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Robbie Rhodes Favoring Baylor and Texas

The 2012 U.I.L. Track and Field State Meet took place on the UT campus Friday and Saturday, and one of the most decorated athletes at the meet was Fort Worth Southwest sprinter Robert Rhodes. Running against the best Class 4A competition, Rhodes took home two gold medals for winning the 200 meter dash and anchoring Southwest's 4x100 meter relay team, and a silver for anchoring his school's 4x200 meter relay team. (For a more detailed report of his state meet exploits, along with video: click here.)

It was an emphatic end to the 2011-2012 athletic year, which began with Rhodes as a relative unknown and ended with him sporting football scholarship offers from the likes of Texas and Texas A&M, among others. In between, he set records in football, earned district honors in basketball, and showed himself to be one of the fastest sprinters in the state.

He was scheduled to meet with the Texas football coaches during the weekend, according to multiple reports, and he has said he plans to make his college decision before the end of the school year, so barring a change of plans, we should know by the end of the month whether Rhodes will be a member of Texas's 2013 football signing class.

After the jump, more on Rhodes's athletic accomplishments from the past nine months, and what one of his coaches had to say about his work ethic and character.

Most high school football fans now familiar with the name Robbie Rhodes heard it for the first time around mid-October. (He's known as Robbie, but I call him Robert for reasons I'll get to later.) On the night of October 14, 2011, Rhodes's 5-1 Southwest team took the field against 6-0 rival Fort Worth Arlington Heights in what was billed as a battle to decide the champion of district 6-4A. Arlington Heights (home of 2013 Texas commit A'Shawn Robinson and alma mater of former UT All-American Blake Brockermeyer) had won 20 consecutive district games coming into the contest, but that streak came to a crashing halt as Southwest won in a rout, 66-21, largely on the play of wide receiver Rhodes and his longtime friend, quarterback Wesley Harris.

The pair connected on 10 receptions for 394 yards and 8 touchdowns. The receiving yardage set a new state single-game record, and the 8 touchdown catches tied a national single-game record. All 8 touchdown receptions covered 20 yards or more, and 5 of them covered more than 40 yards. For his part, Harris completed 20 of 30 passes for 562 yards and a state record 9 touchdowns. Their mind-blowing stats were celebrated nationwide, with ESPN's High School Football writers naming Rhodes the player of the week for the Midlands region.

The ESPN article that hailed his accomplishments in the Arlington Heights game described Rhodes as, "5-foot-10, 165 pounds with a 4.5 in the 40 and a 33-inch vertical". If those figures weren't outdated the day they were written, they very much are now. Rhodes is now 6'1" and reportedly in the 185 lb. range. The speed he showed off at the state track meet suggests he's faster than a 4.5 guy, and the last time his vertical was a mere 33 inches may have been 8th grade.

The Heights game thrust him into the national spotlight and made sure he would be on the recruiting radar regardless of how he performed the rest of the season, but it was not his only big game of 2011. In a week 1 tilt with perennial Tarrant County power Everman, Rhodes caught 7 passes for 236 yards and 3 touchdowns. Everman's defense included three seniors who have since signed with BCS programs, one of them a cornerback signed by SMU. Despite Rhodes's heroics, Southwest lost the game by 2. Afterwards, they reeled off nine consecutive wins to run the table in District 6-4A and didn't taste defeat again until a 41-38 bi-district playoff loss to Saginaw Boswell. In that game, Rhodes impacted the box score in every which way, catching 7 passes for 220 yards and 4 touchdowns, completing 2 of 3 passing attempts for 44 yards and a touchdown, and adding 4 carries for 40 more yards.

Sandwiched between Southwest's two losses were the Heights game and some other dominating performances. Against Fort Worth Eastern Hills he scored the game's first two touchdowns on short runs, then later reached the end zone on a 60-yard reception. Against Fort Worth Western Hills he caught 3 passes for 74 yards, including touchdown catches of 15 and 25 yards, and also completed two passes for 80 yards, one a 39-yard touchdown.

Against Fort Worth Trimble Tech: 4 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown, plus an 80 yard touchdown run. His totals for the 2011 season: 47 receptions for 1,319 yards (28.1 yards/catch) and 21 touchdowns, 20 carries for 208 yards and 6 touchdowns, and 6 completions on 9 passing attempts for 170 yards and 3 touchdowns (2 of which were thrown back to the quarterback).

His breakout year garnered him a raft of postseason honors: District 6-4A MVP, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Super Team, Texas DFW Class 4A All-Area 1st Team and Class 4A All-State 3rd Team, and Honorable Mention All-State from both the Associated Press and the Texas Sports Writers Association. Though he played in what is traditionally one of the weakest football districts in the Metroplex, it's hard to ignore the fact that he had his three biggest games against three best teams Southwest played.

He'll face a stronger slate of opponents this fall. In their bi-annual realignment, the U.I.L. split up the 4A Fort Worth I.S.D. schools into separate districts, rather than put all ten together in a single district. As a result, Southwest will share a district with Arlington Heights and O.D. Wyatt (two of the other District 6-4A schools to make the playoffs in 2011, Aledo (three-time defending state champions who will be in the first year of the post-Johnathan Gray era), Granbury (a traditionally mediocre program that came alive and made the playoffs each of the past two years after missing the postseason for 33 years), and three other FWISD schools. Having a smaller district enabled Southwest to schedule additional non-district games, and their non-district schedule includes Everman (again), Cleburne, and 2011's Class 3A Division 1 state runner-up Alvarado. In all, Southwest will be playing six schools that made the playoffs in football last year. It'll be interesting to see if how Rhodes and his team handle the better competition.

At the conclusion of the 2011 football season, Rhodes jumped right into basketball, helping Southwest reach the third round of the playoffs. After basketball season, he moved on to track, and that season only ended for him this past Friday night. With him starting out with such a low athletic profile statewide, and then being busy with various sports from August until this weekend, he has had little time to be active in the recruiting process.

Not that that kept college programs and the national recruiting analysts from noticing him. Rivals graded him as a three-star receiver, and 247Sports currently rates him as a four-star prospect and 75th overall in the 2013 class (they update their rankings often and as recently as April 16th he was ranked 193rd overall).

He was invited to Texas's 2nd Junior Day in February, but was unable to attend. After some speculation that he was one of the most highly rated - if not the most highly rated - uncommitted wide receivers on Texas's board, it was reported on April 26th that the Texas staff would be evaluating him and West Mesquite receiver Eldridge Massington for a possible offer.

At the time Texas had already received commitments from three 2013 receivers after signing three in the 2012 class (though it's possible two of those could end up playing other positions). In a poll attached to the April 26 post, BON readers were asked if they most wanted the Texas staff to pursue Massington, Rhodes, or Ra'Shaad Samples (who has held an outstanding offer for three months). 648 people voted and 73% preferred Massington, to 20% for Samples and a mere 5% for Rhodes.

It seems the Texas coaches had a different opinion. Massington never received the offer so many UT fans thought was long overdue, and he committed to USC on May 4th. Two days later, it was reported that Rhodes had received a verbal offer from Texas. He already held offers from Baylor, Missouri, TCU, and Texas Tech, later adding Texas A&M to the mix.

In recent weeks he has repeatedly named Baylor as his leader. The Bears being in the pole position could mean Rhodes is buying their reported sales pitch to him about being the next Kendall Wright, or it could be that they offered him before most other schools showed interest and he has actually visited their campus, something he has not had the chance to do with most of the other schools that have offered him. An Orangebloods report ($) of his Saturday morning visit with the Texas coaches only said it "went well" but he has not committed as of this writing.

So what kind of player is he? Fast, obviously. His highlights suggest that he has good hands, can make catches in traffic, and can be a threat in the running game on reverses and occasional snaps in the wildcat formation. As Wescott has pointed out, his route-running and blocking abilities are pretty much an unknown at this point.

Seeking to learn more about him, I contacted John Church, Southwest's head boys basketball coach. I knew Rhodes had played basketball, and that Southwest has had one of the area's highest-scoring basketball teams in recent years, but I had no knowledge of Rhodes's abilities or reputation in the sport.

Coach Church spoke eagerly and very highly of him, informing me that Rhodes averaged over 16 points per game, was named Offensive Player of the Year for District 6-4A, and made the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches (TABC) All-Region Team.

Critics of his football stats will rightly point out that the Fort Worth I.S.D. schools are traditionally weak in football and rarely move beyond the first round of the playoffs in that sport, but the city and its schools have a strong tradition when it comes to basketball. It is no small feat to be named Offensive Player of the Year by the coaches of a district that had three of its playoff entrants advance at least three rounds deep, and a fourth miss the third round by two points.

Coach Church believes Rhodes's basketball skills are Division 1-level, but college coaches know his reputation is significantly higher in football so they haven't bothered recruiting him for the collegiate hardwood. Some other tidbits I get from Church during our email exchange:

- Rhodes once had a game where he dunked 13 times!
- He "works to get better with a passion next to none" and "works his butt off to be the best".
- Rhodes's mother said before his junior season that she thought he should be called Robert rather than Robbie. (I off-handedly dropped this tidbit in my UT-centric preview of the state track meet.) This is the reason I called him Robert at the beginning of this post, and that is the name Coach Church referred to him by in his email responses.
- Rhodes played the 3 spot for Southwest (the position reserved for the team's most athletic player in their system), but has played everywhere on the floor at one time or another, and "is probably the best at each position... he's just that good."
- Church says he is a young man possessed of "extreme good character" with "a strong moral foundation." He also gives Rhodes's family the "strong" description.
- About that vertical jump, variously listed online as somewhere between 33" and 36". According to Church, Rhodes himself says his vertical was measured at 36.5"... entering high school. What is his vertical now? Church hasn't measured it but he has "no doubt that it is considerably higher than that now", and says it would best be categorized as "ridiculous".
- Rhodes is a legit 6'1", but because of his crazy vertical "he plays much taller".
- In describing Rhodes's work ethic, Church recounted that during his freshman year in basketball, his outside shot was "extremely inconsistent" (I sensed he was putting it politely), and on three-point shots he was given a bigger "red light" than a Molina brother thinking of stealing a base. But through focus and a lot of hard work, Rhodes made himself one of the best outside shooters on the team. Says Church, "It's that kind of goal focus that makes me sure he will be successful at the next level, because he will work hard to be the best, not make excuses."

Based on Coach Church's description, does Mr. Rhodes sound just a little like a Mack Brown type of player to you? Hard worker, doesn't make escuses? Check. (Are you reading this, Darius White?) Strong family background? Check. Good moral character? Check. Crazy athleticism and a drive to get better? Double check. He sounds like a kid who could take up squash or field hockey and be the best player on his team within a few months. If he works on his route-running and blocking with half the focus and determination with which he used to improve his three-point-shot, there's good reason to think that with his athletic ability he'll be able to do pretty much anything football coaches ask of him. All that's left is convincing him that the University of Texas is the best place for him to sharpen those skills and that work ethic to use.

If there's a factor that will have to be overcome with him for a UT commitment, it'll be concerns he has about our offense, specifically the passing game. Rhodes's father told that his son "definitely wants to go to a passing school", adding, "Predominantly passing, 70-30 maybe." Short of skipping college and signing with the Arena League, he's unlikely to find himself in on a team that pass-wacky.

Case Keenum managed to throw for over 19,000 yards without Houston ever passing the ball on more than 65% of their plays for a whole season. And Baylor - Rhodes's declared leader - has had a 54-46 run-pass ratio during the Art Briles era, a figure that actually increases to 56-44 if you only count Robert Griffin's three healthy seasons. Rhodes managed to put up those impressive numbers in football last season with his team only passing the ball 47% of the time, and while catching passes from a quarterback who completed 55% of his throws. (To paraphrase Brian Fantana, 47% of the time, it works 55% of the time!)

Likely the best translation for his father's comments is that Robert Rhodes want to play for a school that will put his receiving talents to use, which is completely understandable. It would be difficult in the best of times for a Mike Leach-style passing offense to gain the signature of an all-state running back who wants to carry the ball 20 times a game. Wide receiver recruits considering Texas will surely have other schools pointing out that their passing game has been such a mess the past two seasons that no Longhorn wide receiver has caught more than 3 touchdowns in a season since Cold McCoy graduated, and 2011's 2nd leading receiver had as many touchdowns passing as he did receiving.

With Texas's post-Colt McCoy troubles in the passing game and general instability at the quarterback position, it makes sense that some high school receivers would be at least a bit skeptical of the staff's assurances that the passing game will be fixed in time. Though the same thing was said two years ago about stud running back recruits being wary of the Texas running game. If Rhodes harbors doubts about the Texas offense, hopefully he will be equally skeptical of a couple of schools on the Brazos River (one of which is joining a very passing-unfriendly conference) that are going into 2012 with relatively unproven quarterbacks who have the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of a predecessor taken in the 1st round of the NFL draft.

As recently as last Wednesday he told ($), "I'm feeling good about Baylor", and "I'm not sure if (Texas) fits into my plans." A week ago, Eric Nahlin put the likelihood of an eventual Rhodes commitment to Texas at 75%. Other analysts like Texas's chances at landing him, if only because Baylor-Texas recruiting battles have been historically one-sided, but many seem to think this battle is Baylor's to lose. He has a good relationship with Darrell Wyatt, though, and has said some positive things about Texas recently. Hopefully, that Saturday morning meeting with the coaches and his viewing of the campus and its athletic facilities helped to change his mind, because after all I've see of him and heard about him, I really, really want to see him flashing the "Hook 'em Horns" sign on National Signing Day in February.