After handily topping in-state rival Texas on the recruiting trial last year, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has his sights set on SEC foe Alabama. The Aggies' 2015 class is currently rated No. 1 nationally in 247Sports composite rankings, but there's a long road ahead to replace Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide in the top spot on signing day.
Alabama owns a monopoly atop the nation's recruiting hierarchy. Saban has secured America's No. 1 class at the end of each of the past four cycles, including a 2014 haul that featured six 5-star prospects.
Texas A&M has steadily built momentum during Sumlin's tenure. Mounting win totals, SEC exposure and a Heisman Trophy winner quickly increased expectations in College Station, Texas, and exposure for the Aggies.
Following his hiring from Houston, Sumlin used limited time to assemble the nation's 16th-ranked class in 2012. Texas A&M rose to ninth in 2013, surging ahead of the longtime "big brother" Longhorns in the process.
Sumlin and his staff again made strides this February, solidifying the nation's No. 5 class. The Aggies enjoyed in-state success with signatures from top-ranked defensive end Myles Garrett (Arlington), 4-star receiver Frank Iheanacho (Houston) and former Texas defensive tackle commit Zaycoven Henderson (Longview).
However, the most impressive pieces of this class arrived from beyond state borders.
Texas A&M reached into Arizona for No. 1 overall quarterback recruit Kyle Allen. He's already teamed up with fellow 5-star prospect and early enrollee Speedy Noil, a wide receiver from New Orleans who chose the Aggies over nearby LSU.
“This is a class that kind of addresses our needs across the board,” Sumlin said during a signing-day press conference (h/t mysanantonio.com).
Now Texas A&M aims to take its biggest recruiting leap since Sumlin arrived by leapfrogging conference rivals LSU and Alabama. The Aggies must also contend with reigning national champion Florida State and super recruiter Urban Meyer at Ohio State after each program finished higher in 2014 recruiting rankings.
Sumlin returned to Louisiana for his latest 2015 commitment, athlete Deshawn Capers-Smith. The New Orleans product is Texas A&M's eighth member of the class.
He also happens to be the first non-Texan to join the group. Daylon Mack (Gladewater), a 5-star defensive tackle, elite running back Rodney Anderson (Katy) and coveted tight end Jordan Davis (Houston) highlight the foundation of another impressive in-state recruiting effort.
The Aggies must continue to collect commitments in talent-laden Texas in order to retain a No. 1 recruiting ranking. Kendall Sheffield (cornerback; Gladewater), Malik Jefferson (linebacker; Mesquite) Damarkus Lodge (wide receiver; Cedar Hill) and Jarrett Stidham (quarterback, Stephenville) are all 5-star prospects who are sure to be in constant contact with Charlie Strong, Art Briles and coaches from across the country.
Strong and the Longhorns are adamant about reclaiming the in-state "coolness" factor from Texas A&M. If the Aggies are able to edge out Texas for some of these blue-chippers early it could result in a domino effect that leaves Sumlin and company sitting pretty on signing day.
The team must also maintain its growth in SEC territory. Texas A&M is on the right track, according to Atlanta Journal Constitution writer Michael Carvell (h/t WSB-TV in Atlanta).
Carvell reports the Aggies have already extended offers to 13 Georgia juniors. Comparatively, the team offered only eight players combined during the past two recruiting cycles.
It's a sign of confidence for the program and evidence of how far Texas A&M has come in a short span. Sumlin explained the recruiting expansion during a conversation with Carvell.
I can tell you that in the first couple of years we had to get settled in with who we are and what we’re about, and then concentrate locally and try to get our program going with our current players. Then as we started having some success, we started having some success nationally with recruiting with Kyle Allen out of Phoenix, along with going into Louisiana and getting some good players. We’ve been able to branch out a little bit.
Home base is eastern Texas, but those branches continue to extend. If they prove fruitful, Texas A&M is primed to fight for the No. 1 position in national recruiting rankings.