In 1978, a tennis coach opened the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Bollettieri went on to train future stars like Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Maria Sharapova at the facility, and attracted the attention of the sports world. IMG purchased the academy in 1987.
The IMG Academy went on to become, essentially, America’s premier boarding school destination for aspiring student-athletes in every major American sport. Baseball, basketball, golf, soccer, tennis, track — the academy was churning out pros in every direction. In 2010, the academy finally added football and became a can’t-miss opportunity for every high school student with the means, desire and talent to start the college experience a few years early.
The academy fielded its first high school football team in 2013. Its record since 2014 is 30-1. Last offseason, Jim Harbaugh added to the school’s notoriety (or infamy) by hosting a spring break practice on its campus.
The fact is, college coaches will do almost anything to make a name for themselves at IMG. It has become the most concentrated group of high school talent in the entire country, and the Sooners just got in on the action for the first time.
Historically, the SEC has dominated IMG recruiting, which makes sense given its proximity and success. Schools like Miami and Florida State also win big in Bradenton. The Big 12 has been on the outside looking in on this recruiting hotbed.
That’s why Pledger’s commitment is so crucial. Not only is he one of the highest-ranked RB commits of the Stoops era, but he plays with a bunch of studs at a program that will always produce them. Once the IMG coaching staff can point to a program alum who has had success at Oklahoma, that will go a long way for the next round of academy talent.
Including Pledger, Oklahoma has offered nine IMG Academy kids for 2018. A few of them — like Curtis Dunlap, Reuben Unije and Joshua Moore — seem to be taking OU very seriously. Who knows? Maybe OU can go from zero IMG commits to two or three in one recruiting cycle.
Curtis Dunlap Jr.
So far, Bo Scarbrough and Deondre Francois have been two of the academy’s biggest success stories in the new era of IMG football. Though the Sooners have had rock-solid RB and QB recruits over the years, it would be great to start landing talents like that as well.
Building a true pipeline at the IMG is nearly impossible given that the academy has ties to so many schools. However, if Oklahoma remains a perennial title contender (a Week 2 win over the Buckeyes wouldn’t hurt), expect it to be solidly in the mix for IMG students going forward.