'Fascinated by Leach': How Mississippi State football re-opened a recruiting pipeline to Texas| Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

If you’re curious whether Mike Leach's tentacles still reach in Texas more than a decade after his final season coaching at Texas Tech, look no farther than Braedyn Locke.

Mississippi State’s latest quarterback commitment from Texas has only a couple of degrees of separation from Leach, who is entering his second season as the Bulldogs’ coach.

Locke’s private quarterback coach is Cody Hodges, who played quarterback for Leach at Texas Tech.

And Locke’s head coach at Rockwall High School, Trey Brooks, faced Leach’s Red Raiders as a walk-on cornerback at Texas A&M during the 2000s.

“Braedyn has long been interested in Mike Leach,” Brooks said, “going back to the Texas Tech days. Braedyn is a real student of the game, so he’s interested in all that kind of stuff. I think he’s always kind of been fascinated by Leach.”

Locke, rated as a three-star pro-style quarterback in the 247Sports Composite, committed to Mississippi State on May 2. His offer list included North Carolina, Miami, Louisville, Kansas and Georgia Tech.

Leach signed two Texas quarterbacks – four-star prospect Sawyer Robertson and three-star Daniel Greek – among Mississippi State's four Texas signees in the 2021 recruiting class, marking the program's most Texas recruits in a signing class this millennium.

“In talking with coaches across the state, I think that he still has a fair amount of sway and pull in Texas high school football coaches’ offices and fieldhouses,” said Greg Tepper, managing editor of the popular of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine.

“He’s a guy who people know. He’s a guy who has a presence here and a guy who, I think, people still think pretty fondly of from his time at Texas Tech.”

Winning recruiting battles in Mississippi is a top priority for Leach, but he’s wise to keep a presence in Texas, a state steeped in talent.

Inside receivers coach Dave Nichol has been a driving force behind Mississippi State’s haul. Nichol, a graduate assistant for Leach at Texas Tech and an assistant under him at Washington State, was the primary recruiter of Robertson, Greek and Locke.

Mississippi State’s 2021 recruiting class ranked No. 26 nationally and 10th in the SEC in the 247Sports Composite, making it the highest-ranked class of Leach’s career.

The Bulldogs’ 2022 class features 11 commitments and ranks 13th nationally. That lofty ranking is deceiving. Early rankings favor schools that gain a lot of early commitments. The average prospect ranking of MSU’s commitments suggests the class will dip in the rankings as other schools build commitments. Even so, a top-25 class is within reach.

Mike Leach built 'goodwill' in Texas

Most programs have at least a casual interest in mining Texas for under-recruited prospects.

Missouri won the SEC East in its second year in the conference behind a roster loaded with players from Texas, including quarterback James Franklin, running backs Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, wide receiver Bud Sasser and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam. Franklin was a four-star prospect. The others had a three-star rating.

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From 2001-10, Gary Patterson didn’t sign a single top-40 recruiting class, but he built TCU into one of the nation’s best non-BCS programs by signing an abundance of three-star in-state prospects.

Three-star quarterback Braedyn Locke of Rockwall High School in Texas committed to Mississippi State on May 2.

“TCU for a long, long time built their whole program around guys that – you hate to say the island of misfit toys – but it was a lot of guys who were not five-star, four-star guys,” Tepper said.

In part because of TCU’s success, the Texas recruiting market is “pretty saturated” with coaches who are “trying to find that hidden gem,” Tepper said.

“There are no secrets anymore in Texas,” he said. “If you can play ball, you’re going to get noticed.”

Nonetheless, Leach’s name can open doors in the state. He had 10 straight winning seasons at Texas Tech, building his program with in-state stars like quarterback Graham Harrell and wide receivers Danny Amendola and Michael Crabtree.

“He built up a lot of goodwill because he built (Texas Tech to prominence) with Texas guys,” Tepper said.

Brooks remembers Texas A&M coaches during his playing career installing special defensive packages in preparation for Leach’s offense.

“(His offense) was something that nobody else was doing, and you better be prepared for it, or you’re going to get lit up, which we did plenty of times,” Brooks said.

A 'savvy move’ for Mississippi State to recruit Braedyn Locke

Seven quarterbacks from Texas high schools in the 2022 class are ranked ahead of Locke in the 247Sports Composite, including five-star prospects Quinn Ewers and Conner Weigman, who are committed to Ohio State and Texas A&M, respectively.

“In a lot of other classes, Braedyn Locke would be a real headliner, but because it is so deep I think that he may fly under the radar a bit,” Tepper said.

“I think it’s a pretty savvy move by Mike Leach for him to come in and identify him as a real difference-maker.”

Locke outperformed two quarterbacks ranked ahead of him – Ewers and three-star Josh Hoover – in a pair of Rockwall victories last season. Locke totaled 676 passing yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in those victories against Southlake Carroll and Rockwall-Heath.

Rockwall’s offense is built around run-pass option plays and a downfield passing game, Brooks said. The 6-foot, 180-pound Locke completed 67.7% of his passes last season for 3,277 yards with 40 touchdowns and six interceptions, according to MaxPreps.

“In addition to good decision-making, he’s got a really, really quick release – really, the fastest that I’ve ever seen, and he’s a really accurate thrower on any kind of throw,” Brooks said.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.