Most kids playing football in Texas dream of one day hooking ’em at Texas or playing in front of the 12th man at Texas A&M.
That dream doesn’t come to fruition for many high school players in the state because of the abundance of football talent there, but many move on to large schools in other parts of the country.
Only 45 minutes north of Dallas, one of college football recruiting’s largest hotbeds, sits Denton, a suburb with a population of 82,976. While Big 12 Conference rivals Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Oklahoma prey on the big-city stars, Missouri has made its presence felt in places that are often overlooked. Places like Denton Ryan High.
The Denton pipeline opened in 2001, when Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and assistant coach Bruce Walker took the lead in Dallas recruiting by signing lightning-quick defensive end Brian Smith. Two more Denton Ryan athletes are expected to sign with the Tigers on Feb. 4, the first day high school players can sign.
Tailback Earl Goldsmith and defensive end Calcius Williams chose to follow Smith to MU after the Tigers beat Nebraska 41-24 on Oct. 11.
Denton Ryan coach Joey Florence said many factors contributed to the opening of the pipeline from Denton to Columbia, but none were more important than Walker’s straightforward recruiting approach.
“I have seen a lot of college recruiters come through here and I will say this, Bruce Walker is one of the best,” Florence said. “The way he and Coach Pinkel handle themselves make it easy to send kids to play for them.”
In landing Smith, Missouri got one of the most successful pass rushers in Texas high school football history. In his final two seasons at Denton Ryan, Smith racked up 55 sacks, including 35 in his senior season.
The bigger programs in the state overlooked the undersized Smith, because he weighed 210 pounds, too small for his position. Smith was stuck in the middle, lacking some of the tools to be a linebacker and the size to be an end.
Where others saw a lack of size, Pinkel saw speed and eye-popping numbers. Smith redshirted his first year at Missouri and made an impact this season, leading the Tigers with eight sacks.
Florence said Walker and the Missouri staff have a knack for judging players based on potential and not appearance.
“They do a great job of finding football players at Missouri,” Florence said. “Many schools look at size and determine whether they want a player, Missouri sees performance and ability.”
Smith’s instant success has made it easy for Pinkel’s staff to return to Denton in search of more hidden talent. Goldsmith said Smith took on the role of unofficial recruiter for his former teammates, making he and Williams’ decisions easier.
“He told us how it was at Missouri and how they are building,” Goldsmith said. “He said it is a great place and I found out that’s true.”
Goldsmith, a player Florence describes as an “Emmitt Smith type,” is 5-foot-10, 190 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.49 seconds.
Florence said he could be one of Walker’s best finds this year.
Goldsmith will enter a muddled picture at running back, joining fellow recruits Tony Temple and Jimmy Jackson in a crowded Missouri backfield.
Goldsmith never had a favorite team in Texas, making it easier for him to bypass schools in his home state and take a hard look at Missouri.
"Coach Walker is so outgoing, but when it is time to work he can get down to business,” Goldsmith said. “He made me feel real comfortable about going up there.”
Williams is cut from the same mold as Smith, an athletic end with a quick burst off the line and the ability to chase down almost any back.
At 6-4, 210 pounds, Williams bears an uncanny resemblance to the Tigers’ best pass rusher and will have to do many of the same things Smith did before he can take the field. Williams will need to make good use of his time in the weight room, but he runs a 4.55 40-yard dash, the kind of speed Missouri seems to be recruiting in bulk.
With Missouri’s emergence as a contender in the Big 12 and the success it has with in-state recuiting, it can use Texas as a secondary recruiting base to get players at positions of need. Missouri had 18 players from Texas on its roster in 2003 and is adding seven in this recruiting class.
The contributions of players like Smith and A.J. Ricker give Missouri a solid supplement to its ever-growing crop of in-state players.
Like Smith before him, Goldsmith said he would have no problem encouraging some of his more talented former teammates to take a serious look at Missouri.
“It could be a possibility that I’ll take that role on next year,” Goldsmith said. “I wouldn’t mind telling them about Missouri and hopefully if they like it they will come join us.”