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Texas Longhorns commits: Week Eight Preview

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Future Longhorns will hopefully be in late-season form as the playoffs approach

CB commit Josh Thompson (Nacogdoches)
Justin Wells (Inside Texas)

Welcome once again to BON’s weekly preview of high school football games involving UT commits, rated as J.D. Power’s #1 weekly Longhorn commit preview post in initial quality.

Three Longhorn commits were idle last week, and plenty of fans who follow recruiting probably wish Austin Westlake was as well, as All-State senior QB Sam Ehlinger suffered a significant injury for the second time in the three games he’s played in 2016, and his season is almost certainly over.

With the current Longhorns going through a demoralizing losing streak and at times looking flat out awful on the defensive side, and with much public speculation about head coach Charlie Strong’s future with the program, rival coaches are probably playing the negative recruiting card heavily with UT’s top 2017 targets and some of its commits.

There will be stories and fanposts about committed players visiting X University or Y Tech, and subsequent speculation about how solid some of the commits are to Texas. I’ll attempt to avoid going down that road in these posts as much as possible and focus only on how the players themselves, along with their teams, fare from week to week.

After this week’s preview, I’ll highlight a private school lineman from the Metroplex who recently committed to an out-of-state FBS program but who has received very little love from the in-state FBS schools.

2017 commits

QB Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake)

Last week: Completed 0 of 3 passes with 1 interception, and rushed 3 times for -9 yards in a 49-7 loss to Lake Travis

This week: Idle

Notes: This was arguably the state’s most anticipated game of last week, with Lake Travis coming in as Class 6A’s 3rd-ranked team and Westlake ranked 5th, but the result was anticlimactic to say the least. Lake Travis dominated from beginning to end to beat Westlake for the ninth straight time in their rivalry, and by a margin (42 points) that was tied for the most lopsided defeat in Westlake’s history. A TD scored on Westlake’s last possession of the game prevented the Chaparrals from being shut out for the first time since 1978.

Ehlinger had a pass tipped and intercepted on Westlake’s first drive, then on Westlake’s second drive he suffered an injury to the thumb of his throwing hand after being tackled on a run. It has since been reported by many outlets that he will miss the rest of the season. There’s an outside chance his thumb could heal in time to allow him to play if Westlake makes a deep playoff run, but the odds of that happening are very long with the loss of not only Ehlinger but also senior backup QB Matthew Gense, who started four September games in Ehlinger’s absence but who suffered a season-ending injury of his own (a broken collarbone) in Westlake’s Week Six win over Buda Hays.

Even before Ehlinger’s injury, Westlake was short-handed due to junior running back Nakia Watson sitting out the Lake Travis game. Watson, who transferred from Manor after his sophomore year and rushed for 789 yards in Westlake’s first six games of this season, was held out of the game due to what was variously reported as “concerns about possible violations of UIL regulations” or “administrative reasons”. Watson’s status for the remainder of the season is as yet unknown.

WR Damion Miller (Tyler John Tyler)

Last week: Idle

This week: Friday, October 14 at 7:30, vs. Rockwall-Heath

Notes: Coming off a bye week, John Tyler gets to host a 4-2 Rockwall-Heath team whose defense features 2018 CB Tanner McCalister (who is currently ranked as the #49 Texas prospect in 247Sports’s 2018 Composite Rankings), and whose offense has moved exclusively to the single-wing this season. Five different Rockwall-Heath players have rushed for over 260 yards this season, while the team as a whole has just two completed passes through six games! That’s not a misprint.

OL Xavier Newman (DeSoto)

Last week: Team defeated Grand Prairie 52-17

This week: Friday, October 14 at 7:30, vs. Irving

Notes: DeSoto outgained Grand Prairie 540-157 in last Friday’s win. DeSoto led 14-0 after the 1st quarter, and 21-3 after a TD pass with 6:52 left in the 2nd quarter, and thereafter they never led by less than 18 points. Next they face a weak Irving team that is 1-5 and will probably pose even less of a test to DeSoto than Grand Prairie did.

DeSoto remains the #2 team in the AP’s Class 6A rankings, and this week the Eagles received 2 out of 25 first place votes (#1 Allen got 22, while fifth-ranked The Woodlands got the other one).

DE LaGaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau)

Last week: Team lost to Paris 16-8

This week: Friday, October 14 at 7:30, vs. Paris North Lamar

Notes: L-E scored its only touchdown against Paris with 1:29 left in regulation, and before then they trailed 16-0. It was reported two weeks ago that Carson had been suspended for the second time this season, meaning he probably missed the Paris game, since L-E had a bye the week before. I’ve seen no report on Carson’s status for this week, but he took time a few days ago to tweet his support for embattled head coach Charlie Strong in response to a supportive tweet from Longhorn freshman safety Brandon Jones.

DE Taquon Graham (Temple)

Last week: Was credited with two tackles in a 56-13 win over Bryan Rudder.

This week: Friday, October 14 at 7:30, at Waco

Notes: Temple’s win over Rudder last week was a lopsided one, as I predicted it would be in last week’s preview. Temple faces a 4-2 Waco team later tonight, a team with which they have two common opponents so far, most significantly A&M Consolidated, who Temple beat 34-22 in Week Six, and who Waco lost to by a score of 21-7 in Week Five. Temple gets a bye next week before a showdown with state-ranked College Station in Week Ten.

CB Kobe Boyce (Lake Dallas)

Last week: Made two tackles in a 28-14 loss to McKinney North

This week: Friday, October 14 at 7:00, vs. The Colony

Notes: Last Friday, McKinney North scored a touchdown in each quarter and gained 357 rushing yards on 52 team carries, while Lake Dallas managed just 243 total yards and struggled to move the ball out of their own end of the field for much of the night.

Lake Dallas scored first on a 18-yard TD pass with 9:51 left in the 1st quarter, which was set up by a terrible McKinney North punt that gave Lake Dallas possession at the McKinney North 21-yard line. North answered with a TD drive of their own, and Lake Dallas was unable to advance beyond their own 42-yard line on any of their next four drives, then in their last drive of the first half they moved the ball 62 yards on 16 plays, but when they faced a 4th-and-3 from North’s 8-yard line, they went for it instead of opting for a field goal try, and the resulting pass came a yard short. North missed on a 52-yard field goal attempt on the last play of the half, and went into halftime with a 14-7 lead.

North scored twice more in the second half, while Lake Dallas’s possessions went: punt, punt, punt, TD pass (with 7:29 left in the 4th quarter), and interception. Outside of their first possession, which began with ridiculously good field possession thanks to a bad punt, Lake Dallas advanced past McKinney North’s 45-yard line just three times all night.

Lake Dallas has a 3-3 overall record this season, and in their three losses they’ve allowed an average of 330 rushing yards. Tonight they will face The Colony, a team that has won three straight games (including a 30-24 victory over McKinney North three weeks ago) and is averaging 267 rushing yards through its first six games.

CB Josh Thompson (Nacogdoches)

Last week: Caught one pass for three yards in a 24-10 win over Lindale.

This week: Friday, October 14 at 7:30, at Corsicana

Notes: Last Friday, Nacogdoches’s defense limited Lindale to 272 total yards and only 9 first downs, and Lindale’s passing game resulted in just six completions and a pick-six on 17 pass attempts.

Lindale led 3-0 at the half, and went up 10-7 with 3:12 left in the 3rd quarter following a 61-yard TD reception by tight end/H-back Cameron Sir Louis, who nobody bothered to cover as he went right up the middle of the field for an easy catch and run. But Nac outscored Lindale 17-0 in the 4th quarter to take the lead and come away with the win. Leading 17-10, Nac returned an interception 38 yards for a score with 1:56 left in regulation to push their lead to 14 points and ensure the victory.

Tonight’s opponent, Corsicana, is 3-3 on the season. In their three wins they won by a combined margin of 15 points, and in their three losses they fell by an average of 28 points. The two teams have one common opponent so far in Tyler Lee, who Nac beat 24-17 in Week Three, and who Corsicana lost to 34-20 in Week Two.

S Montrell Estell (Hooks)

Last week: Scored two touchdowns in a 52-41 loss to Ore City.

This week: Friday, October 14 at 7:30, at Daingerfield

Notes: Hooks’s opponent last week, Ore City, went into their game on a five-game losing streak. And not only that; its defense had allowed 56 points per game, and they had managed to lose games by scores of 91-71 (to Tyler T.K. Gorman of TAPPS Division II) and 70-43 (to district foe Omaha Paul Pewitt).

Hooks held a 15-14 lead in the 2nd quarter when Ore City quarterback Cartea Douglas (who had accounted for 30 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 total yards in his team’s first six games) had to leave the game due to injury. So naturally, Ore City sent in their backup QB and outscored Hooks 38-26 for the remainder of the game. The Longview News-Journal’s recap of the game described Ore City’s surprise win as “a magical moment...that confounds all logical explanation.”

The Texarkana Gazette’s recap said Estell scored on a 12-yard TD run, and on a 31-yard reception on the last play of the 3rd quarter, which gave Hooks a 34-32 lead at the time. But Ore City rallied and outscored Hooks 20-7 in the final frame.

Hooks is now 3-4 and will attempt to get back to .500 for the season and remain atop the standings in District 7-3A Division II tonight with a win over Daingerfield, which is 3-3 overall and has two common opponents with Hooks so far: New Boston and Hughes Springs. Hooks lost to New Boston by two points, and to Hughes Springs by one, while Daingerfield lost to Hughes Springs 24-0 in Week One, and beat New Boston 28-12 in Week Three.

Unheralded 2017 Athlete of the Week: OL Luke McCleery (Grapevine Faith Christian)

A player doesn’t have to be an undersized athlete at a small-town school in the middle of nowhere with no offers to his name to be considered “unheralded”. One can have offers and even be committed to a FBS school and still be accurately described as such, like Navy wide receiver commit Tyler Henderson (Kyle Lehman), who I featured in my Week Five preview.

Grapevine Faith Christian offensive lineman Luke McCleery is in a similar boat; he has a handful of Division I offers, is committed to Tulane, and has prototypical size for an offensive tackle, but for unknown reasons he has not received serious interest from any in-state school, and has barely made a blip on the collective radars of the national recruiting sites.

McCleery is 6’5” and around 275 pounds, and though his collegiate future is on the offensive line, he has made his presence felt on both sides of the ball in his career. As a junior, he earned TAPPS Division II First Team All-State honors on both the offensive and defensive lines. Faith Christian head coach Kris Hogan thinks McCleery will have no problem playing above 300 pounds in college, and in fact he believes McCleery’s playing weight would already be close to 300 if he were trained solely as an offensive lineman and not needed to play both ways.

Readers with long memories might recall that I mentioned McCleery in a post almost a year ago, in which I noted his history (and that of Lake Travis’s then-junior offensive tackle Brenden Jaimes, who is now committed to Nebraska) of competing in lacrosse, and postulated that the lateral movement and stamina required for that sport are skills that could translate quite easily to the football field, especially for offensive linemen.

Unlike with the six previously featured Unheralded 2017 Athletes of the Week, I have actually seen McCleery play in person. I watched a little over half of Faith Christian’s matchup with Class 3A public school Blooming Grove in September of 2015 and came away very impressed with McCleery’s size, motor, and movement skills as he played left tackle on offense and defensive tackle on defense and appeared to rarely leave the field during the game’s first three quarters. I left the game convinced that I’d seen a future D1 athlete.

He has obvious size and room to add good weight, good feet from playing lacrosse through his 10th grade year, good hands from playing receiver earlier in his football career, good reach due to having a wingspan of a little over 6’6”, and the smarts of a future engineering major. Below you can see his early senior season highlights.

Normally, a DFW-area athlete having a set of attributes like that will attract offers from at least 2 or 3 of the state’s FBS programs, but not in McCleery’s case. When he announced his commitment to Tulane on September 26, his only other reported offers were from Fresno State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Toledo, and Liberty. If you’re wondering why, say, North Texas, SMU, Rice, and/or UTSA weren’t factors in his recruitment, well, Coach Hogan doesn’t understand it either. When we talked over the phone earlier this week he said he’d sent McCleery’s film to most, if not all, of the Division I-FBS schools in the country, and a few notable out-of-state programs later offered him, but the lack of in-state offers was and is puzzling.

He also has barely been noticed by the major recruiting media outlets. As of this writing, 247Sports, Rivals, and Scout all have profiles for him but between them they link to just one article mentioning him, and both 247 and Scout have yet to update his commitment status to reflect his public pledge to Tulane, which he made 18 days ago.

All that said, he isn’t completely unknown to the state’s schools. He visited SMU for a game a year ago, and that school’s coaches have watched him several times. Texas Tech also checked him out but evidently wasn’t high enough on him to offer. Whatever the reason for his lack of local recruiting interest, Tulane isn’t complaining about it, as I’m sure any time they can pull a big and talented offensive tackle from DFW without getting into a recruiting battle with SMU, North Texas or TCU, they’re very happy to do it.

In recent years, Faith Christian has established itself as one of the best private school teams in the Metroplex, if not the state. In 2014, the Lions went 9-3 overall and lost in the playoffs to eventual TAPPS Division II state champion Dallas Parish Episcopal. In 2015 they got their revenge by knocking off Parish Episcopal in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs, but they subsequently lost 28-20 in the state semifinals to that year’s eventual TAPPS Division II state champion, Fort Worth Christian.

Through seven games this season the Lions are 5-2 and have a date next week with the defending state champions from Fort Worth Christian. Faith has a talented roster and should go into the playoffs in a few weeks as a top contender for the state title that eluded them last season.

Aside from McCleery, Faith’s roster includes another talented senior offensive lineman in Cooper McCaw (a Liberty commit who has played both guard spots this season), senior defensive end R.J. Reynolds (who missed his junior season due to injury but has played well in 2016 and was recently offered by North Texas), senior touchback machine Cole Lewis handling placekicking duties (Hogan says he has missed on just one out of 108 career PAT attempts), and the insanely productive senior running back Keyshawn Wyatt, who has Brobdingnagian rushing stats despite his Lilliputian stature.

Through seven games, the 5’5” 165-pound Wyatt has compiled 1,673 yards (that’s 239 yards per game) and 21 TDs on the ground, and that’s despite not playing in a full four quarters in Faith’s blowout wins (they’ve beaten four opponents by 45 or more points). Wyatt announced on Wednesday that he had received his first offer from William Penn, a NAIA school in Iowa. His size may prevent him from playing college football at the NCAA D1 or D2 levels, but he’s fun to watch.

Also, Faith Christian’s starting quarterback, freshman Deuce Hogan (the head coach’s son), is very young but he’ll be a player to watch in the coming years.

If you’d like to see Luke McCleery and the rest of the Grapevine Faith Christian Lions play in person this season, below is their remaining regular season schedule.

October 14 - vs. Frisco Legacy Christian
October 21 - at Fort Worth Christian
November 4 - vs. Fort Worth Southwest Christian

Previous Unheralded 2017 Athletes of the Week

Week One: RB Ted Fuller (Harleton)
Week Two: RB/DB Caleb Twyford (Farmersville)
Week Three: DE/TE Xavier Waggoner (Electra)
Week Four: RB Roman Turner (Wichita Falls Hirschi)
Week Five: WR/TE Tyler Henderson (Kyle Lehman)
Week Six: none
Week Seven: RB/S Trey Sterling (Sunnyvale)