On December 9, 2016, news broke that Texas A&M Aggies defensive tackle commit Jayden Peevy was set to visit Austin for the first big Texas Longhorns recruiting weekend since the hire of head coach Tom Herman just days before.
In a little more than an hour, Peevy canceled the visit following what was surely some scrambling on the part of head coach Kevin Sumlin and the A&M staff to keep Peevy away from the Forty Acres.
Was Sumlin scared, just days into the Tom Herman era at Texas? It certainly appeared that he had no interest in Peevy visiting the Longhorns.
The minor skirmish between the two schools for the talented Houston product set the stage for an even larger conflict between the Aggies and Longhorns in the 2018 recruiting class in an area that was set to define the entire class for Herman and his new staff.
After spending a little less than two years coaching at Houston, Herman had strengthened his ties to the Space City, with the addition of former Westfield head coach Corby Meekins to his staff as the tight ends coach looming large in that discussion.
With over 100 years combined experience recruiting the Texas high school ranks on the staff, Herman and his assistants had an advantage that former head coach Charlie Strong never attempted to gain — a deep familiarity with the coaches and culture of recruiting in the state.
The stakes? The type of program-changing talent that is necessary to compete at the highest levels of college football, heights long since lost in Austin. With 12 of the state’s top 16 players in the 247Sports Composite rankings in the 2018 class hailing from the Houston area, it’s not hyperbole to stress the importance of that city in the current cycle.
Here’s the timeline of how things have gone in the overall head-to-head battle between Herman and Sumlin since April, with a focus on the city of Houston:
April 7: Byron Hobbs, a high-upside pass rusher commits to Texas. Days before, he had visited College Station for the Friday Night Lights event.
May 30: Keaontay Ingram, the state’s top running back, commits to Texas. He hails from Carthage, an area of East Texas that often leans maroon and white.
May 31: DeMarvion Overshown, who is receiving buzz as the top prospect in the state, commits to Texas. The big safety from East Texas also draws comparisons to former NFL legend Sean Taylor.
June 2: Leon O’Neal Jr. and Max Wright commit to Texas A&M in a joint announcement. As the state’s top strong-side defensive end, Wright is a significant loss for Texas, though there is speculation that he could reopen his recruitment if Sumlin loses his job following the season. Within three days, the ‘Horns would have two higher-rated safeties than O’Neal committed to the program — he likely wasn’t a take for the Longhorns at the time for the Longhorns with Overshown committed, as well.
June 5: BJ Foster, a consensus five-star prospect, the state’s No. 2 player, and the top safety in the nation, commits to Texas. Ties to another Angleton product, former Longhorns standout Quandre Diggs, help play a role.
June 6: Ayodele Adeoye, the nation’s No. 4 inside linebacker, commits to Texas. The Missouri native plays at IMG Academy in Florida, a school that the Aggies have recruited well recently.
June 18: Barton Clement, the state’s No. 40 player, commits to Texas A&M. However, there is speculation that the offensive guard from Fort Bend Marshall is not a take for the ‘Horns.
July 15: Al’vonte Woodard, the state’s No. 4 wide receiver and No. 9 player overall, commits to Texas. In his commitment video, Woodard notably displays and then discards Texas A&M gloves.
July 21: Jalen Green, a top-10 cornerback nationally and the state’s No. 5 player, commits to Texas. After a strong summer, Green’s pledge ensures that the state’s top player, cornerback Anthony Cook, can be a luxury take instead of a necessity.
July 24: Brennan Eagles, a top-30 prospect nationally, the top wide receiver in Texas, and the No. 3 player in the state, commits to Texas. His addition provides the ‘Horns with an elite combination of size and speed at the position.
July 29: Jalen Preston, the state’s No. 2 wide receiver and No. 6 player commits to Texas A&M. With Woodard and Eagles in the fold for the ‘Horns and with Preston reportedly facing qualification concerns, the Manvel product doesn’t appear to be a take for Texas. In addition, the ‘Horns continue to target San Antonio wide receiver Tommy Bush.
August 7: Keondre Coburn, the state’s top defensive tackle and No. 13 prospect overall, commits to Texas. The Westfield product was reportedly a silent commit to the Aggies for a brief time in the spring.
August 8: Malcolm Epps, the state’s No. 2 tight end and No. 7 tight end nationally, commits to Texas. During the spring, Epps was considered an A&M lean following his decommitment from Alabama.
In that stretching starting with the Hobbs commitment in April, Texas has landed pledges from 10 players with offers from A&M, while the Aggies added four prospects with offers from the Longhorns. Only one of those recruits was an obvious take for Herman and his staff.
Since June 5, the head-to-head count stands 7-to-2 in favor of the ‘Horns.
Six of the last seven pledges for Texas in those head-to-head battles play high school football in the Houston area, which features a large number of A&M alums and sits only 95 miles from College Station. Driving from the Cypress area, it’s less than 70 miles to Aggieland.
All six of those players are among the top-25 prospects in the state, a year after Texas only landed two recruits ranked among the top 25 in the Lone Star State, with quarterback Sam Ehlinger the highest-rated signee at No. 20 overall.
Four are among the top nine players in the state.
Considering that Texas went 5-7 last year, lost to Kansas, and has suffered 21 defeats in the last three seasons (including the shutout by Iowa State in 2015), is it embarrassing that Herman is picking and choosing the best players in the state while going head-to-head against a program that plays in the SEC, has a better recent history of success, and just renovated its entire football stadium?
Is it embarrassing that many of those players come from Houston?
Judge for yourself.
But the results don’t lie, except perhaps to the willfully ignorant, who are merely lying to themselves.
Not bad for a coach who lost to Memphis and SMU last season.