Dallas Colleges: Malik Jefferson
There are 30 players committed to Big 12 schools in the final update of the ESPN 300 for the Class of 2015. That number is comparable to the Big Ten and the Pac-12, but definitely trails behind the ACC and SEC. What also has to be troubling is the lack of top-flight national recruits ending up at Big 12 schools. Only two top-50 players and seven in the top 100 are heading to Big 12 programs. The good news is that those numbers could change down the stretch as some good talent remains on the board in Texas and Oklahoma.
“We Run This State”? Not today.
Texas won a critical head-to-head recruiting battle over Texas A&M on Friday morning when a pair of Mesquite (Texas) Poteet High teammates, ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson and four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal, announced that they’re Austin-bound.
Jefferson, the No. 35 player in the country, was a priority recruit for the Aggies, while landing McNeal -- who would have likely projected to receiver, a talent-rich position at A&M -- would have been a bonus. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jefferson was the one that Sumlin and linebackers coach Mark Hagen have spent nearly two years developing a relationship with and pinning their hopes on as a game-changer at a position of need: linebacker.
The Aggies offered Jefferson a scholarship 632 days ago. Over that time, as Texas A&M’s defense struggled and Jefferson’s profile rose, the need to land him increased. What’s worse for A&M is that the Aggies seemed in prime position to do so only to lose momentum in the final days of the recruitment for myriad reasons, but none more glaring than the fact that Sumlin has yet to hire a defensive coordinator to replace Mark Snyder, whom he fired on Nov. 28. Jefferson stated as much in talking about the final weeks of his recruitment.
The famed maroon helicopter Sumlin once touted as “undefeated”? No more.
Sumlin took said helicopter to Rockwall, Texas, to watch Jefferson and McNeal on Sept. 25 when they played Rockwall-Heath High. It was that night that he became sold enough on McNeal to later offer the versatile, 6-foot-2, 200-pound prospect and at the time, it seemed to be a safe bet that Jefferson was leaning toward A&M where some of his friends -- like ESPN 300 quarterback Kyler Murray and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Daylon Mack, among others -- are heading.
The Aggies were quietly confident they’d land Jefferson after his official visit to Texas A&M the weekend of their Nov. 15 loss to Missouri, which Jefferson attended. The nation's third-ranked outside linebacker was wowed during his time there. He also was impressed on visits to Texas and UCLA, but ultimately, Sumlin was confident.
Sumlin’s pitch to Jefferson? He’s the missing piece the Aggies need on defense to pair with star-in-the-making freshman defensive end Myles Garrett. The need for quality linebacker depth was clear when Texas A&M’s two true freshmen starters at the position -- Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker -- suffered injuries in that loss. That night, the Aggies promptly saw their run defense go to hell in a handbasket, as the Tigers rolled up 202 rushing yards in the third quarter alone with Alaka and Walker sidelined en route to a 34-27 Missouri win. A&M made the decision midseason to move Alaka and Walker into starting linebacker spots after ineffectiveness from their predecessors in the season’s first half.
The Aggies struggled getting (or keeping) quality linebackers on campus since Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart graduated after the 2012 season. In their 2013 recruiting class, they seemed to find a future star in Darian Claiborne, but dismissed him from the team after multiple arrests. Injuries affected 2013 recruits Shaan Washington and A.J. Hilliard this season and other linebacker prospects from that class either played sparingly or haven't been effective.
The 2014 linebacker haul included Alaka and Walker, but ESPN 300 linebacker Hoza Scott -- once ranked the No. 1 outside linebacker in the nation -- was a nonqualifier and thus wasn't signed, never made it to campus and the Aggies weren’t able to land other ESPN 300 linebackers they targeted in the class like Kenny Young or Zach Whitley Jr. Add Jefferson to the list of “what ifs” should he stick with Texas until classes begin in January, as he is a midyear enrollee.
Jefferson would have been a key piece to the defensive puzzle, one the Aggies sorely needed. Could a splash defensive coordinator make enough of a difference to flip Jefferson? Possible, but unlikely. Jefferson took great time and care in this decision and it will be difficult to reverse, especially with his family's support in him choosing Texas.
Malik Jefferson's father on A&M trying for flip when they get DC: "A commitment from a Jefferson is final. It's over."— Max Olson (@max_olson) December 19, 2014
The lack of a defensive coordinator was key here, but regardless of recruiting, Sumlin has to get that hire right. After two seasons of atrocious defense and a sixth-place finish in the SEC West this season, the pressure is on to get someone who will produce elite results and help the Aggies turn into contenders in the nation’s most talked-about conference. Sumlin and the Aggies are about to enter Year 4 in the SEC and it’s time to see results of the recruiting the Aggies have been talking about producing.
The Aggies still have a top-10 recruiting class (they’re ranked sixth in the ESPN Class Rankings currently) and there are still big targets on the board that they’re strongly in the mix for, like five-star cornerback Kendall Sheffield.
But no matter the reasoning, two days after landing the nation's No. 30 player, ESPN 300 receiver Christian Kirk and three junior college prospects, Friday goes down as a loss for the Aggies and a win for the Longhorns. Sumlin said Thursday that missing a defensive coordinator or receivers coach hadn’t affected recruiting yet.
On Friday, it did.
The Longhorns ran the state on Friday morning. The Aggies have work to do in the final seven weeks of the 2014 recruiting cycle.
In short, the Horned Frogs weren’t taken seriously. Not by opponents. Not by analysts. Not by many of their fans.
And especially, not by star recruits.
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Perhaps the worst thing to happen to one of college’s most anticipated rivalries happened on Saturday.
Texas lost a home affair to Baylor. Minutes later, Oklahoma was upset on the road by TCU.
Then, the questions -- and the jokes -- started. Just in time for this weekend’s Texas-Oklahoma clash at the Cotton Bowl.
With the Longhorns and Sooners -- two of college football’s most storied programs -- suffering losses over the weekend, the Red River Showdown became an unexpected undercard for the upcoming weekend in Big 12 Conference football. The conference game of the week will pit Baylor hosting TCU, two undefeated and top-10 ranked teams coming off big wins.
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Four letters that have become the rallying cry of Aggie recruits, coaches and fans alike. Their meaning? "We run this state."
That's the way the Aggies feel right now when it comes to the state of Texas A&M recruiting, and considering the recruiting prowess they've shown during the Kevin Sumlin era, and particularly this recruiting cycle, it's difficult to debate that point.
A state once ruled in recruiting by Texas and coach Mack Brown in the mid-2000s has seen the balance of power shift roughly 100 miles eastward to College Station, Texas. In the Longhorns' heyday, it seemed as if they could land any in-state prospect they wished and right now, it almost seems as if the Aggies are enjoying that fortune themselves.
This week has illustrated that to a certain extent. Thursday was a big day for the Aggies as they landed two prospects out of Texas high school football power Cedar Hill High School: ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge and outside linebacker Richard Moore.
Earlier this week, the Aggies also scored pledges from four-star offensive tackle Keaton Sutherland and three-star linebacker Landis Durham. That's not to mention that earlier this month, they landed four-star defensive tackle Kingsley Keke and last month received a commitment from ESPN 300 WR Kemah Siverand and perhaps their most impactful recruit of the cycle, five-star quarterback Kyler Murray.
Texas A&M is on quite the recruiting roll.
The Aggies' class, which is ranked No. 3 in the ESPN Recruiting Nation class rankings, holds 17 commitments, nine of whom are in the ESPN 300, and the class has 13 prospects with four-star-or-higher ratings. The Aggies hold commitments from the Lone Star State's No. 1 quarterback (Murray), receiver (Lodge), tight end (Jordan Davis) and defensive tackle (five-star prospect Daylon Mack).
Two of the state's top three players are committed to the Aggies and three of the top eight. And when it's all said and done, the Aggies could finish with four of the top five and five of the top 10 in Texas if their pursuit of cornerback Kendall Sheffield and linebacker Malik Jefferson falls their way. Neither has plans to announce his destination anytime soon, but the Aggies are strong players for both, and if that were to happen, the Aggies would lay claim to the state's top player at six different positions.
That would be a rough fate for the Aggies' chief recruiting rival (though no longer on-field rival) Texas and new coach Charlie Strong, who is already feeling the effects of A&M's success. But in reality, this isn't about Texas for the Aggies. It's about building a team and program that can compete and succeed long term in what many consider to be the country's toughest conference, the SEC.
With the Lone Star State being such fertile recruiting ground, the competition for talent will always be fierce. Whether it's Texas, a surging Baylor program that is reaching unprecedented success under Art Briles, a young, energetic, charismatic staff led by Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech, TCU's presence in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex or staving off out-of-state schools such as Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and other national powers, it's impossible to get every prospect desired from the large pool of talent Texas provides. But snagging most of the desired prospects bodes well for the future.
Texas A&M must continue to produce on-field success this fall -- let's not forget, the Aggies' 20-6 run in their first two seasons as SEC members and the visibility provided by having a Heisman Trophy winner are significant factors why the Aggies are such an attractive option to recruits right now. And teenagers can be fickle, making recruiting an unpredictable roller coaster until pen meets paper on the first Wednesday in February.
But if the Aggies can hang on to the high-level prospects they've already gained pledges from and continue recruiting at their current pace, the effects could be felt well beyond the state's borders, throughout SEC country and across the nation in years to come.
Charlie Strong has a Texas-sized problem on his hands.
When a new coach is hired, especially at a place like The University of Texas, it usually creates excitement with prospects and high school coaches on the recruiting trail. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, that buzz isn’t there. With the addition of ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge on Thursday, Texas A&M further tightened its grip on the top talent in the Lone Star State.
On the other hand, the Longhorns, whose 2015 class is ranked No. 11 in ESPN's rankings, are struggling within their home state. Texas has yet to gain a commit from a top-10 in-state player. To make matters worse, Strong’s staff is losing commits to conference rivals and SEC powers in Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, LSU and Oklahoma.
“In the state of Texas, A&M has taken over,” Cedar Hill (Texas) High School coach Joey McGuire said. “Through what coach [Kevin] Sumlin has done and then what Johnny Manziel did to help put that school in such a great position, it's helped them move to whole different level. They're the hot thing going right now. It's hard to beat, even for a program like Texas.”
As any Texas fan will tell you, there’s nothing worse than losing to the hated Aggies. The recruiting beatdown could continue as A&M is in good position with cornerback Kendall Sheffield, linebacker Malik Jefferson, defensive end James Lockhart and cornerback Kris Boyd -- all ESPN 300 prospects strongly considering playing in College Station.
A Big 12 assistant who recruits in the Lone Star State said he could see that Texas would have problems on the recruiting trail the minute Strong announced his staff. The assistant praised Strong for luring Joe Wickline away from Oklahoma State and believes his addition will help the Longhorns find some hidden gems along the offensive line. But after that, the assistant said it was hardly the all-star cast many thought Strong could assemble, given the school’s resources.
“I thought [Strong] needed to bring in guys that can stand toe-to-toe against A&M, LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma and all the other top teams that recruit in Texas,” the coach said. “He needed guys that had deep ties with the high school coaches in Texas. Instead, he got a lot of coaches that can win recruiting battles against Cincinnati, UCF and teams like that. This is the Big 12, not the AAC.”
In defense of the Longhorns, Strong did retain Bruce Chambers, who is entering his 17th season in Austin and has connections with high school football in the state. He also hired Les Koenning, a 1981 Texas graduate who is entering his 34th year of coaching after previous stops at Mississippi, South Alabama, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU, Houston, Duke, Rice and Louisiana-Lafayette.
Replacing Mack Brown wasn’t going to be easy. Replacing the relationships he so tirelessly built with Texas high school coaches will take some time.
All of this has made Strong’s job of recruiting local talent more difficult than most assumed it would be when he was first hired six months ago. But all is not lost. There has been no shortage of effort from the Longhorns’ staff, and Strong can sway some recruits with a simple formula this fall: winning.
“If Charlie Strong comes out and wins, there might be another flip,” McGuire said. “If they can come out and surprise some people this year and win games, then they’re going to be the hot team with recruits. Winning and losing is going to make a big part of those schools' recruiting classes.”
1. LB Malik Jefferson
This is a big deal, plain and simple. The Mesquite (Texas) Poteet linebacker is one of the best in the state and the nation, and there's a lot of time to win over the ESPN 300 prospect, as he won't decide until winter.
Last year, Texas got itself in good shape for three huge in-state recruits -- cornerback Tony Brown, safety Jamal Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas -- and hoped to leverage a successful 2013 season into a gigantic finish with that trio. That plan was a bust. It wouldn't be surprising if Texas finds itself in a similar position with Jefferson by the end of the summer.
If everything stays status quo during the 2014 season, Jefferson probably ends up choosing Texas A&M. He had great relationships with former Texas defensive coordinators Manny Diaz and Greg Robinson, but both are gone now and the new staff is catching up. They'll need to make a big impression this fall if they hope to sway him.
Whomever lands Jefferson gets one gigantic recruiting victory. He's the real deal and Texas will go all-in on him.
2. QB Zach Gentry
If Gentry does end up choosing Texas, it'll tell you an awful lot about what Shawn Watson can do for this program as a recruiter.
The nation's No. 72 prospect is a big deal -- and we mean that literally, as he's nearly 6-foot-7 -- and has offers from the likes of Alabama, Penn State, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Tennessee. The Albuquerque (N.M.) Eldorado standout took an unofficial visit to Austin the week of the spring game and seemed to come away impressed. A decision could come later this month.
Watson got on Gentry early on while at Louisville and has extended him offers at both schools. The in-state crop of quarterbacks is solid, and there could be room to take another like Quinten Dormady in this class, but Gentry would be a home run and a clear statement that Watson and the offensive staff won't be afraid to pursue elite passers outside the usually loaded Lone Star State.
3. CB Holton Hill
Texas is already in excellent shape to land Hill, an ESPN 300 defensive back from Houston Lamar with more than a dozen big-time offers. Now the Horns have to hold on and seal the deal.
Hill has visited Austin multiple times this spring and was high school teammates with 2014 Texas signee John Bonney. Hill is not a lock by any means, not with Texas A&M right up there with Texas in his early top two. This could turn into quite the battle, akin to the one for Otaro Alaka last year that the Aggies eventually won.
But Texas is in a promising position with Hill and also Gilmer (Texas) defensive back Kris Boyd. How well Vance Bedford and Chris Vaughn sell them on the future of "DBU" following Duane Akina's departure might make the difference.
4. WR John Burt
Texas has sent out offers to dozens and dozens of elite out-of-state prospects, the kind of guys who can choose from any SEC school they want. Their hope, quite simply, is trying to get those guys on campus for a visit. That's not a problem in the recruitment of Burt, who has gone out of his way to visit Austin multiple times in the past 12 months.
The ESPN 300 wideout from Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln will likely end up choosing between Texas and Florida State. What a win that would be for Strong and his staff if they can beat out the defending national champion for a talented local kid.
Burt visited Texas last season for a home game and again this spring for a junior day week. The staff change did little to dampen his love for the program. When an out-of-state kid makes it this obvious he's interested, you've got to lock him up.
5. DT Daylon Mack
Calm down, Aggies, we're not saying or predicting Mack will end up in burnt orange. It's more about what landing Mack or another elite committed player would mean for the momentum of this class.
The five-star defensive tackle from Gladewater (Texas) has been an A&M pledge for nearly seven months, and a strong one for most of that time. He's a leader-of-the-class type, the kind who other kids want to follow and play with. But Texas (and the rest of the SEC) will not give up any time soon.
There are several other committed prospects -- running back Ronald Jones II (Oklahoma State), safety Deionte Thompson (Alabama), tight end Jordan Davis (Texas A&M) -- Texas will also keep pursuing until signing day. Landing even one of them would make a statement about Texas' revamped recruiting.
Total commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 6
The latest: The Bears have gotten off to an awesome start offensively, but they would love to keep safety Kahlil Haughton home. Haughton has numerous offers, including LSU and Oklahoma as well as Big Ten powers Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
Total commits: 1
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Mark Mangino helped change Kansas' fortune by unearthing gem QB Todd Reesing, who eventually took the Jayhawks to the Orange Bowl. The Cyclones have extended an offer to dual-threat QB Joe Burrow, who had a phenomenal junior season with 53 total TDs and just six picks. With offers beginning to pour in, Iowa State will have to fight to get him, but Burrow would be a huge pickup for Mangino's first offensive recruiting class.
Total commits: 1
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Jayhawks finally picked up their first commitment over the weekend, but it was a big one. Ryan Willis is the No. 26 pocket-passing QB in the country, and was being pursued by Kansas State and Illinois. His dad went to Kansas State, but Willis was drawn to new coordinator John Reagan’s offense. Willis went to the same high school as Kansas’ current starting QB Montell Cozart, and could be Cozart’s successor down the line.
Total commits: 1
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats also have only one commit so far in three-star QB Alex Delton, but it too was a key pickup. Delton reportedly put on a show during the Dallas Elite 11 QB camp over the weekend. With starter Jake Waters a senior next season, the K-State QB position could be up for grabs in 2015.
Total commits: 3
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Sooners are looking to beef up their offensive and defensive lines in this class, and are in on several big-time prospects. Oklahoma already owns commitments from DT Marquise Overton and OT Bobby Evans, and will be angling to keep the nation’s No. 1 offensive guard Jalin Barnett in state.
Total commits: 4
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: The Cowboys already have landed ESPN 300 QB John Kolar and ESPN 300 RB Ronald Jones II. Oklahoma State is in strong position to land an ESPN 300 receiver, too, with Tyron Johnson, Kemah Siverand, Carlos Strickland and K.J. Hill all reciprocating interest.
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: With ESPN 300 QB Zach Gentry narrowing his list to Alabama, Oklahoma State, Tennessee and Texas, TCU has refocused its QB search. Nearby Bo Schneider might be a possibility.
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: Only two of the nine verbal commitments Mack Brown landed for 2015 are still on the commit list, as new coach Charlie Strong has completely revamped the Longhorns’ recruiting game plan. Texas, however, still doesn’t have a top-10 in-state player on board. That could change emphatically if the Longhorns could snag the state’s No. 5 player -- outside linebacker Malik Jefferson, who will announce his college plans after the upcoming football season.
Total commits: 6
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: Thanks to his efforts over the weekend in the Dallas Elite 11 QB camp, Texas Tech commitment Jarrett Stidham earned the eighth invite to the prestigious Elite 11 finals.
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: With a host of skill players already on board, snagging players in the trenches will be the focus. West Virginia got in early on three-star guard George Asafo-Adjei, who received an offer from Florida over the weekend.
AUSTIN, Texas -- High school kids like new. In hindsight, we really shouldn’t have underestimated that.
New uniforms, new helmets, new stadiums. All critical assets in recruiting. Just ask Kevin Sumlin, who, seemingly overnight, changed the perception of Texas A&M.
For all the disadvantages Charlie Strong and his staff faced when they first arrived, it’s hard to call the early results anything other than impressive. Texas’ staff has assembled the No. 11 recruiting class in the nation and is well on its way to transforming the way recruits look at the Longhorns.
Defensive end Charles Omenihu, one of nine verbal commits in the class, was hooked from the very beginning of his junior day visit. New Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford’s pitch was simple and compelling: “Why not Texas?”
“He was right. Why would you not want to go to Texas if you live in the state of Texas?” Omenihu said. “Why wouldn’t you want to play big ball at a place with a tradition for winning? That really stayed in my mind.”
The three-star defensive end from Rowlett, Texas, committed two days later and has become one of the leaders of the class, constantly staying in touch with his fellow commits and countless blue-chip targets.
He didn’t think much of Texas in recent years. The new staff got his attention, however, and convinced him that the Longhorns’ glory days are coming again, and soon.
“I remember visibly when they won it all in 2006 and them guys were flying around and looked good doing it, too,” Omenihu said. “They looked good, played hard and beat people up. You could see that in practice this spring. You could just tell.”
For the new staff, that rebranding of Texas football in the spring helped make up for a lot of lost time. Keep in mind, Strong, Bedford and several other assistants hardly recruited the Lone Star State at Louisville and they risked falling behind with the 2015 class with all the time they expended to secure the glass that inked in Februarby.
While Texas scrambled to close out that group, Texas A&M and other in-state foes were already hosting early junior days. Everyone else had a head start.
But the Longhorn staff had their house and their recruiting board in order by the time they hosted that first junior day on Feb. 23. The event led to commitments from Omenihu, Ronnie Major and DeShon Elliott, and also ensured Patrick Vahe would stay on board. That’s when the #letsride momentum starting rolling.
Since that first event, Texas has secured eight new verbal commitments and completed a major overhaul of the class Strong inherited. Only two of the nine verbal commitments Mack Brown landed for 2015 are still on the commit list.
Five of those early pledges elected to decommit. The other two, defensive backs Jalen Campbell and Johnny Shaw, will continue to be evaluated by the new staff this spring and summer.
As it stands today, the revamped class has pledges from five ESPN 300 prospects. Offensive tackle Toby Weathersby, the nation’s No. 138 recruit, bought in one month after his junior day trip.
“It’s just the way they go about doing things,” Weathersby said. “They get to the point. Real demanding. Coach Strong wants them to get back to a winning tradition and he’s doing everything the way he wants it to go. Let’s get it done.”
The intensity was just what he was looking for, he said, because he plays on a tight ship at Houston Westfield. And how did Strong take it when Weathersby declared he was ready to commit?
“Well, I had to catch him,” Weathersby said. “He jumped in my arms.”
Like Omenihu, Weathersby had his own beliefs about what was wrong with the Longhorns. He felt that in terms of intensity, Texas was “like a golf club” in Brown’s final years. Strong drastically flipped his perspective on the program’s future.
“I can’t really go into detail, because it would take me months and months,” Weathersby said with a laugh. “But the way he changed everything, I think it’s a more strict football program and, with his way of doing things, it’s for the better.”
Omenihu’s wish list for this Texas class is ambitious, and includes ESPN 300 recruits Malik Jefferson, Chris Warren III, Holton Hill, Kris Boyd, Ryan Newsome and Cameron Townsend. And he doesn’t intend to give up on five-star Texas A&M commit Daylon Mack.
“I wonder why great defensive players would choose to go to A&M,” Omenihu said. “It boggles my mind. They don’t really play defense. If I’m wrong, someone please tell me.”
Worse things were being said about the Longhorns before Strong showed up, that's for sure. This is a game of perception, and so far, Texas' head coach is already changing the game.
The spring evaluation period is upon us, and coaches are traveling and hosting spring games in an effort to evaluate and attract the nation’s elite prospects. Fortunately for coaches, roughly two-thirds of the players making up the 2015 ESPN 300 are still uncommitted. A large majority of those players are considering playing in the Big 12.
Here are five ESPN 300 players heavily targeted by Big 12 schools:
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The Big 12 has a big weekend ahead in Dallas and Texas Tech is surging. Here’s a look at some of the Big 12’s top recruiting storylines.
Big names set to attend Red River Rivalry
There is never a season, regardless of what type of shape either program is in, that the Cotton Bowl won’t be filled with some of the most desirable recruits in the country.
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It's the lifeblood of a program. As players graduate or move on, new ones must come in to keep success going.
And this weekend could be the biggest yet when it comes hosting recruits.
While the college football world has long awaited the Alabama-Texas A&M rematch, the A&M staff has spent months preparing for the recruiting aspect of this weekend.
Roughly 75 recruits are expected to be in attendance for Saturday's highly-anticipated game between the No. 1 Crimson Tide and the No. 6 Aggies.
"I think [the game has] already had an impact," Sumlin said. "We have a large number of prospects that are going to be here. The move to the SEC has obviously been a boost for us. I think it wouldn't be as big of a boost if we didn't have some sort of success in the league last year. We didn't have all the success we wanted. We were extremely competitive and won a big game last year. But all that being said, I think the ability to compete and win in this league has really helped us too, in recruiting."
And that's the key. Without the 11-2 record, the Heisman Trophy run for Johnny Manziel or all the attention coming to the program as a result of that success in the SEC, widely considered the country's best conference, this weekend might not have been as big.
While the number of recruits who will be in attendance is impressive, so are the names. Topping that list are a host of highly-regarded 2014 ESPN 300 prospects: defensive end Myles Garrett, athlete Speedy Noil, safety Jamal Adams, defensive tackle Gerald Willis III, athlete Davion Hall, safety Edwin Freeman are among those expected. All of them are top 100 recruits.
“It’s going to be great, knowing A&M is in our top three," said Noil, who is making the trip with Willis, his high school teammate. "I want to see what they offer as an offense.”
Said Willis: “It’s going to be crazy. I’m very excited.”
A host of 2015 ESPN Junior 300 prospects are also expected in attendance. Receiver Tyron Johnson, outside linebacker Malik Jefferson, defensive end Anthony Wheeler and quarterback Kyler Murray are just a sampling of the impressive juniors that will make the trip.
If there's any doubt as to how important recruiting is to the Texas A&M staff, take this as evidence: Sumlin and defensive line coach Terry Price were out on the trail Thursday night via helicopter and trekked to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to see a prospect, fewer than 48 hours before one of the biggest games in program history.
The target? Garrett, the No. 7 player in the 2014 ESPN 300.
Coach Price and I strapped in headed to the Metroplex to find the next great Aggie! http://t.co/8d1BG3goMT
— Kevin Sumlin (@CoachSumlin) September 12, 2013
The swaggerchopper has landed. #swag http://t.co/n18uhrZ8nY
— Coach Terry Price (@Coach_TPrice) September 13, 2013
Sumlin and offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney also made a helicopter trip to Houston to see then-uncommitted 2013 ESPN 300 receiver Ricky Seals-Jones and 2013 Texas A&M quarterback commitment Kohl Stewart on a nationally-televised game between Sealy (Texas) High and Houston St. Pius X. Seals-Jones eventually committed and signed with the Aggies; Stewart signed but chose to play professional baseball after being chosen fourth overall in the MLB draft this summer.
While the Aggies continue to strengthen their position in recruiting statewide, their longtime rival, Texas, has a lot of question marks at the moment. After a decisive loss to BYU, the Longhorns fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. While the schools don't play each other anymore, they still battle for the same recruits. A win this weekend would further strengthen Texas A&M's position in the talent-rich Lone Star State.
This weekend has become something of a perfect storm for the Aggies. The chance to make a statement on a national level is there, with the eyes of fans across the country watching, not to mention dozens of recruits at Kyle Field to experience it all.
"You don't have a stage like this for this weekend if you're not a competitive program," Sumlin said. "And I think the high school coaches in this state do a fantastic job of coaching and regionally, recognizing that. And I think student-athletes are recognizing that, too, that we've got a great situation here from a stability standpoint, from a support standpoint, from a facilities standpoint and from a league standpoint.
"You don't have to go 700-800-900 miles away anymore to get all those things. That has been a big selling point for us since we've gotten here and I think that message has been driven home every week that we play in the SEC, not just play but play in meaningful games on big stages."