The 2017 recruiting cycle served as nothing short of a ‘Texodus’ as an influx of some of the very best talent the state had to offer headed outside of its borders. Specifically, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, 16 of the top 20 prospects in Texas left the state, including eight of the top 10 and the entire top seven.
It’s a recruiting landscape Major Applewhite is quite familiar with and the obstacles that come with keeping recruits away from the reach of out-of-state powerhouses during his time as an assistant with Rice, Texas and more recently, Houston.
Now the Cougars first-year head coach, Applewhite’s solution as far as his program is concerned is assuring his staff secures Houston and the surrounding areas.
“This is a very highly recruited state,” Applewhite said at the Texas High School Coaches Convention. “There’s two airports in both major cities so it’s very easy to get in and out of. The [high] schools are put together really well, they’re coached really well so therefore, a lot of schools want to send their assistants here to get these products and I totally understand it.”
“What we’ve done is we’ve tried to make sure that we’re going to create great relationships with this city so we’ve taken our 10-man staff and the greater Houston area basically from Huntsville to Angleton and Anahuac to Columbus and looked at it and there’s around 180—200 schools; we’ve split them up between 18 and 20 schools per coach and that is your sliver, that is your job.”
Applewhite’s job, on the other hand, is considerably different than it was just a year ago as part of Tom Herman’s staff. Upon Herman’s arrival at Houston, Applewhite was hired as the Cougars’ offensive coordinator, but now a first-year head coach in the same seat Herman occupied, he’s noticed one major difference in regards to his role in recruiting.
“The No. 1 thing is motivating the motivators,” Applewhite said. “Those are the people that have to motivate their players to play well, but also motivating them from a recruiting standpoint. A coach’s first inclination is going to be ‘what does my position do, what kind of coach am I, how competent am I in my knowledge in what I know and what I can get my players to do? But we all know deep down in our coaching hearts that we’re only as good as that player so you have to make sure you’re in constant communication with your staff about where we are in recruiting, what type of player we’re recruiting, do they fit out program?”
In short, as Applewhite said, he’s no longer a soldier entering the battlefield that is the Texas recruiting landscape. In what he deemed as ‘customer service ran operation’ within the state, Applewhite’s primary job on the recruiting front is assuring his assistants are shopping in the right places and for the right things.
“So a lot more bigger picture than just being one of nine soldiers carrying a rifle out there out there going and recruiting my area,” Applewhite said. “Are we hitting the right schools, are we doing the right things when we’re in the schools, are we creating the right relationships because this is a unique place. The state of Texas is a customer service ran operation in terms of recruiting. You’re going to continue recruiting the same high schools and the same districts over and over and over again because they’re local, they’ve got great coaches and they’ve got great players.”
At this point, the fruits of Applewhite and his staff’s labor have produced just seven commits from the Houston-area he hopes to establish such a heavy presence in. But of course, such a task is easier said than done with the likes of Herman, Kevin Sumlin, Ed Orgeron and Matt Rhule and Chad Morris recruiting the area and finding no shortage of success.
Applewhite’s job is now to assure he and his staff own a seat at the same big boy table as a Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor or LSU and for Applewhite, that begins with motivating the motivators.
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