Can Sherman Finish Class of 2008 in Style?

In roughly 12 hours, the biggest day of the college football calendar for hardcore fans and recruiting experts will be upon us. This will also be a big day for new A&M coach Mike Sherman, who will try to finish off a successful first recruiting class.

In roughly 12 hours, the biggest day of the college football calendar for hardcore fans and recruiting experts will be upon us. A day where the future fortunes of every Division I college program are partially cast in the mold of talented 18 year-old high school football players who will some day form the backbone of a team's success and failure in the next 2-4 years.

Many casual fans and some in the mainstream media scoff at the pomp and circumstance of this day, but make no mistake that a high level Division I program needs blue chip talent to ultimately succeed. Yes, this day important to all college coaches, but especially to a new coach such as Mike Sherman who steps in at Texas A&M trying to play catch-up with Texas and OU on the recruiting trail.

At Texas A&M, a coach can't succeed long-term losing to Texas and OU. Rivalries aside, the cold hard numbers are clear. If you can't beat OU and Texas, you don't win the Big 12 South and you don't compete for the Big 12 Championship or a BCS bowl berth. If you don't recruit head-to-head with OU and Texas, then you don't beat them on a consistent basis.

With Sherman and staff coming into the 2008 recruiting game so late with so many prospects already committed, it was unrealistic to expect Sherman to make a big move this February. Anyway, he inherited a full class of commitments from Dennis Franchione and the previous staff, so the directive was to solidify the existing class and add talent at selected positions.

As of Tuesday, Sherman and company have done just that for the most part, planning to welcome in a class of 26. Three of those (Tommy Dorman, Matt Moss, Jeff Fuller) enrolled at mid-term and are already on-campus taking classes.

On a positive note, Sherman gets credit for adding arguably two of the most highly-coveted prospects of the class. Wide receiver Jeff Fuller decommitted from OU and showed up in College Station shortly after Sherman was announced as the new coach. It was no secret that Fuller wanted to be an Aggie, but the rush-based offense employed by Franchione chased him north of the Red River initially. Even though Fuller was considered low-hanging fruit in recruiting circles, the fact remains that Sherman identified the opportunity at hand and closed the deal.

Second, in Sherman's most impressive recruiting move to date, he reeled in Cyrus Gray, arguably one of the most talented running backs in the state, during a four-hour meeting at Desoto High School. His ability to assess Gray's character and then personally connect with him on his terms in such a short period of time bodes well for future recruiting classes. While wins and the state of a program are extremely important factors in a prospect selecting a school, the personal relationship with the head coach and his staff goes a long way in persuading blue chips to join the program. Sherman has proven in short order that he can win in the living room of Texas high school recruits.

This isn't to say that the new staff hasn't had its challenges so far. They did lose out on Gilmer's Lamar Harris to OU last week, and Weatherford defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore to Notre Dame. However, Gilmer has historically been very OU friendly and Texas A&M has had very little success landing players from this Northeast Texas community. On the other hand, this new staff has made it very clear that speed off the edge is a top priority, and the late recruitment of undersized, speedy prospects like Josh Williams, Jacquies Smith, Eric Harper, and Ricky Cavanaugh magnified this point of emphasis. In the meantime, Lewis-Moore is more of the traditional defensive end prospect, and it became clear in speaking with him in early January that he was concerned about his role in A&M's new speed offense. He never seemed comfortable with this issue, and ultimately he left for South Bend because of fit, not because of the coach.

The staff will get credit for uncovering several late bloomers like Terrence Frederick and Ricky Cavanaugh who had monstrous senior seasons and quickly secured their commitments in critical need positions.

Finally, the ultimate grade for this recruiting class and this new staff will be unveiled Wednesday when several high profile prospects will be making their final choice. The biggest drama of the day will be which school receives the signed fax of four-star defensive lineman Rod Davis. For the Aggies, this is a huge play at a critical need interior line position. With the graduation of Red Bryant and Henry Smith, A&M desperately needs to fortify the front line and fill the pipeline with a talented prospect. Also, A&M has held on to Davis for almost a year and has fought off challenges from both Florida and Texas. To lose him on the morning of Signing Day will be a bitter pill to swallow.

However, those close to the situation feel the Aggies are in pretty good shape, and the cautious expectation is for the Aggies to get their man. However, on Signing Day, strange things happen. Remember OU commitment Pierre Brown, who out of nowhere faxed his LOI to Texas A&M several years ago. There was the drama of Derek Farmer who showed up at Tyler Lee on the morning of Signing Day not knowing if he wanted to sign with Alabama or Texas A&M. When it gets this late and the prospect is still mulling his options, anything can and will happen.

Now, that may work against A&M in trying to keep Davis in the fold, but the unpredictability on Signing Day could bring a pleasant surprise to Aggie fans. Four star defensive line prospect Damian Square has flirted with Van Malone and the Aggies for the past year, before finally settling on Alabama late in the summer. However, as late as January, he was having second thoughts and visited Texas A&M for the last time. While he has reaffirmed his commitment to the Tide, Square will have an A&M LOI in front of him and given his constant flirtation and wavering, it's worth keeping an eye on the fax machine in the morning. It likely won't happen, but that's why they call it a Signing Day surprise.

Also, another recruit to keep an eye on is Gilmer's Lamar Harris who was committed to the Aggies since last spring, but switched to the Sooners just last week after a late visit. Those close to the family suggest that Lamar is torn between his choices. The Gilmer coaching staff and his former teammate at OU, Justin Johnson, are pushing the Sooners while the parents wouldn't mind seeing their son at Texas A&M. The Gilmer coach re-affirmed Harris' commit to OU earlier today, so the expectation is that Harris will stick with the Sooners, but again the pressure of Signing Day can cause the unexpected.

There has been talk about a last minute switch from Sam McGuffie, but from everything I've heard, if there is a switch, it will be to Jeff Tedford and Cal. There could be others, but as of Tuesday Square and Harris are the two to keep an eye on.

However, the big news will be the destination of Rod Davis. And once the drama of Wednesday's signings subsides, Aggie fans will look back on this class and feel much better about the future of recruiting under Mike Sherman and his staff. Frankly, they did as well as one could expect this late in the game.

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