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  • Writer's pictureShehan Jeyarajah

Texas HS football coaches back Matt Rhule’s stance on IMG Academy

Originally published on DieHards.

Baylor coach Matt Rhule made waves when he declared that his staff would not recruit players from IMG Academy. Several of the biggest names in high school football were quick to back him up.

Rhule told hundreds of high school coaches at a Texas High School Coaches Association (THSCA) meeting this week that Baylor would not recruit from academies that take players out of Texas schools, according to KCEN’s Jessica Morrey.

Just last year, IMG added three elite Texas players to their roster — San Antonio Reagan QB Kellen Mond, Houston Lamar safety Grant Delpit and Houston St. Thomas WR Jhamon Ausbon. At the time, Mond and Ausbon were committed to Baylor. All three left Texas to live in Bradenton, Fla., for the year before enrolling at SEC schools.

“I don’t think it’s right,” Allen High School coach Terry Gambill told DieHards.

He is not alone.

Enjoying the experience

IMG Academy has developed into a recruiting mill. However, heavy hitters in Texas high school athletics believes the academy misses the entire point of the sport.

“It’s not always about playing with elite people — it’s about playing with who you grew up with and the relationships you develop with them,” Katy coach Gary Joseph told DieHards. “After you go to college, it becomes a business.”

For generations, high school football has been local. Schools and programs hung their hats on competing for district and state championships. These football teams have become a source of civic pride, no matter what the classification.

Joseph, the former president of the THSCA, believes IMG Academy brings the business end to the high school level. All Texas high school football coaches feel similarly, according to Joseph.

“All of a sudden, to have a kid ripped out of your program because of something like that, it’s hard to take,” Joseph said. “This kid’s come up and has no more loyalty to this team – that’s a hard thing.”

Gambill agrees, and believes playing at home is better for both player and personal development.

“I think a high school athlete needs to live with his parents,” Gambill said. “I view it as an opportunity for a young person to be at home and have dinner and enjoy his family and everyday life.”

Gambill points to his children, who are grown and out of the house. He says the memories and experiences with them at home are priceless.

“I think those are very valuable in the development of character, academics and everything about life,” Gambill said. “I don’t think you can put a price on that. You never get that time back.”

Future preparation

Many student-athletes say they go to IMG Academy because resources there will prepare them for the next level. However, Texas high school coaches dispute that statement.

“We know that programs in Texas prepare them just as well,” Joseph said. “I’d put my coaching staff up with any coaching staff around … I think the high school coaches in the state do a great job of preparing their kids and teaching them a little about character and life, too.”

Allen and Katy are two of the biggest powerhouses in the state. Allen recently built a $60 million football stadium. A new Katy stadium could top that. But regardless, it isn’t just big schools producing talent — it’s everyone.

The results speak for themselves. 247Sports rated 47 Texas high school athletes as 4- or 5-star prospects. Florida produced 42, including the 11 at IMG Academy. None of the 11 were from Florida. Three were from Texas, and all had major offers before arriving at IMG.

“A person who comes to Allen High School, they’re going to be ready to go in terms of academics, strength development, everything,” Gambill said. “Most high schools throughout the state of Texas have them.

“Take sports out of it, that’s not important. What’s important is the development of a young person. When they’re at home and with high school coaches, how can you get any better than that?”

Building relationships

Empathizing with coaches is no guarantee that they’ll deliver recruits. However, it doesn’t hurt. After Rhule made his comments, Texas coach Tom Herman also criticized IMG Academy.

“[Football is] about community, especially in this state,” Herman told the Houston Chronicle. “That community starts to get torn apart a little bit because people want to come in and recruit other players. I’ve got a problem with that.”

Herman later released a statement walking back that statement. Texas is heavily recruiting several IMG Academy players, including 2019 5-star running back Noah Cain. However, his sentiment is clear.

Mond’s former coach, David Wetzel, is on Rhule’s staff. After Bishop Gorman (Nev.), a similar academy, beat Cedar Hill (Texas) last season, Wetzel — then THSCA president — wrote a lengthy open letter to THSCA coaches.

“There must be a great deal of people who really enjoy reading, watching, and hearing about high school football as it relates to college football recruiting,” Wetzel wrote. “I cannot think of another reason why so much time and attention was spent during the Cedar Hill/Bishop Gorman game displaying the offers that so many of the players have received.

“Is this really what the media thinks high school football is about? Is this really what we are interested in when we watch high school football?”

The consensus from high school football coaches is clear. It’s a resounding “no.”

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