COLLEGE STATION (AP) – Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was happy to see his signing class ranked eighth by a national recruiting website.
His enthusiasm was dampened when he realized the Aggies were considered only fifth-best in the Southeastern Conference.
“We’re still playing catch-up in the SEC,” he said. “We’re getting there but we’ve still got a ways to go … we’re going to need a couple more of these classes to really get to where we need to be.”
The Aggies signed 23 players on Wednesday, adding them to the nine players who enrolled in the spring.
Texas A&M added some new targets for Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel after losing several receivers to graduation. The group is led by Ricky Seals-Jones of Sealy, Texas, the nation’s second-rated receiver by Rivals.com.
A converted quarterback, Seals-Jones was injured for most of this season. He ran for 1,245 yards and 15 scores and threw for 761 yards and eight more touchdowns in 2011. The versatile player also starred on defense as a junior, and had five interceptions and 68 tackles.
The Aggies also signed five other receivers to plug into Sumlin’s high-powered offense.
“I think our style of play helped attract a lot of guys, and also our history of offensive football, not just last year playing in the SEC,” Sumlin said. “People had doubts about if it was going to work. I think now people have a better understanding of our offensive philosophy … and that certainly helped.”
Texas A&M went 11-2 in their first season in the SEC after moving from the Big 12, its first 11-win season since 1998. Manziel led the Aggies to a win at top-ranked Alabama, and became the first freshman to win the Heisman and A&M’s first winner since 1957.
Sumlin knows that success helped improve his recruiting haul this season.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” he said. “Everything matters. Moving to the SEC is part of it, but not just being in the SEC but being able to compete and win some meaningful games in the SEC. Our brand is expanded particularly with our exposure in the SEC. Because of that people were able to see our style of football and we were able to sell our university instead of coming in cold.”
The Aggies also shored up their defensive front by adding six linemen or ends on Wednesday. Dallas Kimball tackle Justin Manning leads the group after piling up 76 tackles, 11 sacks and 18 tackles for losses this season. Texas A&M also added Carthage, Texas, tackle Isaiah Golden, who had 76 tackles, 32 tackles for losses and forced four fumbles as a senior. They’ll be joined by 6-foot-6 defensive end Daeshon Hall of Lancaster, Texas, who had 83 tackles and 23 sacks in 2012.
“That was a real emphasis this year,” Sumlin said of adding depth on the defensive line. “One year into the SEC, it is very obvious to me that this is a line of scrimmage league. For us to be a program that we want to be we need to increase our size and increase the profile of our team height-wise and with depth.”
The Aggies also picked up a couple of solid quarterbacks in Kenny Hill and Kohl Stewart, despite Manziel having three years of eligibility remaining. Hill earned Associated Press player of the year honors after throwing for 2,291 yards and 20 touchdowns and running for 905 yards and 22 scores for Southlake Carroll, Texas.
Hill’s father is former major league pitcher Ken Hill, who spent 14 years playing for several teams including the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers.
Stewart threw for 2,535 yards with 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for Houston St. Pius last season. That performance came after he threw for more than 3,100 yards in both his sophomore and junior seasons.
The two are also baseball standouts, but Stewart, who is a pitcher could be a high draft pick.
Sumlin has spoken with Stewart about his options, and told him he’d be fine with him playing baseball and joining the Aggies later like Brandon Weeden did at Oklahoma State.
“Our conversations have been that would love to have him here, but there’s nothing wrong with being Brandon Weeden,” Sumlin said. “If he wants to go play, we’ll still have a place for him when he’s 25.”
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