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May 13, 2013

Tarp's Monday Thoughts

- We're midway through the month of May, the time of the year when college football coaches hit Texas like a bunch of locusts in search of high school talent. Prospects come out to spring practice and watch their high school coaches talk to multiple college coaches every day. Usually, they wander over or are invited over so that the college coach can get a better look at them and pass the eyeball test. If it's a name program and a college coach who has a national title under his belt has a phone call with the prospect in the high school coach's office, then said prospect usually starts thinking more heavily about how nice it would be to play out of state when such an idea would have appeared insane just days ago.

Thus, no matter who their favorites were going into May or how close they may have been to committing somewhere, flirtations from new programs are often more than enough to keep a prospect from committing…at least until the end of spring practice or into the summer. That's especially true when you mix in the fact that a high school coach knows that the more college coaches that he can draw in, the greater the likelihood that he can get scholarship offers for some of his other prospects who haven't been on the radar as much.

As a result, sometimes it seems like everything that happened during the first few months of the year: junior days, spring practices, etc. get thrown out the window and everyone starts all over again.

Texas A&M's commitment list for 2014 has held steady at ten names for over two months now. While everyone is accustomed to a steady diet of commits trickling in and they are starting to get nervous because there haven't been any recent commits, we've talked before about how A&M won't start to garner any new ones until near the end of the spring or into the summer due in large part to everything that happens in May…existing prospects getting new offers from other programs and A&M extending more offers itself.

But…at least A&M is holding steady. Texas has actually lost two commits in recent weeks. While running back Daniel Gresham was built more like a fullback and probably didn't fit into Texas' new spread offense under Major Applewhite (remember that he committed last fall under former Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin), four star offensive Demetrius Knox is the lone offensive lineman in the Rivals 250 in the state this year. Oklahoma gained a couple of four stars in QB Justice Hansen and California WR Dallis Todd last month but lost dynamic Texas City four star Armanti Foreman before May ever even hit. Baylor four star commit Davion Hall is now going to start taking visits due to all of the attention that he is getting.

It's hard to go through May with the status quo and for A&M that's more important than it is for most schools because you wouldn't trade the Aggies' list of commits for anyone else's in country. Look for A&M to start racking up more commits at the end of the month as more offers start going out and egos get reined in as the May evaluation period draws to a close.

- The Aggies did a very good job in 2013 and early 2014 recruiting of holding off fellow SEC West powers LSU and Alabama within the state of Texas and even beat out multiple SEC East schools that were closer to home for the likes of mid-termers JaQuay Williams and Tommy Sanders.

However, the empires have started to strike back to an extent. In particular, Alabama has used the lure of multiple national championships and sending players to the pros to gain commitments from top 2014 linebacker Zach Whitley and 2015 defensive back Deionte Thompson. The Whitley loss was painful because the A&M staff saw him as the last piece of a linebacker trio that included outside backers Hoza Scott and Josh Walker and the Aggies had multiple factors in their favor. After striking out in Texas in 2013, the Tigers have already nabbed three Texans in the 2014 class and are in good shape with five star prospect Tony Brown out of Beaumont.

Not only that, Alabama has even used offers as leverage in the process, extending them to prospects such as potential 2015 five star defensive tackle Daylon Mack which put Mack's potential commitment to A&M on hold until perhaps after he sees Alabama this summer. They've also offered numerous national prospects that the Aggies have also offered. It's a sobering reminder that even though A&M boasts a top five national ranking going into next season and the returning Heisman Trophy winner, your ceiling is unlimited when you win national titles and you can use that ceiling to play havoc with other people's recruiting if need be. It's also a reminder that A&M still has to win big on the field in 2013 if it wants to win the vast majority of those battles or keep the Tide and Tigers from being able to influence the process with their targets.

- Finally, let's deal the elephant in the room of the 2015 class: Allen quarterback Kyler Murray, the son of former A&M star Kevin Murray.

Recruiting gets emotional when you're battling for top prospects because so much time and effort goes into them. However, it's at its most emotional when you are talking about legacies. There's a certain amount of loyalty expected between the school and the family of the recruit but at the same time the schools' coaching staff also has to determine that the prospect actually meets their needs and prospect has to determine that said is actually best for him.

Every situation is different in that regard. Aledo's Jonathan Gray was the son of former Texas Tech running back James Gray. Tech was a finalist for Gray but Gray wound up going to Texas which was a more successful program and at the time offered Gray a chance to play in a running oriented offense. Dallas Kimball's Justin Manning was the brother of former Oklahoma defensive tackle Demarcus Granger and everyone assumed that he would follow Demarcus to Norman -- except Demarcus, who told Justin to follow his own path and then Justin, who wasn't very happy that the Sooners offered later than most other schools. As a result, Manning eventually wound up signing with Texas A&M.

The biggest issues involving legacies are that 1) you have to take emotion out of the equation on both sides of the fence and 2) you can't assume anything. In particular, the reasons that a family member committed to your school 20 years ago aren't necessarily the same reasons that are in currently in play. Coaches change, facilities, campuses change…and most importantly, prospects themselves may not grow up following the school that their parents went to with the same fervor that their father or fans do.

In Murray's case, it's even more complicated. You've got an A&M coaching staff that made all of the right moves in its first year on the job and has garnered an enormous amount of trust with its fan base. At the same time, Murray led Allen to a state title in his first year as a starter and put up over 3,500 yards in total offense. He spins the ball better right now than many guys do in the 2014 class and has the poise and command of someone who's much older. However, he's less than 6 feet tall and due to that (rightly or wrongly) there's always going to be questions whether or not if his success can translate to the next level.

With the advent of Hudl and more and more high school games being televised, college coaches not only have more tools to evaluate prospects but they can do so far earlier in the prospect's career than they could in the past. As a result, you've a high sense of awareness among college coaches (even nationally) on someone like Murray, a highly productive quarterback playing on a state championship team at the highest levels of high school football in the country. For those reasons, Murray already has multiple offers from some of the top programs in the country including Ohio State and Clemson, both of whom feature mobile quarterbacks in their schemes. Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema had Russell Wilson at Wisconsin, a sub 6 foot quarterback who just went on to big things in the NFL. You've got an offer from Texas Tech and Kliff Kingsbury who just got through tutoring and mentoring a Heisman Trophy winner who's also 6 feet tall or less.

Yet, there's been no offer from A&M so far. There's been contact and Murray took in one spring practice in College Station last month. However, new A&M quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital has told prospects that he wants to see them throw in person before an offer is extended. Murray is currently in the baseball playoffs and won't be in spring practice for at least another week which doesn't leave much time for anyone, much less A&M, to see him. Murray plays summer baseball and after ringing up 3,500 yards and leading a team to a state title probably doesn't feel the need to hit the camp circuit this summer. That will probably put a hold on offers not just from A&M but other programs as well until Murray gets out there.

A&M has already offered a Florida State commit in the 2015 class, De'Andre Johnson. He fits the prototype of offers already extended in the 2014 class to Justice Hansen, Kyle Allen, Brandon Harris….6 foot 2 plus in height and mobile, much like Spavital's pupil Geno Smith who was drafted in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. In contrast, coaches at the schools that have already offered Murray are used to working quarterbacks that are around 6 feet tall and mobile.

With early recruiting, there's pressure not just to get it done sooner but get it done right as well. Coaches have to ask themselves this: are there going to be any quarterbacks in the 2015 class that didn't play last year that will prove to be better prospects than Murray? On the surface, you would think that someone might emerge in camps this summer or in the fall that hasn't played on the varsity level yet. Colleyville Heritage's Cody Thomas, a four star who signed with Oklahoma in the 2013 class, didn't play on the varsity as a sophomore and get a chance to build up any stats. However, many quarterback prospects good enough to earn high FBS level scholarship offers play when they are sophomores and are already piling up stats. 2014 Texas commit Jerrod Heard started as a sophomore. 2013 Texas A&M signee Kenny Hill started as a sophomore. Right now, Murray has more offers than any other quarterback in the 2015 class, more are coming, and it's hard to discern (at least within the state of Texas) that there will be a better prospect at the position.

Either way, it's a tough call to make.

When emotions are taken out of the equation, you can't blame Texas A&M for making its own evaluations on its own timetable. However, you also can't blame Kyler Murray if he is going to look at all of his options as well. Only time will tell if that means everyone gets on the same page or goes their separate ways.

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