Each of the last two years, college football’s Heisman Trophy winner was a guy who grew up as a Texas high school quarterback.
Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel excelled to such a degree that aliases — RGIII and Johnny Football — came to suffice for their real names. What Griffin pulled off coming out of Baylor and what Manziel achieved as a Texas A&M freshman shows how the state’s star has risen as a developmental ground for players at their position.
Who knows if, in a few years, someone off The Avalanche-Journal Fabulous 44 list for 2013 will add to their legacy.
Could J.T. Barrett do it at Ohio State? Cody Thomas at Oklahoma? DeVante Kincade at Ole Miss? Kenny Hill or Kohl Stewart following in Manziel’s footsteps at A&M?
The expectations certainly are there. All five are on the Fab 44, the annual list of the state’s best prospects.
Randy Rodgers, an Austin-based recruiting analyst, thinks Thomas has the highest ceiling — provided he doesn’t abandon OU for pro baseball — and believes Barrett has the kind of take-charge qualities to
make a quick impact, assuming he returns without a hitch from a knee injury that wrecked his senior season at Wichita Falls Rider.
“Barrett was the guy I thought had the best leadership skills,” said Rodgers, a former assistant at the universities of Illinois and Texas. “If somebody asked him to play as a freshman, he would be the guy. He was like (Seattle Seahawks rookie QB) Russell Wilson, that kind of guy.”
During his senior season at Southlake Carroll, Hill accounted for nearly 4,800 yards total offense, ran for 33 touchdowns and threw for 27. Kincade, from Dallas Skyline, piled up more than 3,700 yards total offense with 38 passing touchdowns and 12 rushing touchdowns — the second year in a row he’s been responsible for at least 50 TDs.
“I thought (Hill) and Kincade probably were the two guys who played the best (as seniors),” Rodgers said. “Both are capable of being dual-threat guys. Both have great leadership. Their teams did really well.”
Interestingly, Manziel’s smashing debut — and the fact he has three years of remaining eligibility — didn’t dissuade Hill and Stewart from committing to the Aggies. They can follow through on Wednesday, the first day 2013 seniors can sign a letter of intent.
That’s not only the subplot to this year’s stellar quarterback class. There’s Thomas, the Colleyville Heritage two-sport star, who has the goods to follow in the footsteps of Sam Bradford and Landry Jones. He threw for 4,200 yards and 46 touchdowns last season and reportedly had more than 80 scholarship offers.
He plans to play football and baseball for the Sooners, but who knows what could happen after the Major League Baseball draft in June.
“I really think Cody Thomas has the most upside of anyone,” Rodgers said. “But he is a guy that, because of baseball, could never make it to the football field. He’s a 6-6, lefthanded-hitting outfielder with power. Those guys get big dollars when it gets to be draft time.”
The safest bet is that one or more of the QBs will emerge as a college star, and he won’t be alone. As usual, Texas has players whose talent and potential attracted interest coast to coast.
Texas A&M has pledges from three Fab 44 receivers: Sealy’s Ricky Seals-Jones, Rosenberg Terry’s Derrick Griffin and Cedar Hill’s LaQuvionte Gonzales. There are eight receivers — more players than at any other position — on this year’s Fab 44. Texas Tech commitment Devin Lauderdale had an impressive offer list, Texas pledge Jake Oliver set a state record for career receptions and Baylor-bound Robbie Rhodes has big-time speed that he used to win state in the 200 meters and anchor Fort Worth Southwest’s state champion sprint relay.
“Oliver’s probably the most complete receiver with the best ball skills,” Rodgers said. “I wish he was a little bit faster, but golly, his numbers speak for themselves. He was double- and triple-teamed most of his high school career, and he still caught a jillion passes.”
Rodgers says Gonzales has the best change-of-direction skills, making him dangerous after the catch. No one has a better size-speed combo than the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Seals-Jones, who might outgrow the position.
“I see him growing into a big-time NFL tight end, an Antonio Gates type guy,” Rodgers said. “He’s got the body to be bigger, get to 240 and still run as fast as he does now.”
Cypress Ranch’s Keith Ford (Oklahoma), DeSoto’s Dontre Wilson (Oregon) and Katy’s Adam Taylor (Nebraska) set the pace among running backs. Ford is generally the highest rated, but no one was more productive than Taylor, who rushed for 2,754 yards for a 16-0 team. He had six 200-yard performances in Katy’s last eight games.
Among the top offensive linemen are Texas pledges Kent Perkins and Darius James and Northwestern commitment Brad North. Rodgers regards Perkins as the state’s best tackle prospect. Among interior types, he raves about North, the hub of the line at Allen. He’s not tall, but he’s smart, aggressive and a technician.
“Brad North reminds me of Dan Neil, who we had at Texas, who had two Super Bowl rings with the Broncos,” Rodgers said. “He was 6-13/4 and was the best offensive lineman in the Big 12 all four years he started. Brad North will be all-Big Ten, in my opinion for probably three years at Northwestern.”
In the defensive front seven, the Fab 44’s most highly sought prospects include tackles Justin Manning (Texas A&M) and A’Shawn Robinson (Texas), pass rusher Deon Hollins Jr. (UCLA) and linebacker Mike Mitchell (Ohio State).
There’s some debate about whether Hollins fits better as a down defensive end or a standup linebacker, but his meal ticket comes from how well he charges off the edge.
“He’s an Elvis Dumervil kind of guy,” Rodgers said. “A 6-foot kid, but he’s got great quickness. I would like to see him stand up and play, but he likes to put his hand in the dirt. He’ll get swallowed up by a tight end-tackle double team, but he’s like Von Miller. He’s screaming off the edge.”
National champion Alabama has a commitment from perhaps the No. 1 defensive back on the Fab 44, Sugar Land Dulles’ Maurice Smith.
“The best guy in Texas,” Rodgers said. “He’s a big shutdown corner. Alabama’s getting a great one.”