Mizzou faces new challenge recruiting for SEC

ST. LOUIS — Change will come. John Kadlec knows
Missouri’s recruiting focus will evolve with the Tigers’ transition to the
Southeastern Conference. A strategy that mainly included a concentration on
talent in Texas will expand east to places like Georgia and Florida.

Kadlec also knows that a new conference presents opportunity. The former
Missouri assistant coach, who served under Don Faurot, Frank Broyles, Dan
Devine and Al Onofrio, sees some aspects of recruiting as timeless: Parents
want to see their kids play, and Missouri joining the SEC means the Tigers will
become a visible option for talent in the Southeast.

Still, the man they call “Mr. Mizzou” has seen other aspects of
recruiting stay consistent over the past six decades. It is difficult to sell a
program, no matter the player’s location or the amount of interest in him.
Missouri’s geographic focus might change with a move to the SEC, but challenges
involved with the process will remain.

“Recruiting is recruiting,” said Kadlec, who was inducted into
Missouri’s Hall of Fame in 1996. “It’s not very easy wherever you do it or
wherever you go. Although they had a good foothold in Texas and giving that up
is kind of tough.

“I don’t think (the SEC transition) will be a big hurdle for
Missouri. I think they will do a good job. … They know how to do it. I think
they’ll do well.”

On Wednesday, Missouri will sign a class that will grow with the program as it
adapts to the SEC. As of Monday night, Scout.com lists 18 commits highlighted
by three four-star players — center Evan Boehm, quarterback Maty Mauk and
linebacker Donavin Newsom — with the possibility of landing the nation’s top
prospect, five-star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.

Some experts say Missouri’s SEC transition has been accepted
well on the recruiting trail, but the results of this class and ones to follow
in upcoming years will shape the Tigers’ reputation in the country’s elite
conference.

Signing Green-Beckham would add to Missouri’s anticipation as it prepares to
compete within the SEC East next season. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Springfield,
Mo., resident took an official visit to Columbia last weekend, and about 100
fans were present when he and his family arrived at the Mizzou Athletic
Training Complex last Friday. That afternoon, chants like, “D-G-B!”
and signs that read, “Stay home, True Son,” greeted the prospect
before he met coach Gary Pinkel and current Missouri players.

Like Blaine Gabbert and Jeremy Maclin before him, Green-Beckham could represent
another elite talent Pinkel kept within the Show-Me State. If Green-Beckham
chooses Missouri, he will boost the Tigers’ national perception.

Scout.com ranks Missouri’s class No. 37, behind other SEC
schools such as Alabama (No. 2), Florida (No. 5), LSU (No. 7), South Carolina
(No. 8), Texas A&M (No. 11), Mississippi State (No. 16), Arkansas (No. 17),
Auburn (No. 19), Georgia (No. 20), Tennessee (No. 26), Vanderbilt (No. 34) and
Kentucky (No. 35). The Tigers’ current list of commits includes 13 three-star
players, three four-star recruits and two two-star prospects.

“They’ve done a good job (in the South), but they haven’t done a great
job,” said Brandon Huffman, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com.
“What’s going to hurt them is … there’s not the depth in (Missouri), so
they’re almost being forced into those other states.

“If they want to compete at an elite SEC level, they’re
going to have to recruit those states hard. Right now, Missouri still is
somewhat of a foreigner.”

Working to gain visibility within the SEC footprint will be one of the biggest
challenges for Pinkel’s staff. Missouri’s roster from this past season included
five players from current SEC states: freshman linebacker Darvin Ruise (Glen
St. Mary, Fla.), freshman running back Greg White (De Queen, Ark.), sophomore
quarterback Ashton Glaser (Springdale, Ark.), sophomore wide receiver L’Damian
Washington (Shreveport, La.) and senior offensive tackle Elvis Fisher (St.
Petersburg, Fla.). By comparison, 35 players came from Texas.

Meanwhile, Missouri’s current commits reside in familiar recruiting grounds.
Six are from Texas and five are from Missouri. In addition, there is one each
from Kansas, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.

Former Arkansas coach Jack Crowe faced a similar situation when the Razorbacks
moved to the SEC before the 1992 season. After being promoted from his role as
offensive coordinator under Ken Hatfield prior to the 1990 season, Crowe guided
Arkansas to a 9-14 record in two campaigns as part of the now-defunct Southwest
Conference.

At one point, Broyles, then the athletic director at Arkansas, approached Crowe
and asked him what differences the coach and his staff would experience in a
move to the SEC. Crowe told Broyles that Arkansas could not expect positive
results against Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and other regional
rivals without signing players from those states.

“From a coaching standpoint, you’ve just got to eliminate the mystery of
it, and you’ve got to say you’re going to get right in the middle of
them,” said Crowe, who resigned one game into the 1992 season and is now
the coach at Jacksonville State. “People who don’t and think they’re going
to go down there and compete with players from other parts of the country, good
luck. … You better get some Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina
players.

“Football is football. Don’t spend your time proving you can match what
they have in the SEC. If you’re going to be in the SEC, you better be in the
SEC. You better join the brotherhood. Don’t be trying to sit on the fringe and
equal it, because — good luck — you won’t. That’s no insult to anybody, but
that’s just the truth. It’s the best there is.”

Former South Carolina coach Sparky Woods experienced a change in recruiting
focus during a transition to the SEC as well. He said he saw his program become
more visible after dropping its independent status — something it had carried
since 1971 — and joining the league prior to the 1992 season.

To Woods, South Carolina gained more credibility among recruits after its move
to the SEC. As a result, talent from untapped areas became options.

“It probably helped our recruiting,” said Woods, who coached the
Gamecocks from 1989 to 1993 and is now the coach at Virginia Military
Institute. “It gave us a little more clout in the fact that we were
getting in on some kids that we weren’t before when we were an independent.

“I think Missouri and Texas will become SEC states as well. Now you’ve
opened the interests of those kids to play in the SEC. I also think you opened
those schools in the SEC to recruit (Texas and Missouri) a little more. I
honestly think it helped in the sense that once they knew we were going to play
in the SEC, some kids in Atlanta or Florida that might not have been interested
in South Carolina prior to us entering the SEC became interested as a result of
playing in the league.”

Missouri could experience a similar effect soon. On Wednesday, Pinkel will
announce another crop of signees. As in previous years, they will represent a
new beginning. As in previous years, they will represent promise for the
future.

But unlike the recent past, the upcoming class will represent a tie to
Missouri’s SEC transition. Once the ink dries, the Tigers will begin work to
form an identity within the country’s elite conference.