Two weeks ago, I wrote about sixteen promising in-state tight end/H-back prospects from the class of 2016. That post was the fourth in a recurring series of posts on tight end recruiting that started in October. (Click here to read parts one, two, and three.) Today we'll put the subject to rest for (hopefully) a nice long while with a look ahead at a few sophomores who already look like they'll be very highly rated among the state's - and possibly the nation's - tight ends in the class of 2017.
Two college football seasons will be played between now and when the 2017 class has its National Signing Day. I won't hazard a guess at how many tight ends Texas will need in that class, but barring any transfers, injuries, or position changes, current Longhorn TEs Andrew Beck and Blake Whiteley will both be seniors for the 2017 season, and recent signee Devonaire Clarington will be either a junior or redshirt sophomore, as will DeAndre McNeal, who was designated as an "athlete" in UT's official Signing Day release and may end up playing as a H-back or tight end.
We won't know until a year from now if the 2017 tight end group is as deep as the 2015 class was (a dozen senior tight ends signed LOIs last month to FBS programs, not including Tyler T.K. Gorman's criminally underrated Connor Hobbs, who signed with San Diego State as a preferred walk-on) or as the 2016 class appears to be. But even at this early stage the 2017 class in Texas appears to have more potential star power at the position than any class since 2011, the last in-state group to boast more than one four-star prospect, and one that had four players ranked among Rivals' top 14 tight ends nationally.
Here are four names to watch for 2017, in alphabetical order, beginning with one who already holds at least one Big 12 offer.
Kedrick James (Waco La Vega)
Listed at an eye-catching 6'6" and 235 pounds (though he's probably at least an inch shorter), James is a power forward on the football field who has the look of a potential superstar. As a freshman, he not only played on La Vega's varsity basketball team but was named a 2nd team all-district selection. As a sophomore on La Vega's varsity football team, he put together a highlight reel of plays that was as brief as it was tantalizing. To state the obvious: watching a one-minute highlight video is not a substitute for doing an exhaustive scouting report on an entire game's worth of a player's film, or talking with his coach to learn about his strengths and areas needing improvement. To state what should be obvious after watching James's 1:06 sophomore highlight video: 6'5" guys weighing 220-230 who can move like him, and who are a threat to catch the ball up the seam and take it the distance at any time don't grow on trees.
There's only so many plays you can fit into 1:06, and how consistent his hands are, how good his blocking technique is from one play to the next, and how crisply he runs his routes are not things you'll learn from the video. But the pure ability and physical talent he shows in those few clips is near-elite for the position. His Hudl also includes a few of his basketball highlights from the current season, and in those he shows the ability to elevate and slam home a dunk after jumping flat-footed (see: this dunk vs. Lorena).
247Sports reports that he was offered by Baylor in early January. If he continues to develop physically and shows he can consistently play at the high level seen his sophomore highlights, there's no reason he shouldn't end up holding many more major offers.
Chance McLeod (Victoria East)
The 6'4" 225-pound coastal bend athlete was named a MaxPreps Sophomore All-American in December after he finished the 2014 season with 38 receptions for 577 yards and 5 touchdowns. In Victoria East's spread offense he appears to have lined up mostly in the slot, but he also showed himself to be a weapon as an in-line tight end, H-back, and even as an outside receiver. He'll need to improve his blocking technique (in the blocking clips of his highlight video he wins most of his battles despite often playing high and losing a lot of leverage), but he's got two seasons left to work on that aspect of his game.
Victoria, which lies about 85 miles northeast of Corpus Christi, 120 miles southwest of Houston, and less than 30 miles inland from Lavaca Bay, hasn't been known as a priority destination for Division I coaches, but it should get plenty of traffic this spring and fall because of McLeod, his East teammate Datryan Evans (a 2016 TE who I mentioned two weeks ago), and 2016 standout athlete Gamarquis Girdy of Victoria West.
It's still very early in McLeod's recruitment, but I'm told that he's firmly on the radar of several D1 programs already, and Texas and Missouri are among the ones that will likely come watch him in the spring.
Major Tennison (Bullard)
If that's not a great name for a warrior-poet, I don't know what is. His Bullard team played in the same east Texas district as Gilmer, so new Texas tight ends coach (and former Gilmer HC) Jeff Traylor should already be well aware of him. He was measured at 6'5" last spring, may have since grown taller, and his weight is estimated to be in the 220-225 pound range. As a sophomore in 2014 he was named the Offensive Newcomer of the Year for district 5-4A Division II, and Bullard's Maxpreps page (the stats for which may be incomplete) credited him with 20 receptions for 379 yards (19 yards/catch) and 5 touchdowns.
In addition to his football accomplishments, he has also already been a varsity standout for Bullard in basketball and track in his young high school career. In basketball he was named district 16-3A's Newcomer of the Year as a freshman in 2014, and later that spring he ran a leg of Bullard's 4x400 meter relay team in track, running a top split time of 54.8 seconds. I went to a large 4A (now 5A) high school and ran track with several very good track athletes, some of whom could run sub-55 second mile relay splits in their 9th grade year. None of them were 6'5" or 210+ pounds. This kid's got some wheels.
Bullard's fifth-year head football coach Shannon Wilson, who previously served as defensive coordinator at perennial powerhouse Southlake Carroll, says the last tall kid he coached who could move as well as Tennison was Jackson Richards, a former Carroll defensive lineman who started 28 games in four seasons at Texas Tech (2011-2014).
His 1:47 sophomore highlight video shows him lining up mostly in the slot/flex, but he was also lined up out wide at times to create mismatches with much shorter cornerbacks. He doesn't look as physically developed at this point as the other three guys in this post, but he still has a long way to go in filling out his frame and putting on good weight for tight end or defensive end, his two most likely positions in college. I believe Tennison could really blow up as a recruit between now and the end of the 2015 season.
Brock Wright (Cy-Fair)
Were he a junior right now he'd likely be the state's 2nd-ranked tight end behind Kaden Smith. Wright checks in at 6'4" and approximately 230 pounds, and according to the Houston Chronicle he caught 17 passes for 369 yards (22 yards/catch) and 2 TDs in 2014. He already appears to be well-built and a strong blocker for any age, and especially for a sophomore. Notably, he was named district 17-6A's first team tight end after the 2014 season, earning that honor ahead of second-teamer Jackson Solbeck, a Cypress Ranch senior who signed with New Mexico State four weeks ago.
247Sports' Brian Perroni put Wright high on his early list of the top 35 in-state prospects for the 2017 class, ranking him 10th in a group that also included the aforementioned Kedrick James (12th) and Chance McLeod (35th). A lot can happen in the next two years and Wright may not end up being the top TE in the state for 2017, but he already looks like a more complete player than every junior not named Kaden Smith, and I'd have no problem at all with Texas offering him early, as Texas A&M did at their Junior Day on January 25. (As it happens, A&M received a commitment this week from 2016 flex TE Zarrian Holcombe of Humble Summer Creek, and also offered Clemson TE commit - and grandson of Gene Stallings - J.C. Chalk of Argyle. Both were among the 2016 prospects I wrote about two weeks ago.)
Wright comes from an athletic family; his father, Len Wright, played football at Texas Tech and was the Red Raiders' starting center for the 1988 and 1989 seasons, his older sister Emily played volleyball also for the Red Raiders, and older brother Brady is currently a freshman defensive end at Rice. Also, one of his grandfathers played basketball at Penn State, while the other played football at West Texas A&M and in the CFL.
Worth noting: Len Wright was a teammate of James Gray at Texas Tech, the former star running back and father of current Longhorn running back Johnathan Gray, and the elder Wright and the elder Gray reportedly still kept in touch as of two years ago. If UT ever begins to show serious interest in recruiting Brock Wright (and they should), he and his dad should know who to call to get an inside look at the Longhorn program.