As Mike Leach and the members of his coaching tree spread the gospel of wide-open passing across Texas a decade ago, the number of quality young quarterbacks and receivers in the state mushroomed.
It’s taken a while for defensive backs to catch up, but maybe now they have. In the Avalanche-Journal’s annual Fabulous 44 list of the state’s top college football recruits, 12 are DBs.
“I’ve said this on several occasions: This was the best group of defensive backs that I can remember in a long time,” said Randy Rodgers, a high school football analyst who used to be a college recruiting coordinator for Illinois and Texas. “I thought this was the best position class of all of them in Texas this year.”
Rodgers is a consultant to Fox Sports Southwest and Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine. In the latter role, he puts together the publication’s preseason high school Super Team each year. Rodgers said a dozen high-school DBs in this year’s class would have been worthy first-team Super Team candidates in a normal year.
He think it’s the trickle-down effect of summer 7-on-7 passing competitions in Texas, which first yielded more and better quarterbacks.
“I think 7 on 7’s a big part of it,” Rodgers said, “because everybody’s made so much about the quarterback development in Texas, and receivers. There’s seven guys on the other side of the ball defending all those guys. You do that all year round, and I think that’s helped the defensive backs’ skill set tremendously.”
Rodgers and most recruiting services regard Beaumont Ozen’s Tony Brown as the top cornerback — 247Sports.com ranks Brown a top-20 national prsopect. Rodgers gives the nod to Lewisville Hebron’s Jamal Adams as the No. 1 safety in the state.
Brown is a son of former Texas Tech cornerback Tony Brown and former Lady Raiders basketball player Tammy Walker, but he enrolled this month at Alabama. Adams is an LSU commitment. They’re two of five Fabulous 44 defensive backs headed to the Southeastern Conference, the others being LSU pledge Edward Paris from Mansfield Timberview and two Texas A&M recruits: Nick Harvey from Sugar Land Travis and Armani Watts from North Forney.
That’s another indication of the quality of defensive backs in Texas this year. National signing day is Wednesday, and only three of the Fab 44 defensive backs are expected to stay in state.
Mansfield Timberview’s Brandon Simmons (Stanford) and San Antonio Roosevelt’s Arrion Springs (Oregon) are Pac-12 bound, Dallas Bishop Dunne’s Nick Watkins is a Notre Dame pledge, and West Mesquite’s Dylan Sumner-Gardner turned down a pack of BCS conference schools for Boise State.
“I think it’s just an outstanding group,” Rodgers said.
Texas remains fertile recruiting territory for just about any need, though. The Fab 44’s three quarterbacks include a dual-threat in Jerrod Heard from state champion Denton Guyer and a tall, pro-style prospect in Foster Sawyer from Fort Worth All Saints Episcopal. Somewhere in between is Whitehouse’s Patrick Mahomes.
He’s headed to Texas Tech.
“He’s got a really good arm,” Rodgers said, “but he’s also really athletic.”
Mahomes had a monster senior season, throwing for 4,597 yards and 50 touchdowns and rushing for 943 yards and 15 TDs.
Tech has commitments from nine members of the A-J state Top 100, two of whom are on the Fab 44. The Red Raiders’ other Fab 44 pledge is two-time 2,000-yard rusher Justin Stockton, a 5-9, 165-pound running back from Cibolo Steele. Stockton made the Class 5A state track meet in the 100 meters last May, running a time of 10.83 seconds.
“He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s really, really good in the open field,” Rodgers said.
Other highly sought running backs are speed backs Donald Catalon from Aldine Eisenhower and Vershaun Nixon of Lake Travis and power backs Terence Williams from Ennis and Samaje Perine from Pflugerville Hendrickson. Williams is already enrolled at Baylor, and Rodgers thinks it might not be long before he picks up where he left off last year, rushing for 1,717 yards and catching 30 passes.
“I felt all along Terence Williams was the most college-ready because he can do all the things you want,” Rodgers said. “He can run with the ball. He’s got good size. He catches it well so he can be a receiver out of the backfield, and he can block. He’s a three-down player. That’s why I like him more than any of the rest of them.”
Among offensive linemen, 247Sports.com and Rivals.com both regard Ohio State pledge Demetrius Knox from Fort Worth All Saints as the top blocker. Rodgers likes Dallas Skyline’s Ty Barrett, a tackle prospect who moved to center this year.
It’s a good year for centers, period, with Nacogdoches’ Jacob Bragg, Van Alstyne’s Connor Mayes, both in the Fab 44, and Jasper’s Terrell Cuney, in the Top 100.
Bragg is a good get for Kansas, and the 6-5, 320-pound Mayes meshes with Minnesota’s offensive style.
“He’s a big mauler,” Rodgers said. “He’s what you want as an offensive lineman in the run game. He’ll fit in well at Minnesota.”
Recruiting services have pegged Mount Pleasant’s K.D. Cannon as the top wide receiver in the state. The last three season, the Baylor pledge caught 243 passes for 3,856 yards and 52 touchdowns.
Rodgers likes Houston Westside’s Frank Iheanacho, a 6-6, 220-pound two-sport standout whose basketball skills translate to catching passes.
“I think potentially he’s the best,” Rodgers said.
Iheanacho has chosen Texas A&M, one of 11 members of the Fab 44 who have done so.
The No. 1 recruit in Texas, according to 247Sports.com, is Myles Garrett, a 6-4, 240-pound defensive end from Arlington Martin. He’s one of seven defensive front seven players in the Fab 44 who are Texas A&M commitments.
Garrett was credited with 88 tackles, including 39 tackles for loss with 201/2 sacks — and those are 2013 season totals, not career numbers.
“He’s your edge guy,” Rodgers said. “He can be as good as he wants to be. He has some freakish athletic ability. He needs to play hard all the time. He takes some plays off. But he’ll play early as a true freshman, as a pass rusher.”
The Aggies also have pledges from Fab 44 defensive linemen Zaycoven Henderson from Longview, DeShawn Washington from Nederland, Jarrett Johnson from Katy Seven Lakes and Koda Martin from Manvel. The Aggies will have to decide whether to use the 6-7, 245-pound Martin at tight end, where he’s projected by some recruiting services, or defensive end, from which he logged nine sacks and seven forced fumbles during the 2013 regular season.
Rodgers said his top three linebackers are Dallas Carter’s Cameron Hampton, Pearland’s Justin Phillips and Galena Park North Shore’s Zach Whitley.
The Texas-bound Hampton’s not big at 6-1, 205, but he can run.
“Coaches at Carter say he’s the best linebacker at Carter since Jessie Armstead,” said Rodgers, referring to the 1989 Carter graduate who played 11 years in the NFL. “That’s saying a lot now.”
Phillips was the all-Greater Houston defensive player of the year after leading Pearland to the Class 5A Division I state-championship game. He’s going to Oklahoma State.
The Fab 44 linebacker group also has depth with Otaro Alaka from Houston Cypress Falls, Edwin Freeman from Arlington Bowie and Josh Walker from Gilmer.
“This is one of the better linebacker groups I’ve seen in Texas in recent years,” Rodgers said, “because there are so many kids with good size and really good speed.”
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