Saturday, July 6, 2013

Regional recruiting: Can it put Aggie football on winning track?

The New Mexico State football coaching staff - under first-year head coach Doug Martin - has aggressively recruited the region since coming on board this past February.

The question - and it's been a long-debated one in Las Cruces - is, will it help the team find a winning formula? This topic was recently delved into during a Sun-News article this past week.

Here's where I stand on the issue: I don't think it would help by leaps and bounds, although it certainly can be part of the program's overall blueprint if and when it achieves success.

Do I think the Aggies could utilize their local resources better than they have in the past? Absolutely. I don't think there's a question about that. And, from a public-relations standpoint, recruiting the neighborhood never hurts.

But it's been written plenty of times in this space before: College football is an arms race. And until the Aggies invest substantial money into their recruiting practices, they'll likely field a marginal team. Simply put, the days of recruiting just California, Texas, and a little bit of New Mexico not only haven't worked in some time, they're also dated.

That doesn't mean the Aggies shouldn't be proactive when looking in-state for help, trying to find the top players, along with other hidden gems the region might have to offer. Of course, players like Brian Urlacher (Lovington) and Hank Basket (Clovis) come around once in a blue moon. But it's also about being a quality talent evaluator, and a resourceful coach and player developer.

Some regional players who have contributed to the Aggies in recent years: left tackle Davonte Wallace is an El Paso native, a player recruited out of high school by NMSU and North Texas. He's started the past three years with the Aggies, and was an All-WAC member a season ago.

Matt Ramondo (Michigan State) and Zach Daugherty (New Mexico) are Las Cruces products who played college football elsewhere before transferring to NMSU. Both should make an impact on the field this fall, in Ramondo's case a sizeable one.
Clint Barnard, a middle linebacker from Melrose, NM, came out of nowhere to run with the first-team defense this past spring.

And wide receivers Joshua Bowen (Manzano) and Adam Shapiro (Rio Rancho) also looked good this spring, and could be ready to perform in game action come September.

As another example, let's also take a look at running back Brandon Betancourt.

He was recruited out of Mayfield two years ago and has rarely taken the field for the Aggies since.

The truth is, Betancourt has always had good speed - a burst to the second level - which has made him a running back with big-play potential. But he also came out of high school weighing reportedly 170 pounds (which may have been a generous number to begin with). Such a fact made it tough for him in pass blocking, which made it tough for him to play consistently.

This year, however, Betancourt should get a greater shot - now as a junior with some experience under his belt, at a position that's thin in depth. How he'll perform is tough to predict. Perhaps he'll supply a change of pace to the tough-running style of starter Germi Morrison. Perhaps he'll be a third-down back with big-play capabilities outside the tackles. Or perhaps he'll be more. But he should at least have a role, which is important for a team that needs to take advantage of any edge it can find.

Depth means something and so does supplying a two-deep. Rocky Long, former head coach at the University of New Mexico, did a spectacular job recruiting the state, both via scholarship and with a successful walk-on program. Not that all New Mexico natives on the Lobos were front-line players, because that wasn't the case. But by their third, fourth or fifth years on the roster, after a redshirt season and others backing up, some would emerge on the depth chart as contributors. And some would, in fact, emerge to be more.

Never would I say 10 of the 11 starters on both sides of the ball should come from in-state. I do think a local presence could be a piece to the overall puzzle, however.

Recruiting is truly the lifeblood of a program. It leads to everything else - the building of depth, a competitive outfit and wins. Good players can improve coaching, yet good coaches can only do so much with what they have to work with. While I think looking regionally is necessary, I'll also say investing big money into recruiting and getting as close to a national recruiting budget as possible is how Aggie football will ultimately bring winning results into the program.

In the words of Don Kloppenburg, a former college football coach for close to 30 years, who worked at NMSU twice (once as an assistant under Jim Wood, once again under Tony Samuel): "If you have a low budget for recruiting, it really limits you. I don't care who you are."

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Local players on the 2013 New Mexico State football roster
* Includes players from New Mexico and El Paso
Zach Baker, strong safety, Las Cruces High School
Clint Barnard, linebacker, Melrose High School
Brandon Betancourt, running back, Mayfield High School
Joshua Bowen, wide receiver, Manzano High School
Zach Daugherty, linebacker, OƱate High School
Xavier Hall, running back, Las Cruces High School
Abram Holland, offensive lineman, Cleveland High School
Matt Jaramillo, tight end, West Mesa High School
Isaac Leon, linebacker, St. Pius X High School
Cole Liggins, wide receiver, Sandia High School
Antonio Ortega, offensive lineman, Gadsden High School
Matt Ramondo, defensive lineman, Mayfield High School
Chance Roberts, defensive lineman, Los Lunas High School
Gino Satriana, punter, Rio Rancho High School
Adam Shapiro, wide receiver, Rio Rancho High School
Brennon Shay, wide receiver, Piedra Vista High School
Kedeem Thomas-Davis, cornerback, El Dorado HIgh School (El Paso)
Davonte Wallace, offensive lineman, Irvin High School (El Paso)
Andrew Zapien, long snapper, Mayfield High School

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