The change in College Station with the Texas A&M Aggies from the 2017 season under former head coach Kevin Sumlin to '18 guided by former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher has been as big a difference as night and day. Although the win total was just two more games from one year to the next, Texas A&M showed marked improvement across the board with an even more prolific offense and a nastier defense. The new approach is affecting hearts and minds on the recruiting trail where the Aggies cleaned house, finishing in the top five nationally this cycle.
A&M’s performance on the recruiting trail on National Signing Day should give rise to more watercooler talk among Aggie fans about what could be in store in the years to come. Fisher’s first full recruiting haul was fourth overall behind Alabama, Georgia, and Texas. The grouping included two five-star talents, 14 four-star players, and 11 three-star performers. Beyond filling areas of need, eight of the 27 signed recruits were early enrollees giving a greater chance for young talent to make an impact as early as this fall.
The schedule is daunting with the likes of defending national champs Clemson on the road followed by Auburn, Alabama, and two more away games to end the year against potential College Football Playoff contenders in Georgia and LSU. Should the Aggies rise in the SEC West as division challengers, some top newcomers may be called upon as impact players.
DeMarvin Leal, DT
Judson High School made an amazing four-game run into the quarterfinal round of the 6A Texas (UIL) playoffs with Leal leading the way on defense. Leal turned in an All-American season in the trenches registering 47 solo tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, and 25 quarterback hurries. The 6-foot-4, 289-pound defender is a hustle player with great use of hands and comes to the party bringing a load. Although a little light for a prototypical defensive tackle, being an early enrollee will help him add 10-15 pounds of muscle in a hurry before the 2019 season begins. With the graduation of Kingsley Keke, Leal should receive early playing time in the two-deep.
Defensive coordinator Mike Elko secured Leal’s verbal early landing him on April 18, five days after his official visit. There were some tense times for the Aggies when their prized five-star recruit took official visits to Texas (May) and Alabama (June).
Kenyon Green, OT
Any holes on the Aggies' offense will be will be scrutinized during the spring and fall practice sessions with particular attention being paid up front. Koda Martin and Keaton Sutherland both graduated while Erik McCoy declared early for the NFL draft. The hope is Green can come to campus over the summer and show he's ready to challenge for a starting job as a true freshman. The five-star's massive (6-5, 322) frame suggests he will probably start as an interior lineman even though he was a left tackle for in-state Atascocita High School (in Humble, Texas).
A&M swayed Green over 22 other offers, beating out fellow SEC programs LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State.
Baylor Cupp, TE
Cupp has a fantastic opportunity to make a household name for himself as a true freshman. His senior year at Brock (Texas) High School was highlighted with 492 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 20 receptions. The Aggies are loaded at receiver but lost All-American tight end Jace Sternberger to the NFL as an early draft entrant. Sternberger was the go-to guy for quarterback Kellen Mond, leading the team in receptions (48), yards (832), and touchdowns (10). If Cupp can make a similar connection with Mond, a Freshman All-American season is possible.
Cupp, the top-rated tight end in the 2019 class, brings more to the field than meets the eye. He is an above-average blocker on the line and is a true athlete who also has competed in track. The Under Armour All-American committed to the Aggies last April and stayed true to his word despite nearly two dozen other high-profile offers.
Derrick Hunter, DE
Although considered a four-star talent, Hunter could be one of the underrated jewels in A&M’s 2019 class. Physically, he already has the look of a college player, coming in at 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds. The Fort Myers (Fla.) area product tore it up for Dunbar High School in 2018, tallying 64 stops with 20 tackles for a loss, and four sacks in 10 games. His physical presence allowed him to dominate at the high school level. He will be challenged to rely more on technique against SEC competition. If he can adjust in spring practices to the rise in competition level, Hunter could be relied upon to help replace Landis Durham at defensive end.
Hunter was one of the more sought-after players in the 2019 class with 42 reported offers. The Aggies fought off pushes from Florida, Florida State, and Miami trying to keep him in the Sunshine State with SEC West teams like Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State, and LSU making their pitches as well.
Brian Williams, SS
After a 3-3 start to the 2018 season, Dallas-area Bishop Dunne High School rallied to win their final eight games taking home a TAPPS state championship. One of the tone-setters for the Falcons' defense was Williams. A four-star recruit, he was ever present on the field, finishing his high school career with 60 tackles, five tackles for a loss, two sacks, and six interceptions. As a junior Williams was named USA Today Texas Defensive Player of the Year. He has a knack for the game and brings the wood at the point of contact. He could help ease the loss of senior safety Donovan Wilson.
Williams was an early verbal to the Aggies, committing before the 2018 class had even signed their LOIs. His commitment did not stop other teams from trying to woo him with the Under Armour All-American receiving 33 reported offers.
— 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.