As the dust settled on Wednesday's National Signing Day, one of the more impressive, and perhaps under-celebrated classes came from a small school on the west side of Fort Worth.
From its senior class of less than 100 students, All Saints' Episcopal is sending 10 football players on to Division I college programs. By the end of the school year, head football coach Aaron Beck expects four more kids could join that list.
"When you think about Fort Worth recruiting, All Saints isn't the first place most bring up first,” said Damon Sayles, who covers recruiting for 247Sports. “But you look at Jaylon Robinson (Oklahoma), you look at Brendan Harmon (Rice), you look at Grayson Mann (Northwestern) ... there's talent all over the place on that football team. All Saints may be one of the best-kept secrets in Texas."
For a bit of perspective, Southlake Carroll has about 700 kids in its senior class. The same ratio at that school would be the equivalent of sending more than 70 football players to DI programs.
At All Saints, impressive signing day classes have become the norm. Beck said they probably average about eight per year, with as many as 17 four years ago – the class that included former TCU quarterback Foster Sawyer.
“I think if any school gets five players going on to the next level, that’s pretty unique,” Beck said.
To be clear, it’s not 10 Division I full-ride scholarships. A few players have spurned other offers to join teams as preferred walk-ons in hopes of earning scholarships in the future. Preferred walk-ons are typically recruited by coaches without a scholarship offer.
“It happens a lot here that a guy may have offers.” Beck explained. “But if they’re not the offers he wants, he’ll take the preferred walk-on route.”
Some might suspect All Saints can produce so many Division I athletes because, as a private school, it can “recruit.”
Beck maintains the school doesn’t recruit in the sense you think about colleges recruiting players.
“We’re not mercenary,” he said. “Do we just take seniors on a whim? No. We’re a strong college prep school where academics come first.”
Beck notes that the school has turned away quality players in the past because the fit just wasn’t right. He says the bigger reason for its college pipeline is simply because of the program’s development.
“What I’ve found over the last 15 years is that in our sector, where test scores are generally higher, it’s easier to get kids into college,” he said. “I wake up 10 years later and we’ve built a program that colleges are very comfortable with. Our kids are qualifiers and they’re typically not academic risks.”
Beck also thinks there’s an advantage to the school’s size – something that might have been viewed as a drawback in the past.
“That used to be the knock on us, that you’re ‘so small and don’t play anybody,’” he said. “But if you came out and spent a day watching our program, we look just like a college.”
All Saints has roughly 75 kids in its high school football program, slightly fewer than a typical Division I college. And like colleges, the teams, even though split into JV and varsity squads, all practice together under the same coaches.
“That’s a group we can get our arms around and we can focus and teach,” he said. “The way we practice, prep, get ready throughout the course of the year is just like a college. When our kids get to college, the coaches say the kids come in strong and ready.”
It also helps that private school competition has improved dramatically in the last decade in Texas. If you don’t think so, consider this from the 2017 season: College Station defeated Aledo to win the 5A Division II state title. Houston-area private school St. Pius X defeated College Station 58-41. All Saints defeated St. Pius 49-37.
It’s no longer accurate to assume private school football in Texas isn’t as competitive.
“Twelve to 15 years ago, I couldn’t really counter that,” Beck said. “I will tell you that now there’s a group of private schools in Texas that public schools will no longer play.”
All Saints football players going to Division I programs:
Andrew Bird, Rice University
Luke Brockermeyer, Texas
John Paul Flores, Dartmouth
Brendan Harmon, Rice University
Grayson Mann, Northwestern
Kole Pannell, Air Force Academy
Jalen ‘J.C.’ Rispress, SMU
Jaylon Robinson, Oklahoma
Shaun Taylor, Oklahoma State
Jax Wilson, Oklahoma