Texas A&M might be one of the new kids on the SEC block, but the Aggies certainly aren't recruiting like SEC newbs.
Coach Kevin Sumlin has been on a real recruiting roll, grabbing 21 verbal commits, including five ESPN 150 members and six ESPN 300 members. That has the Aggies sitting sixth in the recent ESPN team recruiting rankings.
Not bad for a coach at a new school that's joining the nation's toughest football conference.
To get a closer look at Sumlin's early recruiting success, I caught up with Damon Sayles, who covers Midlands recruiting for ESPN.com:
Edward Aschoff: Texas A&M currently has 21 verbal commits, with five being ESPN 150 members. This class ranks sixth in ESPN's team rankings, as well. What has Kevin Sumlin done to make such a splash at a school that lost its head coach and is headed to a new conference? How much has the Aggies' future in the SEC helped him and his staff?
Damon Sayles: Head coaches have to be salesmen, first of all. They have to sell their product to recruits. Even before that, they have to believe in the product. Sumlin and his staff are true believers in the product, and that radiates when you speak with them. They truly feel they can make an immediate impact in the SEC, as long as their players are believers, as well. Sumlin's easy to follow, because he's a passionate individual who feels anything less than a big year off the top is underachieving.
EA: Twenty of those commits have come from the state of Texas, but we all know that if you're going to survive in the SEC you have to be able to recruit in the southeast. It doesn't appear that the southeast is a high priority for Sumlin, but what emphasis has Sumlin put on this part of the country, and do you expect him to increase his recruiting efforts there in time?
DS: Sumlin believes there are athletes everywhere, but if you aren't taking care of home, someone else will. The one advantage that A&M has over the other Texas schools is that he can tell recruits they will play in the SEC, a conference that is accustomed to winning national championships. As for the other parts of the country, he's definitely increasing his efforts and working toward picking up more recruits in Georgia, Florida and even South Carolina. For the time being, Sumlin knows there's a ton of talent in Texas. Why not take advantage?
EA: Missouri has also made its home state a priority in recruiting, but the coaches have been more vocal publicly about recruiting in the southeast. I know it's very early, but in the long run do you see A&M having an advantage over Mizzou when it comes to recruiting in the heart of SEC territory?
DS: I think that question is a push right now. The success of both programs in their first year in SEC play will set a tone. Unfortunately with a lot of recruits, how they choose schools is determined on a "what have you done for me lately" train of thought. Can A&M have an advantage one day over Missouri? It's a possibility. It's also possible for Missouri to have an advantage over A&M. I say for now, we just let both teams play the season and take it from there.
EA: What positions are still a priority for A&M's staff, and who are some top-rated players who are uncommitted or committed to other schools to keep an eye on concerning the Aggies?
DS: The Aggies are looking really good at most positions, but they need to pick up some outside linebackers with speed, backers who can successfully cover slot receivers and tight ends. Four-star Mike Mitchell (Plano, Texas/Prestonwood), who will participate at The Opening in a couple weeks, is still available. The opportunity for Sumlin to pull players from the southeast is perfect when looking for outside linebackers. Two four-star Florida athletes, Freddie Stevenson (Bartow, Fla.) and Jermaine Grace (Miramar, Fla.), would fit in well in Sumlin's system.
EA: Sumlin obviously plans to change things offensively and defensively at A&M. How well has he done to ensure that this class takes him a step closer to having the types of players he wants for his systems?
DS: When you look at his Houston teams, he had athletes who showcased speed, elusiveness and versatility. He's done a solid job of recruiting similar players for the 2013 class. Players like LaQuvionte Gonzalez (Cedar Hill, Texas) and Derrick Griffin (Rosenberg, Texas/Terry) are outstanding athletes who can be used in several spots on the field.