COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Kevin Sumlin gets the question a lot these days.
After a magical 2012 season that produced a Heisman Trophy winner and an 11-2 record, Sumlin guided Texas A&M to top-dog status in the Lone Star State. Sumlin’s Aggies became the “it team” with recruits, producing a 2013 class that finished eighth in the country and in the top five in 2014. The momentum carried through to 2015 when A&M signed another elite class, this time the 12th-best overall.
Then the last eight months happened.
Texas A&M finished 8-5 in the 2015 season, former No. 1-ranked quarterback recruits Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen announced their transfers, and rival Texas became the national story of signing day with several key recruiting victories over the Aggies. The series of hits became fodder for teams facing A&M on the trail, leaving Sumlin to examine where his squad stands now in the Lone Star State recruiting wars.
“People ask me all the time if there’s a sense of urgency for us to do better in recruiting or if we’ve lost momentum in state,” Sumlin said. “Hell, there was a sense of urgency when I took the job, but I also understand why people are asking that. My answer is that I think we’ve been pretty consistent in what we're doing. To have top-20 classes over the last four or five years is impressive. If you would have told somebody five years ago that's where we'd be, they would have been pretty happy.”
Then again, the school just spent north of $450 million to renovate Kyle Field, making it one the largest and most pristine stadiums in the SEC. There is also a sense of pride around the A&M program that’s hard to explain to outsiders. Folks in Aggieland refuse to lose to Texas in anything.
That’s why A&M’s struggles down the stretch in January and February were tough to swallow, and it’s why Aggies fans are still fuming over losing No. 2 safety Brandon Jones to Texas on signing day. It’s also why, even though A&M has a good foundation already in place for the 2017 class with No. 5 dual-threat quarterback Tate Martell, there is enormous pressure on Sumlin to produce another top-10 class and best the Longhorns for many of the Lone Star State’s best.
“We had some recruits that saw some positions on our team that had good players at them and are quite young,” Sumlin said. “When you have all of our safeties coming back, it's tough. When you have guys that want to get on the field, there were just some opportunities at other places. We have to be more consistent in what we do, too. We are addressing our needs. We need to continue to do that. I'm happy with where we're at in recruiting right now, though.”
A&M had a large group of visitors on campus last week for its Friday Night Lights practice and spring game. The Aggies even picked up a commitment from ESPN Junior 300 offensive lineman Grayson Reed. Now the task facing the Aggies is to use the upcoming spring evaluation period to recapture some of the energy that was lost to the Horns, and Reed was definitely a good start.
“The next couple of months will be important to continue that momentum,” Sumlin said.
Sumlin said the rest of 2017 class will likely be heavy on linebackers and receivers. With a big spring recruiting period and a successful season on the field, Sumlin expects the Aggies to be very much in play for many of the elite undecided players in Texas.
That includes coveted Houston Episcopal defensive tackle Marvin Wilson. At this point, Wilson is leaning out of state, but he was in College Station recently and despite some of the recent pessimism around the A&M program, the Aggies are certainly a factor in his recruitment.
“We honestly might have had one or two guys ask about what happened with the quarterback situation -- not very many,” Sumlin said. “I think most people are concerned about their situation. When people say, 'Why did they leave?' There hasn't really been much said about that from recruits.
“When people ask about this program, they notice we've got a lot of flash. But there is plenty of substance, too. … that’s why I’m excited about our recruiting future, despite what questions people throw at me.”