A new era has begun at Texas A&M with Jimbo Fisher replacing Kevin Sumlin as head coach after six seasons. Sumlin was dismissed after the Aggies went 7-6 overall and 4-4 in SEC play in 2017. Fisher was lured away from Florida State after leading the Seminoles for seven seasons, returning to the conference where his coaching career really got started. Prior to joining Bobby Bowden’s staff at Florida State, Fisher served as the quarterbacks coach for Auburn (1993-98) and, after a year at Cincinnati, as the quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator for LSU (2000-06).
Recruiting was not an issue for Fisher at Florida State, as each of his classes from 2014-17 ranked among the top six in the nation, according to 247Sports’ Composite Team Rankings. Contrast that to Sumlin, who signed a top-18 class each season during that same span but just one that ranked among the top six (fifth in 2014) in the FBS.
Fisher’s first recruiting class with the Aggies checks in at No. 17, while the Seminoles are a few spots higher (11th), but one could easily argue it’s still an improvement over Sumlin’s final class considering the difference in average recruiting value (89.56 for Fisher vs. 87.93 for Sumlin’s 2017 class).
Recruiting rankings and player ratings aside, all that really matters in the end is how many games you win. With nine key seniors graduated, six of those on defense, there is certainly some work to be done for Fisher and new defensive coordinator Mike Elko. Texas A&M under recruited on that side of the ball during the Sumlin era putting a great emphasis on incoming talent being ready to play. With Fisher being an offensive-minded coach, expect him to work some of the new guys into the rotation, especially at receiver with the early loss of Christian Kirk to the NFL as well as the graduation of senior Damion Ratley.
Here are some new faces that could make a big impact on the field in Fisher’s first season in College Station.
Jace Sternberger, TE
Only two of the Aggies’ 23 signees were early enrollees – freshman offensive lineman Colten Blanton and Sternberger, a junior college transfer. Expect Sternberger to compete for the starting TE spot that is now open following Kalvin Cline’s graduation. Sternberger heads to College Station with a lot of hype as the No. 2 JUCO tight end in the 2018 class. He initially signed with Kansas as part of the 2015 class. After a redshirt season, he took the field in 2016 with the Jayhawks but transferred to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M to open his options back up. In 2017, he pulled in 21 passes for 336 yards with six scores.
A&M won Sternberger’s letter of intent over offers from Boise State, Southern Miss and UCF.
Leon O’Neal Jr., SS
The Aggies lost two senior safeties in Donovan Wilson and Armani Watts, so the opportunity for playing time is there. One defensive back all A&M fans should be excited to see play is O’Neal. The in-state product from Cy Springs High School parlayed a big senior season into a top-10 ranking among safety prospects. The U.S. Army All-American is the type of head-hunting safety all coordinators love to have on the roster. His junior season included 86 total tackles with two forced fumbles and followed that up with 78 stops and five forced fumbles as a senior.
O’Neal’s heart was with the Aggies early on but he decommitted on Dec. 1 following Kevin Sumlin’s dismissal. Jimbo and the new coaching staff were able to get O’Neal back on campus for an official visit and then hoped for the best as Arkansas, Clemson, Georgia and Alabama each took a run at him. With 34 reported offers, O’Neal committed to A&M two days before National Signing Day.
Jeremiah Martin, WDE
If there is a high school recruit physically ready for the challenge to play as a true freshman, Martin is the man. Martin (6-5, 240) absolutely tore it up during his senior season with 89 total tackles, 47 tackles for a loss, and 30.5 sacks.
When recruits talk about loving the school, and then committing to the school, Martin is the poster child. The former staff got Martin on campus for an official visit on Oct. 6, and then Fisher and the rest of the new staff had to convince him College Station was still the perfect fit for him. Oklahoma, Oregon, Arizona and Washington were all in play down to the end. The Aggies earned Martin’s commit and signature on National Signing Day.
Jalen Preston, WR
While the staff is looking to replace the production of Christian Kirk and Damion Ratley, Preston is that impressive do-everything talent who could be a serious All-SEC Freshman candidate. After rushing for 261 yards and six scores off 36 carries and securing 42 passes for 876 yards with 10 trips to the end zone, Preston was named the Houston Chronicle’s Offensive Player of the Year as a senior.
The nationally ranked top-20 receiver had more than 20 offers to choose from but stuck to his July 29 verbal commitment to the Aggies.
Jordan Moore, RB/SS
When bad blood starts to develop on coaching staffs, the split between coordinators can happen over talents like Moore. Moore is that incredible athlete who could play running back or safety in the SEC. He alternated on both sides at Yoakum (Texas) High School twice eclipsing the 1,000-yard milestone. The question is where does the staff need him most?
Moore verbally committed to the Aggies on Dec. 24, 2016, forgoing 34 other offers to stay with A&M on signing day.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.