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The shifting state(s) of Texas A&M recruiting

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The Aggies are looking more and more beyond the Texas borders for recruits, and that is not a bad thing.

Jimbo Fisher and the Texas A&M Aggies have seen a sudden surge in their 2021 recruiting, with four new commits in a week’s time. With the commitments of DE Jahzion Harris, LB Kaci Seegars, DT Victory Vaka and TE Fernando Garza, A&M looks like they will once again be bringing in top-level talent in the 2021 class. But perhaps what is most notable about these recent commitments is that three of the four come from beyond the borders of the Lone Star State. That is not by accident, and it is not a new strategy for Fisher and his staff.

Texas A&M coaching legend R.C. Slocum used to say that with all of the talent in Texas high school football, there was really no reason to leave the state. It’s safe to say that mindset in Aggieland is now long gone.

Sure, the Aggies signed some great out-of-state recruits in the Kevin Sumlin era. This included five star players Speedy Noil, Kyle Allen and Christian Kirk; players who would become major contributors like Jermaine Eluemunor, Donovan Wilson and Justin Evans; and current stars Kellen Mond and Jhamon Ausbon (I know both grew up in Texas but they technically count as out-of-state since they went to IMG Academy in Florida). But despite these examples, we’ve seen a seismic shift in the way Texas A&M recruits since Jimbo Fisher took the helm just 2.5 years ago.

FLIPPING THE SCRIPT

The graph above shows every Texas A&M recruiting class since they joined the SEC. Until Fisher was hired, the Aggies never had out-of-state (OOS) recruits constitute more than one-third of their total recruiting class. They are currently on track to have a majority of OOS recruits for the second straight year (54% in 2020, 57% so far in 2021). Fisher’s lowest percentage of OOS recruits came in his first class in Aggieland in 2018 (35%). However it’s important to note that of the eight OOS recruits in that class, ALL EIGHT committed after Fisher was hired in December 2017. So if Jimbo isn’t here, there’s a good chance that 2018 OOS percentage is at our near 0%.

Looking at where these recruits have come from (see graph below), it’s easy to see how the ties that Jimbo and his staff had at Florida State have come into play. Fisher has recruited from Florida most heavily, but has gotten recruits from all over the southeast. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, as he has been able to get multiple recruits from geographic outliers like Arizona, California and New Jersey. He is truly recruiting nationally at a place that has not ever been known for doing so.

WHY THE SUDDEN SHIFT?

While it makes sense that the Aggies wouldn’t recruit Texas exclusively, why has there been such a dramatic shift in philosophy? You’ll see some (mostly Longhorns) claim that Jimbo’s focus on OOS recruiting is an admission of defeat, that Texas and Tom Herman have cornered the market on in-state recruits wanting to stay home, forcing A&M to look elsewhere. And it is true that programs like Texas and Oklahoma became national powers with mostly Texas players, and continue to do so to this day. But the answer may lie not in what local schools have done with Texas talent, but in how many elite Texas recruits are opting not to stay home when it comes time to play college ball.

The top 50 recruits in Texas are where most power programs in the state get their impact players. The vast majority of these are usually four-star recruits, ranked among the top 300 prospects in the country. But seemingly more and more each year, these top Texas recruits are not staying in Texas. And not all of this is due to nearby competitors like LSU, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma. National powers like Ohio State, Notre Dame, Clemson and Florida State routinely pull in top Texas talent, and that trend has only increased in recent seasons. The four most recent recruiting classes have produced three of the highest rates of Texas recruit exodus of the past decade. And with social media and technology making remote recruiting easier by the minute, don’t expect this to change.

So Jimbo’s shift toward OOS recruitment is likely strategic. While A&M will always recruit well in Texas, the competition for Texas recruits has never been higher, and players seem increasingly willing to leave the state for the right opportunity.

PROOF IS IN THE RANKING

Ultimately, the results of Jimbo Fisher’s recruiting efforts in Aggieland speak for themselves. His first two full classes have been ranked in the top ten in the country, and these classes have been fueled by virtually equal parts of in-state and out-of-state talent, not only in quantity, but in quality.

Banner Society’s Bud Elliott has popularized the notion of the “Blue Chip Ratio.” Put simply, teams who win national titles have signed more four- and five-star recruits than two- and three-stars over their previous four signing classes. A&M for years has hovered just above or just below that 50% threshold, but recent classes show that trend to be changing.

You can see a notable uptick in the overall quality of Texas A&M’s recruits beginning with the 2018 class (Jimbo’s first full recruiting cycle). Three straight classes with more than 50% of recruits being either four- or five-star players.

Under Keven Sumlin, the OOS recruits often brought the overall blue chip ratio down. But the OOS talent now being brought on board seems to have caught up with if not surpassed who the Aggies are signing locally. While Texas is absolutely one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country, the Aggies are starting to make habit of pulling in just as many impact players from other states.

Will this be used as a negative recruiting talking point? Maybe. But there’s no logical reason that A&M recruiting nationally should dissuade a Texas high school player from looking their way. The Aggies’ past two recruiting classes have been the highest-rated in program history (in the history of recruiting rankings, at least), and as they say, high tide raises all ships. Talented players want to be surrounded by talent, regardless of where it comes from.