During two long, grueling, hot days in College Station for the Fox Sports Southwest 7-on-7 State Championship, with marks the unfortunate end of the summer 7-on-7 season, but heralds the start of fall practice for both high school and college teams, I had a chance to watch some of the top prospects in the state in the 2013 and 2014 classes.
But it was fun, as it's always good to catch up with some of the other Texas recruiting analysts, as well the regional guys, which included a veritable Longhorn convention during the first Celina contest, as all three Orangebloods guys (nice to meet McComas and Suchomel finally, though I had seen Jason Howell for a minute at The Opening before he had to take off for the Rivals Underclassmen event), Inside Texas' Eric Nahlin, Longhorn Digest's Kevin Flaherty, ESPN's Damon Sayles, and myself all spent some time watching Nathan Elliott.
We almost made Scout regional analyst Greg Powers leave when he walked up, since he's not a Longhorn guy (Sayles got a pass on that one because he's a content-producing beast), before remembering that he broke the Ricky Seals-Jones decommitment and letting him stay (all this meant facetiously, of course) and letting him stay. Not a bad scoop, Powers.
2013 Cypress Woods outside linebacker Deoundrei Davis -- Locked up by the Longhorns after the second Junior Day back in February, Davis will play a hybrid safety/linebacker role for Texas. In a format where most linebackers struggle to make plays, Davis was excellent in coverage, with two plays late in a contest against Frisco Centennial that showcased his skills -- on the first, he flipped his hips to transition, close on a receiver, and knock the ball away at the last second in the endzone. On the second, he handed off a receiver crossing in front of him, moved latterally to his right to pick up another, and once again batted the pass away. Based on those plays, it's easy to see why Texas likes him playing him in space, even though he's also a hard hitter when the pads come on.
2014 Arlington Bowie safety Edwin Freeman -- With long arms and a naturally thick frame that still has plenty of room for growth, Freeman may be best suited for a hybrid position in college -- unless he reaches 230 pounds, which is a distinct possibility. Against Manvel, projected to be a contender for the title prior to the tournament, Freeman wasn't targeted, but moved well for a jumbo safety.
2014 Lewisville Hebron safety Jamal Adams -- Clearly the vocal leader for his team, Adams spent the minutes before the game making sure that his teammates stretched and prepared mentally for the game, then communicated to help his teammates get in the right position, correct mistakes, and generally act as a motivator and cheerleader.
Like Freeman, he wasn't often tested, but he has showed coverage versatility by working at cornerback at several camps. As a result, it was a bit disappointing that he didn't have the chance to go against Fred Ross, who gave his teammates so many problems.
2014 Abilene Cooper wide receiver Lorenzo Joe -- After playing wide receiver and in the Wildcat role for his team as a sophomore, Joe has been transitioning to the quarterback role he will adopt as a junior this fall. The early returns were certainly positive in terms of helping Cooper even qualify for state. He still projects as a receiver, as his footwork is choppy and his release far from ideal, but he did throw an impressive fade route in the endzone for a touchdown.
2014 La Porte linebacker Hoza Scott -- In warm-ups, Scott provided evidence of his strong hands by snatching a bullet pass with one big paw, then continued to work on his hands prior to the game. It didn't take long for him to show some results from the work, reading a play to the flat, jumping it, hauling in the pass, and taking it several short yards for a touchdown. On another play, Scott showcased similar reactive quickness, closing and breaking up a pass that he felt he should have intercepted.
The prowess in coverage was remarkable for a player known as a downhill linebacker. Besides his ability to read plays after they started, Scott also helped his teammate secure an interception by anticipating a play call -- the same play run the play previously, except to the opposite side of the field.
2014 Princeton wide receiver Jakari Dillard -- The day of viewing began with one of the top individual performers these eyes saw, as the 6-4, 185-pounder didn't waste any time making an impact, streaking down the field on a post route and hauling in the pass for a touchdown on the first offensive play of the game for Princeton. He followed it up with another touchdown catch on the following possession, leaping over two defenders to snag the football at its highest point -- an indefensible play at this level, or any other, frankly.
Dillard didn't stop producing either, using his big frame to later secure another catch in the endzone. He consistently caught the football away from his body when it was within his frame, showing strong and natural pass-catching ability, and then used his aerial skills to consistently beat defensive backs even when he couldn't create separation.
Strong both in his first several steps and with his top-end speed (which he said translates to a 4.5 40 time), Dillard sold his double moves well and was particularly effective with a stop and go route that he would hold for just long enough out of his break to get defenders biting. Currently sitting at three offers, that number will increase quickly and significantly this fall.
2015 Celina quarterback Nathan Elliott -- The Bobcat signal-caller burst onto the scene as a freshman last fall by leading an improbable comeback against Plano Prestonwood Christian in his first career start. On Thursday, he lined up under center (almost unheard of in 7-on-7), and appeared to run his high school offense, throwing a variety of passes into the flats rolling both right and left, squaring his shoulders well to the line of scrimmage in either direction.
The major question mark coming in was his ability to make the intermediate throws after benefiting tremendously from play-action passes downfield as a freshman, and he didn't answer those on Thursday, but he did throw a catchable ball by showing various speeds in those short passes to suit the situation.
Given that his father, the strength and conditioning coach at Celina, looks about 6-4 and 230-or-so chiseled pounds, there is plenty of projectable room for growth for the 6-2, 180-pounder, who has already drawn comparisons to Tim Tebow because of his left-handedness and bruising running style. An added bonus to the comparison? Elliott already has a more smooth delivery entering his sophomore season than Tebow does as a pro.
Celina won the Division II title, their second overall after taking home the title in 2007 as well. Oh yeah, and Elliott was wearing Longhorn sandals prior to the start of the event. I didn't have a chance to talk to him there, but I'll try to catch up with him in the next several days.
2014 Fort Worth All Saints offensive tackle Demetrius Knox -- During the last two state tournaments, recruiting analysts buzzed about a Celina lineman who wasn't even participating. After collecting around 40 offers, that lineman, Jake Raulerson, committed to Texas back in February and performed well enough at The Opening to maintain his position right around the top 50 in ESPN's rankings.
On Thursday, there was another lineman out there attracting a similar amount of attention -- Demetrius Knox, who already holds close to 15 offers from around the country, including Ohio State and Alabama, as well as receiving approval from the Texas Longhorns to receive an offer. While many offensive linemen look doughy and unimpressive out of pads, there was no mistaking Knox, who was out there supporting his teammates, and looked like a future offensive tackle by carrying as little bad weight as any elite prospect at his position.
2014 Fort Worth All Saints running back/fullback Daniel Gresham -- The 7-on-7 format isn't conducive to many running backs standing out (mostly scatbacks and all-purpose backs who work extensively as receivers for their high school offenses), there's no doubt that opposing defenders were happy they didn't have to try to actually tackle the 5-11, 230-pound Gresham, whose build can only be described as resembling a tank.
2014 Manvel tight end Koda Martin -- At 6-6 and 240 pounds, there's no question that Martin could grow into a tight end and some schools are recruiting him at that position, as he has plenty of room for growth on his frame, though he doesn't really look or move like a guy who will inevitably end up there -- he's built like a tight end in his lower body right now.
In some sense, it would be a disappointment to see him end up at tackle, as he was fluid and quick for his size getting in and out of his breaks, sinking his hips like a wide receiver to create separation against linebackers. He's a guy I could see moving up the rankings (he doesn't have any available film, as his Hudl film is set on private) in the fall and eventually being a top-30 player in the state. Given that he has double-digit offers already, it's probably safe to say that college coaches like what they see.
Stay tuned for interviews with each of the players listed here.