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Big 12 North schools flocking to Texas high schools

1/21/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Tim Beck knows all about dusty Texas roads and far-flung trips in search of players.

The Nebraska running backs coach has seen football fields materialize out of nowhere in the Texas desert -- just like on "Friday Nights Lights." He's climbed into six-story press boxes that tower over stadiums along the Texas-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley. And like many travelers along the Texas highways, Beck sometimes gauges the trip as much by the number of Dairy Queens passed as by the mile markers along the highways.

But his time and familiarity of Texas is paying off as the Cornhuskers are becoming a major recruiting force in the state. Nebraska attracted nine players in their recruiting class last season and should harvest more players from the state than any other on National Signing Day on Feb. 4. 

The Cornhuskers' strategy isn't anything new. Oklahoma traditionally has been a major recruiting player across the state and Oklahoma State has emerged as a major force in Texas over the past 30 years. And Kansas and Missouri have capitalized on attracting under-recruited Texas high school players to start their recent ascension as Big 12 North powers.

"We felt like we had to get into the state, because if we didn't start getting these guys they would be the ones who would end up beating us," said Beck, a former Texas high school coach. "Even being in the North Division, we felt like it was something that we absolutely needed to do."

An ESPN.com survey before the 2008 season indicated that 45.4 percent of the players on Big 12 rosters were recruited from Texas high schools.

Seven Big 12 schools had more Texas players on their rosters than any other state -- Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Four others Big 12 schools -- Iowa State, Kansas State, Missouri and Nebraska -- had more Texas players on their rosters than from any other state except their home states.

Such attention is helping every Big 12 school, along with those from most other FBS schools, to have a recruiting presence in the state.

All nine Nebraska coaches have some part of Texas as part of their recruiting responsibilities. Other Big 12 North teams have adopted such carpet-bombing strategies in hopes of combing the state for every available prospect.

"I would venture to say we bump into the same schools on a pretty regular basis," Kansas recruiting coordinator Brandon Blaney said. "Most of us have the same strategy and none of us are super-unique in our recruiting. We haven't invented it. But we've been fortunate to get some good players into what we do. It's just finding those that fit and then getting them into your program."

While at Kansas before coming to Nebraska, Beck hit the jackpot with two under-recruited players who were scarcely attracting attention.

A coaching friend in the area told him to keep an eye on wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe, who had produced only one reception as a junior at Cedar Hill High School in Dallas. Beck saw something he liked in the rangy Briscoe, who blossomed into a player who produced 92 catches and 15 touchdown grabs for the Jayhawks in 2008.

And Beck also was instrumental in recruiting Todd Reesing, an undersized quarterback who piled up passing yards but few scholarship offers at suburban Lake Travis High School in Austin.

Reesing earned a scholarship after captivating Kansas coach Mark Mangino during a meeting before his senior season, developing into the most productive quarterback in school history.

"I'll hear stuff from coaches I trust and go from there," Beck said. "You feel fortunate when those guys do so well once they get their chance."

Competition is fierce inside the Dallas and Houston metropolitan areas that are judged as two of the most fertile recruiting areas in the nation.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has joked that his recruiting staff's handiest tool while recruiting in Texas is a Garmin navigational device.

It's helped the Tigers repeatedly find success culling sleepers from outside the major metropolitan areas where recruiters tend to flock.

Danario Alexander was known more for his basketball and track prowess than for football while at Marlin High School southeast of Waco. He was discovered when Missouri assistant Dave Steckel traveled to scout another player.

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was barely recruited out of Jasper High School, 70 miles northeast of Beaumont in far-southeast Texas. And defensive end Stryker Sulak dreamed of playing for Texas A&M when growing up at nearby Rockdale.

Missouri was the only Big 12 school to recruit both players. They blossomed into All-Big 12 players as the Tigers have claimed back-to-back North Division titles the past two years.

That success led Bo Pelini to make Texas a major priority from his first days as Nebraska's coach.

"Obviously the coaching is so good down there and they have a lot of talent," Pelini said. "They have spring practices and there's an importance to football that's seen in all of the communities. And the players are typically very developed once they get to college."

And with Nebraska producing only a handful of FBS-quality players each recruiting season, the Cornhuskers find that recruiting in Texas is an obvious location because of the program's vast exposure across the state.

"With not many kids in our state, we have to make our hay somewhere else," Pelini said. "And we've found out there are some good kids down there who understand the Big 12 and want to play in a conference where Nebraska means something. Texas is like that."