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Verbal jab at IMG is likely to come back to bite Baylor football coach Matt Rhule

Head football coach Kevin Wright talks to players after IMG Academy's football practice during the spring. Approximately 120 players are expected to put on the Ascenders’ football uniform this season as part of two varsity-level teams.
Head football coach Kevin Wright talks to players after IMG Academy's football practice during the spring. Approximately 120 players are expected to put on the Ascenders’ football uniform this season as part of two varsity-level teams. zwittman@bradenton.com

With so many prized recruits dotting IMG Academy’s campus each high school football season, Power Five conferences have clamored for the services of whomever they could land on National Signing Day.

On Tuesday, that changed slightly.

Baylor University became the first Power Five football program to declare it would not recruit at IMG Academy. First-year Baylor head coach Matt Rhule made that bold statement at the Texas High School Coaches Association convention, vowing none of his staff would set foot on the IMG Academy campus.

The declaration comes at a time when scandal-ridden Baylor needs to rebuild its image, restore its recruiting luster and curry favor with instate coaches in talent-rich Texas. And what better way to appease that target audience than offering an “I’m with you” pledge they very much wanted to hear.

The reasoning?

Because the Ascenders take kids out of Texas high school programs.

Really. That’s the reason. Rhule even said it.

And now the clock is ticking on when that position will be reversed or forgotten.

IMG Academy isn’t going anywhere. Top college football prospects from Texas — and elsewhere — are still going there. Other college coaches in Texas — and elsewhere — are still going to recruit those players.

The laundry list of names is too powerful to overlook. Potential Heisman Trophy candidate Bo Scarbrough was on IMG Academy’s first varsity squad. Dylan Moses, a Parade All-American linebacker last year, was highly recruited since his middle school days.

Both are suiting up for Alabama this season.

Guess what?

The Crimson Tide are perennial national title contenders. Programs such as reigning national champion Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Oregon, Michigan, Ohio State and more recruit at IMG Academy.

Granted, no former Ascenders currently play at any Big 12 schools. But IMG Academy quarterback Kellen Mond was a lock to play for Baylor this year — as was former Ascender Jhamon Ausbon — until scandal-plagued coach Art Briles was fired. Both members of the Class of 2017 ended up at Texas A&M.

And what happens when a player that Baylor has offered transfers to IMG Academy from a Texas school? Will Rhule and his staff pull the offer?

So, Rhule’s position isn’t going to last.

If it does, the chance at securing the services of any top recruit that plays at IMG Academy now or in the future will go to someone else. And Rhule can’t afford to rule out elite-level recruits in the wake of Baylor’s recent football scandal and in the face of a significant rebuilding task on the field and off.

What he said Tuesday, though, elicited excitement from Texas high school football coaches. It generated the buzz needed to gain their support. Texas is a football recruiting hotbed like Florida. It’s a power-play move that he anticipates will pay dividends down the road.

But it’s also the latest shot in the war between the Lone Star State’s high school football coaches and IMG Academy.

The Ascenders previously played Texas programs such as DeSoto, but Texas coaches banded together to nix playing IMG after schools had players leave for IMG Academy.

Mond is one of those Texas players. He ended up returning to his home state with the Aggies, who certainly aren’t worried about Rhule’s declaration and aren’t avoiding recruiting at IMG Academy. In fact, they are probably cheering him on — one less competitor for them to beat for a recruit’s signature.

So Baylor and Rhule will revert back in time.

And, when they do, he is likely to find Tuesday’s red-meat applause line to his base will give him, his program and that base a case of indigestion.

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