It feels like a lifetime ago that Texas A&M head football coach Kevin Sumlin stood at SEC Media Days and answered question after question about whether the Aggies were ready for the conference. It felt like an attempt at an initiation, except it was apparent both then and now that the new guy was fully prepared for what he was getting into.
Now, after a win at Alabama, a Heisman, a Cotton Bowl blowout, and a scorching start on a 2014 recruiting class that includes arguably the nation's top quarterback in Kyle Allen, it's the rest of the SEC that's wondering how ready it was for A&M. I had a chance to speak briefly with Coach Sumlin.
Jason Kirk: This time of year, what's your recruiting schedule like?
Kevin Sumlin: Twenty-three hours a day.
JK: And is this when it's busiest?
KS: I'll tell you what we have. We've got two solid weeks of camps going on. We had a one-day high school camp on Sunday. We had a youth camp just finishing up [Wednesday]. We've got a O-line, D-line, quarterback, wide receiver academy that starts Thursday. We'll have another one-day camp Sunday. We've got a kicking camp coming up, and then we'll have a youth camp.
So we've got two straight weeks, and we'll have 1,500 kids come through this whole place over the next two weeks. And that's recruiting in itself, with young kids, trying to create a brand with them and a feel for Texas A&M. And a lot of the high school kids, a lot of them, it's their first real feel for our coaching staff or the place. In addition to all the regular recruiting that goes on.
So even though we're not practicing, our coaches are still out there in the heat, working. And that's a great thing for future Aggies.
And our players are all on campus now, for summer school, which started Monday. They're working out with [strength and conditioning coach Larry] Jackson, so we got a lot going on right now.
JK: The exchanges you and your staff have with recruits in new places -- what's struck you the most about their perception of A&M, and is it changing at all?
KS: Every place is new for us, 'cause we just got here a year ago. We approached this the same way when we got here. We're a SEC program, and it starts for us in our state of Texas and Louisiana. But we've been national since we've been here, and I don't think that's ever gonna change.
JK: Moving into year two in the SEC, what would you say is the biggest advantage A&M as a program has over the rest of the conference?
KS: I don't know that we have any advantage. We're new. You just said we're in year two. Not just as a coaching staff, but in the SEC. It's hard to say we have any advantage over anybody at this point. We finished third in the division. We like how our season ended up, we got a great experience in the [Cotton] Bowl, but we've still got a ways to go to catch up with the top of our league.
JK: What about your presence in Texas, as a recruiting advantage?
KS: Well, we should be recruiting well in the state of Texas. We're in Texas. Just like Alabama and Auburn would have an advantage in Alabama and LSU has an advantage in Louisiana.
JK: So last year Johnny Manziel went from an unknown to a Heisman to a national celebrity. Where do you think he is in June on the spectrum between a freshman and what you want him to be, as a player and leader?
KS: Oh, I think he's continuing to get better. Anybody who saw the spring game saw he continues to improve.
He's very, very hard on himself. He wants to play football at the next level and is working at his weaknesses and trying to refine his game. He's a great competitor and is gonna continue to work to get better. The guy's played one year of college football. He's got a lot he can improve on, and he understands that.
JK: Are there any new players or players who didn't get many snaps last year who remind you of Johnny last year?
KS: We didn't choose a starting quarterback until two weeks before the season. So at this point last year, contrary to public opinion, we did not have a starting quarterback. So we went into two-a-days in fall camp with competition at all those positions, and the end result was Johnny winning the job, not us just picking him.
We'll have a number of players who'll come in in the fall, and I'll have a better idea who'll be those young guys who'll get a chance to play.
JK: We're talking to you today because of NCAA Football 14. You have four kids and I'd assume some nieces and nephews. How familiar are you with football video games?
KS: With four kids, and two boys that play NCAA all the time, I used to play against my 11-year-old, and I stopped playing once he started beating me. I kinda gave it up after that, had to move it back to the nine-year-old. He's about to start beating me pretty quick. So I'm retired from the game.
Our players play constantly. We travel, you know, whether it's bus, plane, in the hotel. We play a lot of night games. Guys sitting around, they play it a lot. It's something that our current players utilize, our prospects utilize, and our kids utilize.
And to be a part and to chime in on certain aspects of the game is really kinda fun for me.
KS: Yeah, we talked today about a lot of different things, about what's important.
That's really kinda what sets the game apart. It's really more than just playing the football game itself. It's managing the roster. It's scouting players. It's finding players that fit your system. Even hiring and picking what kind of offensive and defensive coordinators you want, and when those guys move on to other jobs, having to hire other guys. It's extremely realistic.
JK: Coaches these days have to be up on Twitter and Instagram and talk about playing Madden and NCAA and Call of Duty with recruits. Is anybody on A&M's staff playing games with kids?
KS: Aw yeah. I would say a lot of guys do. You do home visits with prospects. There's time to sit down and play NCAA or Madden with guys at their house or when they come on campus. I know that happens all the time.