Unheralded 2013 Player of the Week: Devante Pullum

Each Wednesday during the Texas high school football regular season, I'll be featuring senior players who, for whatever reason, lack scholarship offers and/or remain under the radar of most college recruiters. These guys may not be future stars at the FBS level, but I'm a fan of all of them and believe they're good enough to warrant more attention than they have received up to now.
My week three pick is Devante Pullum of Little Elm. Pullum could be called a dual-sport unheralded athlete, as he stars for Little Elm's football and basketball teams, but as of now he has yet to receive college offers in either sport.

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Devante Pullum has started for his high school's football and basketball teams since his sophomore year. That he plays point guard for the basketball team isn't surprising given his height (5'9") and thin frame (his weight is listed by most sources as 160). Somewhat more surprising - given his size - is that he plays quarterback for the Little Elm Lobos football team. Size-wise he bears a close resemblance to Cole Beasley, another star athlete to come from Little Elm, a town about 20 miles north of Dallas situated on the north side of Lewisville Lake. Beasley, a 2008 grad, had over 1,100 yards both rushing and passing in his senior year at Little Elm, then went on to have a successful career as a wide receiver at SMU and earned a spot on the Dallas Cowboys roster this year after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent. Quite the improbable path for an undersized two-star prospect. I won't be so bold as to predict similar success for Devante Pullum, but having seen high school highlights for the two of them I believe Pullum is the more electric athlete.

The "point guard on the football field" is a metaphor you sometimes see when a writer is describing how a quarterback spreads the ball around, always finds the open receiver, and has a way of making his teammates better. Put the words "Drew Brees Steve Nash" in a Google search and you'll get over 750,000 results. Pullum looks like a point guard playing football, but his style is more Russell Westbrook than Steve Nash. As a junior, he attempted less than 70 passes because of Little Elm's heavy reliance on the running game, but when he carries the ball he doesn't avoid tacklers as much as he breaks them down and darts past them, around them, and between them as if he's attacking the basket. Often he reaches the end zone without the defense having so much as committed the equivalent of a "reaching in" or "blocking" foul on him.

Between his sophomore and junior seasons, he totaled 262 carries for 1,685 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground, while also completing 85 of 169 passes (50.2%) for 1,103 yards and 9 touchdowns against 9 interceptions. He might have put up better stats if he hadn't spent his junior year handing off to two 1,000 yard rushers. Unlike Russell Westbrook, Pullum probably won't be getting a reputation as a ball-stopper, as he seems more than willing to share the rock with his talented teammates.

He suffered a strained hip flexor in a preseason scrimmage in August and did not play in Little Elm's three non-district games. The team went 1-2 in those games (with one of the losses being in overtime) and the feeling around Little Elm seems to be that the football team would be 3-0 right now had Pullum been healthy. They have a bye this week and he should be ready to go when district play begins next week.

At 5'9", his college future is assuredly not at quarterback, something the editor of his junior year football highlight video apparently realized because out of all the plays in the 13+ minute video, not a single one showed Pullum attempting a pass and it's appropriately his running abilities that were put on full display. He looks like he could be a dynamite slot receiver and a nightmare for opposing special teams coaches as a punt returner.

Analysis:

If tackle football were deemed too dangerous and NCAA schools began instead fielding flag football teams, Devante Pullum might become a five-star prospect overnight. He is cat-quick and very elusive in the open field. I can't think of too many players in his class who can plant a foot and change direction on a dime the way he can. He appears to have very good vision and knows what running angles to take to keep would-be tacklers off balance and to create lanes to run through. Case in point is the play beginning at the 1:50 mark of his highlight video: he drops back to pass, sees no receiver open, runs through a hole to escape the pocket, cuts right to avoid a defensive end, is pursued by two defenders toward the right sideline with a safety coming over to contain him, then he sees an open space to his left and suddenly cuts that direction while escaping the reach of the nearest defender and all but breaking the ankles of the safety (who clearly didn't see that cut coming), and finally makes a beeline for the end zone while running between 2 or 3 defenders whose body language afterwards says "I had him? I thought you were gonna tackle him!"

At 3:35 he does a crazy double cut that completely knocks a safety off balance, then he turns on the afterburners and outruns the rest of the defense all the way to the end zone. But if you really want to do yourself a favor, watch the play that begins at 4:20 with the Little Elm offense huddled up. With the ball on the opponent's 47, he takes the snap and rolls to his left, sees nobody open and slices between two defenders, has another defender grab hold of his ankle, escapes that defender's grip and avoids two others who overrun the play, outruns another pair to the right sideline and gets to the corner and scores a touchdown. It's the kind of play you'd expect to see on a SportsCenter Top Plays highlight package; all that's missing is the numbers on the screen that count all eight of the opposing defenders who come within a stride of him but never bring him down.

I don't have a 40 time for him but he's obviously plenty fast, and his basketball coach says he has a 36" vertical jump. A little about his basketball skills. As a sophomore he averaged 14 points and just under 5 assists per game, leading his team in both categories. He missed the first half of his junior season while recovering from a fractured foot he suffered in the football playoffs, but he returned to average 11 points and 6 assists per game and helped lead Little Elm to an undefeated record in district play and into the third round of the playoffs. For his efforts he earned first-team all-district honors. Though he largely plays the role of a pure point guard and doesn't post eye-popping scoring averages, he has shown the ability to take over a game as a scorer. He poured in 46 points in a game vs. Frisco his sophomore year.

Rusty Segler, Little Elm's head basketball coach since 2010, has spent 28 years as a head coach at the high school and NAIA college level. He spent three years at Class 2A Liberty Hill in the late 80s and led them to the state championship game in 1987 and 1988 (where they lost both times). That part of his resumé features an interesting historical footnote: Liberty Hill's 1988 squad advanced to the state tournament by defeating a San Antonio Cole team that featured a dominating junior named Shaquille O'Neal. It was the only blemish on the 68-1 record Cole compiled in Shaq's two years there. (For a fascinating look back at that game: click here.)

Coach Segler does not hold back in his praise for Devante Pullum, calling him "a head coach's dream" and "a natural-born leader" possessing an "unbelievable" work ethic. Segler has been a basketball coach for 31 years and says Pullum is "as good a guard as I've ever had". He pronounces himself "perplexed" that more college basketball coaches haven't called him asking about his senior point guard. When asked if he thinks Pullum would prefer to play basketball or football in college if he had offers for both, he says, "A year ago I would have said basketball." But the anticipated level of interest from coaches in that sport just hasn't materialized, and Pullum's priorities seem to have shifted in response.

Recruiting Outlook:

Devante Pullum has Rivals prospect pages for both basketball and football. Both list him as having "medium" interest in Baylor and Rice, but neither Rivals nor any other recruiting service reports him as having any offers. According to Coach Segler, he attended several football summer camps and participated in 7on7 workouts instead of the heavy AAU basketball schedule that he had played in previous summers, probably on the belief that football was more likely than basketball to get him a college scholarship.

(Fun fact: two years ago Pullum played AAU ball for Texas Reign. His teammates included West Mesquite safety Kameron Miles (Tennessee commit), Cedar Hill quarterback Damion Hobbs (Arkansas State commit), Southlake Carroll defensive back Ray Crockett (son of the same-named 14-year NFL vet), North Crowley wide receiver Rod Young, and Mesquite quarterback Alex Cooper. Put all those guys on the same football team and you'd have a formidable roster.)

He has received "really heavy" (Segler's words) interest from North Texas and has had some communication with current and former Big 12 schools, such as TCU, Texas Tech, and Missouri. 247Sports reports that he attended Baylor's junior day last spring. With so few available spots in UT's 2013 class it would be a longshot for Pullum to end up signing there, though Segler would love it if he did, as his son Tres Segler is a 2007 UT grad and served as a graduate assistant to Rick Barnes during his time there (he is now an assistant coach at Midwestern State).

I doubt I'll be watching Pullum in burnt orange, but right now I'm horrified at the thought of Demarco Cobbs trying to cover him, let alone tackle him. And I would not want to see my team punt to him. I'm a big enough fan of the kid that I wouldn't want to see him suiting up for one of UT's opponents. I don't doubt that he'll be playing football (and/or possibly basketball) for a Division I school somewhere next fall, and a Cole Beasley-like career arc is certainly not out of the question if he puts his athleticism, work ethic and leadership skills to good use.

For anyone interested in seeing Devante Pullum and his Little Elm teammates in action, I've posted their remaining football schedule below:

September 27 - at Frisco Centennial
October 5 - vs. Frisco Liberty
October 11 - at Frisco
October 19 - vs. Frisco Heritage
October 26 - at Prosper
November 2 - vs. Frisco Wakeland
November 8 - at The Colony

Previous Unheralded 2013 Player of the Week picks:
Week Two - Tyrel Stokes, DB (Killeen Harker Heights)
Week One - Derick Bates, WR (Belton)
Week Zero - Collin Bowen, QB (Canyon Randall)

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