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Mid-year additions a symptom of success

Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 01:01

Midterm enrollees illustration


The nine newest Aggie football players will look to make their mark on spring training.

We’re getting greedy in Aggieland. Nothing about the past month has been anything but a side effect of winning. The successive departures of offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, defensive end Damontre Moore, offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, and special teams coordinator Brian Polian were the painful symptoms of a Cotton Bowl thrashing and a stuffed field house trophy case. Coaches leapfrogging to head coaching jobs and juniors skipping out early for the NFL are things that happen to winning teams. They come with the territory. Ask Nick Saban and Alabama how long coaches and players last.

There are other symptoms of success, and when head coach Kevin Sumlin announced the nine December midterm enrollees for the football team, we saw one in particular: a recruiting boon.

The perception was that perhaps too many of 2012's building blocks were being skimmed off the top of the 2013 pot, and fans grew antsy. The midterm group (with an impossibly large boost from the announcement that offensive tackle Jake Matthews will stick around for his senior season) stemmed — at least in the eyes of the fan base — the outward flow of talent from College Station.

The nine midterm enrollees — three from the junior college ranks, four early high school graduates, one prep school standout, one TCU transfer — will play roles on the field. Enrolling for the spring allows them the opportunity to experience spring games and spring training under the eye of Sumlin and his revamped coaching staff. The JuCo group aren't high school players — they've seen real football, and they've spent at least one more season in the weight room than anyone from the high school numbers. Couple that extra experience with the opportunity to join spring training under Sumlin's eye, and you have a better-than-usual chance to see these first-year Aggies on the field next season. The flashy names of the recruiting class of 2013 are yet to come, and while Sumlin has kept his underclassmen from the microphones of the media, he hasn't kept them off the field. Doesn’t matter; these nine have a leg up.

Cameron Clear is a monster of a blocking tight end at six-foot-six. One recruiting site had him inside the Top 10 overall coming out of high school; he’s a junior now, a junior college transfer. He was a catch, and is expected by many to start at tight end. Linebackers A.J. Hilliard, Tommy Sanders, Reggie Chevis, and Brett Wade will enter a wide-open arms race for the spots made vacant by the graduation of Sean Porter and Jonathon Stewart. Sophomore Jeremiah Stuckey could make noise in the sorting out of the two open spots on the offensive line.

For junior engineering major Stephen Neathery, offensive tackle is the team’s biggest need so that “Manziel can be Manziel.”

JaQuay Williams, who ranked as high as No. 2 among prep school players, is expected to be one of as many as eight or nine wide receivers in the recruiting class of 2013. But he’s the first to arrive — don’t be surprised if that matters. Last, Alex Sezer will compete with a young defensive back corps for playing time. Kenny Flowers had been among the original list of enrollees. On Monday, A.J. Hilliard — a TCU transfer — was reported to have replaced Flowers.

Their significance matters more than their quantifiable contributions. The two-headed Sumlin-Manziel monster has done wonders in terms of recruiting. The 2013 class is the best in A&M history, or it's close. 2014 looks even better. Those classes exist only in the verbal commitments of seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds, though. They aren't enrolled. They aren't in uniform. These nine, however, are. They represent the first tangible evidence of a swing in recruiting power firmly in the direction of College Station.

Sophomore business major Bailey Burrus said A&M’s status as the only Texas team in the SEC played a part in this shift.

“Our recruiting success has been through the roof since the move to the SEC and with great recruiting coaches like Sumlin and [receivers coach David] Beaty,” Burrus said. “I think the success can be sustained because of the appeal of playing in the SEC and staying in Texas.”

Look at the teams A&M fairly and directly beat out for this group. You'll see the usual culprits in Texas and Oklahoma, the ones who have preyed on A&M for years. You'll see the new threats, the SEC powers who since Manziel was in diapers have filched recruits out of Texas backyards such as Florida, Alabama, LSU and Arkansas. The playing field has been leveled.

Junior biomedical engineering major Austin Smith said the SEC played a part in recruiting success even before Manziel.

“I think the SEC was a boost to our recruiting because we saw some recruits jumping on board with us before Johnny did his thing this past season,” Smith said. “With Manziel here, I expect even more talented guys to take a serious look at signing with us, like I said earlier."

Texas will always be the breeding grounds for future Aggies. It's big, it's fertile with big-time recruits, and it's local. A&M is a part of Texas. However, the spring enrollees don’t necessarily reflect that. Clear is from Memphis. Others hail from Cordele, Ga.; Pacifica, Ca.; Tyrone, Ga.

It's hard to pluck important recruits in Texas. It's harder to snag them from outside the state. The common denominator here is talent.

Sumlin — and give him credit, but don't give him all of it, because he has a staff exceptionally suited for recruiting — saw talent and he went and got it.

That he was successful in landing out-of-state, sought-after players may mean it's time to talk about a national shift in power, not just an in-state swing. The Heisman Trophy, after all, was presented from New York City on national TV. The Letterman Top 10 isn't read in College Station. The Cotton Bowl wasn't just televised locally. A&M — through the vessel of a young quarterback — is a household name for the time being.

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