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The Western Advantage: Is Texas Finally Optimizing Out of State Recruiting?

De'Gabriel Floyd (Will Gallagher/IT)
De’Gabriel Floyd (Will Gallagher/IT)

In the mid-19th century, “Go West, Young Man” was advice popularized by Horace Greeley that urged enterprising youth to seek their fortunes by taking a left and building a country along the way.

In 2018, “Go West, For Young Athletes” is my advice for an ambitious Texas staff rebuilding a proud program.

As a (monotonous) advocate of the premise that the West is best when seeking the best talent/relative competition ratio for out-of-state recruiting (you may have stumbled across the occasional post or thirty I’ve written about the topic), I think we may have a head man that sees the same recruiting landscape that I do. Perhaps it took a guy raised in Simi Valley, CA to get it, but the market inefficiencies were always there.

There are promising indicators in Tom Herman’s second year that the staff has realized the relatively untapped opportunity that demography, talent, local competition and the positive perception of Texas Football afford in places like California and the West Coast satellites of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Nevada.

Obligatory caveat: Texas should always take care of business at home first and foremost. But how the Longhorns choose to recruit of state, where they focus, and the enthusiasm with which they attack the project is telling. Out of state recruiting is more than just inking a few Longhorn legacies and leveraging the occasional connection. It’s about defining the universe of football athletes beyond what the state of Texas provides, analyzing the competitive landscape, and getting after it.

Mack Brown favored home grown athletes to a fault. He did it early in his career to curry necessary favor with Texas high school coaches, later because his complacent staff preferred to ink a lesser local rather than hop a Southwest flight. But Mack was killin’ himself out in Florida!

Charlie Strong tried to kill it with some of the Florida talent that elevated him at Louisville, but that plan showed the same risk/reward comprehension that marked his managerial processes here. The Florida Five became the Miami One.

The early returns on Tom Herman are encouraging. Because the first necessary component for optimal Western recruiting is that Herman will recruit out of state at all.

In 2018, Texas inked players hailing from Florida, Utah, Oklahoma, California, Australia and Louisiana. That this occurred when Texas had its pick of the 2018 in-state crop is quite encouraging. In 2019, the sledding in-state has proven more challenging, so it shouldn’t surprise that 3 of our current 6 commits are OOS. Two from the West. Expect more. At least one quarter of the final class. Given what I know about our irons in the fire, we’re not going to rest in the West.

To be clear, entire state or regional characterizations are too broad. I’m mostly talking about a geographical fraction of California (SoCal: San Diego to Greater LA; perhaps the Bay Area) and a few Western cities flush with favorable demographics and burgeoning high school football: Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. The cultural sell of Austin, UT academics, easy direct flights for family, and a sense that Texas represents the synthesis between big-time football and a familiar cultural feel is a siren’s song. We just have to sing it.

You can’t recruit the states of Georgia or Florida without tripping over a dozen high level programs a stone’s throw from the recruit’s porch, battling for their program lives. Try remaining the head coach at Auburn if you can’t win battles in Georgia. Try remaining the head coach at FSU if you can’t win battles in the Florida Panhandle. Then add in all of the regional superpower competitors (Clemson, Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Miami, Florida) and national interlopers (Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame) seeking Southeastern talent and the field becomes a competitive mess fraught with deep loyalties, intrigue and hometown pressures. These schools can all sell tradition, titles, big-time football environments, superior conferences, regional pride. Several aren’t averse to dropping off an envelope.

The comparatively mercenary, transplant heavy West is ripe. There are four major football programs in the entire state of California: Cal, UCLA, Stanford, USC. Stanford narrowcasts, Cal and UCLA battle administrative and cultural malaise and USC has as many haters as supporters. Not to mention scholarship limits. As for the Western satellites, would you rather recruit against Arizona State or Alabama? Utah or Georgia? Colorado or Florida?

Are the football riches as deep as the Southeast? No. But they’re better defined, easier to access and the competitive environment is comparatively modest. The state of Texas produced 28 players in the last NFL draft. California produced 27. Florida produced 36. Georgia had 14. Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Nevada (read: the short direct flight from Austin to the major population center in each) combined for 14.

Where would you rather fight your battles? I suspect Herman’s done that math and we’ll be fighting more of those battles in Phoenix and SoCal than anywhere else in 2019 and beyond.