Sports Of All Sorts……………….Recruiting Texas High School Football Players Today And In The Past………………….By RC

Once upon a time in the world of high school football recruiting the first Wednesday in February was the day that all the football crazies like me would listen intently to see who would gain the coveted signature of the most sought after high school players in the nation. But now most of the drama is gone since many of those blue chippers have already committed by the end of their junior year. And with all the information available through recruiting websites, the lists are an ongoing process through their senior year so the suspense is minimal.
Every so often a player who has committed early will change their minds and seek greener pastures elsewhere. This is especially true for those kids who have committed to a program that is not listed among the national elites. Throughout the high school playoffs or during an all-star game they may have great performances and get the attention of those super powers and will take them up on their offer. This is even more true of those players in the smaller classifications who rarely play on the big stage until the playoffs or the all-star games.
There are still a few of the super blue chippers available around signing day but they are few and far between. Most of these kids either play in such games as the Army All-American game or the Under Armor All-American game and will make a commitment at that time. So rarely is there any nail biting in February.
One of the most fertile recruiting grounds is Texas which embraces football almost as a religion. Not far behind are Florida and California and from there such states as Ohio and Pennsylvania. This bowl season proved once again that the Lone Star state does indeed supply top level talent as the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas Tech, and SMU won bowl games. TCU was nudged by a single point to prevent a sweep by teams representing major conferences. Throw in the fact that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State who own rosters loaded with Texas products and there is even more evidence of both the level of talent as well as the quantity in this state. Now Oklahoma lost but did so to A&M. Oklahoma State won their bowl game in a rout.
With all that said, I miss the days when I could hardly wait to read the morning after paper to see where the recruits inked on the dotted line. During my early years of following this process, the colleges could sign almost fifty players a year. And being a fan of the Longhorns, I liked it because most of the top players in the state had Texas at the top of their list and would sign their letters knowing that they might be a benchwarmer for four years. But they were willing to take the chance and it kept the opposition schools from getting a player that might have made a real difference in their program.
The NCAA put an end to that process in their effort to create parity in college football. And yes even though there are still super powers out there, they can no longer dominate recruiting like it was done years ago. For instance in the sixties, the Longhorns won three national championships and when they won in 2005 it had been 35 years since their last crown.
This year’s Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M admitted that he grew up a Longhorn fan but with the limited scholarships UT could not bring him on board because they felt that they had the quarterbacks that they needed and because of the limited number of scholarships they had to address other needs. But if this had been back in the sixties Johnny Manziel would probably be sleeping under a burnt orange blanket because they could have offered him a scholarship and took a chance. Manziel reminds me of a former UT quarterback named James Street who was recruited out of Longview in 1966. Both were small but quick as cats and great field generals. But at the time Texas had freshman quarterback out of Palestine named Bill Bradley who was dubbed Super Bill and had all the promise that any blue chipper could bring. But the Horns with all those scholarships could afford to sign Street and hope that he would be a decent backup. However he took over for Bradley in his junior year and became an outstanding quarterback. All Street did was lead Texas to a national championship. Johnny Manziel may well do the same thing for the Aggies. But both players were considered a risk on signing day.
In today’s world there are dozens of recruiting websites and those owning those websites do a really good job of scouting the high school players. They then rate those players and as they sign their scholarships the scouts determine which schools win the recruiting wars. It is almost unfair to both the kids and the schools because being the number one school in recruiting does not guarantee a number one ranking on the field. It is a great indicator but certainly does not indicate who the real champion will be.
The parity system has really helped the private schools in my opinion. It’s not like the private schools such as SMU, TCU, Baylor, and Rice haven’t had their glory days in the past but while the public university grew in attendance those private universities pretty much stayed the same size. As that happened it just made the lure of playing for the UT’s, A&M’s, and Oklahoma’s that much more intriguing. And now the kids in the high schools may still have that desire to play for the big boys, but the desire to have a chance to get on the field outweighs the desire to sign up and take the chance of never playing for the elites.
Something else that has helped the private schools is the quality of coaches that those schools have in place. Just for example look at the four schools mentioned in paragraph above. If you look at the programs they have in place, the reputations that they are gaining, and the facilities that are being built it is much more enticing than it once was. And the four head coaches are known nationwide as innovative coaches. It is much easier for a young athlete to say “yes” to men such as Art Briles, Gary Patterson, June Jones, and David Bailiff simply because they can guarantee success at their schools both on and off the field.
Many times the recruits are judged by the number of stars assigned to them with five stars being the best and one the worst. In the state of Texas there may not be that much space between a three star athlete and a five star athlete. Many times competition and determination makes the lesser judged better football players before their careers are done. For the private schools, they now have competition the same as the larger schools. Also those kids who feel as though they were shunned by the big schools become very determined players especially when they play those schools who didn’t offer them a scholarship.
Recruiting will continue to be one of those parts of high school and college football that sparks the interest of anyone who follows either or both levels. And even with all the scouting, all the all-star games and so on it is never a fail-safe exercise. There will be surprises for the good and for the bad. Who would have thought that Garrett Gilbert would prove to be so ineffective. Every school in the country sought his signature. I’m sure that many had him labeled as a potential Heisman winner. And then there was Johnny Manziel, the kid who was a recruiting risk. And we know the rest of the story on him.
One thing that we can count on which has been the same in the past as it is today and that is that most of the Division I programs in the country will be scanning the state of Texas for those kids who have played in some of the most successful programs in the country. And most if not all those schools will leave with a commitment. And most of those programs will have a kid from Texas who makes a positive difference in the success of that school. That was obvious during the bowl season…………………..RC

About Ronnie Clifton

Ronnie Clifton was a Texas Football Coach for 29 years. In addition to football, Clifton also served as the head coach in basketball and both girls and boys track. “I loved being involved in and playing sports as a kid, and I soaked up every ounce of available information about any sporting event; I also love to write. What better combo for me than becoming the writer of a sports blog?”
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