HOUSTON -- Marcus Oliver remembers the moment his brother, 2016 five-star defensive tackle Ed Oliver, pledged to join him at Houston.
They were eating at a local CiCi's Pizza in May when the elder Oliver, a starting offensive tackle for the Cougars, pulled out his phone to show Ed a photo of Westfield High School's triple threat of ESPN 300 prospects: receiver Tyrie Cleveland, quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole and the younger Oliver.
Ed, the No. 4 player in the ESPN 300 and one of the most sought-after prospects in the 2016 recruiting class, told his older brother to call Houston tight ends and fullbacks coach Corby Meekins, who was coaching him at Westfield just months prior. Marcus, curious as to his brother's intentions, did and passed the phone to Ed, who said "Coach Meekins, I want to be a Cougar.'"
"I was like, 'Did he just do that?'" Marcus said. "I said, 'Wow, this really just happened.'"
The news quickly spread that Houston, a Group of 5 program, landed one of the most prized prospects in the country. It is the first time a program outside of the Power 5 has done so since ESPN began ranking recruits 10 years ago.
The revealing tidbit in that series of events, however, is who Ed Oliver called to deliver the news. Meekins, Oliver's former high school coach, is one of the latest in a Texas trend in which more and more colleges are tapping the Texas high school football ranks to find not only good football coaches, but key recruiters embedded in talent-rich areas.
Eight of the 12 FBS schools in Texas have at least one former Texas high school football coach on their staff of full-time assistants. Some have two.
How important has it become? Asked if he would ever field a staff in the state of Texas without a former high school coach on it, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin had a one-word answer, that was echoed by other coaches who spoke to ESPN.com: "No."
And Oliver wasn't Meekins' only win. He has helped put Houston in the top 25 of the ESPN Class Rankings.
Before Meekins was recruiting for the Cougars, he was on the other side of the equation, hosting the recruiters in his Westfield offices for more than a decade. He spent 25 years as a Texas high school coach, the last 15 of them at Westfield, which developed into a hotbed for recruits. It was there that he first encountered Tom Herman.
Herman was an assistant at Sam Houston State in the early 2000s the first time he stopped by Westfield. When Herman moved on to Texas State then to Rice, he always made sure to visit Meekins.
"He's really personable," Meekins said of Herman. "That's what makes him a great head coach. He's detailed. He's thorough. He always spent a good amount of time at our school looking at our kids. The more time you spend with people and get to know them, you kind of hit it off personality-wise."
Meekins was well-respected at the prep level. He ran a successful program (the Mustangs were a perennial playoff team that earned a state title game berth in 2004), won multiple "Coach of the Year" awards and served on the board of directors for the Greater Houston Football Coaches Association for nearly a decade.
When Herman hired him at Houston, he became a valuable member of the first-year head coach's staff.
"There were people he could get on the phone with and had a personal relationship with rather than just a recruiting relationship," said Texas Southern receivers coach Dallas Blacklock, who served as Houston's director of high school relations from 2012-2015. "For example, I didn't know [Katy High School coach] Gary Joseph that well ... but Corby knew him pretty well. So when I needed Gary Joseph to come and speak at my clinic, it was easy for Corby to make a call. That was big."
"They are ridiculously good coaches. You could fill a lot of college staffs with coaches in that state."Kansas coach David Beaty on former Texas high school coaches now in college.
Those connections pay dividends in recruiting. Obviously, Meekins had working knowledge of and a prior relationship with Oliver and Cleveland, who are both currently committed to the Cougars, but the relationships with the other high school coaches in the Houston area -- which Herman has made a focal point in his first full recruiting cycle, dubbing the effort the "#HTownTakeover"-- are invaluable.
The trend of bringing former high school coaches on staff isn't new to college football, but it's becoming more frequent in Texas. It has happened long enough that several former Texas high school coaches have now become head coaches in college: David Beaty (Kansas), Art Briles (Baylor), Todd Graham (Arizona State), Mike Jinks (Bowling Green), Philip Montgomery (Tulsa) and Chad Morris (SMU) are among the men who have made it to the top of the next level.
After winning four state championships at Stephenville (Texas) High School, Briles joined Mike Leach's staff in 2000 as a running backs coach. Three years later, he earned his first head coaching job at Houston and by 2006, took the program to a Conference USA championship that went 0-11 in 2001. His history at Baylor, where the Bears have won two Big 12 championships and finished in the top 10 the past two seasons, is well documented.
But on his first Houston staff in 2003, he hired four former Texas high school coaches.
"The high school coaches in the state of Texas are great coaches, great teachers, they understand the importance of molding and nurturing student-athletes in this state," Briles said. "Bottom line: They know the state and they know the culture. Secondly, if a guy has an opportunity and it fits him and his family, you'd like to reward somebody that is part of your bloodlines. These guys that are Texas high school coaches, they're part of my bloodline."
His current Baylor staff has four coaches -- Jeff Lebby, Randy Clements, Carlton Buckels and Tate Wallis -- that have coached in the high school ranks previously.
One of Sumlin's first hires when he was at Houston in 2008 was running backs coach Clarence McKinney, who was literally coaching across the street from the university at Yates High School. When Sumlin left prior to the 2012 season for Texas A&M, McKinney followed and remains with Sumlin. When Sumlin arrived at Texas A&M, he added Beaty, a former high school coach in the Dallas area, as a receivers coach. Though Beaty is now at Kansas, Sumlin brought on Terry Joseph to coach defensive backs and give the Aggies a stronger recruiting presence in Louisiana, where Joseph once spent time as a high school coach.
"The ability to know what's going on on the ground with high school players and to be able to communicate with high school coaches too, I think that's important," Sumlin said. "So we've always tried to do that, not just from a recruiting standpoint but from a communication standpoint."
Perhaps not coincidentally, both Baylor and Texas A&M have recruited at a higher level than they previously did since Briles and Sumlin arrived at their respective schools.
Kliff Kingsbury doubled down on the concept at Texas Tech. He brought in Jinks from the Cibolo Steele High in the San Antonio area to coach running backs in 2013 and after three seasons, Jinks landed the head coaching job at Bowling Green. To replace Jinks, Kingsbury tabbed Louisiana Tech running backs coach Jabbar Juluke who, prior to coaching college ball, won a state championship for Edna Karr High in New Orleans. Juluke's presence will certainly help create recruiting inroads for the Red Raiders in Louisiana. Kingsbury also promoted Emmett Jones, former head coach at Dallas' South Oak Cliff High, from director of player development to the full-time offensive assistant staff.
Texas coach Charlie Strong joined the trend prior to the 2015 season, bringing on former Gilmer High School coach Jeff Traylor. Traylor has been key to the Longhorns landing three 2017 prospects from the fertile East Texas region, where Traylor coached: Lagaryonn Carson, Damion Miller and Major Tennison. Traylor is also a big reason why the Longhorns are in the mix for 2016 ESPN 300 safety Brandon Jones, who remains undecided.
The list goes on: SMU (former DeSoto High coach Claude Mathis), TCU (former Dallas Lincoln coach Zarnell Fitch) and even Rice (former Hastings and Alief Taylor coach Michael Slater) hired coaches in recent years straight from the Texas high school ranks. The trend has even permeated outside of state borders where Beaty and Montgomery made sure to add such a member to their staff -- former Arlington Bowie coach Kenny Perry spent time at TCU before joining Beaty at Kansas and Montgomery tabbed former Stephenville coach Joe Gillespie to coach Tulsa's linebackers.
Beaty, who in his opening statement to media at the 2015 Big 12 media days in Dallas referred to the high school coaches there as his "brothers," said having these coaches is absolutely vital to recruiting successfully in Texas because of the respect they carry. He made the transition from high school to college coaching in 2006 under Todd Graham and he said the increased trend in these moves is because head coaches began seeing the value of how those relationships pay off in recruiting.
When he was a high school coach in Dallas, college coaches who were part of that Texas high school fraternity always got preferential treatment.
"When Tim Beck was a coach at Kansas, he would come through and I may have a head coach in my office but I'd stop everything I was doing and go grab Tim and do whatever I had to do because he was one of us," Beaty said. "Same thing with Todd Graham. When he came by, I stopped what I was doing because he was one of us. That's the thing. You're part of that fraternity and they know we value the job they do and how good coaches are in that state.
"They are ridiculously good coaches. You could fill a lot of college staffs with coaches in that state."