Texas Longhorns: Kevin Sumlin

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Charlie Strong has a Texas-sized problem on his hands.

When a new coach is hired, especially at a place like The University of Texas, it usually creates excitement with prospects and high school coaches on the recruiting trail. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, that buzz isn’t there. With the addition of ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge on Thursday, Texas A&M further tightened its grip on the top talent in the Lone Star State.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
AP Photo/Eric GayCharlie Strong still has nearly eight months to bolster his 2015 recruiting class.
Lodge’s pledge gives A&M three of the top eight players in Texas and positions the Aggies for a run that could include four of the top five and five of the top 10.

On the other hand, the Longhorns, whose 2015 class is ranked No. 11 in ESPN's rankings, are struggling within their home state. Texas has yet to gain a commit from a top-10 in-state player. To make matters worse, Strong’s staff is losing commits to conference rivals and SEC powers in Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, LSU and Oklahoma.

“In the state of Texas, A&M has taken over,” Cedar Hill (Texas) High School coach Joey McGuire said. “Through what coach [Kevin] Sumlin has done and then what Johnny Manziel did to help put that school in such a great position, it's helped them move to whole different level. They're the hot thing going right now. It's hard to beat, even for a program like Texas.”

As any Texas fan will tell you, there’s nothing worse than losing to the hated Aggies. The recruiting beatdown could continue as A&M is in good position with cornerback Kendall Sheffield, linebacker Malik Jefferson, defensive end James Lockhart and cornerback Kris Boyd -- all ESPN 300 prospects strongly considering playing in College Station.

A Big 12 assistant who recruits in the Lone Star State said he could see that Texas would have problems on the recruiting trail the minute Strong announced his staff. The assistant praised Strong for luring Joe Wickline away from Oklahoma State and believes his addition will help the Longhorns find some hidden gems along the offensive line. But after that, the assistant said it was hardly the all-star cast many thought Strong could assemble, given the school’s resources.

“I thought [Strong] needed to bring in guys that can stand toe-to-toe against A&M, LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma and all the other top teams that recruit in Texas,” the coach said. “He needed guys that had deep ties with the high school coaches in Texas. Instead, he got a lot of coaches that can win recruiting battles against Cincinnati, UCF and teams like that. This is the Big 12, not the AAC.”

In defense of the Longhorns, Strong did retain Bruce Chambers, who is entering his 17th season in Austin and has connections with high school football in the state. He also hired Les Koenning, a 1981 Texas graduate who is entering his 34th year of coaching after previous stops at Mississippi State, South Alabama, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU, Houston, Duke, Rice and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Replacing Mack Brown wasn’t going to be easy. Replacing the relationships he so tirelessly built with Texas high school coaches will take some time.

All of this has made Strong’s job of recruiting local talent more difficult than most assumed it would be when he was first hired six months ago. But all is not lost. There has been no shortage of effort from the Longhorns’ staff, and Strong can sway some recruits with a simple formula this fall: winning.

“If Charlie Strong comes out and wins, there might be another flip,” McGuire said. “If they can come out and surprise some people this year and win games, then they’re going to be the hot team with recruits. Winning and losing is going to make a big part of those schools' recruiting classes.”

Tale of the tape: Texas-Texas A&M 

May, 23, 2014
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There are those who believe the rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M is dead because the two programs are no longer in the same conference.

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Sam Khan Jr./ESPNTexas and Texas A&M are both after Kendall Sheffield, the No. 2 CB in the nation.
Those people are misguided. And emphatically incorrect.

Two words in February by new Texas head coach Charlie Strong helped light a new spark in the rivalry between two of the most respected programs in the Lone Star State. When asked about A&M’s recruiting methods -- which includes coach Kevin Sumlin making player visits in a helicopter dubbed the “Swagcopter” -- Strong said the Longhorns didn’t need to be a “gadget program,” as the university and its prestige still was enough to attract recruits.

The rest of the spring and the upcoming summer will be perfect opportunities to gauge where both programs stand among some of the elite athletes who are still uncommitted. Which school will dominate in recruiting the 2015 class?

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offering: There are plenty of great storylines to follow with the Class of 2015, but few will be bigger than the recruiting battles between new Texas coach Charlie Strong and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. At the frontlines of the battle between the two Lone Star State powers is Kendall Sheffield, the top ranked prospect in the state.


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Early Offer: Trojans get their QB 

January, 27, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Steve Sarkisian and USC landed a major building block for their future this past weekend when a blue-chip 2015 quarterback committed; a longtime Texas commit flipped to rival Texas A&M on Sunday; and a five-star cornerback said he will narrow his list to four schools early this week.


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ESPN 300 LB Alaka close to final decision 

January, 24, 2014
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ESPN 300 linebacker Otaro Alaka (Houston/Cypress Falls) just wants this process to end.

He’s down to Texas and Texas A&M and believes his final decision should come in the next few days.

"It just depends on how I’m feeling," Alaka said. "It might be two or three days. It’s just going to take a lot of thinking, a lot of praying.”


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Shifting power: Texas 

January, 23, 2014
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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.


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Texas' loss is Texas A&M's gain.

The Aggies added four-star defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson (Longview, Texas/Longview) to their recruiting class Wednesday, capping off an eventful last 24 hours for the heavily courted prospect.

Henderson, originally a Texas commitment, decommitted then recommitted to Texas in less than a 24-hour span. The change of heart came in the wake of coaching changes at Texas with the addition of Charlie Strong as head coach and the departure of Henderson's future position coach at Texas, Bo Davis, who accepted a similar position at USC.

Two sources with knowledge of the commitment confirmed the news to ESPN.com and Henderson posted the news on his Twitter account Wednesday night. Longview head coach John King also confirmed the news to ESPN.com via text message.

This will be the third time Henderson has committed to a school. Henderson originally committed to TCU last February but decommitted in September. On Dec. 9, Henderson gave Texas his verbal pledge during a ceremony at his school. He chose Texas over Baylor and Texas Tech.

Henderson, an early enrollee who is 6-foot-1 and 318 pounds, was expected to leave for Austin, Texas, on Friday and start classes on Jan. 13. He has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Coming into Wednesday, Texas A&M held the nation's second-ranked recruiting class. Henderson is the Aggies' 22nd commitment and is the fifth defensive lineman to commit. He is the second defensive tackle head coach Kevin Sumlin has brought into the class, joining ESPN 300 prospect DeShawn Washington (Nederland, Texas/Nederland).

Henderson is ranked 36th nationally among defensive tackles and is the No. 47 prospect overall in the state of Texas.
Get ESPN 150 safety Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) in any competitive environment and you’ll begin to understand very quickly why he’s so coveted.

Take for example the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp in Allen, Texas, on April 7 when he set the tone in 1-on-1 drills by shoving a wide receiver three yards behind the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball.

Adams, the No. 23 player overall and No. 3 safety, isn’t naming any favorites. But we caught up with him to get a sense for where he stands with a few of the programs generally thought to be in the mix.


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AUSTIN, Texas -- Welcome back, Texas. The recruiting world was, well, kind of boring without you.

But now it is like old times. Here it is the middle of April and 15 recruits have already pledged to the burnt orange and white. The rest of the Big 12 conference has 23 combined.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireMack Brown and the Longhorns have gotten off to a fast start for the 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes.
Not even that new nemesis, Texas A&M, has as many commitments. The Aggies, who plucked four players from the juggernaut formerly known as Texas, just have 10. That’s good enough for second nationally and, again, five behind Texas. What’s more, Texas has won the head-to-head battle against the Aggies so far, getting six players who had TAMU offers to commit to Texas while the Aggies have had five players with Texas offers commit to them.

Of course, that is slightly hollow chest thumping when considering the Aggies were a top-10 team last year, a likely preseason top-five team this year and have a Heisman winner returning at quarterback.

But at this point, Texas, a program that has wandered more aimlessly than a Panhandle tumbleweed over these last three years and, by the way, been just about as sturdy in construction, has to point to something of promise on the horizon. And apparently that is just what the Longhorns are successfully doing in recruiting.

Recruits from as a far away as Florida (LB Andrew Beck) and as a close as Louisiana (DT Courtney Garnett and CB Jermaine Roberts) have been convinced to head west.

Yes, after thorough checking it has been confirmed the Red River Rivalry does air in both states and yet both still cast their lot with the team that was embarrassed. But now, some six months later, there is an embarrassment of riches at Texas.

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2015 WR Damarkus Lodge one to watch 

April, 9, 2013
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ALLEN, Texas -- Cedar Hill (Texas) High School is no stranger to producing Division I football talent, and 2015 receiver Damarkus Lodge looks to be one in the next wave of Longhorns to have a chance to play big-time college football.

The sophomore has made unofficial visits to three in-state programs already this spring and picked up his first FBS offer -- from Arizona State -- in the meantime.


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Texas schools chase Bama 2015 pledge 

April, 8, 2013
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ALLEN, Texas -- The last couple of month have been memorable for Orange (Texas) West Orange-Stark 2015 safety Deionte Thompson.

In February, Thompson attended an Alabama junior day, received an offer from head coach Nick Saban and promptly committed.

In recent weeks, the 6-foot-3, 172-pound prospect visited two other schools -- Texas and Texas A&M -- and picked up offers from both. On Sunday, he made the trek to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp.

Needless to say, things have been busy.


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ESPN Watch List receiver Armanti Foreman (Texas City, Texas/Texas City) has been busy in the last week.

On Feb. 23, he traveled to Austin, Texas, for Texas' junior day. On Saturday, just a week later, the Oklahoma commit hit another junior day, this time at Texas A&M.


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If the state of Texas threw a sock hop for all of its universities, the Longhorns would be the popular student with the fancy, expensive attire that purposely arrived late to garner attention.

It'd turn heads, sure, but the buzz of the dance would be about that student with the flashy makeover (Texas A&M) who brought his hoity-toity friends one can tell aren’t from these parts (the rest of the SEC).

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Aggies deal another blow to Texas on trail 

December, 12, 2012
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Now that he’s landed Hoza Scott and Ricky Seals-Jones, Kevin Sumlin might as well finish off the week by planting a maroon flag on the top of Chase Tower.

[+] EnlargeHoza Scott
Max Olson/ESPN.comClass of 2014 linebacker Hoza Scott consistently said Texas was No. 2 on his list but the Aggies were too far out in front.
The celebration might be all too fitting. It is, after all, the tallest building in Texas and a 75-story behemoth towering over downtown Houston.

The man was introduced as Texas A&M’s new head coach exactly one year ago today, and already he has effectively declared he owns the city of Houston and its surrounding area in the recruiting game.

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Battle for 2014 LB Hoza Scott all but over 

November, 29, 2012
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You’d think that when Hoza Scott's junior ends, the real fun begins.

After all, the La Porte (Texas) linebacker might be the No. 1 prospect in the state of Texas for the 2014 class. He has offers from everyone. His life should be getting much more stressful once the recruiting process starts consuming his time, right?

[+] EnlargeHoza Scott
Max Olson/ESPN.comClass of 2014 linebacker Hoza Scott has the Aggies out in front of Texas.
Wrong. The biggest and best of the recruiting battles between Texas and Texas A&M for top 2014 prospects appears to be over already.

Scott, a coveted 6-foot-3, 225-pound linebacker, has been calling the Aggies his No. 1 school all year. He’s planning to prove that soon.

“Really, honestly, my decision and my mindset is on A&M,” Scott said. “That’s where I really want to go.”

So why hasn’t Scott made it official yet and become the next blockbuster pickup of Kevin Sumlin’s second full recruiting class?

“It’s coming soon,” Scott said. “It’s going to come pretty soon.”

All Scott is waiting for -- and hoping for -- is a happy ending to his junior season. La Porte pulled off a 21-17 win over Fort Bend Bush last weekend, but the lights get much brighter now: La Porte vs. Katy at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

“Oh man,” Scott said, “it’s going to be a big one.”

It’s moments like this that make Scott glad he has pushed recruiting off to the side lately. While this process hasn’t reached the point of being overwhelming, the flood of interest and mail won’t stop. His coaches deliver the college letters to his locker by the shoebox now, and plenty more come to his house. Opening each and every one? Not possible at this point.

“It’s like 60 or 70 a week. It’s a lot of mail, and that’s every week,” Scott said. “I’d say it comes from like 20 difference colleges. It doesn’t get tiring. It’s pretty cool. It’s motivation.”

Dealing with all that isn’t too difficult, of course, when your mind is already made up.

Scott won’t take any more visits before announcing his choice. He doesn’t anticipate anything will make his change his mind in the next few weeks.

“I’m just waiting for the season to end so I can relax and finally tell people,” Scott said. “It’s pretty much A&M, done deal.”

How Scott reached this point may be a sign of the times in the new Texas-Texas A&M recruiting rivalry. He’s only one recruit, but he’s as big of one as there is in the state. Both schools want him badly.

And both schools offer similar opportunities. Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has been selling Scott on a shot to replace Jordan Hicks when the top Longhorn linebacker moves on to the pros. Texas A&M’s pitch is even simpler: Come become the next Von Miller.

That’s a role Scott is more than comfortable with. While he’s capable of operating as a middle linebacker and could grow into a defensive end someday, he has made his hay at La Porte as an outside linebacker operating off the edge near the line of scrimmage.

When Texas coaches broke from tradition and started publicly offering juniors in August, they hoped it would help make up ground in the battle for Scott. While that move got his attention, what Texas A&M has done since August made this an easy call for Scott.

“I knew A&M was going to do good in the SEC,” he said. “Coach Sumlin, I knew he was going to be a good coach because when he was at Houston they were almost undefeated that whole season. I knew A&M had something good coming.”

The Aggies have an exciting new coach, a 10-2 record, a presumptive Heisman Trophy winner in Johnny Manziel and a boatload of momentum on the recruiting trail. They’ve blown away those prospects who took a wait-and-see approach to how A&M would fare in its new conference.

Texas, on the other hand, has ... well ... Scott has a hard time putting his finger on it.

“A&M is heading in a great direction,” Scott said. “And UT, I like them still but, I don’t know, it seems like they’re falling apart. I know they’re going to pull it together. They’re a young football team.”

That’s not to say the Longhorns are in for humbling when it comes to 2014 recruiting. Texas already has six pledges and added the state’s top offensive line prospect, Demetrius Knox, this week.

But the state’s elite recruits aren’t na´ve. There’s a lot to like about the Aggies right now. If Scott is the face and leader of their next class, blue chip talents will likely follow.

Then again, the deal isn’t official done until Scott signs his letter of intent. He’s hoping to take junior day trips to Florida and Cal this spring, even if he’s committed.

And, come fall, Scott said he’d like to take all five of his official visits. He wants to see how A&M and College Station stack up, wants to see if those trips would change his mind.

No matter when Scott commits, he concedes the recruiting game won’t fully be over. The offers and phone calls and visits will still be enticing. The shoeboxes will keep piling up.

But when it comes to Texas vs. Texas A&M, he has no doubt. Texas is a distant No. 2. Welcome to the new-look Texas recruiting war.

“They don’t play each other anymore,” Scott said, “but it’s going to be pretty big.”

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