Little Argyle making a big mark

ARGYLE, Texas -- A scrolling billboard highlights the website for Argyle, Texas, one of the growing destinations of north-central Texas. The collaboration perfectly defines the community of roughly 3,500.

The message from the first billboard reads, “Welcome to Argyle. Your home. Well deserved.” The second billboard says, “Local community. Good for business.” A third billboard reads, “Life well spent. First class. Rural style.”

And then, there’s a fourth billboard. To the left reads, “Quality of life.” The right, a picture of the Argyle High School football team coming out of its inflatable tunnel.

Argyle is a community that, like many other Texas communities, backs its football team. It’s also a community that’s very proud of how far its team has come in such a short time. In only 12 full-schedule varsity seasons, Argyle has become a major recruiting hotbed. Four players will sign with FBS programs in February. A fifth player will run track in the Big 12 and a sixth will sign in 2015.

“That’s the definition of a blessing,” Argyle coach Todd Rodgers said. “We’re very fortunate, and for those kids to wear the Argyle uniform, it’s a blessing. We’re just cycling the right direction right now.”

‘People are starting to notice’

On Feb. 5, four-star wide receiver Ian Sadler and three-star safety Connor Wilson are expected to sign with Texas Tech. Three-star linebacker Sam Sizelove and three-star kicker Cole Hedlund are expected to sign with Kansas State and Arkansas, respectively.

Add in cornerback Reese Thompson, who has committed to Texas for track and field, and 2015 running back Nick Ralston, who has an Arizona State offer, and that’s six Division I athletes for a program with rural numbers. Argyle has fewer than 700 students in grades 9-12. The varsity football team had 57 players on its playoff roster, and Rodgers said the regular-season roster featured fewer than 50.

What makes this even more impressive is that Argyle currently has more committed players than some of Texas’ largest high schools. The Plano school district -- with three schools collectively fielding more than 16,000 students -- currently has four 2014 commits total.

“It’s crazy to think we can say we had six D-Is playing in the state championship,” Sadler said. “Things have definitely changed a lot since we started high school.”

Sadler may be the most decorated of the four Argyle commits. The Red Raiders pledge played quarterback, receiver, running back and punter in high school and will go to Texas Tech as an inside receiver. He will join Wilson, a good-sized safety who can cover a lot of ground in a hurry, something the Red Raiders are looking for in their defensive backs.

Sizelove, who is recovering from an ACL and MCL injury on his right leg, will play either inside or outside linebacker and is expected to be a major asset for Kansas State. Hedlund, the national record holder for career field goals, looks as though he will be a weapon for Arkansas. He consistently frustrated opponents by making long field goals and turning kickoffs into touchbacks.

These players are helping to continue a budding recruiting tradition in the small Texas community. Offensive lineman Trey Keenan, a 2012 Argyle graduate, just finished his redshirt freshman season at Texas Tech. Austin Aune, another 2012 graduate and a multisport star at Argyle, was recruited as a quarterback to TCU but instead chose to pursue a pro baseball career in the Yankees' organization.

“We've had coaches from the Big 12, the Big Ten, the SEC and the Pac-12 come by,” Rodgers said. "It’s a good sampling across the nation, and people are starting to notice.”

‘They’re not going to make a mistake on a kid from Argyle’

Argyle capped this 2013 season with a 16-0 record and its first state championship in front of 22,071 fans. Sadler shined in victory, compiling 284 all-purpose yards, rushing for three touchdowns and returning a punt 65 yards for another score. He also punted three times and averaged 46 yards a punt.

Rodgers always has been the first one to say college coaches will find talent on a visit to Argyle. It’s a town placed between Denton and Keller, two Texas cities that have produced quality athletes, including ESPN 300 quarterback Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/Guyer), ESPN Junior 300 offensive lineman Maea Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller) and, of course, Florida State’s Mario Edwards Jr. (Denton, Texas/Ryan), the No. 1-ranked player in the Class of 2012.

“College coaches stop by and check out the kids,” Rodgers said. “We may or may not have very many in the upcoming years, but they can’t leave a stone unturned when they come to Argyle.

“One thing’s for sure: They’re not going to make a mistake on a kid from Argyle. They’re going to find good football players. They’re big, they’re physical, they run fast, and they can contribute at the Division I level.”

The reason for all the talent? All of the players will point the finger at Rodgers and the Argyle coaching staff. Rodgers has built a program that is not only fearless on the field, but also goal-oriented enough to understand that football can be used as a stepping stone for bigger and better things in life.

“They always have your back,” Sizelove said of the coaches. “They want to make sure you play at the best place possible. Recruiting has its ups and downs, but Coach Rodgers and everyone will always be there to talk about it.”

‘The community and football team are together; they’re one’

Sadler, Sizelove and Hedlund have known one another since elementary school. Wilson arrived at Argyle the summer of his junior year after transferring from Coppell, Texas. With only 29 seniors on the roster, Argyle is proof that it’s not where you come from, but where you are going.

“Argyle’s not big,” Sadler said, grinning. “There’s nowhere to eat. You have a school, a football field and roads. Then there’s a bunch of land. That’s about it.

“But the community and football team are together; they’re one. For the last however many years, the community’s been behind us. With all them, we felt unstoppable.”

And they were unstoppable as a high school team. Now, a handful of players will look to build a similar bond with college teammates.

“Playing with guys like Austin Aune and Trey Keenan showed us what it took to play at the highest level and be D-I player,” Sizelove said. “We watched what it took to be a big-time football player. We learned from that and applied it to our game.”

Now it’s their turn to be the leaders for the younger players. And with the help of Rodgers’ coaching, expect more of the same from a recruiting standpoint. More and more players will earn college scholarships and help put their rising community on the map.

“Winning. That’s what it was all about,” Sadler said. “Now it’s time for all of us to do the same in college.”