Move to ACC, Local Commits Power SMU's National Recruiting Rise

Keelon Russell

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SMU has long been recognized nationally and locally as a prime destination for Transfer Portal talent. 

However, recent developments have marked a significant shift, positioning the Mustangs as a formidable national contender in the high school recruiting landscape. This transformation is powered by their move to the ACC and a focused effort to recruit top-end talent in the Dallas metroplex.

Sitting at No. 12 in the consensus high school recruiting rankings for the Class of 2025, the SMU Mustangs' class currently outranks national powerhouses like Georgia, Texas, Oregon, Michigan, and Florida State, who collectively went 67-5 in 2023. Head coach Rhett Lashlee and his staff have made significant strides, securing commitments from top local talents, including Keelon Russell, the state's top-rated quarterback from Duncanville.

Billy Embody, publisher of "On the Pony Express" and a veteran of over 12 years covering SMU recruiting, underscores this strategic shift.

"With the move to the ACC, the goal was to prioritize the high school ranks a little bit more locally and nationally," Embody said. "Dallas and the surrounding areas are really where they want to be successful and who they want to recruit. That helps with retention and continuing to build the brand of SMU locally, as well as building off of some of the past successes with bringing transfers back."

This local focus has yielded impressive results. 

Over the past two recruiting cycles, SMU has secured 14 commitments from the Dallas area, representing nearly 70% of their high school recruits during this period. In 2025, the Mustangs hold five commitments from the ultra-competitive 11-6A, often dubbed the "District of Doom," which produced both the 6A Division I (Duncanville) and 6A Division II (DeSoto) state title winners in 2023. 

SMU's defensive secondary class features three of the top four rated safeties in Texas: Duncanville's Tyren Polley, DeSoto's Sael Reyes, and Mansfield Timberview's Nathan Tilmon.

The commitment status of Keelon Russell is particularly noteworthy. As a two-time 6A Division I state champion, Russell is highly sought after, with programs like Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida, and Oregon vying for his signature.

"The headliner for this class is Keelon Russell. And keeping him committed and signing him could be one of the biggest moments in SMU, especially modern SMU history in recruiting overall," Embody said. "That would send a major statement."

SMU's head coach, Rhett Lashlee, highlighted the importance of their ACC move in transforming their recruiting strategy at his National Signing Day Press Conference in February, where most of the questions centered on the team's success in the Transfer Portal.

"We're in Dallas, Texas," Lashlee said. "More players sign scholarships out of the Dallas metroplex than most places on an annual basis."

Lashlee believes the 2025 class is the first to fully benefit from SMU's move to the ACC, marking a turning point for the program.

"I think the thing that is to our advantage, and you could argue ever, but specifically in the past four decades, is that there has not been a better time to come to SMU and play football," Lashlee said.  

SMU Head Coach Rhett Lashlee addresses the media at his signing day press conference. 


"We're in the city of Dallas. It's No. 1 for jobs. Sports and Business Journal just called it No. 1 for sports and business. It's a top-five media market. We have won as many games as anybody in the last five years. We won a conference. (We are) going to the ACC. Everything is hitting all at once and I think the thing that you've seen is kids want to play on the highest level."

"I think for a long time kids have wanted to stay at home and play in Dallas and SMU and get that degree and do those things, but when it came down to it, they wanted to play BYU, Florida State, Louisville, TCU, and all those people on a schedule and we didn't have that, and now we do."

While SMU remains a destination for transfer talent, the emphasis on high school recruiting has opened new doors. The Mustangs' recent recruiting weekend, dubbed "Pony Express Weekend," brought 24 top prospects to campus, including multiple four-star recruits like the state's top uncommitted running back (Richland's Michael Turner Jr.) and the state's most-offered prospect (Red Oak WR Taz Williams Jr.). 

"SMU has a compelling pitch to keep top local talent at home," Embody said. "Keeping Keelon Russell and landing other top prospects (like Turner) will be crucial for this class and for SMU's future."

This focus on prep talent complements their traditional strength in the transfer portal, creating a balanced and dynamic recruiting strategy in one of the nation's hottest cities.

"I think we are still a transfer destination because of our location, but I think the conference piece and the past success and all those things give us a chance to now attract those kids out of high school at a higher level," Lashlee explained.  


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