Hop's Musings and Much More

Time for another installment of musings, notes, and tidbits from Aggie Websider's David Sandhop. In this edition, Sandhop looks at the prospects expected in town for the first 2014 junior day while he also looks at the last remaining spots of the 2013 class and who will likely join the Aggies.

1. Let's start with the Class of 2014. A&M already has six high quality commits, but this coming weekend officially kicks off the 2014 recruiting season. Much like Sherman's staff did a couple of years ago, the first junior day will be an elite day where only the top prospects are invited. Typically, schools will run 40-50 prospects through these first junior day events, but Kevin Sumlin and company will welcome anywhere from 15-20 recruits along with a couple of top 2015 prospects. So let's start with a tentative list of invitees:

*LB Hoza Scott (commit)
*DB Cedric Collins (commit)
*DB Nick Harvey (commit)
LB Josh Walker (commit)
WR Jamal Jeffery (commit)
*WR/S Davion Hall
QB Patrick Mahomes
*OL Kealvin Davis
*DE Myles Garrett
*DE Solomon Thomas
OL Koda Martin
*LB Zach Whitely
*WR Kd Cannon
RB Leonard Fournette (New Orleans - #1 prospect in Louisiana)
DB Dylan Sumner-Gardner (Clemson commit)
*DB Ed Paris
DT Daylon Mack (2015 Gladewater)

* Consensus Top 15 prospect in Texas

That's a very impressive list, with 10 of the invitees/attendees considered a consensus Top 15 prospect in Texas for 2014. Not to mention that the top prospect in Louisiana, and by some accounts the top RB in the nation, will be in College Station (Fournette). Also add the top 2015 DT in Texas (Mack) as well. So it's a very talented, elite list.

2) Before we get into specific prospects, let's discuss the recruiting strategy here. First, this recruiting cycle will be a challenge for Sumlin and company. I'm sure you are wondering what I'm getting at since the Aggies sit atop the perception perch of every major prospect in this state and beyond. That's my point. Being the top dog has its disadvantages. In this case, Sumlin and most of his staff have never recruited from this level of national prominence. They are used to identifying prospects early and finding a way to maneuver around the big boys like Texas, OU, and LSU. If you had an early opportunity to receive the commit of a high three-star or low four-star, you jumped on the chance without thinking twice. You uncover a raw, hidden gem in the spring (like Adeboyejo) and pounce on him before the others see him.

After many years on the recruiting trail as the hunter, the A&M staff is now the hunted. Elite national players from all across the country and within the state will inquire and show interest in A&M early. Does A&M hold off on their typical high three-star/low four-star targets and hope they don't commit early to let's say a Baylor, TCU, OU, or even Texas, or do they still jump on these very solid targets early and lock them up at the expense of not swinging for the fences with a handful of national Top 50 prospects?

Do you quickly lock up an Austin Schlottman, Mike Leagan, Ty Barrett, or some other very good OL's from the state, or do you wait and hold out for a 5-star OT like Braden Smith from Kansas (who will unofficially visit Friday) and a few other similar nationally-rated OL's. That's the million dollar question for the staff.

It's a fine line the staff must walk and frankly they don't have a lot of experience being in this position. So for me, that's the storyline I will be watching. I did find it interesting that the staff took Jamal Jeffery and Shaun Nixon so early. Not that they aren't good, quality recruits but because they quickly offered a few guys so early that had few big offers when they could have waited and gone after just the big national fish. I'm not suggesting one strategy is better than the other, but as somebody that studies how the sausage is made, I find A&M's new-found situation very compelling.

Despite taking some early Top 40 state prospects in the fall, the staff has appeared to pull back a little and focus on the top recruits in the state with this elite junior day. Historically, the first junior day in late January is a big event with a wide net used to eyeball a good portion of Top 100 targets and basically used as an evaluation event as much as a recruiting event. Of the 50+ kids that show up, the staff gets serious with maybe 10-12 players. However this year, the A&M staff is using its leverage coming off an 11-2 Heisman season to focus ONLY on the top 25 guys, and from the tentative attendee list it appears that strategy will be successful.

3) As far as commits from this group, I think the first prospect that comes to mind is Garland Lakeview Centennial offensive tackle Kealvin Davis. I saw Davis at the junior A&M camp last summer, and he was the OL that stood out the most. He's undersized at 6-foot-5 and about 255 lbs. and he's a bit raw in his technique, but you won't find a more athletic offensive lineman. He's so quick off the ball and so fluid coming in and out of his stance…effortless knee bend. He has long arms and for his thin frame he's extremely strong. He'll definitely need a redshirt year to add mass to his base. He said he is working to improve his pass protection against inside moves, finishing his blocks on the second level, and improving his game IQ and becoming a student of the game. He's a very smart, articulate kid that seems very knowledgeable about the game and wanting to improve.

When I spoke to his dad in July at the camp, he told me Kealvin grew up a big Longhorn fan and that if Texas came after him early, he figured his son would go there although he did say that they were both very impressed with A&M and Coach Sumlin. Remember, this was before the season.

Fast forward to Tuesday night and Kealvin said his top schools are A&M, Baylor, OSU, OU, and Michigan among others. What about Texas? He mentioned once being a fan, but that wasn't the case anymore. Ironically, Texas came by the school today for the first time and invited him to their camp. Asked if that will affect his recruiting process and he said "probably not".

He sees so many positives with the Texas A&M program and the direction its headed. He likes that A&M has developed such great tackles like Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. He loved the A&M –Alabama game and he said he watched every game after that. He's definitely attending he junior day, and he's scheduled to see Baylor on February 2. I asked him if the coaches indicated that he was close to a commit, and he said they did. I then asked if he wanted to commit early before his senior season or wait for next December. Interesting, he said, "I don't know, that probably depends on what A&M does."

Umm, OK. The staff needs a long, athletic tackle in this class, and Davis is the best junior in the state. So, I would be surprised if the Aggies don't offer. I'm not sure he would commit immediately, but it does appear A&M is in good shape for now.

4) Whitehouse QB Patrick Mahomes was invited to elite day a few days ago and the 6-foot-3, 200 lb. signal caller jumped all over the invite. The reason is clear. A&M is a premium spot and the Ags will only take one. In addition, Texas already has their 2014 QB spot filled with Jarrod Heard. Mahomes is certainly aware that A&M just offered Oklahoma QB Justice Hansen. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see A&M offer and push for a quick commit, but we'll see. It will be hard for Mahomes to turn down an offer at this point. There just aren't many 2014 spots available for QB's at high D-1 programs in the region.

In looking at his tape, I think he has a very nice prototypical frame. He's not an elite speedster or a natural scrambler with quickness, but he does have above average speed and can pick up some yards leaving the pocket on occasion very similar to Ryan Tannehill. Overall, I think he's a better athlete than Hansen and their passing abilities are similar. Mahomes doesn't have a natural delivery and his long balls occasionally float, but for the most part he's fairly accurate with his short and intermediate throws.

I texted with Mahomes Tuesday night immediately after his basketball game. We scheduled an interview tomorrow, but he did confirm that he'll be in College Station on Sunday.

5) Two critical targets that are expected in for the elite junior day are Coppell DL Solomon Thomas and Arlingtom Martin DE Myles Garrett. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the Top 10 Garrett intends to be in attendance on Sunday with family, but when I called him Tuesday night he was actually stranded in their car after it broke down tonight. He said he would call me tomorrow. Hopefully, they will have the car fixed and ready to go Sunday because he's the best pass rusher in the state. He has a great inside move and he's extremely quick off the ball.

Thomas plays end in a 3-4 base defense. His strength is standing up his defender and shooting the gaps. He's not an outside rush guy, so I don't think he's a defensive end in a 4-3…possibly on the strongside, but I think his best position at the next level is a 6-foot-3, 290-pound interior lineman. That means he'll need to bulk up about 25-30 lbs. which on his frame should be easy to do over the next two years. He's a Top 10-15 prospect in my book.

I've heard Thomas has warmed up to Texas A&M in recent months and I think the Aggies have a good shot here, but I think they will have more work to do after Sunday. I haven't talked to him yet, but I'm still hoping to get him for an interview before Friday. If A&M can land this pair, then we know the A&M staff will have the upper-hand in the 2014 class over their traditional recruiting rivals. It would be nice to land one of these two after the Sunday event.

6) After the two DL's, the most important targets scheduled to be in town include Mansfield safety Ed Paris and Liberty-Eylau athlete Davion Hall. I think Hall is one of the top three recruits in the state and a pure stud at both receiver and safety. But after talking to him last week, schools better recruit him as a pass catcher if you want to land him. A&M showed up talking safety, but quickly changed the message to receiver when the safety pitch didn't go over well. He has many programs after him and I don't expect him to make a quick decision. He'll have A&M as a finalist, but he'll force each school to earn his signature.

Ed Paris is that stud safety that has eluded A&M coaches for the better part of a decade. So just to get that caliber of athlete in the defensive backfield will be significant. Also, he likes LSU a lot, so it will be interesting to see if the Aggies can win one against the Tigers and flex their muscle and show they can now protect the Sabine border.

On the flip side, it will be fun to see if the Aggies can make Les Miles sweat over the top prospect in the state, RB Leonard Fournette. Some services list him as the top RB in the nation. It seems like an outside shot to unseat LSU in this one, but you'll never do it unless you try, and that's what the A&M staff will do this weekend.

North Shore LB Zach Whitely is very high on A&M's list and with two commits already and several highly-rated Top 15 LB prospects interested in the Aggies, I wouldn't be surprised to see somebody like Whitely or another LB target jump on-board very soon. When spots fill up and you are the toast of the state, players will feel pressured to commit. The same may be true with some of these defensive backs visiting.

7) The heartbreaking loss to Alabama in Tuscaloosa looms a lot bigger tonight after the Crimson Tide knocked off Kentucky at home. Surprisingly, Alabama is now 4-1and in second place in the SEC. Bama returned four starters from a team that went to the NCAA Tournament last season, so an A&M win last Saturday would have been huge to their chances to make a run at the big dance. AS it is, the team is still on schedule for an NIT berth. That's why the LSU is so important. This is another toss-up game on the road. It won't be a bad loss, but a win puts the hoopsters a full two games ahead of schedule for the NIT. This stretch of five games is the toughest part of the SEC schedule. The Ags are expected to win the following Saturday when they host Georgia. Then Kentucky comes to Reed and it will be interesting to see what Wildcat team shows up in College Station. I have a hard time thinking Turner can score another 40 points, so I doubt the Ags can make it a clean sweep.

In his press conference this week, Billy Kennedy called out Ray Turner and said they expect more from the senior. Ray's career has been marred with silly fouls, foul trouble, and inconsistent energy levels. With Kourtney Roberson really turning the corner in SEC play, a rejuvenated Turner could make a big difference the rest of the way. Will Kennedy's tactic work to motivate Ray, or will it backfire?

As I said on the boards on Saturday, I don't know if Kennedy is the answer. The offense is hard to watch when Turner isn't busting 40, but I must say that the team defense has steadily improved and has become formidable for most SEC opponents not named Florida. In the Alabama game, there were really only 2-3 bad defensive possessions and the Ags held Alabama scoreless for a 10 minute stretch in the first half. The point barrage by Bama in the second half came courtesy of some bad turnovers, not bad defense. As long as the team plays hard and plays good team defense, I'll hold the rope the remainder of the season.

For those looking for a change immediately, you know that won't happen so we might as well evaluate the team the remainder of the season and then decide what the best course is for the program. If the team limps in with some uninspired game s and plays out the string and finishes a pedestrian 7-11/6-12, I think the writing is on the wall. But what does Eric Hyman realistically do if the team finishes 9-9 and 19-12 in the regular season that garners an NIT berth? That's a 5-game improvement over last season with seven scholarship players. Look, I hear where some of you are coming from. I really do. That's why I'm torn on what could or should happen if this 19-12 scenario occurs.

8) Going back to 2013 recruiting, it seems that we're now down to three players for three spots, and holding on to the current commits. With Edward Williams visiting other schools after he didn't like the idea of greyshirting and the weekend defection of WR Tony Stevens, the Aggies now have room for everybody remaining in the class including grade risk Derrick Griffin and pro baseball risk Kohl Stewart. Kenny Hill didn't seem overly impressed with his visit to Kansas State, and it's looking more and more like A&M should keep him in the fold as long as next weekend's visit to College Station meets his expectations. What we are hearing from a couple of sources is that Johnny Manziel is telling people that he'll likely go pro after next season if all goes as planned and he has a great sophomore season. Thus, that message puts Hill at ease, and it means he will be able to compete for the starting job as a redshirt freshman. The news is also sitting well with Stewart who says he's now almost certain to go to college and play football after his A&M visit last weekend. Despite what Stewart says now (and A&M will sign him), if he stays healthy and gets a clean bill of health after his senior baseball season (and that's a big if), I can still see him tempted to go pro. We simply won't know until August 15.

I told y'all that there was a good chance that Darian Claiborne would get cold feet in regard to the TCU visit. He did not want to jeopardize his spot, and TCU asked him to wait another week to visit and that was a dealbreaker. He told me there's a slight chance he decides to visit Ole Miss. I don't think he goes, but if at the last second he pops up in Oxford for the weekend, I'd be very worried. Hugh Freeze is doing something to attract all these 5-star recruits and it's not the 50,000 seat stadium.

9) As far as adding to the class, it boils down to the same three we discussed last week….four-star defensive ends Daeshon Hall and Torrodney Prevot along with four-star slot receiver Sebastian LaRue. LaRue and Hall visited this past weekend. Both gave the visit high marks. I spoke to laRue and he said he felt very comfortable in College Station and could see himself going to school there. We're also hearing that the receiver and Notre Dame parted ways the other day and now it's down to A&M and Washington State. There is some Internet buzz that he's silently committed to A&M and waiting to go public on the ESPNU signing day special. After talking to Sebastian on Sunday, that wouldn't surprise me at all.

Hall is a different story. A&M sources feel they did what they needed to do to pry the 6-foot-6 DE away from Washington and TCU. Our own Erin Hartigan has been all over hall's recruitment and spoke to him at length yesterday and she feels the big man is very confused and undecided at the moment. We'll see how this one plays out. I'm hearing that Prevot does not have a spot with USC and that it will come down to Oregon and Texas A&M. He is still scheduled to visit Aggieland this weekend, and the consensus is he'll probably choose the Aggies. He's wanted to come back for several weeks, but A&M didn't have a spot for sure until this past week.

I also wouldn't put it past this staff to sneak one more committed prospect in to town, much like they did with Hassan Ridgeway last season. The only difference this year is that Sumlin has a nice 11-2 resume' in his back pocket.

10) Whoa Missouri! You know this day was going to come, so now it's time to pay the piper. The NCAA is just about to play its cards in this poker game of recruiting violations and suspensions. They are expected to charge former Miami head coach and current Missouri head man Frank Haith with unethical conduct and violating NCAA recruiting rules during his time at Miami . It is expected he'll receive the penalty that basically penalizes any school for hiring him while he's on probation. So Missouri will have to play its cards in this game of recruiting violations poker. Do they keep Haith and accept severe NCAA penalties, or do they fire him and start fresh? That's a tough question, but one Missouri officials better be prepared to make in the very near future. If you ask me, I bet they try to retain him and negotiate down the NCAA's proposed sanctions. This could have a big impact on Missouri and the SEC in regard to basketball where only Florida and Missouri are ranked in the Top 25. Seeing Missouri get its wings clipped would further water down a very mediocre SEC basketball conference. FYI, Haith was a young assistant coach under Tony Barone at Texas A&M in the mid-1990's.

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