Sumlin, A&M sign historic class
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 01:02
Thousands of high school athletes pledged their allegiances to college football programs across the country, putting ink to paper during the much-anticipated National Signing Day.
Only a month removed from the excitement of bowl season and standing on the brink of spring training, a solidified incoming freshman class will set the tempo for the remainder of the offseason.
For Texas A&M, a program riding a wave of momentum following its Cotton Bowl victory and unforeseen 11-2 (6-2) finish in its inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference, National Signing Day stood as yet another litmus test of where the surging program is headed.
The Aggies held their own against the nation’s elite, proceeding to secure 23 commitments for an unprecedented Top 5 finish in the SEC and Top 10 nationally, according to ESPN class rankings.
From head coach Kevin Sumlin’s perspective, however, A&M’s 2013 recruiting class not only improved the Aggies’ chances of competing in the Southeastern Conference, but also helped facilitate an understanding of the program’s direction.
“When we went into the [SEC], people had doubts about not what we were going to do offensively, but whether it was going to work,” Sumlin said. “Now that people have a better understanding of our offensive philosophy and what we’re trying to do, that certainly helped attract [high-caliber recruits].”
Feeding off the energy and success of redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, Sumlin and his recruiting-oriented staff were able to add key prospects from around the country.
On the weekend of Dec. 8 — the very same weekend Manziel earned his Heisman Trophy — the class peaked with the addition of two highly-touted athletes: consensus four-stars wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones from Sealy, Texas, and defensive tackle Justin Manning from Dallas.
A few weeks following Manziel’s Cotton Bowl-record 516 total yard and four-touchdown performance in the 41-13 romping of Oklahoma, A&M snared four-star receiver Sebastian LaRue following his defection from USC.
"That's the Johnny Manziel effect," Rivals.com analyst Mike Farrell told Sports Illustrated. "These kids see how fun that offense is and they want to catch passes from Johnny Manziel. Wide receivers are lining up to play for Texas A&M and it's because of that offense."
The class finished with six wide receivers — five ranked as four-star caliber or better — among the signees, exhibiting the significance of the position in Sumlin’s up-tempo, air raid-style offense.
Despite the loss of three senior receivers to graduation, including Texas A&M all-time career receiving yardage (3,117) and receptions (252) leader Ryan Swope, the Aggies’ receiving corps has reloaded with brand new talents who have the potential to challenge starters for playing time.
The ability for the A&M coaching staff — headed by multiple former recruiting directors — to focus its efforts on positions where current players are graduating or leaving early for the NFL represents a boost in the program’s maturity on the recruiting trail.
“We’ve got enough guys on our staff that understand the evaluation process and evaluating guys for us,” Sumlin said of his assistants. “Our staff, one year into this league, knows a little bit more about where we’re deficient, what we need to do, what we’re facing and what type of players we need to recruit.”
For the first time in years, A&M was restored as a national presence, encompassing prospects across the country, from Virginia to Hawaii.
Some of A&M’s top signees, however, hailed from hometowns only an hour or two away from College Station.
From Seals-Jones’ viewpoint — a highly sought-after prospect from a small town west of Houston — the Aggies presented the best opportunity: a national championship.
“Our number one goal is a BCS Championship,” Seals-Jones said after the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. “It just starts with us — we got to compete and fight hard day in and day out.”
For others in A&M’s 2013 recruiting class such as four-star defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, Texas A&M and its intangibles stood out as the place to continue a football career.
“A&M is just a great place to be — the fans, the 12th Man,” Golden said. “That’s why I picked them.”
Looking forward, Golden and 22 other high school seniors will find themselves on A&M’s campus this summer with a single goal — outdo last season. Considering Aggie football’s 2012 finish, that objective may seem to be set a bit high.
From now on, though, pushing the limits of past success may be a new convention A&M can add to its already long list of traditions.