Hoarding fancy recruits is fun, but let's pry deeper
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 00:02
Recruiting is a mess. It’s a beautiful, endearing mess, but not everyone spends as much time on message boards and Twitter feeds as I do, so you might not have any idea what to think about this batch of signees. The recruiting process has a learning curve, but this year isn't half so complicated. Don't overthink it — enjoy it.
Three things you need to know about this recruiting class: one week gave as good a thermometer reading of the state of the program as we’re going to see, Sumlin recruited according to his needs and we have to pay attention to the concept of inertia.
The coaching staff’s every recruiting effort (every helicopter ride to a high school game, every in-home visit, every "Yessir!" Tweet, every moment of tape watched) can be boiled down to one long weekend. It might seem like an oversimplification, but between Thursday, Dec. 6 and Monday, Dec. 10, A&M won in a way it hasn’t often won in my lifetime.
It was finals time. I sat in the library, but I didn't study. I honed in on my laptop (clicking refresh again and again) because a decision was coming. Most considered Kimball defensive tackle Justin Manning an Oklahoma lock. He said nice things about A&M, kept College Station in the picture, but how many times have Aggie fans heard that before? Recruits always say great things and then pack their bags for Austin, Baton Rouge or Norman. But I'm an addict and I needed a fix, so I watched anyway. I watched on live stream as Manning reached toward a Sooners hat with a smile on his face and I listened as the crowd around him shrieked. And then I watched as he put the hat down before it touched his head, snatched up a different one — maroon, this time — and pulled it on. Sumlin sent out his now-iconic "Yessir!" via Twitter and I lost my mind. I tossed the packet I was studying (unstapled, for whatever reason) and whooped in the middle of the library. I caused a scene and had to explain to prying eyes what had happened as I picked my papers off the floor. They didn't get it. But when Manning stuffs his first running back, I think they'll forgive my unruliness.
The next evening Manziel won his Heisman Trophy. I kicked a hole in my wall that remains to this day, and I still can’t understand how it happened. I'm not proud of the reaction, but I'm thinking of putting up a plaque near the hole: "Evidence that Johnny Football did some really freakish things in 2012 and made almost-sane people lose control." Monday morning, Sealy wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones donned an A&M hat as well ("Yessir!) and the best offensive and defensive recruits in the class and, probably, the state became Aggies. Has there ever been a better weekend — away from Kyle Field — for A&M football? Those days encapsulated all of the momentum this team builds on as it aims towards next season.
Sumlin went into this recruiting class with a handful of needs. He didn't need a quarterback but he snagged a pair of excellent ones. He did, however, need receivers. His modified air-raid offense coupled with the graduations of Ryan Swope, Uzoma Nwachukwu, Malcome Kennedy and Kenric McNeal and the uncertain status of sophomore-to-be Thomas Johnson led to a thin depth chart. All Sumlin did was stockpile a trove of big, leaping receiving threats. He needed defensive tackles, but so did Bob Stoops of Oklahoma. This isn't a battle A&M would have won two years ago. But Stoops and Sumlin extended offers to several of the same tackles — each one chose A&M.
What makes a good football team? Is it coaching? Recruiting? Spencer Nealy and Ryan Swope didn't draw much fanfare when they made their choice four years ago, but they played at a higher level than more than a few five-star recruits this past season. Here's the secret: recruiting isn't about the high-level players. It's about the perception. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion and that principle translates as purely to sports as it does to science. It's not a coincidence that the same schools win games every season. Notre Dame, Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, USC and the handful of other blue-blood football programs aren't better than everyone else by accident. Much went into building those programs in their earlier years and now they are draws for talent, dollars and coaches. How do you join that top-tier? If that question had an answer, Alabama wouldn’t have the sway it does. But maybe a freak athlete stumbling into your lap in a talented coach's first season in the best conference in football does the trick. 2012 was a kick-start and the motor is running. The perception of success-as-inevitability doesn’t come from one Heisman and one recruiting class. But four classes? Five?
If you've never paid attention to recruiting before, it's time to read up. Because if 2013 is the best recruiting class in A&M history (it is), the 2014 class as it stands now is better.