<
>

For Texas A&M to win championships, Jimbo Fisher needs more boring signing days

play
In-state recruits key for Texas A&M (1:36)

Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher discusses the diversity and balance in this year's early recruiting class. (1:36)

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- At this time last year, Jimbo Fisher was scrambling.

The then-newly minted Texas A&M coach was simply trying to evaluate, assess and decide what to do with the first year of the early signing period, trying to figure out a way to hang onto -- and add key pieces to -- his first Aggies recruiting class in the mad rush following his arrival in Aggieland.

On Wednesday, when Fisher strolled into the Bright Football Complex for the first day of early signing period 2018, he was as relaxed as a vacationing sunbather on the beach. He knew what to expect. Sporting a button-down shirt -- with the top button undone and sleeves rolled up -- jeans and a pair of loafers, Fisher looked down at his cell phone for a fleeting moment before strolling onto the elevator at 5:50 a.m., just in time for a 6 a.m. staff meeting to kick things off.

"It's gonna be a good day," Fisher said. "A good, boring day."

It was better than good for the Aggies. Fisher and his staff reeled in an elite class stocked with top-tier prospects in their first full recruiting cycle in Aggieland.

"Today was a very uneventful day," Fisher said 12 hours after he walked through the door, "which made me very happy. I was smiling from ear-to-ear."

He should. By the end of Wednesday, Texas A&M ranked third in ESPN's Class Rankings. If the Aggies hold there or improve in the February signing period, it will be the highest-ranked recruiting haul for the program since ESPN started ranking recruits in 2006.

More important, Fisher & Co. outdid all but one of their SEC West Division cohorts: Alabama, as usual, had the nation's best class.

Fisher's checklist included several items:

• Win in-state battles for top prospects.

• Add linebacker depth.

• Get a quarterback.

• Boost the secondary.

• Reach into familiar recruiting territory when needed.

Check, check, check, check and check.

The meat of the class is homegrown. Though he's spent most of his head-coaching career recruiting Florida, neighboring SEC states and the East Coast, Fisher and his staff cleaned up in Texas. Of the 22 players the Aggies signed Wednesday, 14 are Lone Star State products, including 10 of their 11 ESPN 300 prospects. Nine of those 10 had offers from Texas A&M's biggest in-state recruiting rival, Texas.

No school signed more of the state's top 20 prospects than Texas A&M (nine). The Aggies also got a huge win in the trenches, signing the state's top prospect, five-star offensive tackle Kenyon Green. The 6-foot-5, 318-pound Green, whom Fisher believes will be a top-10 NFL draft pick in the future, is the No. 3 player in the ESPN 300, the highest-ranked player Texas A&M has ever signed (Myles Garrett, No. 4 in the 2014 ESPN 300, was the previous highest).

"Texas A&M is going to be heard now," said Henry Green, Kenyon's father. "[Fisher] brought a whole other outlook to Texas A&M. ... [His arrival] opened a lot of kids' eyes in a lot of ways.

"You've got a coach who has won a national championship before, and now he's in Texas."

Fisher credits the in-state success to the relationships he and his staff built within the borders. Several of Fisher's hires have recruited the state before, and it showed in this year's results. It also doesn't hurt that he had some carryover on staff from the previous one, keeping defensive ends coach Terry Price and offensive line coach Jim Turner.

Take ESPN 300 defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound highly sought after prospect out of Converse Judson High near San Antonio, as evidence.

"Those guys did a great job recruiting him," Judson coach Sean McAuliffe said. "Terry Price is a good guy. Very easy to talk to, very unassuming. Coach Fisher, when he came through, he was very down-to-earth. You can read the paper and go, 'That guy's worth a whole lot of money,' but you wouldn't know it sitting there talking to him.

"Marv, like a lot of our kids, if you're genuine, they can read through people who are and who aren't. I think they kinda won him over that way."

There's no doubt that, despite his background recruiting elsewhere, Fisher made sure Texas was his priority.

"This is as good a state for football as there is anywhere in the country," Fisher said. "We wanted to make sure we got all the guys from here that we possibly can."

While taking care of home, Fisher and his staff also filled key needs. He wanted linebacker depth; he got it in the form of four linebackers, three of whom were out-of-state products (Keshun Brown from Alabama, Tarian Lee from Florida and Andre White Jr. from Pennsylvania). He wanted to add to the secondary and got four prospects there -- ESPN 300 cornerback Erick Young, ESPN JC 50 corner Elijah Blades and ESPN 300 safety duo Brian Williams and Demani Richardson.

And most important for Fisher, a former college quarterback himself and renowned developer of passers, he got four-star prospect Zach Calzada from Georgia.

Calzada, whom Fisher fell in love with after seeing him throw at an A&M camp, caught Georgia's interest in the final 72 hours before the signing period began in the midst of Justin Fields' potential transfer. The Bulldogs posed enough of a threat -- or so Fisher believed -- that he was monitoring the situation closely, including trying to squash any rumors to Calzada that A&M might enter the sweepstakes for Fields, 2018's No. 1 overall recruit.

The efforts worked, and Calzada was signed, sealed and delivered to A&M before 10 a.m. local time on Wednesday.

"I think he's the best guy in the country," Fisher said. "I think he has tremendous arm talent. I think he's got unbelievable leadership skills, toughness, athleticism. He's a winner. He makes guys around him better. ... The kid will make a zillion dollars [in the NFL]."

On Georgia's late push for Calzada, Fisher said: "There's always a twist to the story from the other side that puts the doubt in their mind. ... Some of it is gamesmanship, and some of it is unnecessary and ridiculous. I've said it from the get-go, Zach is my guy."

And Calzada was one of five prospects from Fisher's familiar recruiting territory. Three states -- Alabama, Georgia and Florida -- accounted for more than one-fifth of the class. Those are areas where, when needed, Fisher has no problem going.

"Sometimes you have to go outside, but very little. We will go outside [Texas] when we have to," Fisher said. "Getting the in-state kids and having a great base [is important, but so is] branding yourself nationally to be able to go pick up a few guys here and there."

Regardless of where the prospects are coming from, what matters most for Fisher is the caliber of players the Aggies landed. If they are going to win championships -- which is what Fisher was brought to College Station to do -- he'll have to recruit at this level every year.

The past six national champions have a four-year average recruiting rank in the top 10. And each one of them had a top-four class two years before winning it all.

If Fisher can have more smooth, relaxing signing days in the future, perhaps Texas A&M can begin to realize its lofty goals.