NCF On The Trail: Kevin Sumlin
Stoops, the former Arizona head coach who is now the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma, wasn’t trying to make light of the situation in the Middle East. He was merely trying to express how exciting, frustrating, rewarding and agonizing the life of a recruiter is.
Being a recruiter means you’re often doing 25 things at the same time, and you’re doing them while dealing with high school juniors and seniors who change their minds more often than Taylor Swift changes genres.
Stoops recalled an hour period at Arizona when he landed a star quarterback; had to try to convince a key defensive tackle commitment not to visit a rival school while also thinking about what he was going to do when that defensive tackle ended up decommitting; and then also visited with a sophomore running back who showed up unexpectedly because he was the next big thing.
Oh yeah, it was also a game week.
Thursday’s news that ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge backed away from his commitment to Texas A&M is another perfect example of the ups and downs college coaches face on the recruiting trail.
When Lodge committed to A&M June 19, it was a big, big deal. His decision cemented A&M’s claim as one of the top-five recruiting classes in the country and proved to Texas high school football observers that it was Kevin Sumlin, not Charlie Strong or Art Briles, who still ruled the roost in the Lone Star State.
But as we often see with recruiting -- too many times, if you ask coaches -- Lodge got cold feet for some reason.
He mentioned wanting to see other schools and that he committed too early. He also talked about concern that A&M has 17 receivers on its roster, that 16 players have caught passes this season and that he would not be a marquee receiver in College Station.
“As far as the receivers at A&M [go], they’re all good, and I know all will do good,” Lodge said. “Competition will be everywhere, and I am ready for it, but I need to make sure I can fit and be sure that I am happy as a player.”
Reading that, the Aggies coaches probably threw their hands up in frustration. Had Lodge not watched A&M under Sumlin? Surely, Lodge knew when he committed that the Aggies like to spread the ball around and have recruited well at the position the last three classes, with young stars like Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones already emerging.
None of that matter when Lodge committed to A&M in June.
“You don't want to be the only one who's at your level,” Lodge said back then. “You want to play with guys who will take you to that next level."
But competition matters now. Lodge honestly has every right to change his mind because he has not signed anything yet. He is making one of the biggest decisions he will make in his life. However, his reversal will be noticed by other recruits across the country and could continue to pile on to what coaches are calling the “decommitment epidemic.”
“As coaches, we can put a lot of heat on young guys,” Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Tony Alford said. “We can twist their minds a little bit with how we say things. But I'm also of the opinion, if you want me to sign on the line for you and hold true to that to our commitment to you, then there has to be some reciprocation there.
“I love being a coach, and there are so many wonderful things about recruiting young men that are going to be the foundation of your program’s future. But also at the same time, when you have decommitments and kids changing their minds more than they change a pair of shoes, it makes the job an absolute grind.”
Stoops would definitely agree.
"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"
So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.
"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"
Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?
I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.
I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.
The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.
Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.
Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.
So, here is the actual data:
It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.
Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.
It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.
Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.
For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.
Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.
It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.
Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.
And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.
Four letters that have become the rallying cry of Aggie recruits, coaches and fans alike. Their meaning? "We run this state."
That's the way the Aggies feel right now when it comes to the state of Texas A&M recruiting, and considering the recruiting prowess they've shown during the Kevin Sumlin era, and particularly this recruiting cycle, it's difficult to debate that point.
A state once ruled in recruiting by Texas and coach Mack Brown in the mid-2000s has seen the balance of power shift roughly 100 miles eastward to College Station, Texas. In the Longhorns' heyday, it seemed as if they could land any in-state prospect they wished and right now, it almost seems as if the Aggies are enjoying that fortune themselves.
This week has illustrated that to a certain extent. Thursday was a big day for the Aggies as they landed two prospects out of Texas high school football power Cedar Hill High School: ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge and outside linebacker Richard Moore.
Earlier this week, the Aggies also scored pledges from four-star offensive tackle Keaton Sutherland and three-star linebacker Landis Durham. That's not to mention that earlier this month, they landed four-star defensive tackle Kingsley Keke and last month received a commitment from ESPN 300 WR Kemah Siverand and perhaps their most impactful recruit of the cycle, five-star quarterback Kyler Murray.
Texas A&M is on quite the recruiting roll.
The Aggies' class, which is ranked No. 3 in the ESPN Recruiting Nation class rankings, holds 17 commitments, nine of whom are in the ESPN 300, and the class has 13 prospects with four-star-or-higher ratings. The Aggies hold commitments from the Lone Star State's No. 1 quarterback (Murray), receiver (Lodge), tight end (Jordan Davis) and defensive tackle (five-star prospect Daylon Mack).
Two of the state's top three players are committed to the Aggies and three of the top eight. And when it's all said and done, the Aggies could finish with four of the top five and five of the top 10 in Texas if their pursuit of cornerback Kendall Sheffield and linebacker Malik Jefferson falls their way. Neither has plans to announce his destination anytime soon, but the Aggies are strong players for both, and if that were to happen, the Aggies would lay claim to the state's top player at six different positions.
That would be a rough fate for the Aggies' chief recruiting rival (though no longer on-field rival) Texas and new coach Charlie Strong, who is already feeling the effects of A&M's success. But in reality, this isn't about Texas for the Aggies. It's about building a team and program that can compete and succeed long term in what many consider to be the country's toughest conference, the SEC.
With the Lone Star State being such fertile recruiting ground, the competition for talent will always be fierce. Whether it's Texas, a surging Baylor program that is reaching unprecedented success under Art Briles, a young, energetic, charismatic staff led by Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech, TCU's presence in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex or staving off out-of-state schools such as Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and other national powers, it's impossible to get every prospect desired from the large pool of talent Texas provides. But snagging most of the desired prospects bodes well for the future.
Texas A&M must continue to produce on-field success this fall -- let's not forget, the Aggies' 20-6 run in their first two seasons as SEC members and the visibility provided by having a Heisman Trophy winner are significant factors why the Aggies are such an attractive option to recruits right now. And teenagers can be fickle, making recruiting an unpredictable roller coaster until pen meets paper on the first Wednesday in February.
But if the Aggies can hang on to the high-level prospects they've already gained pledges from and continue recruiting at their current pace, the effects could be felt well beyond the state's borders, throughout SEC country and across the nation in years to come.
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.
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.”
Not only did they land Murray, the nation's No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and the second five-star prospect in the Texas A&M class, but it was followed the next day with a pledge from ESPN 300 receiver Kemah Siverand, a four-star player who had several other attractive options, including LSU, Ohio State and Texas just to name a few.
Murray's pledge could begin a domino effect that leads to the Aggies continuing to pick up steam in the form of commitments from other elite prospects.
ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge and Cedar Hill (Texas) High teammate outside linebacker Richard Moore both indicated just hours after Murray's pledge that they'll announce their commitments on July 1. Texas A&M is in a good position to land both, so that will be worth keeping an eye on.
Five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, who had planned summer visits to Alabama and LSU, canceled those plans after Murray's pledge. The longtime Texas A&M commitment also showed up on Twitter in a maroon shirt with the hashtag "#WRTS", which Aggies have been using since the Murray pledge (the acronym stands for "We run this state").
Malik Jefferson and receiver Christian Kirk, no doubt took notice of Murray's pledge. Both have myriad elite options, and neither is likely to end the recruiting process soon. Having someone like Murray on board -- who is widely respected by his peers after winning two state championships at the highest classification of Texas high school football -- certainly can't hurt Texas A&M's chances.
But it's more than just about Murray's pledge for Texas A&M. In a grander scheme, the Aggies continue to recruit at a high level under coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff. The Aggies are now No. 2 in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings, behind only Alabama. The Aggies are on pace for their second consecutive top-five recruiting class and third consecutive top-10 recruiting class.
While recruiting is often an inexact science, if a program consistently recruits at a high level and stockpiles talent, it seems to be only a matter of time until it leads to on-field results, and the Aggies have already gotten off to a solid 20-6 start in their first two SEC seasons.
There's still a long way to go until national signing day arrives for the 2015 class and much can change, but right now, the Aggies are sitting pretty and doing a solid job of keeping pace with their SEC brethren on the recruiting trail.
DESTIN, Fla. -- If the college football recruiting landscape does change, the SEC made sure this week that it will be ready.
A couple of weeks after watching the ACC propose an early signing period to begin on Aug. 1, the SEC on Wednesday offered its own recommendation to have a signing day on the Monday after Thanksgiving.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive said he hopes there won't be an early signing period, but if there is, he wants his league to be prepared.
The league wasn’t happy about the ACC’s proposal for an earlier signing period because of how it would change the recruiting calendar, something the SEC absolutely doesn't want. The league also decided that in its model, it would ban official visits for recruits who want to sign early, therefore lessening the pressure and clutter of having overstocked official visits during the season and on game weekends.
An early signing period would also save money as coaches wouldn't have to invest in recruiting trips to re-recruit already committed prospects.
“I’ve been a proponent of that for years,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “It’s long overdue.
“It clears the picture up.”
To Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, it clearly makes sense for the league.
“It’s one that keeps our calendar pretty consistent. It allows the guys that have been committed to their school to sign with that school,” Mullen said. “It also protects the student-athlete as best as possible.”
When Mullen says “protects,” he means that players who don’t want to bother with the recruiting process won’t have to hear from opposing coaches still trying to get their signature before national signing day on the first Wednesday of February. The recruit also would guarantee his spot in the class by signing early.
Mullen also said that the SEC's proposal would protect the schools that don’t want to lose those recruits with months remaining before they sign their national letters of intent.
In the current recruiting culture, you just can’t take every recruit at his word. This way, you take him at his signature before Christmas rolls around.
The SEC’s model would make the Monday after Thanksgiving a one-day signing day and a dead day for communication between coaches and recruits. The Sunday before would become a quiet day, and Tuesday would begin the next recruiting period.
“The goal would be to not make this the new national signing day. This is just for the handful of prospects whose minds are made up.
One of the other leagues proposed Aug. 1. We think that would be crazy.” -- Georgia coach Mark Richt, on an ACC proposal for an early signing day
“Obviously, if you’ve got guys that have signed and are with you no matter what, you don’t have to continue to worry, ‘Is this guy going to change his mind; is he going to flip at the last second?” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Everyone would like some sanity in that regard.”
What Richt does find insane is the ACC’s proposal to have an early signing period before the regular season even starts, which would essentially destroy the current recruiting calendar and rush spring and summer evaluations.
“One of the other leagues proposed Aug. 1. We think that would be crazy,” he said. “We think there would be no summer for anybody, no sanity for anybody.”
The SEC and ACC have plans, but whether this happens is unknown. To Florida coach Will Muschamp, getting enough people to agree on a date could be a mountain of an obstacle because of varying agendas for different schools.
“A lot of coaches, including myself, don't want an inordinate amount of visits during the season because it takes away from your football team and your preparation, your preparation for the next week, so I really think we're going to have a hard time agreeing on something that's good for everybody just because of the regions of the country,” Muschamp said. “A lot of the northern schools don't want kids visiting in January because it's freezing cold and they lie to them and tell them it's really warm year-round. I think that's something you've got to deal with, so I don't know if we're ever going to come to a common ground in my opinion, based on the information I have.”
Judging by what many conference members have said, it appears the sport is creeping closer and closer to an early signing day, with the interest mounting from coaches. What’s a little more change in college football, anyway?
Like any recruit, the impact of Kyler Murray's decision to commit to Texas A&M won't be fully known until his time in Aggieland is done. And no matter what anybody says, nobody is certain what is next for the five-star quarterback as he awaits what most Aggie fans have long considered a preordained destiny -- playing quarterback for Texas A&M, like his father, Kevin Murray, did so well in the 1980s.
Let the man whom many Aggies like to compare Murray favorably to -- Johnny Manziel -- serve as evidence. Manziel came out of high school with nowhere near the recruiting fanfare that Murray has, even though his exploits on the high school gridiron were the stuff of legend. Manziel was an unheralded three-star recruit with an offer list nowhere near the caliber of Murray's, but Manziel, in his brief stay, turned into one of the best collegiate quarterbacks the game has seen. Conversely, Garrett Gilbert was once a five-star quarterback considered a sure thing by just about anyone who saw him and he didn't even get the opportunity to finish his college career with the team that recruited him, Texas. Instead, he wound up at SMU.
None of this is new to those who follow recruiting, but it serves as a reminder that nothing is a sure thing. We can only go by what we know. However, that shouldn't take away from what the gravity of the news of Murray's commitment means to Texas A&M because what we know about Murray, who is No. 14 in the ESPN 300 now is that he's pretty damn good.
I'll be joining Coach Sumlin and The Texas A&M Aggies! #GigEm— Kyler Murray (@TheKylerMurray) May 28, 2014
The numbers speak for themselves. Two state championships at the highest classification of Texas high school football. This fall, he will attempt to win a third consecutive title. In his last two seasons at Allen High, he has thrown for 5,673 yards and 63 touchdowns and rushed for 2,644 yards and 44 touchdowns. All it takes is a glimpse of his highlight video, a seat at an Allen game or a click of the remote when he led the Eagles to one of their two state championships to be convinced that Murray is special.
Just about anything you want in a quarterback, Murray has it. Arm strength? Check. Accuracy? Check. Mobility? Check. Pocket presence and awareness? Double check. Leader? Check, check, check.
Having Kevin Murray, a successful collegiate quarterback in his own right and someone who tutors prep quarterbacks to this day, as a mentor certainly has helped Kyler. You can see it in the little things he does that most other prep passers can't, like ably sidestepping a pass rush while remaining in the pocket and keeping his eyes up to make an accurate throw down field. His awareness in the pocket and what's going on around him is easy to see. The last high school quarterback I saw in person who had the kind of pocket presence Murray has is Andrew Luck.
And if the throw isn't there, Murray can tuck and run, evidenced by the fact he has compiled more than 1,200 rushing yards each of his last two seasons. His elusiveness and escapability is partly why so many Aggies believe he could be Johnny Football 2.0, though truth be told we might never see another quarterback quite as elusive as Manziel was.
The only thing he lacks that most coaches prefer in a quarterback is height; he's 5-foot-11. But the Drew Breeses and Russell Wilsons and Manziels of the world continue to open the door for the current young crop of quarterbacks to overcome that hurdle.
Make no mistake, this is a huge acquisition for the Aggies. They offered only two quarterbacks in the 2015 recruiting class -- Murray and Jarrett Stidham -- and did so on the same day almost a full year ago. Once Stidham committed to Texas Tech, all the eggs were firmly in the Murray basket and it paid off on Wednesday for Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital and the rest of the coaching staff. Their thorough efforts have produced some ripe fruit.
This could have a ripple effect on the rest of the 2015 recruiting class also. Murray is well-respected in the Lone Star State. Could it have an impact on the Aggies' recruitment of ESPN 300 Texas prospects such as Malik Jefferson, DaMarkus Lodge or help solidify current commits, such as Daylon Mack? Having Murray in the boat certainly helps. Any time a program lands a player ranked No. 1 at his position, which Murray is, it helps the perception of a recruiting class and that can be a factor with teenagers who are undecided but want to play for a winner.
In 2015, Murray will join a squad thin on quarterback depth. SophomoreKenny Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen are battling for the starting job this year. Hill has playing time experience from mop-up duty as a backup in 2013; Allen came in as 2014's No. 1-ranked pocket passer and is doing everything he can to make his case for winning the starting job.
The winner of that battle won't be known until August and by the end of the season we'll have a much clearer picture on where the winner stands and what Murray joining the picture means for A&M. But if his skill set and ability carries over to the next level, the Aggies have themselves quite a bright future at the most important position in the game.
Aggies everywhere have been waiting on this day since before Murray was even officially offered by A&M. Now that the day has come, they're rejoicing, and if the Aggie legacy can live up to the lofty status that his recruitment suggests, it could translate to a significant step forward in the Aggies' attempt to climb to the top of the SEC and perhaps even into the new College Football Playoff.
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?
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Who is your biggest SEC recruiting opponent in the Lone Star State? Is it Alabama, Arkansas, LSU or somebody else?
Kevin Sumlin: I would say all those guys -- Alabama, Arkansas and LSU -- are formidable. It depends on what you're doing. Alabama is the No. 1 recruiting team in the country for a reason. They work at it and have been able to come into the state and pick up some guys. LSU, from a proximity standpoint, recruits Texas like we do Louisiana. The Houston area has been big for them in the past. We're battling hard to try and control that, just like they're battling to keep us out of Louisiana. That's all part of it, but I think because of the proximity of the two schools and the two states, LSU would probably be the No. 1 SEC opponent for us recruiting in Texas. It's becoming a real rivalry.
KS: We've recruited at a pretty high level since we've been here. The reality is that we're still trying to catch up to LSU and Alabama. As well as I think we've done the last couple of years -- and we've got a good class, a top-10 class -- and I look up and we've got four or five other teams in the SEC ranked ahead of us. It's a competitive league on Saturday, but it's a competitive league 365 days a year because of recruiting.
How much do you guys sell the SEC when you’re recruiting a player or visiting with a high school coach in Texas?
KS: It's part of our presentation. I think right now in the state of Texas, you've got I don't know how many different conferences represented. You've got the Big 12, the AAC, Conference USA, the SEC and on and on and on. There are a lot of different choices for student athletes. I think one of our selling points is that there is a choice, and the SEC has enjoyed a lot of success over the past seven, eight, nine years. Just look at it from a national championship standpoint. But I also think the big thing also for a lot of guys is the sheer number of guys drafted and retained in the NFL.
Some high school coaches wondered out loud when A&M moved to the SEC that it might raise some concerns with moms and dads that want to travel each week to see their kids play. Have you guys run into any issues recruiting against the Big 12 programs because of that?
KS: We don't run into that at all. We're playing in the SEC West. We'll have seven home games, and we play Arkansas every year in Dallas. That's what our guys know and our recruits see. To be honest with you, the way the schedule sets up for us, our crossover opponent now is South Carolina. That's the farthest we will go. What that does is that it sets us up for the last game of the year on Thanksgiving night or that Friday to play LSU home-and-home. That's a rivalry that is going to be rekindled. It'll be a big, big ballgame for us. I think the trade-off is, "Hey, listen, we're going to play in Kyle Field and Cowboys Stadium, but you're also going to playing at Auburn, at Alabama, at LSU or they're coming to our place." That gets our fans excited and it gets a whole lot of the guys we're recruiting fired up. It's really not that big of a deal in the end.
Football is the heartbeat of many communities in Texas. Does the culture of the SEC fit with Texas football?
KS: It's been a good fit. From a lot of people that have come to visit Kyle Field on Saturday, one of the biggest compliments we've gotten from other fans and administrations is, "You guys are a great fit for our league." It wasn't a forced situation. I think the other thing, we've had a reasonable amount of success. We haven't been embarrassed coming into the league playing, and obviously Missouri winning the East has really helped both of our programs really jump-start into this league. It really helped us earn our way in a place where some people thought we didn't belong. They've accepted us now.
Should head coaches be allowed to recruit on the road in the spring?
KS: Yes. We're so limited right now. I really only have one chance, one time in the home with a prospect in the contact period. You only get one chance to sit down and talk to them. You rely heavily on your assistant coaches to be able to do that. Our guys do a fabulous job, but I think it's important to get out there. The ability to get and see high school coaches, be in the community, be in the schools talking to principals and develop a background, a relationship with people is important. I don't see why that wouldn't be the case. This leaves you to build a relationship with a kid via Skype or FaceTime. That's not how it should be.
Do you believe there should be an early signing period in college football?
KS: Yes, I do. A big reason is convenience for the prospects and the families that know what they want to do. The bigger picture is cost savings. I think a number of programs will have really, by the start of football season, 80 percent of their class committed. Most people will have at least 50 percent. You then spend May through December and January flying around all over the place, driving around and kids already know what they want to do. There's a cost-cutting factor that comes into play, which is significant when you're a national recruiting team like we are. I also think it clears the picture up for everybody. If a young man doesn't want to sign early, then you know he still wants to be recruited. If he does sign, then that clears the pool up of who else is out there that is available. To me, there's way too many positives for it not to happen.
How pleased are you with the success your program has had so far with the 2015 class?
KS: I think we got off to a good start. We're kind of cyclical here. We go pretty hard early -- January and February -- with our junior days. Obviously, we had some success there. Then through spring football we had a number of prospects that came to practice and got to be around the coaches. Really, this is kind of a dead time for us. We're out evaluating, turning over rocks, making sure we're not missing anything. There will be a couple of guys that will come up for evaluation. Really our next big wave will come during camp in the first two weeks of June. I think we're about right where we want to be with our number of early commitments.
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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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