Jayhawks tapping Texas

Recruiting hotbed key to Kansas success

Everything is bigger in Texas.

It’s a state spread across 268,581 square miles – many of them dotted with metal strips of bleachers, goal posts and lockers stuffed with helmets and shoulder pads.

For college football coaches, recruiting the in-state standouts always will be priority No. 1. But in states like Kansas, a legitimate stake in Texas is a must for Big 12 Conference programs needing to survive against the powers they play every year.

“A lot of the Big 12 North schools (recruit Texas) because their states don’t produce enough D-1 talent,” Rivals.com analyst Jon Kirby said.

And you can find talent just about anywhere in the Lone Star state, it seems. Traditional power Dallas Carter High has a 301-pound center named Jeremiah Hatch racking up honors and bullying defensive tackles for a school that’s seen nothing but success.

Meanwhile, down south near the U.S.-Mexico border, linebacker Justin Springer was making himself known as a vicious hitter at Los Fresnos High. One playoff game, he gave the opposing running back such a rattling lick, a reporter remembered that it “echoed through the crowd” as the ball-carrier’s helmet flew off his head.

Two players, 540 miles apart. But they have a common thread: They’re both Texans heading to play football at Kansas University next season. And they’re not alone.

From Patrick Dorsey, an early commitment out of Houston, to Drew Dudley, a late-blooming talent in Texas A&M’s backyard, KU has proven time and time again that Texas is the place to go to finish off a nice recruiting class. With population deficiencies and more restrictive rules for high school football in Kansas, the in-state prospect list dries up long before the scholarships do. Going elsewhere, quite simply, is required.

“It’s obvious that we’ve recruited very aggressively in the state of Texas,” KU coach Mark Mangino said in a past interview. “We move into as many Big 12 states as we can. That’s where the TV package is. That’s where the daily newspapers in the Big 12 region write about all the teams.

Signing day

Kansas University football coach Mark Mangino is planning a 3:30 p.m. news conference today to announce the program’s football signings.It’s believed that around 20 players will be announced as KU-bound, to go along with three junior-college players who were signed as mid-year transfers in December.Most high schools will have a signing ceremony in the morning to mark the occasion. Free State High will send its players off at 8:30 a.m. event, with Ryan Murphy and Brian Murphy both heading to Kansas.

“It just makes sense to go to Texas and recruit. It’s smart business for us.”

Why so much talent?

Gene Wier is an almost mythological name in Kansas City high school football history.

Constructing a dynasty at Olathe North that might never be topped, Wier won six state titles in seven years between 1996-2002 before going south. He accepted a job at Richland High, a school in the Dallas suburbs that’s full of talent and surrounded by even more.

The Dallas metroplex is the center of a football-obsessed state that produces anywhere from 250 to 350 Division I signees every year. Kansas, in a great year, might get 20.

“The kids at Texas have already had a college atmosphere,” Wier says. “They don’t have it where they go away to school, and it’s different from what they’ve expected. They’ve been through it.”

In Texas, athletics is prioritized in a way most Kansans can’t comprehend. A school that plays in the state-championship game will have a 16-game season – plus one or two scrimmages – and wrap up the schedule close to Christmas.

In the spring, Class 4A and 5A schools in Texas can have 18 padded spring practices in a 30-day window.

“To put it in perspective,” Wier said, “the NCAA is 15 days. And only 10 of them are fully padded.”

Wier also sees his players several times during the day. All year long, his freshmen football players meet in first hour and his sophomores, juniors and seniors near the end of the day. That’s when they have a 60-minute football class during school.

“Whatever you want to do other than pad up,” Wier said. “That is a time you do whatever you feel like. We drill our offensive linemen, we’re throwing and catching, we’re working on secondary coverages.”

KU assistant coach Brandon Blaney, who doubles as the Jayhawks’ recruiting coordinator, says the benefits of an activities period are immense.

“It gives those coaches an opportunity,” he said, “to really teach the game to football to those kids.”

Ready for pressure

Wier insists that it’s not localized genetics making Texas such a recruiting hotbed. It’s the development.

“Take Chase Daniel at Missouri,” Wier says of the Tigers’ quarterback. “He has been running a spread offense since seventh grade. All of our programs start in seventh grade, and they’re all under high school jurisdiction.

“Kids in Texas are just further advanced. I think kids in Kansas can catch them. They don’t make different athletes down here.”

That development has the 10 Division I-A schools in Texas naturally licking their chops every year come recruiting time. But there’s so much to go around, almost every big-time school keeps a close eye on Texas prospects to some degree.

“Here’s another advantage,” Wier said. “Having spring football, I’ll see KU, Missouri, K-State coaches : they’ll all be here watching us practice. It’s a time when they can stand right there and see a kid work.

“We have a lot of scholarships that are already tendered around spring ball. We’ll have two kids committed by spring ball (before their senior season).”

‘A very simple concept’

In a 2003 recruiting class known for KU’s aggressive – and sometimes ill-advised – pursuit of junior-college players, just one Texas high school standout was signed. That was wide receiver Moderick Johnson out of Houston, who played just one season before becoming an academic casualty.

After that class, though, the successful pursuit of Texas players was back on, helped immensely by KU’s appearance in the 2003 Tangerine Bowl.

In the next three recruiting classes, 25 players were signed out of Texas high schools. Among them: All-Big 12 cornerback Aqib Talib, reliable wide receiver Dexton Fields, longtime starting defensive tackle James McClinton and up-and-coming offensive tackle Anthony Collins.

Noteable KU Texans

Mark SimmonsHometown: DeSotoHigh School: DeSoto HighKU career: Simmons signed in 2002 and played right away as a true freshman. By the time his career was done, he was KU’s career record holder in receptions, and nearly set career marks in touchdowns and receiving yards.

Brandon PerkinsHometown: HoustonHigh school: Aldine EisenhowerKU career: Perkins was recruited as a tight end in 2002 before switching to linebacker. By his senior season he was KU’s top pass rusher. He had 10 sacks and four quarterback hurries in 2005 despite not being a regular starter.

David OchoaHometown: HoustonHigh school: Dobie HighKU career: Ochoa started 35 consecutive games on the offensive line – the first 11 at guard and the last 24 as the center. He was a two-year captain and landed second-team All-Big 12 honors as a senior.

Aqib TalibHometown: RichardsonHigh school: Berkner HighKU career: Flying under the radar after a stellar career at Berkner, Talib red-shirted before becoming one of KU’s top defensive players as a freshman. He led all of NCAA Division I-A with 28 passes defended in 2006, despite playing only 10 games. He’s considered a promising NFL prospect.

All are among KU’s best players returning for the 2007 season. Add to it seven Texas high school players expected to sign today – along with Patrick Resby, a Texan out of the juco ranks – and KU could have close to 30 Texas natives on scholarship in 2007, by far the most of any state. Only Kansas and Oklahoma come close.

Blaney calls it “a very simple concept.” Along with the obvious talent pool, KU recruits Texas players because Texas players are interested in Big 12 schools like KU.

“We’re the top football conference in that region in terms of perception by the kids and the coaches and the public,” Blaney said. “Big 12 football is the most dominate conference in the state of Texas. As opposed to Florida : that kid is probably interested in the ACC and SEC down there.”

The future

Wier has a confession to make: He’s kept a small bias all these years.

While coaching at Olathe North, Wier’s son, Brandon, was a defensive back at KU from 1998 to 2001. And now, when his Richland High players come for advice, Wier said he’s not afraid to nudge them toward the Jayhawks.

“My two early commits, I sent them to one camp,” Wier said, “and that was KU’s in Wichita.”

One, 6-foot-3 quarterback Joe Kemp, ended up picking Tulane over Kansas after receiving offers from both schools. To date, a Richland player under Wier has yet to sign with the Jayhawks.

But KU coaches surely will continue the strong relationship with Wier – and he’s just one of dozens of Texas coaches the Jayhawks are in constant contact with.

Of the nine assistants at Kansas heading into the ’06 season, five staked Texas as all or part of their recruiting zones.

Among them is receivers coach Tim Beck, a former high school coach at Mansfield Summit near Dallas, who goes back often to recruit the area. Clint Bowen, Mike Mallory and John Reagan also work Texas, and new offensive coordinator Ed Warinner has strong connections in the state, as well.

“Consistency with recruiters is a big advantage,” Jon Kirby said. “Coaches like Tim Beck, Clint Bowen and John Reagan have built relationships, and it helps to keep going into the same schools. Plus, Mike Mallory was in his first year in Texas, and he will continue to build.”

The fruits of this year’s work is what’s expected to be seven Texas high school signees today. There’s Carmon Boyd-Anderson, an all-purpose back with a slew of respectable offers. Dezmon Briscoe was a star receiver on the state-champion Cedar Hill High team, gaining 707 receiving yards for the 16-0 Longhorns. Dudley not only has size and speed, but smarts – he graduated early from A&M Consolidated in College Station and already is in Lawrence taking classes.

Come spring, Kansas coaches will be back down in Texas doing preliminary scouting once again. And there, the networking will get broader and the reputation brighter.

In the dogfight that is recruiting, every little positive tidbit goes a long way. Especially in a state so loaded with players.

“When you talk around, they’re really highly thought of here,” Wier said of KU. “It’s hard because these people here know their football, so you’ve got to come in and pretty much be a straight shooter.

“I’ve heard nothing but good things. I think they’re doing a great job here.”