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March 15, 2006
Lone Star competition
More than 170 current NFL athletes played high school football in the state of Texas. In the last 30 years, the Lone Star State has become a recruiting bonanza for colleges around the country.
Some believe the competition to get the signatures of the top Texas prospects is increasing. Others believe the number of players leaving the state is not necessarily growing but new programs are showing their faces.
Schools such as Oklahoma and Arkansas were a few of the first teams to make the state of Texas a priority. Former Sooner coaches Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer were common travelers across the Red River who sought out great high school players. Names like Billy Sims (Hooks, Texas), Thomas Lott (San Antonio, Texas), and David Overstreet (Big Sandy, Texas) were just a few top players Switzer lured out of Texas.
During the days of the Big 8 conference, teams from the North were entering the state on a regular basis. However, things didn't really change until the problems in the Southwest Conference began in the mid 1980's.
"When we hit the periods of scandals in the SWC starting around 1982, it really opened up recruiting to outside institutions and made it more visible," Former Baylor coach and current executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, Grant Teaff said. "We always had good solid competition from teams like OU, Arkansas and LSU who would always recruit in the lower section of East Texas and Dallas.
"Notre Dame would cherry-pick, and then in the 1980's new teams like Southern Cal and BYU would come down to get speed. It was especially true for teams form the North where speed was not a forte."
Teaff added that with better air transportation and increased media attention, Texas football players were accessible to a whole new group of programs.
"Well it allowed youngsters to get on a plane in Houston and in the same amount of time it would take them to get to Dallas, they could be anywhere in the country," Teaff remembers. "I think the whole nation opened up. We noticed it heavily because there were a lot schools, on top of all this, on probation. Kids could watch television and see schools like Florida State."
Rule changes also affected how schools recruited Texas. Teaff says that scholarship limitations formed in the 1970's prohibited coaches from taking an abundance of players that never saw the field. At one point, there were two Signing Periods, which presented a major problem for smaller programs in and out of the state.
"It made it tough for everybody no matter where they were," Teaff said. "One was a conference signing period and the other was the national signing period. Even after a kid had signed his letter-of-intent for the conference, schools could just wait around and start recruiting that player because they really only had one school to beat. It wasn't a binding letter like the national one."
Teaff said out-of-state schools waited for in-state coaches to finish evaluations, then swooped to grab late signatures.
Players aren't the only ones who benefit from the ease of today's travel. Rivals.com recruiting analyst Jeremy Crabtree says that it has helped recruiters as well.
"Everybody has known the state of Texas is where talent is and has been for years," Crabtree said. "With the improvements and the major airports in Dallas and Houston, it's easy for college recruiters to get flights in to hit those major recruiting territories."
Crabtree agreed with Teaff in explaining that it's not necessarily more programs entering the state, but a different group seems to pop up every year.
"I still think we're seeing some major kids who go out of state, but you're getting different types of programs each year that are getting those players," Crabtree replied. "When the Big 8 merged into the Big 12, it opened up a whole new avenue of recruits to look at the northern schools. Then, at the same time, you'll see Florida and Southern Cal come in because they know they need to recruit the state."
Oklahoma State is one program that recruits Texas well. In the 2006 class, 20 of the 29 commitments came from the across the Red River. That number has increased since 2004 and 2005. The Cowboys had 11 and 12 signees, respectively, from Texas in those years.
In the 2007 recruiting cycle, OSU has continued its pursuit of the recruiting hotbed by extendeding 34 offers.
Along with the Cowboys, Big 12 teams Kansas State, Nebraska, Colorado, Iowa State, Missouri, and Kansas have always put time in for Texas recruiting. At the same time, schools like Florida State, Tennessee, and UCLA haven't been as aggressive as they were in years past.
A new face that has shown up this year is Clemson. Even with just two scholarship offers out on the table, it's obvious that they are trying to tap into Texas. Beating Texas A&M (25-24) in 2005 has also helped their visibility in the state.
Kansas State, who always has recruited Texas, looks to take more of an aggressive approach in 2007. Currently the Wildcats, under new head coach Ron Prince have made scholarship offers to at least 20 Lone Star prospects.
Half of the Rivals.com postseason Texas top 100 left the state in the 2006 cycle. According to Rivals.com editor-in-chief Bobby Burton, in-state schools don't have enough spots to give every talented player in the state of Texas a scholarship.
"That's what it comes down to," Burton said. "There are going to be too many kids for the in-state schools to get them all. Plus staying in-state is not for every prospect."
Out-of-state teams will continue to recruit the state of Texas heavily. Top 2007 prospects like quarterback Ryan Mallett and Tray Allen are weighing their in-state options against those with teams like Michigan, Notre Dame, and Arkansas.
Teaff says that, just like when he was coaching, it will never be easy for schools to raid the state.
"There is always the issue of money and coaches wanting to spend a certain amount to make the trips down to Texas," Teaff said about out-of-state recruiters. "If they do make the commitment to come down, I don't think they can just fly in here and have their choice. Even with big schools like Notre Dame it's going to be a challenge.
"Just like they've done every year - they're going to have to work at it."