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July 2, 2013

Aggies finding strength in numbers

Yesterday, I talked about Texas A&M's offensive recruiting for 2014 and how the Aggies had managed to overcome what was a down year for talent on that side of the ball in its recruiting base. I mentioned that today I would discuss the defensive side of the ball and talk about how well A&M is doing in one of the best years for defenders we've seen in Texas in quite some time.

Well, I'm going to switch gears today and not talk about defense. Instead, we're going to look at a tactic that A&M is using to its advantage in the 2013 and 2014 classes that was used against it in the past.

When Mack Brown arrived at Texas in 1998, he changed the way people recruited the state of Texas. Everyone made a big deal about Brown obtaining early commits and justifiably so, especially after 2004 when everyone basically responded to Texas and fell in line behind them. However, but there was something else that Brown did that didn't get nearly as much publicity because it occurred over time and it's impact may not have been felt until the following class.

In 2000, the state of Texas produced one of its better receiver classes ever. Odessa Permian's Roy Williams, South Grand Prairie's B.J. Johnson, and Klein's Sloan Thomas were widely considered to be the top three receivers in the state. Brown was able to sell the presence of highly touted sophomore quarterback Chris Simms, a passing offense, and a Big 12 South title from the year before to them. As a result, the Horns wound up with all three receivers even though most teams still used just two wideouts in the days before the spread offense really took hold in the state.

More importantly, this was the first of many years in which the state of Texas produced a surplus of quality talent at one position and the Horns simply swept in and grabbed almost all of those highly touted prospects. Those prospects would come in, play early, and usually contribute for three years. About the time they were leaving, a similar class would come along and Texas would repeat the process. In contrast, A&M would miss out in those years and have to go into the following year needing multiple signees in a down year at the position.

This all began to change in the 2010 class and for a change it was an error of omission on Texas' part. The Horns had loaded up at offensive line in previous years and had a significant number of them on campus. As a result, Texas decided that it needed to take just two of them in that class. However, the 2010 class turned out to be one of the best years ever for offensive linemen with four stars Luke Joeckel from Arlington, Jake Matthews from Fort Bend Elkins, Cedric Ogbuehi from Allen, and Shep Klinke from Katy. In particular, Joeckel and Matthews had excellent bloodlines (being the sons of former college and pro players) while Ogbuehi had the best feet of anyone in the class. Texas only offered Matthews of the bunch and all four of them ended up signing with A&M. Joeckel wound up being the second pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and Matthews and Ogbuehi are projected as top five picks themselves. In contrast, Texas' strength in numbers turned out to be an illusion due to poor evaluations and development and they took five offensive linemen in the 2011 class that were asked to contribute way before their time. Overall, in a year that produced perhaps the best offensive line class in a long time within the state of Texas, the Horns got caught short and it began to show up on the field very quickly very injuries and a lack of development.

Kevin Sumlin's arrival at A&M didn't give him much time to impact the 2012 class in a similar fashion. However, beginning in the 2013 class, the Aggies zeroed in on numbers at three different positions: receiver, defensive tackle, and linebacker. Linebacker turned out to be problematic as there were only three four stars in the entire class in Texas and one of them (Deon Hollins, Jr.) was a defensive end in high school. Even so, there were a number of highly sought three star prospects available and the Aggies nabbed three of them: Jordan Mastrogiovanni of Dallas Jesuit, Brett Wade of Kennedale, and Reggie Chevis of Sharpstown. The Aggie supplemented them with out of state and juco prospects.

Defensive tackle was a different story. There were six prospects that were rated as four stars or higher which was the highest number in several years (typically the state produces three or four such prospects). The Aggies got commitments from three of them: Justin Manning, Isaiah Golden, and Hardreck Walker. Of the six, one didn't qualify. Thus, the Aggies signed 60% of the qualified defensive tackles in the state of Texas.

At receiver, there were 13 prospects in the state that were classified at four stars or higher, not to mention athletes like Ricky Seals-Jones and Quiv Gonzalez. However, many receivers committed elsewhere prior to the start of A&M's season which was much better than expected. As a result, A&M nabbed three four stars between the two classifications of receiver and athlete and added two more from out of state in JaQuay Williams and Sebastian LaRue.

Overall, things started changing in the 2013 class. A&M was able take advantage of numbers of quality prospects at some positions in state. If those numbers weren't available, A&M was able to fill their needs out of state or by taking the best available prospects in state. This strategy was refined in the 2013 class and is really being put to use in the 2014 class.

For example, it's a great year for defensive backs and defensive ends in the state of Texas. There's three four star defensive ends in Myles Garrett, Solomon Thomas, and Derick Robinson and you can make a case that Katy Seven Lakes' Jarrett Johnson should be listed as a four star as well. The Aggies lead for Garrett and have obtained a commitment from Johnson. Although they are no longer in consideration by Thomas and Robinson has committed to Texas, they've covered themselves by offering quality out of state prospects like Qualen Cunningham and Gerald Willis III. Thus, A&M is poised to land two of the state's top four prospects at the position and also a third prospect who would be would be in the top in the Texas if they played here.

At defensive back, the Aggies have already pulled in four in state prospects rated as four stars in Nick Harvey, Cedric Collins, Armani Watts, and Dylan Sumner-Gardner who virtually represent a starting secondary all by themselves. There's 13 four stars in the 2014 class at defensive back which is enough to go around for everyone but the Aggies are in position to possibly land three others: Beaumont Ozen's Tony Brown, Arlington Bowie' Edwin Freeman, and Hebron's Jamal Adams. By moving on the class relatively early, the Aggies assured themselves of garnering numbers at a great year for the position no matter what anyone else did.

A&M is now doing what Texas used to do and that's take numbers at a position within the state where there are unusually good numbers of quality prospects. In addition, they're supplementing their in state commits with highly rated out of state prospects. Regardless of what this does for potential opponents, the Aggies are able to take guys that can contribute early and for the majority of their career. They aren't being caught shorthanded and either having to take second echelon prospects in a year with numbers or wait for a down year at the position to load up. Again, A&M is not just recruiting well in terms of motivating prospects to commit to them but also have backup plans for when they don't. But more importantly, the Aggies are recruiting quantity in years where there is lots of quality in Texas and not only helping themselves but forcing other programs to adjust to them.

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