Everything's bigger in Texas — especially lack of success in recruiting, football

·Columnist

Of the 255 players selected in the NFL draft, 34 played high school football in Texas (13.3 percent). That includes an astounding 17 of the 64 selections that make up the first two rounds (26.5 percent). 

No other state was close. California, which has about 25 percent more residents, had about a third fewer selections (23) who played high school football there.

Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.

Actually, you can lose in Texas, at least when it comes to the football teams at the University of Texas and Texas A&M, both of which are coming off 8-5 seasons. UT has posted one 10-win season since 2009. Texas A&M has none since Johnny Manziel was running around in 2012.

There is, as you might expect, a corollary, even if it has to be one of the most mind-boggling facts in football. 

The two biggest, wealthiest, tradition-rich and popular powerhouse programs in the state combined for just six selections in the 2020 draft, five of whom came from that immense pile of in-state talent. 

Not a single Aggie or Longhorn was picked higher than the third round.

“It’s pretty much impossible,” said Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals.com. “It’s just impossible.”

Texas coach Tom Herman prepares to lead the team onto the field before a game against Rice on Sept. 14, 2019. (Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Texas coach Tom Herman prepares to lead the team onto the field before a game against Rice on Sept. 14, 2019. (Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Amidst this calamity, there is some good news. The trend shouldn’t last. Right? 

Neither Texas’ Tom Herman nor Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher were the head coaches when the bulk of the 2020 draft class was recruited. (Herman had to scramble to put together a 2017 recruiting class, which had some early entry candidates this year.)

So that much has been corrected.

And each has begun to bring in the talent that is more commensurate with the resources they enjoy — over the last three years, UT has averaged the seventh-best recruiting class per Rivals.com, A&M the 8th. That said, neither school is challenging for the top spot, which is a bit concerning considering the fertile recruiting ground they sit on.

It’s better though. If nothing else, two Longhorns, left tackle Samuel Cosmi and defensive back Caden Sterns, are projected to go in the first round in 2021. 

You could also note that Texas (four draft picks) nearly beating LSU (14 draft picks) last season was a sign of excellent coaching for the Horns. Fisher, meanwhile, won a national title and established a track record of development at Florida State before a $75 million contract lured him to College Station.

“It speaks really to the lack of development as much as recruiting,” Farrell said. “These schools have always gotten four-star recruits, they just aren’t turning them into first- and second-rounders.”

Mostly though, the 2020 draft is a reminder why there remains so much focus on the two programs despite a lengthy absence from contention. 

Texas is back” feels like an annual, if inaccurate, storyline. 

Yet if Texas ever does get back, then there is a clear path to get all the way back. More than one quarter of the players the NFL deemed elite (top two rounds) were from a single state. Their state. And while A&M wasn’t able to cash in on the Johnny Football phenomenon and its SEC membership card yet, “yet” is the operative word. 

UT and A&M ranked 1-2 nationally in the USA Today Database for most revenue in fiscal 2019 — $219.4 million for the Horns, $212.4 million for the Aggies. Texas Tech, by comparison, brought in $89.3 million. 

Texas ranked second nationally in money spent on recruiting at $1.8 million in fiscal 2018, according to Watch Stadium. A&M was fourth at $1.7 million — Georgia ($2.6 million) and Clemson ($1.8 million) were first and third.

Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher is sitting on a gold mine of high school talent. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher is sitting on a gold mine of high school talent. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

That includes well-staffed scouting departments that are supposed to be able to properly evaluate and then prioritize the best players.

If a kid prefers a classic college town, then A&M has it. If they want a bigger city with a more cosmopolitan feel, then head to UT. Both sit in the relative middle of the state, easy drives from population centers and small-town Friday Night Lights areas. 

Maybe they should play each other each season to showcase their strengths to impressionable recruits?

Both schools were completely pummeled with the Class of 2017, which includes Jeff Okudah of Grand Prairie (third pick overall) and J.K. Dobbins of La Grange (55th), who both played at Ohio State; and CeeDee Lamb of Richmond (17th), who attended Oklahoma. 

A&M’s top in-state recruit that year was linebacker Anthony Hines, who Rivals.com had 14th in the state. Texas picked up quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who was 17th. 

“Once there is a sense of weakness in a state, then the sharks come in,” Farrell said of Ohio State, Alabama, Notre Dame and others working Texas high schools. “You can’t stop LSU from recruiting Texas. You certainly can’t stop Oklahoma. But you can’t allow Ohio State and Alabama to have the success they have there.”

It’s even worse when lower-rated prospects were either ignored or misidentified or simply developed better somewhere else. 

Jordyn Brooks, Jeff Gladney and Ross Blacklock were three-star recruits coming out of Texas high schools who wound up drafted 27th, 31st and 40th respectively. Brooks went to Texas Tech, Gladney and Blacklock to TCU. 

Not that they did much winning this year, either. Tech went 4-8, TCU 5-7. It was that kind of year in the state (non-Baylor and SMU division).

UT and A&M were only slightly better. 

They have no excuse going forward though. Or they shouldn’t.

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