HOUSTON -- Strake Jesuit coach James Clancy doesn't care what the numbers say. He ignores that only 36 of the 425 Texas high school football players who signed in 2014 picked SEC schools. Clancy, who played football at Tulsa, coached at Oklahoma State and has been a high school coach in Texas for eight years, knows the SEC's recruiting invasion of the Lone Star State is coming. He sees it every day with his own eyes walking through his locker room.
"When I first started, all you would see would be [University of Texas] sweatshirts on all the kids," Clancy said. "When you see high school football players wearing sweatshirts now, you see Alabama, you see LSU, you see Auburn and you especially see [Texas] A&M. You would never have seen a kid in Texas wearing an Alabama sweatshirt before A&M joined the SEC. When I was at OSU, Dallas and Houston were still Big 12 country. Now with all the success the SEC has had, those places are becoming more and more SEC territory."
But many observers of Texas high school football agree the SEC's success on a national stage is starting to whittle away the Big 12's traditional stranglehold of the Lone Star State.
The Class of 2014 is a perfect example. The top three players in the state -- including five-stars Myles Garrett and Tony Brown and four-star Jamal Adams -- signed with Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU, respectively. It's carrying over to the 2015 class where of two of the state's top 10 players have picked Texas A&M and LSU, and the six uncommitted in the top 10 list have at least one SEC program among their top group.
"You see more and more SEC schools coming in," said Randy Rodgers, who has more than 35 years of experience with Texas high schools as a Division I recruiting coordinator and publisher of one of the state's most widely trusted scouting services.
"Kentucky hadn't recruited here since Hal Mumme was here, and they're back. Tennessee hadn't recruited here since Phil Fulmer, and now they're back. A&M is a given. Missouri has always recruited well in Texas when they were in the Big 12, Arkansas has recruited well in Dallas-Fort Worth, and LSU has done a lot of damage in Houston. You even see Mississippi and Mississippi State. We are definitely seeing SEC schools making more of an effort, and it's starting to pay off."
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said it's paying off because the SEC brand is stronger in Texas than ever before, especially with television exposure and the fact the conference has played in eight straight national championship games. Sumlin also said the amount of players the SEC has sent to the NFL recently is a big selling point.
"The argument for whatever league is better from top to bottom is for everybody to debate, but when it comes to the talent level, I go by the employers," Sumlin said. "And the employers are the NFL, and clearly there have been a lot more players drafted out of the SEC of the course of the last seven, eight, nine, 10 years than any other league.
"I think particularly the elite athletes in Texas that we're trying to sign and get to come to Texas A&M pay attention to that. ... That's an awfully appealing pitch to prospects in Texas for any of the SEC schools that come into the state to recruit."
Rodgers, a number of Texas high school coaches and even several Big 12 assistants believe the uptick by SEC programs in Texas will make a dent with some Big 12 programs. Rodgers believes Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas and Tech Tech likely won't be dinged as much as the other conference schools because of their longstanding ties with the Lone Star State. But almost everybody agrees that Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and other out-of-state suitors from the region such as Nebraska are going to face tougher battles in the future.
"Over the years, we've always been able to come to Texas and find guys that are a little under recruited or weren't on Texas, OU and A&M's radar and get them," a Big 12 assistant coach said. "But we're already noticing more competition for those types of guys from schools like Kentucky, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and even Tennessee. Recruiting in Texas is never easy, but it's about to become even more difficult."
Some SEC programs have a better chance at success in Texas than others. Rodgers believes A&M will continue to get the pick of the litter and Arkansas and LSU will still be factors. Alabama is on the minds more and more of top Texas prospects, especially after the Crimson Tide have signed seven Texans in the last five classes. But it's not going to be easy for all SEC programs.
"The rise of Baylor and the success that TCU has had will help them against some of these SEC teams," Rodgers said. "They're recruiting the kids that you would think escape to the Mississippi, Mississippi States and those types of places."
Make no mistake, though, the SEC invasion is happening and a number of high school and college coaches believe it will be especially felt in the classes of 2016-2020.
"We live in a society where it's all about what have you done for me lately," Clancy said. "Not even lately, but yesterday, and you magnify that by putting that in the minds of a young kids. All these seventh and eighth graders and freshmen, sophomores watching college football know for the last eight years is the SEC schools winning national titles, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Nick Saban, the game of the century and all that kind of stuff. That's all they know, and it's becoming ingrained on all the top players in Texas."