SMU's mission has been to recruit the state of Texas ever since Chad Morris claimed he’d take advantage of all the high school talent reachable within “a quarter-tank of gas” distance from SMU. A 2016 signing class that featured 25 Texans, 16 of whom had at least one offer from a Power 5 school, was one sign Morris and his assistants are carrying out their promise.
None of that is new information, though. PonyStampede visited a handful of local high schools to talk to players, coaches and parents for another angle on SMU’s effort and perception on the recruiting trail in the DFW area.
Honesty and trust
The coaching staff’s honesty comes up frequently when talking to SMU recruiting targets. The staff isn’t wooing players by promising them anything. They’re truthful about what they have to sell: the chance to be an impact player while building a winning program, a strong educational experience, a family environment, and facility improvements (that have yet to be formally announced).
Former Plano East (Texas) Audie Omotosho, a four-star wide receiver who kept SMU among his finalists until Signing Day, said the honesty stuck out to him.
“The coaches weren’t going to say, ‘we’re going to offer you this,’” the UCLA signee said. “They kept it straightforward and said, ‘this is what we have, this is what we don’t have.’ Not only that, but they’re very ambitious and they really believe in the vision they’ve set for themselves.”
The honesty and the common goals Omotosho and the SMU staff shared, such as offering a chance to play right away, helped keep SMU in the mix for him and bumped out some bigger schools that couldn’t offer it.
“It’s really one of a kind,” Omotosho said of the staff’s honesty, “People would ask me how I put SMU with UCLA, Oklahoma State, because they’re in the rebuilding stage. It’s definitely one of a kind. The education, it’s basically Harvard…As well as the opportunity to come in and make an impact, especially with the new staff.”
Morris was honest about how he’d recruit when he was hired, and he and his staff have followed through. A day after his hire, he was out recruiting at South Dallas power DeSoto. He signed two DeSoto players in his first class and two from neighboring Cedar Hill in his second.
“From Day 1, Chad Morris has said he’s going to recruit the state of Texas,” said Cedar Hill head coach Joey McGuire, a longtime friend of Morris. “That’s what he’s done with #TexasTough. We’d never had an SMU kid, and we got two right off the bat. I’m excited about it.”
As much credibility as Morris has among high school coaches, he’s vocal about his own trust in high school coaches. He hired two of them to his staff at SMU (running backs coach Claude Mathis and recruiting coordinator Mark Smith), which he promised to do at his introductory press conference.
“His assistant coaches, they understand that when they come in here, they trust their high school coaches,” said Plano East head coach Joey McCullough. “Texas high school coaches are the best. To me, that’s one of the things Chad Morris has brought to SMU, the respectability when he comes into high schools. To me, that matters a lot.”
Consistent communication and relationships helped SMU land some 2016 signees that held multiple Power 5 offers, such as Ken McLaurin, Brandon Benson and Kadarius Smith. The same relationships kept them committed when more Power 5 teams made a late run at them in the days leading up to Signing Day.
Relationships also put SMU among the finalists for big-name recruits such as Omotosho. He picked UCLA over finalists SMU, Oklahoma State and TCU. But he eliminated Texas Tech, Washington, Utah, Arkansas, Miami (Fla.) Oklahoma, California and others well before SMU. He said relationship with wide receivers coach Justin Stepp was as strong as any other one he had with a coach.
Two of Omotosho’s former teammates, 2017 five-star linebacker Anthony Hines and four-star defensive tackle Deiontae Watts, both have similarly strong relationships with the SMU staff. SMU offered Watts first in the fall, well before offers from Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Oklahoma came in.
Watts told PonyStampede he has the strongest relationships with the SMU staff, specifically defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt and secondary coach Jess Loepp. Hines, who has an all-time record 88 Division I offers, maintains strong interest in SMU.
“SMU, that’s one of the sleepers,” Hines said. “They’re an awesome program, I’ve always been interested, even before they offered. With coach Morris, it’s an unbelievable program. They have everything you need: academics, the football program is really on the come up. I’m definitely interested in them.”
Morris was Hines’ recruiter when he coached at Clemson, so he has a long-standing relationship with the family. Hines has visited SMU four times since Morris was hired.
“With SMU, we have one of the best relationships with them (as we do with) any staff,” Hines’ father, Anthony, told PonyStampede.
Recruits like to talk about the family atmosphere they feel on SMU’s campus. It starts with the coaching staff. Three of the assistant coaches (Joe Craddock, Justin Stepp, Dustin Fry) were one-time graduate assistants at Clemson under Morris. Morris coached linebackers coach Archie McDaniel at Bay City (Texas) High School. The staff also had zero assistant turnover this offseason.
“With him bringing some staff from Clemson, it was more of a family vibe,” Omotosho said. “It wasn’t like, ‘we’re just going to hire a random coach and get these guys.’ Coach Morris has a vision for the entire program. That made it a unique experience.”
Building the relationships is easier for SMU because the school is close to a lot of the players it recruits. It’s a matter of taking advantage of the opportunity of being close to a lot of high school talent.
“That staff has been a game-changer on the recruiting trail, especially here in Dallas,” said Courtney Allen, the recruiting coordinator at Lancaster (Texas) High School. “Nothing against the past regime, but this group understood what they need to do and went after Texas kids and knew they had a lot of talent in the Dallas area. They’re always here; they treat you well when you’re on campus. They have an open door for us.”
The energy shows up in little gestures too, especially on social media. So much of recruiting runs through Twitter today.
“It’s unbelievable,” Allen said. “I like some of the things they’re doing, like with the video of coach Morris dancing, the video board at the spring game saying, ‘We want you.’ They’re making it known they want guys there. They have an energy that’s contagious.”
A great example is #StangGang16 and #StangGang17, the slogans for the 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes.
“He’s just got such a positive energy, got such a plan and vision,” McGuire said. “I think it’s infectious. When you look at the kids he’s bringing in and that #StangGang16, I hear my guys talk about it nonstop. It’s little buzzwords like that this generation loves. He’s got his hand on a really good pulse for what’s going on in the Metroplex.”