FORT WORTH, Texas -- Thirteen years ago, Gary Patterson heard all kinds of criticism about his program while on recruiting trail in the thick of Big 12 country. It was his first year as head coach of TCU and the Horned Frogs' first season in Conference USA.
But with the Frogs now in the Big 12 and poised for a promising 2013 season, recruits in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex are running out of reasons not to sign close to home at TCU. The program turned heads in December when it swiped longtime Texas recruit Kyle Hicks, who had been committed to the Longhorns since February of 2012.
The Arlington, Texas native is the nation's No. 18 running back and the nation's No. 220 overall recruit. Does flipping a Longhorn commit -- something almost no one did with Mack Brown in charge before the 2013 class -- carry special significance?
"Only if he's a good player," Patterson told ESPN.com in a recent interview. "The key is to go out and find the guy that everybody says what they said about TCU before, is they come in and everybody thinks they’re a 'C' player, and they turn out to be 'A' players. The key is they come in as 'A' players and they’re 'A+' players."
That's what Patterson hopes will be the case with Hicks, whose services shouldn't be needed much in his first season on campus. Running back Waymon James returns alongside B.J. Catalon and blue-chip recruit turned Nebraska transfer Aaron Green, and the trio should be ready to shoulder the load in the backfield in 2013.
Devonte Fields came to TCU from nearby Arlington as a highly-touted recruit. All Petterson did was help turn him into the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a true freshman.
"That’s the same thing with Devonte and guys you have down the road. Can you make them live up to their hype? That’s what programs are supposed to do, and if we can do that, then more of them will come," Patterson said. "If you can prove that guy can come here and he can go to the NFL and he can be a great college player and get his degree just like you told him he could then I think what will happen is kids will stay close to home."
The Frogs are trying to turn their location in the thick of a college football talent hotbed into an advantage. Doing so will require more than winning just seven games like they did in 2012 -- their first season back in major conference football as a Big 12 member. Patterson could form a championship-caliber team from DFW high schoolers alone, in theory, but he's going to make sure they answer "yes" to two big questions before any offers are handed out.
"Do they have two things in mind: Do they want to get a degree and do they want to win a national championship?" Patterson said. "Both of them are hard work. There’s no inbetween on either one of them, that’s what our program is built upon: hard work and accountability. That’s how you stay somewhere long enough to do something."
Hicks' answer was "yes," and his legacy is only beginning at TCU. Patterson knows not a soul will remember or care that the Frogs swiped him from Texas if he doesn't take the next step as a player.
"In Kyle’s case, great young man, great player," Patterson said. "Now let’s make him from a great high school player to a great college player, and let’s also get him his college degree."
Ironically, Kansas State saw its program flounder late in Bill Snyder's tenure and throughout Ron Prince's time, despite major recruiting success and beating out national powers for big-time players like future NFL quarterback Josh Freeman. TCU has a chance to see its own recruiting rankings soar annually. But Patterson is focused on making sure his team is full of players with the intangibles that the Frogs have used to build their program over the past decade. Under Patterson, the school has routinely won at least 11 games in a season and their success has led them to membership in a major conference.
"The whole key is to make sure we’re still recruiting the TCU type of guy that is a guy that can come in and he becomes the player that everybody says he was supposed to be," Patterson said. "That’s what my job is, to develop them and not only make them that, but make them better."