With eight days remaining until national signing day, Texas A&M sits comfortably in the top 10 nationally with its 26-member recruiting class.
While anything can happen in the 11th hour, as it often does in the recruiting world, the Aggies are unlikely to encounter significant signing day drama that would shake up their No. 8 recruiting haul because more than a third of it is already on campus: Nine commits are enrolled for the spring semester, including the top five prospects.
Following a forgettable end-of-season stretch, during which the Aggies went 1-4 and fell from No. 4 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings to 8-5 and unranked, recruiting is still going well.
But how? With a third straight 8-5 finish and national media speculating about the long-term future of Kevin Sumlin, how have the Aggies been able to secure the best recruiting class they’ve had in three years?
One reason is Sumlin and his coaching staff’s ability to win recruiting battles the old-fashioned way: forging strong relationships.
Ron Counter, who coached ESPN 300 receiver Hezekiah Jones at Stafford High, near Houston, said Texas A&M was one of the first schools that came by to see Jones in the recruiting process and was persistent, even while he was committed to Baylor.
“A&M and Baylor did the best job of coming around early and often,” Counter said. “[Texas A&M running backs coach] Clarence McKinney was one of the first guys here [recruiting] Hez. Coach Sumlin has been by. Other [Texas A&M] coaches have been by. Since Day 1, they’ve done a good job of recruiting him. Even when Hez was committed to Baylor, [Texas A&M] was in the picture.”
Bremond (Texas) High coach Jeff Kasowski saw similar activity on his campus. That's where ESPN 300 athlete Roshauud Paul resides. Kasowski complimented special-teams coordinator Jeff Banks for his recruitment of Paul, who committed to Texas A&M in March. “Coach Banks ... he did a really good job,” Kasowski said. “They definitely spent their time with him.”
Manvel coach Kirk Martin said Sumlin went the extra mile during a recruiting trip to see Texas A&M safety commit Derrick Tucker. While most coaches visit with teachers or guidance counselors to ensure their prospects are academically qualified for Division I football, Sumlin made a point to meet a teacher who has long tutored Tucker and had a large impact on his academic success.
That personal touch matters, according to Martin, whose son, Koda Martin, is an offensive tackle for the Aggies.
“[Sumlin] went to her classroom after school and thanked her, which I thought was pretty darn special,” Martin said. “I'm sure he does it at other places and I'm sure other guys do that, too, but I thought that was phenomenal.”
And it's not only relationships between the coaches and the prospects that matter, but also the relationships between the prospects themselves.
In the era of group texting, several Texas A&M commits keep close tabs on one another, strengthening their bond. On social media, Paul and safety commit Devin Morris are among those credited for their efforts to promote Texas A&M via the “#GigEmGang17” hashtag.
“You get a few key kids, and they're all in the same group message with each other these days,” Martin said. “Those kids can sometimes influence each other. If you get a group going that is a really strong group, a strong personality that each other respects, I think that can do a whole lot for you, holding it together when things don't go well on the field.
“I think it's weird how that kind of positive peer pressure can be an effect, more than what the rest of the real world realizes. When you have guys start decommitting from schools, sometimes that can snowball on to you too.”
Baylor learned firsthand about the snowball effect from decommitments when the program lost all but one commit following the firing of former head coach Art Briles back in May. Before Briles was dismissed, the Bears had six commitments; within a week, they were down to one.
The recruiting attrition turned out to be a windfall for Texas A&M, which picked up three of those former Baylor commits (Jones, ESPN 300 quarterback Kellen Mond and defensive tackle Jayden Peevy) plus another former Baylor commit who decommitted well before Briles’ was fired: ESPN 300 receiver Jhamon Ausbon.
The Bears’ loss was the Aggies’ gain. Mond, Ausbon and Jones are three of the Aggies’ top four ranked commits (linebacker Anthony Hines III is the second-highest-rated commit in the class).
“I don't think we can shy away from that fact, that it played big [into the strength of the recruiting class],” said Kevin Mond, father of Kellen Mond.
Kellen Mond, who played his final season at IMG Academy, was an example of the Aggies’ efforts at the football factory playing a role in hauling in this class. Three Aggie signees -- Mond, Ausbon and linebacker Santino Marchiol -- are all IMG products, and all three are already on campus.
Finally, faith in Texas A&M's long-term future mattered. Despite the recent trend of poor November results, several prospects feel the Aggies are still moving in the right direction under Sumlin.
If the Aggies do take a step forward in the SEC in the near future, this recruiting class may well play a key role in that.
“When they moved into the SEC ... and they won  games with Johnny [Manziel], people thought that should be the norm every year,” Kevin Mond said. “That's not the norm. That's an anomaly. Winning eight, nine games in the SEC -- obviously for A&M fans, I know, it's not good enough, but I'm just saying to them, 'Be patient. I think it's going to get better, and it's going to get better sooner rather than later.'
“You can't rush to have success. You have to go through the process. You have to crawl before you walk. I know it's baby steps, but I've seen the program get bigger and better.”