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Texas Longhorns signee Tope Imade brings raw strength to 2016 OL class

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It may take some time, but the Arlington Bowie product has a chance to become a road-grading presence in the middle of the Longhorns line.

Tope Imade
Tope Imade
via @TopeImade

Sitting in the football office at Arlington Bowie, massive offensive guard Tope Imade wasn't sure if the small but imposing figure in front of him was really real.

"It's really you, coach," he marveled.

"Unless I'm a ghost, I think it's me," joked Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong.

Imade, whose name is pronounced TOH-pay ih-MAHD-eh, had brought a handful of his friends with him into the office to meet Strong and they all took a picture together.

"He's just so proud to be a part of it," Strong said on National Signing Day.

Back in late May of 2015, it was hardly trendy to pick the Longhorns -- in fact, Texas hadn't picked up a commitment in more than three months when Imade decided to end his recruitment in favor of the home-state school over offers from Kansas State, Miami, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Texas Tech, Washington, and many others.

But Texas linebacker Edwin Freeman, a Bowie alum himself, and quarterback Shane Buechele both spent some time helping former offensive line coach Joe Wickline and linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary recruit the 6'4.5, 317-pounder mauler. And it paid off.

Much like early enrollee center Zach Shackelford and his alter ego Shack Attack, Imade transforms into a different player on the field once he removes his black-rimmed glasses.

"People do have a different perception of me off the field because I'm nice," Imade told Horns247. "But when I'm on the field, I'm going to punish somebody. I'm going to pancake somebody."

Indeed, Imade had 81 pancakes as a junior, though he graded out at 86 by his coaching staff, a number that is a bit low for a high-level prospect. Consider that Shackelford received a grade of 98 percent from the his Belton coaches last season.

Down a few pounds from his Signing Day weight, Imade is focused on improving his athleticism before he enrolls. He also already has a relationship with new offensive line coach Matt Mattox, who recruited Imade while at Tulsa and spent a lot of time discussing the importance of improving his flexibility.

If a portrait of the consensus three-star prospect as a raw player is emerging, it's accurate -- Imade has a lot of room for growth with his technique, especially his punch. So while he's most comfortable operating in the running game right now and racking up those pancakes, he doesn't show a tremendous amount of natural ability shooting his hands.

The Bowie product is also working to make sure that he keeps his pad level low, an area where improved flexibility would help him. Likewise, Improving his lateral movement is extremely important if he wants to become a pulling guard capable of consistently acquiring defenders at the second level.

However, Imade is a big presence on the interior of the line and possesses a lot of natural strength, even if it doesn't always translate well to his initial punch.

"Very strong," Strong said. "If our linemen want to see someone who's really strong, all they have to look at is Tope."

As a junior, Imade set a school record with a 515-pound deadlift and also competed in the shot put and discus at Bowie, so he's right up there with defensive tackle Gerald Wilbon in the battle for strongest player in the class.

Despite Imade's mass, he's a well-built prospect who doesn't have a lot of bad weight around his midsection -- he looks like a guy built to carry 320-330 pounds in college because of his big frame and looks much closer to 300 pounds in pictures than his current listed weight.

Don't expect Imade to play in 2016 as the least likely of the four 2016 offensive line signees to contribute early, but he does have some long-term upside if he can hone his craft over time. Since he is raw, the rankings reflected his room for growth as the No. 792 prospect overall, the No. 36 offensive guard, and the No. 105 player in Texas.

Thing is, those rankings can't take into account how much it means to Imade to play for the Longhorns. Combined with his potential, that could make him a key piece of the offensive line when Texas starts to peak as a program once again.