- Jeremy Crabtree, RecruitingNation
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The recruiting landscape in the Lone Star State has shifted dramatically since Kevin Sumlin’s arrival in College Station. Sumlin, Texas A&M’s head coach, has bested former Big 12 rivals Texas and Oklahoma with consecutive top-10 recruiting finishes and has ventured into Louisiana, New Jersey and Arizona as Texas A&M has developed into a true national recruiting program. The Aggies haven’t stepped off the gas in the 2015 class with a start that already ranks as the nation’s third-best. Sumlin visited with RecruitingNation on some key topics facing the Aggies on the trail and other national recruiting issues.
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.
How competitive truly is recruiting against other SEC teams?
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.
1dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney