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Texas Longhorns Commits: Playoff Round Four Preview

This week’s playoff action involves one UT commit and several Longhorn recruiting targets

Taquon Graham is the last UT commit left standing in the high school football playoffs.
Joseph Cook (Inside Texas)

In the two days after Thanksgiving, the Texas high school football playoffs completed round three, aka the regional semifinals. Three Texas Longhorn commits were among the players who suited up and played in a round three game, and while the teams of two of them won their game decisively and moved on to round four, one of them was injured, and the third commit had his team’s season come to an end in blowout fashion. So as of now, only one Texas Longhorn commit is set to play in this weekend’s round four games.

I’ll start with my weekly rundown of the current commits, then list several UT recruiting targets whose teams will also be playing this weekend.

2017 commits

QB Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake)

Last week: Completed 16 of 22 passes for 203 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions; and rushed 8 times for 56 yards in a 55-15 win over Laredo United in the regional semifinal round of the 6A Division I playoffs.

This week: Friday, December 2 at 7:30, vs. Lake Travis (at Round Rock’s Kelly Reeves Stadium) in the Region IV final of the 6A Division I playoffs. Ehlinger is injured and will not play.

Notes: In round two of the playoffs, Ehlinger made a triumphant if sub-par (by his standards) return to the field as Westlake escaped with an overtime win over Converse Judson. Ehlinger played much better last week in Westlake’s round three win over Laredo United, a game that Westlake dominated and which was never close. Westlake scored points on six of its seven possessions in the first half to take a 38-0 halftime lead. According to the Austin American-Statesman’s recap of the game, Ehlinger rested in the second half. United scored two TDs in the 4th quarter, but by that time they trailed by at least six TDs.

Westlake moved on to the regional final of Region IV, and standing in their way of a second consecutive regional title is longtime nemesis Lake Travis. Westlake has not beaten Lake Travis since 2007, and it was early in the teams’ highly anticipated October 7 matchup that Ehlinger broke the thumb on his throwing hand, and Lake Travis ended up winning the game in a runaway, 49-7.

Westlake will once again be shorthanded in tonight’s round four tilt with Lake Travis, whose only loss this season came in Week One versus Converse Judson. It was reported on Thursday that Ehlinger suffered a broken wrist on his throwing hand during last week’s win over United, and he will miss however much is left of Westlake’s season (we really mean it this time).

Thus ends ends the highly decorated but unfortunately injury-shortened high school career of Sam Ehlinger. He won All-State honors as a junior and was named by multiple outlets as the Class 6A Offensive Player of the Year. So expectations for both him and Austin Westlake were very high coming into the 2016 season, and he was on the field for dramatic wins over traditional powerhouses Katy and Converse Judson, but injuries limited him to roughly 13 quarters’ worth of playing time spread across five games. Now, because he’ll have to sit out the rest of the season, he won’t have a chance to beat Lake Travis for the first time in his career on Friday, and if Westlake were to win that game and advance to next week’s state semifinal round, their opponent could be Galena Park North Shore, the team that beat them in last year’s 6A Division I state championship game. With Ehlinger not playing, the odds of Westlake going on a revenge tour to the state title game are much, much longer.

The good news is Ehlinger is still a solid UT commit, and his meeting this week with new head coach Tom Herman couldn’t have gone much better. He’ll graduate this month and enroll at Texas in January.

WR Damion Miller (Tyler John Tyler)

Last week: Caught 2 passes for 21 yards and made 9 total tackles (3 solo) in a 56-14 loss to Klein Collins in the regional semifinal round of the 6A Division II playoffs.

Notes: The John Tyler-Klein Collins game was scoreless through nearly the first eight and a half minutes of game time before Collins took a 7-0 lead with 3:37 left in the first quarter. John Tyler had trouble sustaining drives all game, with two ending in turnovers, four with punts, and four others with a turnover on downs. Tyler scored its first points of the game on a 59-yard pass from Houston commit (and future Longhorn commit?) Bryson Smith to junior receiver Michael Givens-Washington with 1:50 left in the first half, but by that time they were trailing 21-0, and Collins answered with a TD pass with just 14 seconds left in the 2nd quarter to take a 28-6 lead going into halftime. That lead expanded to 42-6 before the 3rd quarter ended.

Collins came into the game with a record of 11-1, with their only loss being a 50-49 double-overtime defeat to Katy in Week Two, one week after Sam Ehlinger’s Westlake team had beaten Katy to open the season. Collins ran roughshod over the rest of their regular season competition, holding their last eight regular season opponents and their first round playoff foe to a combined 40 points, then they knocked off previously unbeaten Round Rock Cedar Ridge in overtime in round two. So this was the toughest defense John Tyler faced all season.

Tyler finished the 2016 season with an overall record of 11-2, and Damion Miller finished his senior season with 41 receptions for a team-leading 922 yards and 8 TDs (nearly identical to his junior year receiving stats: 41 receptions for 912 yards and 9 TDs), and he also had an impact on the other side of the ball, making 47 tackles, intercepting two passes, and blocking a field goal attempt. He was unanimously voted a first team wide receiver on District 11-6A’s all-district team. And, for your viewing pleasure, his senior highlights are below.

DE LaGaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau)

Notes: Carson was suspended from his team in late September and did not play again. Liberty-Eylau’s season ended when it lost in the first round of the 4A Division I playoffs. As a junior he was named Class 4A’s Defensive Player of the Year on multiple all-state teams. As a senior, he missed most of his team’s season due to suspensions and wasn’t named to District 7-4A Division I’s all-district team.

DE Taquon Graham (Temple)

Last week: Made 5 tackles, 1 sack, and had a tackle on a safety in a 39-7 win over Port Arthur Memorial in the regional semifinal round of the 5A Division I playoffs.

This week: Saturday, December 3 at 8:00 pm, vs. Manvel (at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium) in the Region III finals of the 5A Division I playoffs.

Notes: Temple played far from a perfect game but they still soundly beat a Port Arthur Memorial team that was in Class 6A a year ago. Memorial scored first to take a 7-0 lead, but Temple scored the game’s final 39 points. Late in the first quarter, Memorial lined up to punt from its own 2-yard line, but when its punter stepped out of bounds, Temple was awarded a safety, then the Wildcats returned the ensuing kick for an 80-yard touchdown, which turned a 7-0 deficit into a 9-7 lead in the span of two plays.

Temple’s QB was intercepted three times in the first half, but their defense kept Memorial’s offense from capitalizing on those turnovers. They held Memorial to 144 total yards and just six first downs. After leading 16-7 at the half, Temple got the ball first in the second half and was stopped short on a 4th-and-goal try from the 1-yard line, but shortly afterwards Temple tackled Memorial’s Kobi Martin (brother of 2016 Baylor signee-turned-Auburn freshman Kameron Martin) in the end zone for another safety, and after receiving the ball following the safety they scored again to extend their lead to 25-7, and would score twice more before the game ended.

Their 32-point margin of victory over Memorial was the third-highest for Temple this season, and their most lopsided since a 56-13 win over Bryan Rudder two months ago.

With Sam Ehlinger having to sit out Westlake’s round four game due to injury, and Damion Miller’s team losing last week, Graham will be the only Texas commit playing in the fourth round of this year’s playoffs, barring any surprising commitments made between this writing and Saturday night.

And what a game it should be. If you regularly read last year’s series of preview posts - particularly the entries for Reggie Hemphill - you know that Manvel had one of the most absolutely loaded rosters of any team in the state. And they were in Class 6A at the time. Now in 5A, they’re not quite as ridiculously stacked with future D1 athletes as was their 2015 squad, but the Mavericks are still very talented and boast a perfect 13-0 record for the season. Manvel was ranked 3rd in Class 5A - behind Aledo and Cedar Park - in the AP’s final regular season poll, though slotted them at #1 in its final regular season rankings.

Manvel has beaten its 13 opponents by an average margin of 37 points, and they own wins over 6A powerhouses Pearland and Galena Park North Shore (which has won all of its other games and plays for the 6A Division I Region 3 championship tonight), and the aforementioned Cedar Park (Class 5A’s 2nd ranked team, who Manvel beat 47-35 last week).

Suffice it to say, they’re going to be a very tough out for any team. Temple is now 10-3 on the year, and all three of their losses came to teams that won their respective districts: Waco Midway (champion of District 8-6A), Round Rock Cedar Ridge (District 13-6A’s champs who finished the season 11-1), and College Station (who beat Temple 17-16 five weeks ago to win the District 18-5A title, and who will play in the Region III final of the 5A Division II bracket tonight against Fort Bend Marshall). So they’ve played a slate of opponents that has prepared them about as prepared as they could be expected to be to face a power like Manvel.

Whoever wins this game may have to knock off two more top-5 teams to take home the 5A Division I state title, as 4th-ranked Denton Ryan will play Colleyville Heritage in that bracket’s Region I final Saturday morning, and 5th-ranked Richmond Foster faces Dripping Springs in the Region IV final Saturday afternoon. The winner of the latter game will play the winner of Temple-Manvel next week in the 5A Division I state semifinal round.

CB Kobe Boyce (Lake Dallas)

Notes: Lake Dallas did not make the playoffs so Boyce’s season has been over for nearly a month now. This has been a big week for him, though, as he got an in-home visit from UT’s new defensive backs coach Jason Washington, and got his Twitter account verified, blue checkmark and all.

CB Josh Thompson (Nacogdoches)

Notes: Nacogdoches did not reach the playoffs. Thompson was a double honoree on the All-District 17-5A team, earning 1st Team honors as both a utility offensive player and as a safety, the latter as a unanimous selection. He finished his senior season with 71 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and 4 fumble recoveries; and 15 receptions for 210 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Thompson got an in-home visit from UT’s newly-hired offensive line coach Derek Warehime on Wednesday.

S Montrell Estell (Hooks)

Notes: Hooks lost to Gunter 45-13 two weeks ago in the area round of the 3A Division II playoffs. He was named a co-Offensive MVP for District 7-3A Division II (he shared the award with Daingerfield senior Markevian Grant). The district’s postseason awards were a family affair for him, as his brother Malik Estell (a senior running back), was voted the district’s Utility MVP, and their younger brother, freshman Marquiz Estell earned first team all-district honors at safety. Marquiz is listed at 6’ and 160 pounds, in case you were curious.

Other Texas recruiting targets in the playoffs

I won’t bore you good readers with a comprehensive list of future D1 athletes on the teams playing in this week’s regional championships, but I wanted to mention a few prominent players who were recruiting targets for Charlie Strong and his staff, and who will presumably also be energetically courted by Tom Herman and the new UT staff.

2017 DE K’Lavon Chaisson (Galena Park North Shore)

The pass-rushing terror, ranked as the state’s #14 overall recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings, has been a longtime Longhorn target, and the most recent 247 Crystal Ball predictions have him headed to Texas. His North Shore team will play Humble Atascocita tonight at 7:30 at NRG Stadium in Houston for the Region III championship of the 6A Division I bracket.

2017 WR Charleston Rambo (Cedar Hill)

The long and talented Metroplex receiver is the state’s #39 recruit in the 247 Composite rankings. He has been committed to Oklahoma since March, and was one of the first offers made by Tom Herman and the new UT staff, who extended one to Rambo on Wednesday. For the season he has caught 74 passes for 1,302 yards and 22 TDs. That receiving touchdown total leads all Dallas-area Class 6A players this season, and his yardage total ranks third. His Cedar Hill team will play next-door rival DeSoto (the two south Dallas County cities border each other) Saturday at 5:30 in the 6A Division II Region I final at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium. The game will be a rematch of a September 23 district contest which DeSoto won 33-18. Cedar Hill’s only other loss of the season was a nationally-televised 44-14 defeat in Week One against Las Vegas all-star team powerhouse Bishop Gorman. On the DeSoto side will be former Longhorn commit turned Colorado pledge Xavier Newman, an offensive lineman. DeSoto’s offense is led by four-star QB Shawn Robinson, a TCU commit who transferred from Denton Guyer late in his junior year, and whose commitment to TCU in the summer of 2015 was almost certainly a factor in UT’s decision to pull the trigger on an offer to QB Sam Ehlinger.

2018 WR Jalen Preston (Manvel)

The four-star junior receiver holds a Texas offer and has so far caught 30 passes for 642 yards and 10 TDs, all of which place him second on the team behind Keylon Stokes, a senior committed to Tulsa. As noted earlier in the section on Taquon Graham, Manvel will play Temple at 8:00 on Saturday night to cap off the weekend’s slate of games being held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

2017 OL Chuck Filiaga (Aledo)

The former California resident, affectionately dubbed “Chuck-Fil-A” on message boards nationwide, is ranked one spot ahead of K’Lavon Chaisson in the 247Sports Composite rankings, at #13. The Longhorns were among a long list of teams that offered Filiaga in February, and he has visited Texas at least twice, and was in attendance for the Longhorns’ overtime win over Notre Dame. His Aledo team, ranked #1 by the AP in its final regular season poll for Class 5A, will play Saginaw Boswell at 9:00 tonight at AT&T Stadium in the 5A Division II Region I final.

2018 TE/OT Reese Moore (Seminole)

The huge junior tight end (he checks in at a legitimate 6’6” and about 265 pounds) was first mentioned at BON over eight months ago, and he has seen his recruiting stock start to take off in recent weeks. He received his first offer from Tulane in August, and has since added offers from Central Florida, Northwestern, Washington State, and most recently Texas Tech. Most schools he’s been in contact with are recruiting him as an offensive tackle, so a position switch in his future seems very likely, but for now he’s a humongous and productive tight end for his panhandle team. He visited Texas in late October and attended the win over Baylor. He was solidly on UT’s radar at the time and said he talked most often with now former offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert and then-offensive line coach Matt Mattox. Time will tell if Tom Herman and his staff similarly view him as a 2018 recruit to keep in touch with. Seminole will play Sweetwater tonight at 7:00 at Midland’s Grande Communications Stadium in the Class 4A Division II Region I final.

2018 WR Joshua Moore, 2018 ATH Jordan Moore, and 2018 OL/DT Silas Robinson (Yoakum)

The Moore twins are among their class’s biggest offer magnets, with both reportedly holding over 30, and Joshua - the higher-rated prospect of the pair - holding 47 offers, according to 247Sports. Texas offered them in June. They are also UT legacies, as their mother is a Texas alum. Their talented junior teammate Silas Robinson does not hold a Texas offer but will be a player to watch over the next year, and he is likewise a UT legacy; his father Bo Robinson (who is Yoakum’s head coach) played defensive end at Texas from 1989 to 1992, his time on the 40 Acres overlapping by two years with new (and former) defensive line coach Oscar Giles, who played for Texas in the late 80s. Yoakum will face Hallettsville tonight at 7:30 at Heroes Stadium in San Antonio in the Class 3A Division I Region IV final.

2017 CB Chevin Calloway, 2018 DT Calvin Avery, and 2019 S Brian Williams (Dallas Bishop Dunne)

Dallas Bishop Dunne will face local rival Dallas Bishop Lynch Saturday night in the TAPPS Division I state championship game, which will be played at 7:00 pm in Hewitt at Waco Midway’s Stadium. Bishop Dunne’s roster includes a few players who reportedly hold UT offers. Senior cornerback Chevin Calloway, a one-time Iowa commit, is #18 on the 247Sports Composite rankings. Junior defensive tackle Calvin Avery was offered by Texas just this week, and his offer list numbers a baker’s dozen. Sophomore safety prospect Brian Williams was offered by Texas on the same day as Avery, and his own offer list includes well over a dozen. Also, senior defensive tackle Damion Daniels was reportedly offered by Texas in February, but they evidently have not pushed him hard, as his name has been scarce in articles of UT targets that I’ve read, and he has taken official visits to Nebraska, Colorado, and UTSA within the past three months.