NCF On The Trail: Texas Tech Red Raiders

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With the Big 12 football season kicking off in a few weeks, college recruits will be focused on setting up official visits and also narrowing their college lists in preparation for a commitment. As important as this time will be for recruits, it’ll be equally important for schools, as they prepare for a season that, with solid performances in home-game environments, can assist in landing some of the best uncommitted prospects around.

Here are some names that the Big 12 schools will be pursuing throughout the fall.

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The new ESPN 300 features 22 players currently committed to Big 12 programs. Texas leads the conference race with seven commits, while Oklahoma is next with five. Texas Tech has the conference’s highest-ranked ESPN 300 player in quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who is ranked No. 38 and is the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the country.

Here are five things to know in the Big 12:


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DALLAS -- Winning football games holds top billing in most cases, but when discussing the most important objective to college football coaches, a great recruiting class is always high on the totem pole.

The Big 12 media days on Monday and Tuesday gave coaches a chance to share their opinions on their teams, their competitors and the future of college football. It also allowed each coach to talk about the positives and negatives of recruiting.


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After reviewing performances at The Opening last week, here are a few quick hits on how each Elite 11 quarterback performed:


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LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. -- Offensive guard Fred Ulu-Perry is the No. 76 overall prospect in the country, but schools are still entering the race for the talented lineman. He picked up recent offers from Oregon State and UCLA, which put those two schools at the top of his list, but the No. 5 offensive guard said he is still looking forward to hearing from schools such as Cal, Oregon and USC.


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BEAVERTON, Ore. -- The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was one of the many high-profile college and NFL quarterbacks on hand Sunday at the Elite 11 quarterback competition on Nike's campus. Bradford said he was impressed with the play of a number of the quarterbacks, but he did have some candid advice for the recruits that have yet to make their college decisions. Plus, one college quarterback really made a big impression on No. 3 dual-threat quarterback Deondre Francois and Monday's schedule features more work at the Elite 11.


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Elite 11: Day 1 notebook 

July, 6, 2014
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ESPN.com RecruitingNation reporters Jeremy Crabtree, Gerry Hamilton, Erik McKinney, Mitch Sherman and Tom VanHaaren are at Nike Headquarters this week for the Elite 11 finals. After Day 1 of the event, here are their impressions.

BEAVERTON, Ore. -- Day 1 of the Elite 11 Finals didn't appear to do much in terms of creating separation between many of the 19 quarterbacks, as all are vying for MVP honors. Despite being put through several grueling military exercises the previous afternoon and well into the early morning hours, all of the quarterbacks came out firing during the Sunday morning session and, for the most part, carried it over throughout the afternoon session.

This group of finalists appears more athletic than ever. And it’s not just the dual-threat guys.

Pocket passers such as Josh Rosen, Ricky Town and Alex Malzone are by no means statues in the backfield. In many cases, they’re agile, reflecting the state of the college game, which has trended toward the dual-threat players.

This event has always showcased the classic quarterbacks, and no longer are the dual-threats subject to the run-first stereotype.

With nine in each category, this year might mark the first time the dual-threat quarterbacks actually enter with more star value than their pocket-passer counterparts.


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BEAVERTON, Ore. -- The 2014 Elite 11 officially got underway Sunday morning with a fast-paced two-hour workout split into three groups that included the 19 prospects and six camp counselors. The counselors included Baylor's Bryce Petty, Utah's Travis Wilson and Notre Dame's Everett Golson.

Here are 10 takeaways from the opening session.

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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.”
HAYWARD, Calif. -- After one Elite 11 coach referred to Friday’s Northern California event as the most talented regional of the past four years, participants in Sunday's Nike Football Training Camp at Chabot College faced plenty of pressure to keep the region’s momentum rolling.

While it would prove impossible to live up to Friday’s showing -- or even last year’s remarkable output of nine invitations to The Opening -- this year’s edition of the Northern California NFTC did result in six Opening invitations, as well as a dominant performance from several ESPN 300 defensive tackles, an ESPN 300 wide receiver who found a connection with a future Notre Dame quarterback, and a tight end who could help shape the Pac-12 recruiting race -- all during an event that had a decidedly island vibe.


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When it comes to running backs, the state of Texas is loaded. Ten running backs represent the Lone Star State in the ESPN 300. Of those 10, five are committed. A total of seven running backs in the state have reported FBS commitments.

ESPN 300 RBs from the state:

No. 50 Ronald Jones II: Ranked the nation’s No. 3 running back, Jones is an explosive, game-changing back who -- as scary as it might sound -- will only get better. Jones committed to Oklahoma State on April 6 and finished his junior season with more than 2,400 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns.


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When asked to define his quarterback style, whether he was more of a pocket-passing or a dual-threat option, Kyler Murray gave the simplest answer he could.

“I’m a quarterback,” Murray said.

Those are three words echoed by many players in Murray’s position. Murray is the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country, but maybe more importantly, at No. 14 in the ESPN 300, he’s the top-ranked overall quarterback. That’s how he wants to be considered. And recognized at all times.

The phrase “dual-threat quarterback,” to some quarterbacks classified as such, holds negative connotation. Many of the quarterbacks don’t have the prototypical college quarterback build. Murray is 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds. Florida State commit De'Andre Johnson is right at 6 feet and weighs 169 pounds. Clemson commit Tucker Israel is 6 feet and 189 pounds. Johnson and Israel, ranked Nos. 9 and 11 among dual-threat quarterbacks nationally, are built more like slot receivers.

Kansas State commit Alex Delton, who is 6 feet and 187 pounds, says the “dual-theat” label is all about stereotype. So players like Delton take the practice fields and go to camps and combines with two intentions. First, to compete against some of the best the country has to offer, and second, to prove to coaches that size -- or lack thereof -- shouldn’t trump talent when evaluating the position.

“To most people, being called ‘dual threat’ says that I’m a runner most of the time,” said Delton, the nation’s No. 24 dual-threat quarterback. “But all of us are quarterbacks. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be playing this position.

“I’m a quarterback; that’s what I’ve played my whole life. People shouldn’t think I’m purely a runner since I’m called a dual-threat quarterback.”

[+] EnlargeKyler Murray
Tom Hauck for Student SportsForget dual-threat or pocket-passer. Kyler Murray is simply one of the best QBs in the nation with offers from Oregon, OU, Clemson and Ohio State, among others.
The Dallas Elite 11 regional competition on May 4 proved that dual-threat quarterbacks can be just as effective as pocket passers. Five of the top seven finishers are classified as dual-threat options, and the event MVP, Jarrett Stidham, is the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the country.

Physically, Stidham has the stature of a pro-style quarterback at 6-3 and 180 pounds, but his athleticism and playmaking ability out of the pocket make him an ideal dual-threat candidate. Stidham threw for nearly 2,700 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 16 scores, which supports the dual-threat argument.

“I think sometimes with dual-threat guys, people don’t think of us throwing as well as pocket passers,” Stidham said. “They think that we’d rather run before throwing, and in my case, I’d much rather throw 100 percent of the time than run. It just so happens I can get out the pocket a little and make some runs.

“I think some think automatically, we want to run first. Half the time, it’s the other way around.”

Stidham is committed to Texas Tech, and Red Raiders head coach Kliff Kingsbury likely saw, like many other recruiters, that Stidham’s arm strength was just as good as his ability to escape danger in the pocket. It is also impossible to ignore the athleticism, as Stidham played wide receiver his sophomore year of high school and caught passes from Tyler Jones, who now is calling plays at Texas State.

Quarterbacks such as Stidham, Notre Dame commit Blake Barnett (6-5, 191) and uncommitted ESPN 300 standouts Kai Locksley (6-4, 190), Travis Waller (6-3, 188) and Dwayne Lawson (6-4, 200) have the builds of traditional college pocket passers. They just also have the ability to make plays with their legs as well as their arms.

Kingsbury has coached his share of quarterbacks of all sizes. Last year, he coached Davis Webb (6-4, 195) and Baker Mayfield (6-2, 220). In his final year as offensive coordinator for Texas A&M in 2012, he coached Johnny Manziel -- who, at a shade under 6 feet and 207 pounds, went on to win a Heisman Trophy and was selected 22nd overall by the Cleveland Browns in Thursday’s NFL draft.

“I wouldn’t say I have a preference. If you can do it all, the sky’s the limit,” Kingsbury said. “If you’re a guy who sits in the pocket, you'd better be highly cerebral and know pre-snap reads and be able to check to the right places. If you can make plays with your feet, it gives you more leeway to where if you’re in a bad play, you can still extend it.

“There are all types of guys who try to play like Tom Brady, but Russell Wilson just won a Super Bowl. You can’t overlook that.”

The 2015 dual-threat quarterback is an attractive prospect. Seventeen quarterbacks have committed to FBS programs already, the latest being high-three-star prospect Lorenzo Nunez, who is headed to South Carolina. Fifteen quarterbacks are four-star players, and 10 of the 15 are ESPN 300 players.

“We’re just as good as the pocket-passing quarterbacks,” Delton said. “Some people think I’m going to run a lot, but I like getting on the field and showing that I can throw it, too.”

“We want a player who is great at what he does,” Kingsbury said. “If that means he can excel in the pocket, great. If that means he can find ways to make plays with his feet outside the pocket, great. We want guys who can move the ball on offense and be a leader on the team.”

That’s something Murray does – and does well.

Of all the quarterbacks, Murray probably has heard the most questions. He’s had his size come up in multiple conversations -- and with every performance on the field, he silences a new recruiter or an old critic. Murray specializes in results. In two varsity seasons, he has two state championships -- and will go for a third this fall.

Murray now has more than 20 offers, including ones from Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Florida, Oregon and Clemson.

“You can’t let any of that get in the way of your goals,” Murray said. “I know what I can do, and I work hard every day just to get better. People are going to say what they want to say. I’m just trying to go out and win football games.”
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Elite 11 regional camp on Sunday was certainly one of the most well-attended camps of the season. And while the usual suspects of high-profile quarterbacks in the 2015 and 2016 classes were on hand, there were also many other fine prospects in attendance who are starting to garner more significant attention as college coaches get out on the road this spring.

If you are a follower of the recruiting world, names like Kyler Murray (uncommitted) and Jarrett Stidham (Texas Tech) are now commonplace, but this camp showcased many intriguing prospects who have been slipping under the radar to some degree and should see their stock rise as we head into the fall of their senior years.


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ARLINGTON, Texas -- ESPN 300 quarterback and Texas Tech commit Jarrett Stidham battled against roughly 70 quarterbacks from 12 states to win the Dallas Elite 11 regional competition on Sunday and earn an invitation to the Elite 11 nationals this summer.

That was the first part of good news for those who follow Texas Tech football. Having Stidham confirm after the event that he doesn’t plan on taking any outside visits to schools may have been the news that made Red Raiders fans even happier.


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ESPN 300: Top Big 12 targets 

April, 16, 2014
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The spring evaluation period is upon us, and coaches are traveling and hosting spring games in an effort to evaluate and attract the nation’s elite prospects. Fortunately for coaches, roughly two-thirds of the players making up the 2015 ESPN 300 are still uncommitted. A large majority of those players are considering playing in the Big 12.

Here are five ESPN 300 players heavily targeted by Big 12 schools:


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