Boise State's Texas Pipeline (Reprise)

The state of Texas produces some of the finest football talent in the nation, and increasingly, Boise State is tapping into that pipeline. In this article, we look at the Texas high school football power structure, why recruiting in Texas is important and the future outlook for Bronco recruits from Texas.

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on BroncoCountry in July of 2010.)

Nobody seems to know when the obsession started.  It doesn't seem to have a clear beginning.  In fact, there's no single event like a big bang that seemed to have caused its birth. Old timers just shrug and say it's always been that way.  Skeptical newcomers quickly learn it's safer to question religion or politics.  It is simultaneously divisive and unifying for young and old alike. Over lattes in glass skyscrapers and frosty Shiner Bocks in tiny country stores, the tales and talk that are evidence of the fixation can be heard from August to January every year. 

What is the object of this obsession? What subject could possibly pit entire communities against each other? Yes, it is high school football—Texas-style.  Like the wind in west Texas or the pines in the east, the passion Texans feel for high school football seems as much a part of the state as are legends about the Alamo and Texas Rangers (the lawmen, not the bankrupt baseball team). Is it really as big as the legends would have us believe?  If it is, what the heck does it have to do with Boise State football?  Is there anything behind the "Texas Recruiting Pipeline?"

The answers are simple:  Yes, high school football is that big in Texas and because of it, the potential as a recruiting ground for Boise State is enormous.  And yes the Texas recruiting pipeline is not only a reality--when it's flowing, it can be tougher to stop than a BP oil well.

When looking for proof of the Texas Recruiting Pipeline's value it's tempting to focus on the great and near-great players from Texas that have already found their way to Boise State .  You really don't have to look much further than the current squad which has some present and future impact players: Aaron Burks (Mansfield Timberview in Grand Prairie), DJ Harper (Cypress Creek in Houston), George Iloka (Kempner HS in Houston), Brenel Myers (Westfield in Houston), Chris Roberson (Katy HS in Katy), Quaylon Ewing (Kempner HS in Houston) and Chandler Koch (Flower Mound HS in Flower Mound).  Recently players like Kyle Stringer (Humble HS in Humble) and Dennis Ellis (Cleveland HS Cleveland) have made an impression on and sometimes off the field.

 

The early Boise State teams featured defensive end Faddie Tillman (Hamilton Park HS in Dallas )), running back Chris Jackson and receiver Rodney Smith (Ball HS in Galveston ).  Tillman was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1971.  Jackson (HP Carter HS in Houston ) is fifth all-time with 1,273 yards rushing in 1987 and is second with 5.97 yards-per-carry over his career.  Smith is 13th all-time with 117 catches in two years at Boise State .

However the true test of the Pipeline's performance may not be the number of past or present players from Texas .  Rather it is the potential that remains untapped for BSU, particularly as the school prepares to move to the Mountain West Conference.  To understand that potential, it helps to understand why the Texas obsession with high school football produces so many impact players each season. 

Friday Night Lights
Its been said that football is the national religion of Texas and that Friday night high school games are where the weekly services are held.  In isolated towns and bustling cites Friday nights glow with stadium lights as they have for decades.  Generations of marching bands have played as countless little brothers toss footballs in the parking lots to imitate their big brothers battling for bragging rights on the
Texas fields of honor.  AM radio stations still crackle with the sounds of hometown announcers extolling the virtues of their local gladiators and the Ace Hardware that sponsored the night's broadcast.  So powerful are these rituals—so engrained in the fabric of life that for young men in Texas , playing football is the norm rather than the exception.  And that means lots of players entering the pool.  In fact to put the size of Texas high school football into perspective, consider these facts:

·        There are an estimated 1,500 high school teams in Texas
·        The UIL is the state's largest sport governing body and they categorize schools from 5A (2,000 or more students) down to 1A (less than 200 students). 
·        On any give Friday during football season TexasHSFootball.com estimates 1 in 15 Texans is attending, playing, coaching or taking part in activities at a high school football game.  That means there are over 1.6 million people at a high school football game in Texas on those Friday nights—100,000 more people than in the entire state of Idaho !
·        In 2004 the Dallas Morning News conservatively estimated that fans spend at least $275 million a season on game tickets, programs, concessions, booster club merchandise, travel, meals and lodging. 
·        That same article noted a 30-70% increase in business at the state's 629 Dairy Queens during the football season. DQ and football, it doesn't get any more Texas .
·        Texas has 12 high school stadiums with 16,000 or more seats.  That's a dozen high schools equal or larger than the Kibbiedome!  And there are another 61 stadiums that hold from 10,000 to 16,000.  In fact according to the football site TexasBob.com, the total seating capacity at Texas high school stadiums is nearly 4 million—enough for every man, woman and child in Oregon to attend a game with a little elbow room left over.
·        It would be tempting to think that 46, 399 fans packing into Texas Stadium in 2006 to watch Southlake Carroll vs. Euless Trinity reflected the growth of the state's population.  But it doesn't.  Imagine 45,790 fans from Highland Park and Waco in the Cotton Bowl watching their teams play to a 7-7 tie in the 1945 state championship game.  Big games draw big crowds in Texas . 

So football is big in Texas but does bigger mean better?  It's hard to say but the sheer numbers indicate the volume of Texas players entering college each season is enormous and the level of competition means the players are well trained and motivated.  In many public schools football is a class, replacing PE for the players.  They eat, sleep and train football or football-related conditioning throughout the school year.  Skill positions continue into the off-season, participating in countless camps and 7-on-7 tournaments.  All these activities produce players better prepared to play at the next level which may account for large number of Texas players on college rosters.

Nurture vs. Nature
With so much potential in the state, how does Boise State land Texas players?  How do the Broncos ensure the Pipeline is pointed northwest and flowing?  Basically there are two primary ways prospects are landed: 1. College coaches forming and nurturing relationships with high school coaches who recommend players for consideration. 2. Players naturally and proactively seeking out a school. 

There is no doubt about the value of coaching relationships.  Three years ago I had a chance to speak with legendary Head Coach Mike Johnson who coached the powerhouse Katy Tigers for 22 seasons.  He told a group of parents, including myself, that a large part of his job was to help match senior players with colleges where their skills, personalities and potential could be fully realized.  Johnson said he'd never recommend a player that wasn't a good fit for a school because ultimately everyone would lose.  He relied on a network of coaches and past experience to identify possible colleges because ideally Johnson would like every player to be offered a chance at the next level.  Promoting his players was a part of his job.

Coaching is a fraternity.  Coaches build relationships with others and that network is vital in the recruit recommendation and identification process.  It may be as simple as recommending a summer camp or as serious as encouraging a college to attend games to scout a particular player.   Boise State coach Pease with his Baylor coaching background appears to have a well-established network, particularly among Houston-area coaches, and that has undoubtedly been instrumental in helping land some of the players. 

Then there's the natural part.  High school players want to play college ball and they like the internet.  Plus their parents like college scholarships.  Nature takes its course which means today's players and their families are amazingly proactive about marketing.  They post videos on YouTube.  They reach out to colleges.  They seek out camps to showcase their skills and they work.  Not surprisingly they often seek the higher profile schools, which is where the exposure Boise State has enjoyed in the media pays dividends.  The "buzz" around Boise State and Texas players who have gone to the school seems to be creating an environment where the Broncos are increasingly a candidate for players who a generation earlier might have had trouble finding Boise on a map.  Credit the media.  Credit the coaches.  Credit the success of Boise State .  Or credit all those factors and a few others but the net effect is the Broncos have become a viable choice for players from the Lone Star state.  And that speaks well for the future of the Pipeline. 

The Future for Boise State
Break out the shades because the future looks bright for
Boise State .  The team has a solid pipeline flowing; coaches that have established relations within the state; and awareness among the high school players.  But best of all, we have the MWC.  It is safe to assume that the move to the Mountain West will increase our exposure and presence within the state.  Our future conference-mates are already milking the pipeline.  Look at the number of Texas players on the MWC teams:

New Mexico has 15             • Air Force has 21                   Colorado State has 21
Utah has 13                          • UNLV has 11                                    Wyoming has 8
• BYU has 4                             San Diego State has 2                                 
And all but 24 TCU players are from Texas .

Put it all together and the potential for Boise State looks very promising.  Will Texas replace California as a breeding ground for future Broncos?  It's doubtful.  But there's no doubt it will grow in importance as the Texas Recruiting Pipeline continues to flow.


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