1. The big news of the week had to be top 2014 LB Zach Whitley committing to Alabama after A&M jumping out to the early lead back in February. This is a perfect example of why I say A&M still has work to do to get into that elite recruiting status. I think we've all jumped the gun that because the Aggies had one good season in the SEC and finished in the top 5 that the hard work was done. We were ready to sit back and let the fruits of last year's big season come to us.
To the contrary, there are a lot of longstanding biases to overcome. There are a lot of high school coaching staffs that are still tied into the Longhorns, Sooners, Tigers, and Tide. Let's take Whitley and North Shore for example. When is the last tier one recruit that A&M has secured from North Shore…and don't say Eric Crutchfield. David Aymond and his staff at North Shore have established contacts with Oklahoma State, Texas, LSU, and Alabama to name a few, but for some reason he's not cozied up to A&M. That could be for several reasons. The previous staffs have not bounded with him, or it could be that there's something personal that is out of A&M's control. Who knows what it is, but we do know A&M has tried numerous times to crack that nut at North Shore with poor results.
When Whitley didn't show up to either the Friday Night Lights or the spring game, and then word trickled down that the North Shore coaches drove him to Alabama, you knew something was going on. You can't drive the kid an hour and 45 minutes to his favorite school for the afternoon, but you have the weekend to drive him 14 hours to Tuscaloosa?
2. So that leads to my next topic, and that's linebacker recruiting in 2014. I've seen a lot of recruiting observers panic and suggest it's time to quickly offer Klein's Josh Mabin or maybe try to get back on Cameron Hampton. I say, slow down. At linebacker you have the luxury to slow it down and continue looking for a couple of studs. Why?
Because it's a lot easier to find a 6-foot-2, 220 lbs. athlete than say a 6-foot-6, 320 lbs. offensive tackle or a 6-foot-3, 295-pound dl stud who's explosive off the ball. Also, I liked what I saw from the newcomers this spring. Brett Wade, Reggie Chevis, and A.J. Hilliard showed me enough that I don't think A&M will be hurting for quality linebackers. Thus, I don't think A&M is in a position where they need to panic and offer the next guy in line just to have a warm body.
Sure, keep evaluating Mabin's knee and if the staff thinks he can upgrade the LB position, then offer. But if I'm A&M with Texas already with several LB commits, and Alabama and LSU not really looking at any other LB prospects in the state…just wait.
Every season, several seniors emerge in the fall. Yeah, it's unlikely with an OT or stud DT, but there are plenty of 220 lbs. athletes that have not been identified yet. A&M now has the luxury to wait and see who emerges in September and October. They will be in position to take the best available prospects at this point. And if necessary, the staff can keep their eyes open in the JUCO ranks. I guess what I'm trying to say is that linebacker is not a position of concern at the moment, and there's plenty of opportunities to pick up a recruit that upgrades the talent of the roster.
3. One more angle of the Whitley situation that ties into what I've been saying about this 2014 class for a while. Personally, I think this will be Sumlin's toughest year to recruit. Why? Because the Aggies are tweeners in the recruiting world right now. The great season and surge in momentum has certainly elevated A&M's status among 16-18 year-old football players, high school coaches, friends and family. I think we can say that A&M has nudged ahead of Texas, but only slightly. So it's not like A&M is so far ahead that they can let Texas fill up with high quality recruits in the state (not elite) and then if they miss out on some out of state elite recruits in December, can simply jump back in on these kids in January like Mack Brown used to do to Dennis Franchione. A&M is not there yet.
So A&M has moved ahead of texas (slightly) and OU, but are they ready to fight with the big boys of national recruiting for the elite national recruits who will wait until December/January to pick a school? The Aggies have enough staying power to stay in the top 5 for a stud OOS QB like Kyle Allen or some of these stud receivers like Malachie Dupre and Speedy Noil in Louisiana, but the question remains do they have the juice to actually close the deal in January against LSU, Alabama, Ohio State, and the "resources" of Oregon?
Sumlin has to make that call, and it's a tough one. Go with the safe bet and land some quality low four-star prospects, or ante up to the big boy poker game and put all those chips on the elite kids in January, risking having the other kids fall off the board earlier to Oklahoma, TCU, Texas, Baylor, and OSU? That's why Sumlin gets paid the big bucks.
Back to Whitley and why I bring this up….I'm glad this happened now and not in January. Like I said, this actually gives Sumlin a chance to go through several more satisfactory options at LB, where he'd be left holding the bag if Whitley did this in January like most high 4-stars and 5-stars do.
4. Contrary to some of my bloviating competitors, there are other people that do talk to Shreveport Parkway QB Brandon Harris. I spoke to him Thursday night. He spoke glowingly about his recent Texas A&M offer that came the day before, and the offer was followed up with phone conversations with Coach Spavital, Coach McKinney, and the big man (Cobra). They pushed pretty hard for a commitment and they made it very clear to him he's their top priority. I guess that workout on Tuesday impressed Spavital. Not that it matters, but 15 minutes of highlights and a 30 minute conversation and I thought this kid has everything a college coach is looking for in a high school QB…arm strength, accuracy, good speed, decision-making, leadership, and a winning attitude and desire to work hard and get better.
Many college coaches are seeing the same thing as harris has racked up 15-20 offers…many coming after they've watched him in spring practice. In fact, when I spoke to him Thursday, Urban Meyer and Ohio State just offered that day along with Auburn and he mentioned another school that slipped my aging mind. But aside from the excitement of the A&M offer, he seemed most excited about Alabama. They had a coach stop by earlier in the week and gave him high marks, so much so that now Nick Saban is supposed to travel to Shreveport for a look himself. They are hinting at an offer, although the Tide is looking at a lot of elite QB targets. But with Saban interested enough to come see him, you never know how he'll react to his workout. It may land Harris No. 3 on their list which will make A&M fans happy. He could jump up to No. 1 on Alabama's list. We'll see.
The other thing here is LSU. Harris told me that someone from the Tiger staff is scheduled to evaluate him at practice next week. Again, this is the same deal as Alabama. Right now, LSU has a couple of other guys already offered and ranked ahead of Harris…but does that change after next week's evaluation?
If you ask me, I think the LSU scenario is the one A&M fans should be most concerned about. I think he really wanted that LSU offer back in April when he ditched the A&M spring game for the LSU event…but when LSU didn't deliver I think that put a sour taste in his mouth. So, if LSU comes by next week and still doesn't offer, I think LSU as a future threat could be diminished and I think that clearly puts A&M in the catbird's seat. It certainly sounds like he wants to play in the SEC, and he likes A&M's offense. The key is getting him on-campus as soon as possible.
Harris told me he basically wants to make a decision by the first week in July and then spend the next couple of weeks privately informing head coaches of his decision before going public on July 18.
Oh, and by the way, Harris ranted for about five minutes on recruiting services and the inaccuracy of the information seen on the internet. He's referring to the silly back-and-forth stuff from two A&M recruiting services about Harris' academic grade status. Hey, we all get things wrong in this business. In talking and reporting on over 100 17-18 year-olds, you are going to mess up especially on informal message board posts. Certainly, I take a little more liberty to project and speculate in an informal setting on my premium message board in casual conversation with you than I would a network article...and that's the case with other recruiting guys and their message board forums.
So when I see one recruiting service take a "mistake" about Brandon Harris from another site's message board and then send it directly to Harris in the hopes of upsetting the kid and cutting off the service from future interviews (I assume that's why he did it), I've got a major problem with it. Hey, the back-and-forth of competitors is just the nature of the business and you get your popcorn out and watch the sparks fly…no harm, no foul. We all do it to some extent, but until now it's been pretty harmless. But when it bleeds over into recruiting and these services starting using the recruits as part of "the game", I've got concerns.
On Thursday, I had about 10-15 minutes of Harris' time to discuss his thoughts on Texas A&M, what Spavital said to him, what Sumlin said to him, where things go from here, what he thought of the new Kyle Field project. Well, I didn't get to ask him about the Kyle Field project because he spent five minutes ranting on the negativity of recruiting services and justifying to me that his grades are in good shape.
Look, I know this is a dog-eat-dog business and in business "everything" is fair game…anything for an advantage right? I don't like it because I know how much stress and pressure these kids are under when 20-30 coaches and 30 recruiting "gurus" are calling them every day. The last thing they need is more drama from recruiting services.
Hop's Musings and Tidbits
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