Henderson (Longview, Texas/Longview) add disruptive explosiveness and athleticism.

The Aggies had the nation’s best defensive line class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:


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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

October, 28, 2013
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As always, there was a lot of news around the Southeastern Conference this weekend. Tennessee and Texas A&M picked up ESPN 300 commits, and Alabama had a five-star visitor. Here's a closer look at the latest recruiting news in the SEC.

Biggest commitment: Despite losing to rival Alabama 45-10 on Saturday, Tennessee picked up a big commitment from ESPN 300 defensive end Dewayne Hendrix (O'Fallon, Ill./O'Fallon Township) on Sunday.

Hendrix, the No. 189 player in the country, chose the Vols over Florida, USC and Missouri.

"My mom and I had a long talk last night and we both thought it was the right time," Hendrix said. "We both felt like we knew it was Tennessee, but we just wanted to make sure and be 100 percent and check out a few other schools. We went out to Ole Miss, Illinois, Mizzou and USC."

The four-star athlete said Tennessee coach Butch Jones played a major factor in his decision to commit to the Vols.

"Coach Jones, how he was recruiting me -- was like no other feeling I've ever had," Hendrix said. "No other coach recruited me how he was. He calls me, inboxes me and every week we're talking."

With the commitment of Hendrix, Tennessee now has 28 commitments including 12 who are ranked in the ESPN 300.

Texas A&M also picked up an ESPN 300 commit, defensive end Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton), on Thursday night.

Cunningham, the No. 234 prospect in the ESPN 300, joins five-star defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 7 player in the country, as Texas A&M commits over the last week and a half.

The Aggies have the ninth-ranked class in the country. It is composed of 16 commitments, 11 of who are ranked in the ESPN 300.

Best weekend performances: Several SEC committed quarterbacks put up huge numbers this weekend. Here's a look at some of the top weekend performances.

QB Sean White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School) -- Auburn commit: White was 19-of-33 for 389 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-24 loss.

QB Drew Barker (Hebron, Ky./Conner) -- Kentucky commit: Barker was 22-of-30 for 296 yards and three touchdowns and added a rushing score in a 32-20 win.

QB Kyle Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain) -- Texas A&M commit: Allen passed for 296 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-41 loss on Friday night.

RB Nick Chubb (Cedartown, Ga./Cedartown) -- Georgia commit: Rushed for 262 yards and four touchdowns in a 54-28 win on Friday.

Most important visit: ESPN 300 defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) took his second of three planned official visits over the weekend, this one to Alabama. The No. 4 player in the country watched the Tide handle Tennessee 45-10 on Saturday. Hand also plans to visit Florida sometime in the next few weeks before making his decision on Nov. 14. Michigan has been the team to beat for sometime, but was the Alabama visit enough to change his mind? Only time will tell, but judging by Hand's tweets on Saturday and Sunday, it appears he was impressed with Alabama.

Scout's take: Cunningham adds DL piece 

October, 25, 2013
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Texas A&M secured a commitment Thursday from four-star defensive end Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton). Here's how the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Cunningham, who is ranked No. 232 in the ESPN 300, can make an impact with the Aggies:

What he brings: Cunningham brings good physical tools and promising upside to College Station. He needs to continue to get stronger which should come with time in the Aggies weight program and as he continues to fill out. He demonstrates he can play with pad level, though he’ll need the improved size and strength to help him hold his ground and set the edge while working against OTs. He displays quick hands, good awareness and is an active and fairly athletic player that can be a factor in pursuit. He needs development to maximize his ability, but has promising upside as a pass-rusher with good initial quickness.

How he fits: The ESPN 300 defender brings another talented body to the Aggies defensive front to help strengthen the unit and improve depth. As he further develops his pass-rush arsenal, he possesses the physical tools to be able to help create pressure as an edge-rusher for a team last in the SEC in sacks. A good football player, Cunningham has the potential to develop into a well-rounded, three-down player for the Aggies once he further physically develops.

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ESPN 300 DE Cunningham headed to A&M

October, 24, 2013
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While Texas A&M's current defense continues to take its lumps, it's future defense is looking better by the day.

The Aggies landed their third commitment in less than a week when ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) jumped on board, committing to the Aggies on Thursday night.

Cunningham, the No. 234 prospect in the ESPN 300, is the second defensive end and third defensive lineman since Oct. 18 to commit to Texas A&M. ESPN 300 defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 7 player in the country and No. 2 defensive end, started the chain reaction.

On Monday, it was a 2015 prospect -- ESPN Junior 300 defensive tackle Daylon Mack -- who pledged to the Aggies.

"I've been thinking about it a lot, and I had my list narrowed down to schools I felt comfortable with," Cunningham said. "It just seemed like the best situation for me, individually, being able to play in the SEC. It's a great school, and I'm really excited for it."

Cunningham is a longtime Texas A&M target and a legacy. His father, Rick Cunningham, played offensive line for Texas A&M in the late 1980s, was a fourth-round pick in the 1990 NFL draft and played eight seasons in the league. Rick was actually a roommate of former Texas A&M defensive lineman Terry Price, the Aggies' current defensive line coach and lead recruiter for Qualen.

"Coach Price has always been real since day one," Qualen said. "He was a roommate of my pops back in college. Coach Price and I became really, really cool."

Qualen took a visit to Texas A&M in March for the Maroon-and-White spring football game and also in September, the weekend the Aggies hosted Alabama.

"The Bama game gave me a chance to see how live competition is and how the '12th Man' is," Cunningham said. "The fan support is amazing down at A&M. The hospitality that I got in Texas was great. It felt right."

He is the 16th commitment in the Aggies' 2014 class and the ninth that projects to play on the defensive side of the ball. Loading up on the defensive line is particularly notable for the Aggies, who currently are 118th in the country in total defense and 112th in the nation in rushing defense.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Cunningham is a four-star prospect who possessed double-digit scholarship offers, including offers from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington, as well as home-state schools Arizona and Arizona State.

He's the third defensive end in the Aggies' 2014 class, joining Garrett and Katy (Texas) Seven Lakes defensive end Jarrett Johnson. There are four defensive linemen in the Aggies' class, including ESPN 300 defensive tackle DeShawn Washington (Nederland, Texas/Nederland).

"It's definitely a factor, but I'm confident in my abilities," Cunningham said. "I know the players that are going to be on the field are going to be the best players. I just have to step up and compete, and at the end of the day, that's all it's about."

The Aggies, who had the No. 9 class in the country coming into Thursday, hold 11 commitments from ESPN 300 prospects. Cunningham is the country's 22nd-ranked defensive end.

"I'm just glad I finally got to pull the trigger," Cunningham said. "It feels good."

Off week comes at right time for A&M

October, 4, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- In 2012, Texas A&M wound up with no open date to break up its 12-game regular season schedule.

The Aggies' first SEC campaign saw them play 12 games in 12 consecutive weeks, thanks to a schedule change that moved their season opener against Louisiana Tech to their off week because of the threat of Hurricane Isaac.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesCoach Kevin Sumlin is comforted by Texas A&M's two bye weeks this season.
This year, the Aggies (4-1, 1-1 SEC) actually get two Saturdays off, the first being this week. And according to head coach Kevin Sumlin, it's much needed.

"We've got five games in, we get a week off, which we need," Sumlin said. "There are some guys limping around after that [Arkansas] game. We've got to get healthy for this next stretch run."

Sumlin gave the team complete days off -- no practice, no lifting in the weight room -- on Tuesday and Friday. The Aggies practiced Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and will also practice on Saturday. But giving his team a couple of days to gather itself is important.

"There are some teams where you don't want a week off," Sumlin said. "Like last year, you have some momentum, you feel like you're a hot team, you just want to keep playing. We need some time. We've got some guys that left Arkansas limping around. Anybody who saw everybody getting off that plane, there was some slow walking coming down that ramp, and it wasn't just because it was wet."

The time gives the Aggies a chance to see some injuries to key players heal up. Sophomore receiver Mike Evans left the Arkansas game briefly with an injury but returned to finish the game. Sumlin said he was fine with giving Evans the week off of practice since "I know what he can do." On the field and Evans has played injured before [last season he played much of the year with a nagging hamstring].

Neither he nor starting middle linebacker Darian Claiborne, who left the Arkansas game with a thigh bruise in the second half and didn't return, is likely to miss next Saturday's game at Ole Miss. The area where Sumlin is concerned is defensive tackle, where senior Kirby Ennis hurt his left knee against Arkansas.

"Kirby Ennis is a lot more serious than that, and we'll continue to evaluate that and figure out where he is by the end of the week," Sumlin said.

If Ennis is out for any extended period of time, it will likely mean more playing time for true freshmen defensive tackles Isaiah Golden and Hardreck Walker, both of whom have seen time on the field this year. Golden filled in for Ennis when he left the game last Saturday.

Sumlin also feels this team can benefit from a mental break, especially considering the fact he has more than 15 true freshmen who have seen the field this year.

"Everybody thinks about the physical strain of playing, but the hard part for the young players now is the mental strain, because it's stressful," Sumlin said. "You're in school and you've got the first barrage of exams, quizzes, those types of deals, and those guys are having to handle all that. For our team, the bye week comes at a great time. Not only physically, but mentally we needed this week."

The weekend without a game also offers a chance for the entire coaching staff to hit the recruiting trail. Sumlin and his nine assistants will watch prospects this weekend, including a group of four coaches (Sumlin, special teams coordinator Jeff Banks, defensive line coach Terry Price and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital) that will head to Arizona to see some out-of-state talent, including a highly-touted quartet of Aggie targets: ESPN 300 quarterback and Texas A&M commit Kyle Allen, ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton), ESPN 300 offensive tackle Casey Tucker (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) and ESPN Junior 300 receiver Christian Kirk (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro).

SEC recruiting storylines: Sept. 12 

September, 12, 2013
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After a terrific start to the college football season with big games and potential momentum changing wins and performances, this weekend features the most hyped game yet -- Alabama at Texas A&M. The visit list of what could be dubbed “Super Bowl Saturday” in College Station continues to grow with the Aggies expected to host the most talented visit weekend in the programs history. Here is a closer look at some of the hot topics throughout the SEC:

Five-star visit list in College Station
Texas A&M is taking full advantage of the long-awaited rematch with Alabama. The visitor list for Saturday can only be defined with the word “loaded.” Whether it’s official visitors in the 2014 class or unofficial visitors for 2015, the list of who's expected is star-studded in the recruiting world. Expected to visit College Station over the weekend include the likes of No. 1 overall Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine High), No. 7 Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/James Martin High), No. 8 Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr), No. 25 Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron High), No. 29 Gerald Willis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr), No. 81 Edwin Freeman (Arlington, Texas/James Bowie High) and No. 158 Joshua Frazier (Springdale, Ark./Har Ber High). On the unofficial visit list are ESPN 300 members Casey Tucker (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton High) and Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton High) in the 2014 class, along with a number of ESPN Junior 300 members, including running back commitments Rodney Anderson (Katy, Texas/Katy High) and Jay Bradford (Splendora, Texas/Splendora High) as well as uncommitted quarterback Kyler Murray (Allen, Texas/Allen High).

Gators all in on Sharpe
If there was any question if the Florida Gators were all in on No. 15 overall prospect David Sharpe (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence School), it was answered earlier this week when four-star offensive tackle Benjamin Knox (DeLand, Fla./DeLand High) decommitted from Florida.

"At this very moment, I'm decommitting," Knox said. "Reason why because I haven't heard from them in over a month."

The Gators are making it clear to Sharpe that he is the top priority at offensive tackle. Florida currently has three offensive line commitments, all projected guards at the next level, and remain in the mix for No. 257 overall Jordan Sims (Birmingham, Ala./Homewood High).

Tennessee adds No. 25
Tennessee added commitment No. 25 this week with the addition of senior cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (Greensboro, N.C./Page High), but the Volunteers are not done in 2014. Four-star lineman Charles Mosley (Brighton, Tenn./Brighton High) is set to decide on Oct. 4 with the Vols squarely in the mix along with Alabama. Tennessee also remains in the mix for ESPN 300 prospects Josh Malone (Gallatin, Tenn./Station Camp High), defensive end DeWayne Hendrix (O’Fallon, Ill./O’Fallon Township High), linebacker Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield South High), cornerback D.J. Smith (Marietta, Ga./Walton High) and end Dante Sawyer (Suwanee, Ga./North Gwinnett High) among others with defensive line and linebacker being a top remaining priority. Hendrix and Garrett are set to officially visit Knoxville on Oct. 4.

Visit list for Tennessee-Florida taking shape

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Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton boasts two ESPN 300 linemen, and while offensive tackle Casey Tucker and defensive end Qualen Cunningham will have a similar impact on the success of the Huskies this season, they are on different paths when it comes to recruiting.


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Texas A&M has 14 commits in the 2014 class, and the Aggies have done a good job of addressing needs at multiple positions. With seven months left until signing day, they are still pursuing plenty of players. Here's five positions where they could use another player or two in the class:

Defensive end: The Aggies are pursuing multiple defensive ends in the 2014 class and at the top of their want list is ESPN 300 defensive end Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/James Martin), the No. 1 prospect in Texas. They also have an offer out to ESPN 300 prospects Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) and Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) among others.

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ESPN 300 targets: Texas A&M 

June, 18, 2013
6/18/13
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Texas A&M has nine commits in the ESPN 300, which was released on Monday. Here's a look at the Aggies' top 10 targets in order of the Aggies' chances of landing the prospects:

1. DE Myles Garrett
6-foot-5, 247 pounds
ESPN 300 Rank: 6

Why they want him: Take one glance at Garrett, and it becomes clear why so many schools want him. He's in tremendous physical condition and is a good athlete to boot. He's a weight-room warrior with huge upside.


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