Bring up the topic of 2014 Texas running backs to recruitniks and the first names that get brought up tend to be, in some order: Aldine Eisenhower's Donald Catalon, Lake Travis' Varshaun Nixon, and Pflugerville Hendrickson's Samaje Perine. Behind those is a solid group of prospects that includes the speed demon Justin Stockton of Cibolo Steele (Malcolm Brown's alma mater), the shifty and elusive Devin Johnson of Dallas Roosevelt, and the versatile D'Onta Foreman of Texas City.
Catalon committed to Texas less than a day after officially being offered, and he was joined a few days later by RB/FB Daniel Gresham of Fort Worth All Saints Episcopal. Offers are reportedly out to at least two out-of-state RBs as well. This would seem to suggest the Texas staff either wants to sign 3 running backs, or that they think highly enough of the two out-of-state guys enough to keep commitable offers open for them.
A 2014 running back who hasn't been getting the level of attention of the aforementioned names but who could very well be considered a top-10 running back in Texas a year from now is Xavier Turner of Birdville High School in North Richland Hills.
Various online sources disagree on what Turner's 2011 season stats were, but he had approximately 130 carries for 900 yards and 8 touchdowns. Birdville was a run-heavy team in 2011 and Turner compiled those numbers while getting less than 1/3 of the total carries on his team, as he spent the season splitting carries with seniors at quarterback and running back who combined to run for 2,100 yards and 30 touchdowns. He will more than likely finish the 2012 season with twice as many touches as he had in 2011.
Turner was named Offensive Newcomer of the Year for District 5-4A at the end of the football season. Then during track season last spring, he anchored Birdville's 4x100 and 4x200 meter relay teams, both of which ran school record times. After a summer spent working on improving his explosion, power and speed, he is now carrying 210 lbs. on his 5'10.5" frame, and he reported to me that his bench press max is up to 300 lbs. Oh, and he recently ran a 40-yard-dash in a hand-timed 4.4 seconds. (Fun fact: in Birdville's preview capsule in the 2011 edition of Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine, Turner was listed at 6' and 190 lbs, but the 2012 edition "shrank" him to 5'11" and 215 lbs.)
Between his improved strength and speed, the opportunity to get the majority of his team's carries, and the fact that Birdville's schedule looks considerably softer than it was a year ago (Ill be surprised if they lose more than one regular season game), Turner is primed for a breakout junior season.Last year he topped the 100-yard mark only once in his team's first six games, carrying the ball 13 times for 127 yards and a touchdown in a season-opening blowout of doormat Fort Worth Paschal. He did not have a game with as many carries again until week 8, but late in the season he came on strong and was a bigger part of the offense. In Birdville's last four regular season games, Turner had 67 carries for 535 yards (8 yards/carry) and 5 touchdowns.
The statistical high point of his season came in a week 9 matchup with Aledo, the eventual Class 4A Division II state champion. Aledo won 67-42 behind 265 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns from Johnathan Gray, but Turner was impressive in his own right. From the Dallas Morning News Sports Day HS blog's report of the game:
Birdville sophomore running back Xavier Turner had a great game, showing a great burst and good vision. Turner didn’t have a touchdown — a task reserved for seniors running back Tyler Klutts and quarterback E.A. Northey — but he put Birdville in scoring position on more than one occasion. Turner rushed for 176 yards on 20 carries...
The opposing coach, Aledo coach Tim Buchanan, also came away impressed with Turner’s efforts, giving him some personal words of encouragement after the game, then making some pretty salty comparisons in a post-game interview.
"I told one of the college scouts in pre-game, he walked up and was talking with me about a couple of our kids," Buchanan said. "I said, ‘Hey, here’s a tip for you. You need to watch Xavier Turner from Birdville. He’s a really good football player. He may not be Johnathan Gray yet, but he’s going to be a Johnathan Gray-type kid before it’s all over." [emphasis added]
That's very high praise coming from the man who spent four years coaching Johnathan Gray. One would expect that Coach Buchanan wouldn't compare just anyone to the best player he has ever coached, or is likely to coach.
Turner helped lead Birdville to a 8-2 regular season record and a playoff berth, but the Hawks' season ended after a hard-fought 14-13 loss to Fort Worth Arlington Heights in the first round. Birdville returns most of their offensive starters and will get an early shot at revenge, as the first game of their 2012 season is against those same Arlington Heights Yellow Jackets (featuring Texas commit A'Shawn Robinson). College scouts and coaches are all but guaranteed to be in attendance for that game and Turner would help himself a lot with a big performance on that stage.
Not that college coaches haven't seen him already. During the summer he attended camps at Oklahoma and Tennessee (the flagship school of his native state), and during spring practice Birdville was visited by coaches from Kansas, OU, TCU, UTEP, and possibly Texas A&M (Birdville's 2013 OL Joas Aguilar committed to the Aggies in February). Turner has been getting mail from several schools but named OU, Texas, and Texas Tech as the three he believed were showing the strongest interest.
He admits to liking a number of college teams but says Oklahoma was his childhood favorite. When asked if he had a favorite college or pro football player, he named Adrian Peterson and Kenny Stills. It's a safe bet that he would commit to the Sooners if they offered him.
Texas fans might hear Turner's name a lot in the coming years because if Oklahoma or Texas doesn't offer him, some other Big 12 team(s) will. With his frame some might see him as a future fullback. From talking to him he sounds very much like a "whatever's best for the team"-type and would be willing to play fullback but his goal is to be a college running back, and I expect plenty of schools will line up to give him that opportunity.
The available film on Turner consists of game-specific clips posted on his Hudl page that are taken from six games in the 2011 season. A full highlight video hasn't been put together yet (he plans to work on one early this fall), so several of his best sophomore year highlights are not viewable at this time. He ran for 130 yards on 17 carries against Saginaw Boswell, but his page only shows three highlights from that game, and only two where he was the ball carrier. From his 127 yard performance against Fort Worth Paschal (a game in which he averaged just shy of 10 yards per carry), a nine yard run is the only play shown. Not a single highlight is available from games vs. Brewer and Keller Timber Creek, two contests in which he had a combined 30 carries for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns.
As such, the best available highlight film on him is the six-minute set of selected plays from the Aledo game mentioned earlier. You'll have to look for #21 because he isn't spot-shadowed before the plays, but he can be seen throwing blocks on touchdown runs by the quarterback and the other running back out of Birdville's shotgun one-back and two-back sets, running between the tackles for first down gains, bouncing plays to the outside, and brushing aside would-be tacklers who don't square up to him.
Two plays in particular that I like: at 1:33 he side-steps two tacklers at the line of scrimmage to break free for a 27 yard gain; and at 2:05 he changes speeds with a subtle hesitation move that fakes out an Aledo defender, then breaks outside and down the sideline and keeps his feet moving to churn out extra yards as tacklers catch up to him, and by the time he is tackled he has gained 38 yards. Without the hesitation move early in the latter play he might have gained less than 5 yards. He's a player who piles up a lot of yards after contact and you rarely see him tackled by the first defender he meets.
As a sophomore he wasn't a burner who ripped off 50 yard runs left and right (his longest carry on the 2011 season went for 39 yards), but he looked the part of a future star power back capable of consistently moving the chains and wearing out defenses. With improved speed and a stronger frame this season, he'll be turning those carries into longer gains and defenders will have an even tougher time bringing him down if they manage to catch him in the open field.
For those interested in seeing Xavier Turner and his Birdville teammates in person, their 2012 schedule is listed below:
August 31 - vs. Fort Worth Arlington Heights
September 7 - vs. Richland
September 14 - @ Saginaw Boswell
September 21 - vs. Fort Worth Dunbar
September 28 - @ Fort Worth Carter-Riverside
October 4 - vs. Fort Worth North Side
October 11 - @ Fort Worth Eastern Hills
October 18 - vs. Saginaw
October 26 - @ Saginaw Chisolm Trail
November 9 - vs. Fort Worth Polytechnic