Throughout the last two decades, Texas high school football has become a breeding ground for gifted quarterbacks and receivers.
Among the NFL quarterbacks with Texas high school roots are Drew Brees, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford and Andy Dalton.
Passing games continue to evolve with the proliferation of spread offenses and 7-on-7 offseason football tournaments. But defenses are fighting back.
Coaches throughout Texas are putting some of their best players in the secondary to give their defenses a chance to combat high level passing games. Fourteen of the top 50 Texas high school players are defensive backs on the Tribune-Herald’s top 100 list for 2014.
“Everybody talks about the quarterback development, but somebody has to defend them,” said Randy Rodgers, who operates an Austin-based recruiting service. “Coaches are having to play some of their better athletes on defense because the wide receivers and quarterbacks are so good. You’re seeing more development of defensive backs because of the way the game has evolved.”
According to Rivals.com, the No. 1 recruit in the state is five-star Beaumont Ozen cornerback Tony Brown who has verbally committed to Alabama. Brown not only has good size at 6-0 and 182 pounds, he has tremendous athleticism and instincts.
“Tony Brown is a freak athlete,” said Jason Howell, Rivals.com’s Midlands recruiting analyst. “He runs a sub-4.4 (seconds in the 40-yard dash), and that’s just ridiculous at his size. I’ve seen him at different camps, and he’s tested off the charts. He’s got great footwork and hips and ball skills to go with it. He’s a man-to-man lockdown cornerback who still has a lot of potential to grow.”
Some recruiters would argue that Lewisville Hebron defensive back Jamal Adams is just as talented. He’s also got good size at 6-0 and 199 pounds, and is also SEC-bound to LSU.
Adams’ father is George Adams, a first-round pick by the New York Giants in 1985 who played running back in the NFL for six seasons.
“Jamal Adams is ultra confident and is very much a coach on the field,” Howell said. “He’s very physical and could be a cornerback or a safety. He can do a lot of different things.”
Two other defensive backs who rank among the top players in the state are Richmond Travis’ Nick Harvey and Mansfield Timberview’s Edward Paris. The 5-11, 180-pound Harvey plans to attend Texas A&M while the 6-1, 200-pound Paris will join Adams at LSU.
“Nick isn’t as big as some of the other guys, but his ability and instincts in the secondary are second to none,” Howell said. “He looks like more of a free safety type. He’s very versatile.”
Other defensive backs ranked among the state’s top 30 recruits are West Mesquite’s Dylan Sumner-Gardner (Boise State), Dallas Bishop Dunne’s Nick Watkins (Notre Dame), North Forney’s Armani Watts (Texas A&M) and Arlington Bowie’s Edwin Freeman (undecided).
Texarkana Liberty-Eylau’s Davion Hall, who is expected to attend Baylor this semester, could play either defensive back or receiver.
While defensive backs highlight this year’s recruiting class, there are still a lot of great quarterbacks and receivers. Texas Longhorns commitment Jerrod Heard is a dual-threat quarterback who has led Denton Guyer to consecutive Class 4A state championships.
In this year’s 34-14 win over San Antonio Brennan in the state title game, Heard ran for 146 yards and two touchdowns and completed all nine passes for 97 yards and a score.
“His best games have been in the state championships,” Rodgers said. “You want your key guy to perform well in championship situations. He’s got great ability as a leader and performer. He’s a true dual-threat guy.”
The state’s highest rated receiver is Baylor-bound KD Cannon from Mount Pleasant. Cannon is a smaller receiver at 5-10 and 163-pounds, but has superb speed and instincts. He’s already drawn comparisons to former Baylor All-America receiver Kendall Wright, who is now playing for the Tennessee Titans.
“If you look at his measurables, he’s not the tallest or biggest receiver, but he always seems to be there to make the play,” Howell said. “He can work in the slot or can go outside. He stretches the field and has great leaping ability. He always seems to have knowledge and awareness of the field.”
The state’s top defensive linemen are Arlington Martin end Myles Garrett who is Texas A&M-bound, and Coppell’s Solomon Thomas, who hasn’t made his college decision.
“Coming into Myles’ senior year, there were some questions about how he would show up in flashes and really make a crazy play, and then you might not hear his name,” Howell said. “But his senior year, he really took off and is exactly what you’re looking for at defensive end.
“Solomon doesn’t get credit for his athleticism. What separates him is he’s so advanced from a technique standpoint, and is a disciplined player who can shake off a block and make an explosive play.”
With Texas A&M jumping from the Big 12, the SEC continues to make recruiting inroads in Texas. Among Rivals.com’s top 10 recruits in Texas, five are headed to SEC schools including Garrett and Harvey to Texas A&M, Adams and Paris to LSU and Brown to Alabama.
“The SEC presence is definitely there, probably a little more than it has been,” Howell said. “With Texas A&M being in the SEC, kids are seeing they have a chance to go off somewhere and still have a game close by.”
While Texas A&M is having another banner recruiting year, Texas, Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech are getting their share of recruits to come to the Big 12. After winning the Big 12 championship this season, the big payoff in recruiting for the Bears will likely be in the next few years since most of their 2014 recruits were already committed before the 2013 season.
“I think Baylor continues to do really well,” Howell said. “When it comes to their needs, they grab a guy like KD Cannon or Jourdan Blake (from Princeton) who can be a cornerback in college. They jump on guys early, and get players they think they can develop. You continue to hear Baylor’s name more and more.”
After Charlie Strong replaced Mack Brown, Texas lost three defensive line commitments including a pair of Texas high school players — Longview’s Zaycoven Henderson and San Antonio Warren’s Trey Lealaimatafao. Henderson switched to Texas A&M while Lealaimatafao is undecided.
But Strong has a chance to finish in a flurry before the Feb. 5 national signing date.
“Charlie Strong will do fine,” Rodgers said. “I liken his position to the way it was 20 years ago when there was no such thing as early commitments. Everything happened in the last three weeks. He’ll have a private plane at his disposal, and he will have people waiting to make home visits.”