Inside Kyler Murray's recruitment

In the hours following the tweet, Allen (Texas) High School offensive coordinator Jeff Fleener couldn't charge his cell phone quickly enough.

ESPN 300 quarterback Kyler Murray, the nation's No. 1 dual-threat signal-caller, posted a textless message to his Twitter account on the afternoon of Jan. 21. It was simply a photo of his jersey number (1) in Texas burnt orange and white. Considering the five-star passer committed to longtime rival Texas A&M nearly eight months prior and national signing day loomed a mere two weeks later, it created quite the stir, and Fleener's phone blew up from media members and other interested parties scouring for information.

"It nearly broke my phone," Fleener said. "I know that in the 24 hours after he sent it out, I had to recharge my phone about four or five times."

Fleener, who might have as good a relationship with the Murray family as anyone outside of their family, remained tight-lipped. That didn't stop people from reaching out to him, since Kyler and his father, Kevin Murray, stayed silent in the aftermath.

When the dust settled, Kyler Murray stuck by his initial commitment, signing with Texas A&M on Wednesday, less than a week after verbally affirming his pledge and calming the masses in Aggieland. But it didn't happen without a recruiting battle that sparked tremendous interest in the football-crazed Lone Star State during the two weeks leading up to national signing day.

Why the fuss over Murray? His high school résumé is the most accomplished of any quarterback in Texas high school football history. A 42-0 record as a starter. Three consecutive state championships at the state's highest classification. In three seasons, he threw for 10,386 yards and 117 touchdowns and ran for 4,129 yards and 69 touchdowns. Gatorade named him its 2014 national player of the year, as did Parade Magazine, USA Today and several others. Name the honor, Murray claimed it. In the state that bore "Friday Night Lights," those credentials carry heft.

And if the numbers aren't convincing enough, watching him play is. Murray is a game-changing playmaker with arm strength, vision, accuracy and mobility. The first time many college coaches had a chance to witness the 5-foot-11 (yes, 5-11) Murray throw in person was during a special night practice in the spring of 2013. It was set up specifically so coaches could see him during the spring evaluation period, when they're allowed to be on the road recruiting. Murray's baseball career (he's a star on the diamond, too) meant his spring was occupied with Allen's baseball team, not spring football, so Allen football coaches accommodated those who wanted to see the then-15-year-old Murray up close and personal. That night, he blew them away.

"I went out there and there were like 50 coaches. Everybody was curious and wanted to see," Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. "I saw Kyler throw two balls, and everybody else did, and it turned into a social hour with all the coaches because we immediately knew he was the real deal."

Murray has football in his blood. His father, Kevin Murray, was a star quarterback at Texas A&M from 1983-86 who led the Aggies to consecutive top-10 finishes, back-to-back Southwest Conference titles and Cotton Bowl appearances, including a memorable 36-16 win over a Bo Jackson-led Auburn team in which Kevin set a then-Cotton Bowl record with 292 passing yards.

Kevin's exploits in Aggieland led many Texas A&M fans to believe that Kyler was preordained to don maroon and white. Some fans' cries of, "Murray would never let his son wear burnt orange" rang hollow, particularly in the final two weeks when Kyler took an unofficial visit to Texas, which is from where his jersey tweet originated.

Kevin emphasized that he would never force his son to go to a particular school, regardless of his own past.

"I would feel terrible if I urged my son to a specific university and he wasn't happy," Kevin said. "It had to be his decision."

"I would feel terrible if I urged my son to a specific university and he wasn't happy. It had to be his decision." Kevin Murray

Having verbally pledged to Texas A&M on May 28, 2014, Kyler put recruiting on the back burner for much of fall. He focused his efforts on Allen's season, the pursuit of 42-0 and a three-peat, trying to cement a legacy as the greatest high school quarterback the state has ever seen. When the winter dead period ended Jan. 15, he was curious to see what other schools had to offer, because he had made few recruiting trips.

"I've said to Kyler on a number of occasions that, 'You really don't know what's out there unless you take a look,'" Kevin said. "When you think about it, the only places he had ever been were A&M, Oregon, Texas Tech and Oklahoma. That's over the course of two years. Those are the only places he has ever seen. So he decided to go down to Texas and take a look at it."

From all accounts, the visit was a hit. The Longhorns gave Kyler plenty to think about.

"You can't help but be impressed by that place," Kevin said.

One minor factor working in the Longhorns' favor was Charlie Strong's relationship with Kevin. Strong was a graduate assistant at Texas A&M in 1985, when Kevin was playing for the Aggies. Kevin also has a good relationship with Texas quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson. And it appeared that early playing time was there for Kyler's taking. Rumors floated that the Longhorns told Kyler he could start the minute he stepped on campus.

"I wouldn't necessarily say they offered him the starting job," Kevin said. "You can't just openly say that when you have quarterbacks on your roster, one of which started every game last year. ... I think reading between the tea leaves, I think it was pretty dadgum obvious that there's a desperate need there."

The Aggies, while lacking depth at quarterback, do have an up-and-comer on the roster in Kyle Allen, a true freshman who started the final five games at Texas A&M and shined in an upset win over Auburn and in the Aggies' win over West Virginia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The presence of Allen, the No. 1-ranked pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class, was a weapon other schools tried to use against the Aggies in the efforts to sway Kyler.

"There were three schools telling him that he was going to come in there and start," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "To pair that with the No. 1 dropback passer in the country and starting the last five games, and him being the bowl-game MVP ... after all that, it bugs you. It starts worrying you. It becomes worth looking around, if you keep listening to that. It was just something we had to overcome."

Kyler Murray was genuinely conflicted about it all. Texas A&M coaches, while they might not have shown it publicly, were nervous. They committed to Murray -- and only Murray -- in the 2015 recruiting class. Since former starter Kenny Hill transferred out of the program, only two scholarship quarterbacks remain on their roster: Allen and Conner McQueen, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship last August. The Aggies offered a scholarship to only two quarterbacks in the entire 2015 recruiting cycle: Murray and Baylor signee Jarrett Stidham. It was Kyler Murray or bust.

"We discussed backup plans, but we never fully executed it because I never wanted it to look like we were looking for other quarterbacks," Spavital said. "We would've been in a bind if we didn't sign Kyler, but that's part of rolling the dice. I told him that all my eggs were in his basket. 'You'd put us in a bad situation if you go somewhere else, but we want you to know the commitment we have for you. We're not out there offering other quarterbacks behind your back or publicly. You're the only guy we're looking at.'"

Sumlin and Spavital wouldn't offer Murray a chance to start without competing but they couldn't afford to lose him either. They know he doesn't want to sit the bench. What they offered was a chance to compete. He'll get a chance to split first-team practice snaps with Allen during training camp in August.

"Kyle has only played five games," Spavital said. "The opportunity to come in and compete is still wide-open. I always give that incoming freshman an opportunity."

Texas had a quarterback committed and risked losing him -- which the Longhorns did, as ESPN 300 quarterback Zach Gentry flipped from Texas to Michigan -- during the pursuit of Murray, but recovered late by landing former Florida State commitment Kai Locksley in the final days of the cycle. But while the Longhorns' pursuit heated up and uncertainty reigned, a frenzy ensued.

Texas and Texas A&M have played 118 times on the football field but haven't met since 2011 because the schools no longer share a conference. The fire in the rivalry, one of the longest and most storied in college football, still exists, but now mostly takes place on the recruiting trail as the teams fight for Texas high school talent.

Aggies and Longhorns fans hung on every tweet Murray posted. The Longhorns jersey tweet was retweeted 4,738 times. When he showed up to an awards banquet wearing an orange tie, Longhorns rejoiced, Aggies squirmed ("Are we really analyzing what color the kid's tie is at an awards banquet?" Fleener asked, jokingly, on Monday). Harsh words were even exchanged in a Twitter war between two media members who covered each program, sparked by reports and speculation surrounding Murray.

While the information well from the Murray camp dried up, misinformation and innuendo spread on message boards and social media. Rumors about everything from the Longhorns offering Kevin Murray a job to there being a rift in the relationship between Kevin Murray and Kevin Sumlin, nothing seemed out of bounds while the public awaited a resolution.

"There were a lot of stories out there about Kevin and I not getting along," Sumlin said. "It's not true. People just filled in the blanks with what they wanted to put in there."

Added Kevin Murray: "All of the crap that you've heard and I've heard about my relationship with Kevin, that's about as far-fetched as me going to the moon. I've heard so much stuff in the last few weeks that it's absolutely been amazing to me."

While Kyler Murray deliberated, his schedule remained hectic. College coaches and Major League Baseball scouts frequented Allen High. His decision would essentially come down to two scheduled, in-home visits less than a week from signing day: Texas A&M on Thursday and Texas on Friday.

According to Fleener, Murray's Thursday included the following:

10 a.m.: Murray meets with a scout from one National League team.

10:30 a.m.: Meeting with another NL scout.

11 a.m.: Texas A&M coaches Kevin Sumlin and Jake Spavital visit Allen High School.

12:30 p.m.: Murray records a message for an award ceremony that he can't attend.

2 p.m.: Batting practice in front of several MLB scouts (Fleener notes Murray hits two home runs and drills the outfield fence with another swing).

Evening: After baseball practice, the Murrays host an in-home visit from the Aggies (Sumlin, Spavital and new Texas A&M receivers coach Aaron Moorehead were present).

In some ways, Texas A&M's recruiting class hung in the balance in the final pursuit of Murray. His high profile and credentials carried weight with other recruits who wanted to play with him. Also, if the Longhorns swiped him from the Aggies, it would give Texas a boost of untold momentum and render the Aggies' favorite Twitter hashtag, #WRTS ("We Run This State"), hollow as they leveled the playing field with Texas A&M, which held the upper hand over Texas in the 2013 and 2014 recruiting cycles.

The Aggies knew their final in-home visit had to go well.

"They were straight down to business," Spavital said. "And that's how the Murray family is. You're not going to beat around the bush for long. It's, 'All right, let's talk.'"

Sumlin laid out the plan for Murray.

"We told him, 'Here's the deal. We only have two quarterbacks. You're going to practice. You're going to play. There's not going to be a redshirt for you. We've only got two guys,'" Sumlin told ESPN.com's Travis Haney. "You get to compete, just like everybody else does. If you're not starting that first game, you need to keep competing. If you are starting the first game, you had better keep competing, too. ... There's going to be plenty of opportunities for you to play. How much you play is not up to me.'"

Kevin Murray said all of the family's questions were answered sufficiently. Not to be overlooked, Kyler Murray's mother, Missy, had her questions answered, too, and felt comfortable handing her son over to the Aggies, particularly Spavital, who spent two years cultivating and maintaining a relationship with Kyler.

"My wife trusts Jake," Kevin Murray said. "Too often I think that gets lost in the process. Mom's opinion matters, too."

As the in-home visit came to a close, Sumlin knew the next day's visit from Strong and the Longhorns was a hurdle to clear. Sumlin made an effort to convince Kyler to end everything and affirm his commitment.

"He said, 'If you're wanting to move forward with this and eliminate all the speculation and social media and all the false rumors, you end it now,'" Spavital recalls from Sumlin's message.

The Murrays wanted to discuss everything among themselves before any decisions were made, so Sumlin, Spavital and Moorehead departed. Later that night, Kevin Murray called to tell the staff that assure them that Kyler would stick with his pledge and cancel the Longhorns' visit the next night. Kyler discussed his decision with ESPN.com and tweeted four simple words that again caused a stir: "Following my heart... #GigEm"

To date, it has been retweeted 8,437 times.

The drama ended that night and officially concluded Wednesday morning when Kyler Murray's letter of intent arrived at Texas A&M's Bright Football Complex. He's an Aggie for now, but uncertainty still looms. Many project Murray, a talented infielder, to go as high as the first round in the June baseball draft. If that comes to fruition, a large signing bonus likely awaits -- as well as another crucial decision.

"I think he has a [signing bonus] number [in mind]," Sumlin said. "If they get that number, then it's something they're going to look at hard. If they don't get that number, I think he continues to play [football] and try to play both [in college] and see what happens. He's talented."

Kevin Murray wants his son to keep all his options open but prefers he focus on the immediate future, not a draft that is four months away.

"All that matters is what's coming up, what's next," he said. "I've never really allowed him to get ahead of himself. June is so far away. It's a non-issue if we don't take care of February, March, April and May.

"What happens in June? June's my birthday. That's all that I know that's happening."