On Tuesday at the Texas High School Coaches Association convention, Baylor football coach Matt Rhule threw barbs at one of the state’s most-despised villains: academies.
Rhule took a shot at IMG Academy, according to KCEN’s Jessica Morrey. If there is a poster child for this trend, it’s IMG. The Florida-based institution has increased its profile substantially the last few years, and consistently draws top talent from across the country.
Of course, several took to Twitter to express their displeasure with Rhule’s comments. Many were either IMG players or Texas A&M fans. The Aggies reeled in three IMG products last season.
— K.I.D (@TheKellenMond) July 25, 2017
— Eddie In Your Ear (@eddieXperience) July 25, 2017
There also was at least one confused commenter who appeared to think that our DieHards Baylor account was an official school account.
Baylor was asking for all these replies when this post came out 😂😂😂😂
— Loyal2LSU (@Loyal2_LSU) July 25, 2017
IMG isn’t the only example of this trend that Rhule spoke against. Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas mines the state of California for top recruits. Several others appear poised to take the next step if given the opportunity.
But while Rhule appears to have isolated himself from recruits at IMG, he accomplished something more significant for the future of his program.
Think of the audience
Rhule was speaking at the THSCA convention, the biggest meeting of the minds in Texas high school football. Most of the coaches in the room are afraid that these academies will continue to corral kids.
One of Rhule’s staffers — former San Antonio Reagan coach David Wetzel — recently was burned by an academy. His star quarterback — former Baylor commit and Texas A&M enrollee Kellen Mond — left Reagan for IMG Academy his senior season.
Academies are a threat to these coaches’ jobs. They are an affront to what these coaches do.
Rhule is new to the state of Texas. Talking about the dangers of IMG Academy is one of the smartest things he could do at this point. Speaking at the THSCA convention is a way for Rhule to endear himself to Texas coaches.
He spoke to a feeling every single person in that room possesses. In one swoop, he helped show that he gets them.
Matt Rhule doesn’t need academies
Baylor is in a unique position adjacent to I-35 in Waco. If he wants, Rhule never has to leave the state to recruit.
In fact, 20 of the 28 players in Baylor’s 2017 recruiting class are from Texas. All 16 commits in Baylor’s 2018 class are from the state. Rhule told reporters that he liked the idea of coming to Texas because he would no longer have to recruit nationally.
Last season, there were 47 4- or 5-star prospects in Texas. The year before, there were 53. Recruiting academies is great, but ultimately it’s not necessary if there is talent around you. That never will be an issue for Baylor.
There are just five Power 5 programs in the state: Texas, Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. Out-of-state schools have increased their recruiting in Texas significantly in recent years, but there are plenty of quality players.
In 2014, Baylor reeled in its top recruiting class in recent memory. The class ranked No. 25 in the nation. Every one of the 24 high school players the Bears recruited was from Texas.
Baylor did have commitments from IMG players Mond and Jhamon Ausbon before the previous administration was dismissed. However, both committed to Baylor when they played at Texas high schools.
The Bears never will recruit like Texas and probably will lag behind Texas A&M, but there is no reason they can’t compete with everyone else. Again, that’s without ever leaving the state. Considering that Rhule is a developmental coach, there is still elite talent left to be refined at the college level.
Texas high school football is worth saving
There arguably is comparable talent in California and Florida. But when it comes to history and grandeur in high school football, no one comes remotely close to Texas.
This is the state where Friday Night Lights is based, where communities spend tens of millions on stadiums. High school football means more than just wins and losses — it’s a source of community pride.
I detailed the small community of Mart, Texas, a few years ago for Focus Magazine. If you don’t understand what high school football means to these communities, consider reading that story.
A consider this: There’s a magazine — Dave Campbell’s Texas Football — that deeply analyzes every high school program in the state. If there are 27 kids in a graduating class, it doesn’t matter — DCTF is there.
There’s no question — academies put a damper on high school football.
We have seen high school basketball decimated by academies and the AAU. There have been instances of notable players sitting out high school games, or not even playing for their school, because recruiting and AAU ball took priority.
For basketball, these academies put recruiting and stardom first. That works to an extent with basketball, especially with how hyped players are at a young age. However, it has largely devalued state tournaments in many major areas. A player has to play at Mater Dei or Oak Hill to get national attention.
Last season, Bishop Gorman traveled from Nevada to Texas to face off against Baylor tight ends coach Joey McGuire and the Cedar Hill Longhorns. Gorman dominated, 44-14, which prompted Ohio State quarterback commit Tate Martell to tweet posts mocking Texas football and calling Nevada football better.
Of course, almost no players on Gorman’s roster were from Nevada. Martell is from California. Beating Cedar Hill — not even the best program in Texas — as a high school all-star team is lame.
Even though Rhule is from the Northeast, fighting for the sanctity of Texas high school football instantly endears him to millions across the state — Baylor fans or not.