IMG Academy football team responds to Baylor head coach Matt Rhule's statement
A day after Baylor head football coach Matt Rhule told Texas high school football coaches Baylor will not recruit IMG Academy players because the Bradenton private school takes kids from Texas schools, the Ascenders reacted.
Rhule issued the statement at a coaches convention as a first-year Baylor coach in the wake of the scandal that resulted in Art Briles’ firing and left the program reeling. The new regime is looking to recruit from the Lone Star State, which is filled with blue-chip talent.
On Wednesday at IMG Academy’s media day, head coach Kevin Wright and players responded.
I didn't come here to get offers. I came here to get better.
IMG Academy linebacker Case Gatlin on Baylor coach Matt Rhule statement about not recruiting IMG
“We care a lot about our kids and if we have a kid that wants to go to a specific school, we’re going to support them 100 percent,” Wright said. “I’m assuming if we’ve got some guys that want to go there, there’s not many coaches in America that would say, ‘We don’t want those guys if they feel like they’re going to be a good fit for their program.’”
Wright added coaches making statements in public need to match their private statements.
“At the end of the day, public statements matter, and they really matter when you’re talking about dealing with kids who are influenced and they better just match,” Wright said.
Wright said he’s not really that concerned with what people are saying in Texas at a high school coaches convention to each other.
7Texas football players from IMG Academy’s spring roster still with the Ascenders.
“It’s just something I felt like that probably didn’t need to be said, but at the same time has little effect on us,” Wright said.
Wright said they’re more focused on building their program.
There are zero former IMG Academy players on Big 12 football teams this season.
That program features some of the best high school football prospects in the country as well as international players such as offensive lineman Daniel Faalele, who is a former Australian rugby player with immense size and several college offers despite having never played a football game.
Rhule’s public declaration to not recruit IMG Academy, though, came as a shock to Wright and players.
“I didn’t come here to get offers,” IMG linebacker Case Gatlin said. “I came here to get better. ... A lot of people are going to say what they want about IMG, but it’s different when you get here.”
Gatlin, who is a Virginia commit, has a unique perspective as a former Texas high school football player — one of seven from IMG’s spring roster still with the program. He’s from Boerne, a small town about 40 minutes northwest of San Antonio.
2IMG Academy players committed to Big 12 programs this year.
Gatlin didn’t recall any ill will toward IMG when he decided to attend the Florida program.
“People were mostly happy for me where I come from,” Gatlin said.
Los Angeles native T.J. Pledger is in his first season with IMG. He committed to Big 12 program Oklahoma in March, and he is one of two current IMG players committed to Big 12 teams. The other is Texas commit Ayodele Adeoye.
“I wouldn’t expect that from a college coach knowing about the type of recruits that come here,” Pledger said.
Pledger added: “It was definitely surprising because we have top talent and a lot of good guys that could be interested in Baylor. Things like that can affect somebody’s opinion of the recruitment.”
Big 12 programs visited IMG Academy throughout the spring. Neither coaches nor players indicated whether Baylor was among them.
Last year’s IMG QB Kellen Mond was committed to Baylor before switching to Texas A&M after the Art Briles scandal.
While those programs were on campus checking out potential college players, their tone was different than Rhule’s in his convention speech Tuesday. Wright said they all said nice things when they were on campus.
“You need to come and see what we really do,” Wright said. “Or talk to our kids. ... Our kids are our best spokesmen.”