Running backs dominate early 2011 conversation. Currently sitting at 21 commitments, the 2010 class is essentially done, with the staff simply waiting for the last several blue-chips to make their decisions. The nearly-complete status of the 2010 class is allowing the staff to move on to the early stages of evaluation for the 2011 class -- players who just completed their sophomore seasons.
As hard as it is to project players who will be seniors in 2013 or 2014, several running backs have already emerged as big-time playmakers as sophomores. Aaron Green, 5-8, 175 pounds, burst onto the scene by gaining nearly 2,000 yards for San Antonio Madison. Early in the season, Green absolutely torched Kerrville Tivy, to the tune of 428 yards and nine touchdowns. Elusive, with great feet and explosive acceleration, Green will be one of the states top-ranked players in 2011. However, Fozzy Whittaker, slightly taller than Green, has struggled being physically large enough to pick up blitzers, which would be a problem in college for Green.
Joining Green is close friend Malcolm Brown, known as a between-the-tackles runner though he doesn't possess the size of a player like Traylon Shead or Chris Whaley. Listed at 6-1, but probably much closer to 5-10, Cibolo Steele's Brown lacks the burst of Green, reporting a 4.6 40, but makes up for it with a tough-minded mentality finishing runs, leading to a sophomore average of more than 10 yards per carry.
Another back to watch in the class is Odessa's Bradley Marquez, who has similar speed to Green in a slightly taller package -- 5-11, 173 pounds. Asked often to block for Odessa, Marquez probably already has more experience in taking on defenders as a blocker than most running backs arriving in college, while also showing extremely impressive pad level, lowering his shoulder to take on defenders at any opportunity -- a truly unique skill for a young back.
All three running backs rank in the top six on Orangeblood's initial 2011 rankings and the Longhorns will have a difficult decision about who they offer, with two of the backs probably receiving offers and the Longhorns standing a good chance of landing two of them. Expect one of Marquez and Green to get an offer, with Brown receiving the other at the running back position. Another player to watch for is Abilene's Herschel Sims.
Will the Longhorns take a 2011 quarterback. After taking two quarterbacks in the 2010 class, both of whom are expected to redshirt and essentially be freshman in 2001, the quarterback position is not one of great need for the actual 2011 class.
JW Walsh, a teammate of Taylor Bible at Denton Guyer and head coach's son, is one quarterback who may draw Longhorn interest ($). As a true dual threat who gained more than 1,000 yards on the ground in only eight games as a freshman by using his 4.6 speed, Walsh has the good feet preferred by Greg Davis in his offense, as well as the accuracy to succeed in the controlled passing game, evidenced by completing 65% of his passe, a remarkable number for a sophomore. His offensive coordinator, who has coached Kirby Freeman and Jarrett Lee, says that Walsh is as good as either of those Division I quarterbacks at the same age. He isn't highly ranked in the first 2011 LSR at no. 78, as his raw stats seem to indicate a greater ability level than his is currently given credit for. Walsh does have a slightly unorthodox short-arm delivery that may hamper his ability to get the ball down the field, but it does allow him to have a quick release.
There is something of a pipeline beginning at Cedar HIll High School, with Aaron Benson committed for the 2010 class, Thomas Aschraft from the 2009 class, and Jarvis Humphrey from the 2008 class. Sophomore quarterback Driphus Jackson is another player to watch ($), as the athletic dual threat quarterback had nearly 800 yards rushing and threw for 1.300 yards last season. Extremely articulate and aware of how to work to correct his deficiencies at the position, Jackson seems like he understands the mental aspect much better than most young quarterbacks. The biggest knock on Jackson is his size, at only six feet tall. Other quarterbacks in the class have more protoypical size -- it may be his size that keeps him from being seriously recruited or offered by Texas.
At nearly 6-4, Belton quarterback David Ash does have protoypical size for the position and is known as an accurate passer and all-around intelligent kid ($). Besides a desire to stay close to home for college and the honor of winning Newcomer of the Year in his district, there isn't a lot of information out there about Ash, but he is certainly a quarterback to watch in the 2011 class as the Longhorns decide if they want to target a signal caller.
Harris ready for new challenge. The transition to Mark Elam as the head coach at Garland Naaman Forest just got more difficult ($) for senior-to-be wide receiver John Harris. Make that former receiver John Harris, as the 2010 Longhorn commit will not only have to adjust to a new offense, but he will do so at a position he has not played for several years -- quarterback.
It's understandable that new coach Elam has to make decisions that will benefit his program, but the move of Harris to quarterback will make the transition to wide receiver at the college level more difficult, significantly reducing his repetitions at the position and hurting his learning curve -- he won't be able to make any progress at the position as a senior.
If the move has any benefit, it would provide Harris with deeper knowledge of where each receiver needs to be in their routes -- in other words, a view of the bigger picture, much as Major Applewhite helped the running backs last season understand not only what they were supposed to do, but why they were doing it.
Ultimately, Harris won't be expected to contribute early as a Longhorn withe massive numbers at wide receiver, but his move to quarterback as a senior will push the time when he breaks the rotations further into the future.
Loss to Rice looks familiar. Given the recent history and epic battles between Texas and Rice, this game probably meant more to Longhorn fans than it did to Augie Garrido. The Texas coach, seeking to rest his starters after the huge Oklahoma series stretched the bullpen, avoided using Taylor Jungmann or Austin Wood against the Owls, both mainstays of the bullpen. Instead, Garrido took the mid-week game as an opportunity to build pitching depth, using Kendall Carillo, Andrew McKirahan, and Stayton Thomas.
Even though the pitching failed to live up to the lofty expectations that now accompany on Texas pitcher to the mound, the larger problem in the game was the offense. Recently emerging from a season-long hibernation, the offense had appeared to turn the corner, consistently using a patient approach at the plate and strong concentration to get pitches to hit.
Rather than the whole team struggling to focus at the plate, Tuesday's loss was a result of failing to come up with big hits in big situations. Patience wasn't the issue, as the Longhorns took 12 walks on the game. Rather, clutch hits were the problem, as Texas consistently threatened, but could not get the big hits they needed.
Luck was also a factor, as Preston Clark narrowly missed a home run and the Rice center fielder, playing shallow, made a spectacular diving play on a well-hit Tant Shepherd liner that would have scored Brandon Belt from first and would have left Shepherd in scoring position, likely at third base and capable of being driven in with a one-out sacrifice fly. The Longhorns were also unlikely to face Friday starter Taylor Wall, available only because Rice has final exams this week and will not play a weekend series.
As frustrating as it is losing to Rice and as much as a victory would have helped the Texas tournament resume, winning conference games at this point in the season is more important, as Garrido demonstrated through his choice of pitchers. Considering the self-imposed handicaps, the loss is not surprising and the Texas winning streak simply bound to end -- that's the nature of baseball.
Kabongo still adjusting to life without Thompson. Tristan Thompon's negligible impact on Findlay Prep's NHSI title was more indicative of a lack of game experience with his new teammates than any lack of abilities. As difficult as the on-court transition appeared to be for Thompson, it was more pronounced ($) for former St. Benedict's teammate Myck Kabongo, asked to take on a larger scoring role after the departure of his Canadian countryman.
Normally a pure point guard who looks to set up his teammates rather than score, Kabongo did feel like he proved some detractors wrong:
I played okay, but I could have shot better from long range. After Tristan left, my scoring picked up. People say I can't score, but I can when I have to. My job is to run the team, get all of my teammates involved and play defense and pressure the ball. I proved I can score though.
Kabongo will attempt to further hone those scoring skills with his AAU team, Grassroots Canada, which features Thompson and his Findlay Prep teammate Corey Joseph, another Canadian.
Though Avery Bradley probably won't be around when Kabongo finally enrolls at Texas, the two have become friends, with Kabongo and Thompson in awe of Bradley's renowned defensive abilities:
Avery's become one of my good friends since I committed. I always talk to him. His defense is crazy. Tristan and I joke around about putting the "AB" defense on people now. He goes hard on both ends of the floor and that is hard to find these days. He makes me want to be a better defender.
With two more seasons still left as a high school player, Kabongo has plenty of time to improve his scoring and defense, but his excellent speed is something that you just can't teach. Oh yeah, and Kabongo is still firmly committed to playing at Texas.