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Texas Longhorns commits: Week Five preview

Sam Ehlinger gets closer to his return, and Montrell Estell continues building his highlight reel

UT Offensive Line coach Matt Mattox (left) with OL commit Xavier Newman

Sam Ehlinger is coming back! At least that’s the word from a local report last week (more on that below). Whether he puts on his helmet and plays this week or waits another week or two before getting back into action remains to be seen, but he’s said to be doing well in his recovery from knee surgery that has kept him off the field since Austin Westlake’s Week One win over Katy.

Elsewhere, Damion Miller’s team had a Week Four loss that was a bit too similar to the Longhorns’ loss to Cal last Saturday (lots of offensive yards, its defense getting killed by the opponent’s best receiver), and Montrell Estell made an amazing catch that was very similar to the “Catch of the Year” entry made by Ohio State receiver Noah Brown against Oklahoma last week. Trust me, you’ll want to see it.

The high school football regular season will be at its half-way point after this week, and the best teams and players should be rounding into mid-season form. Josh Thompson will look to continue a very impressive senior campaign this Friday versus east Texas 4A powerhouse Gilmer, Xavier Newman’s DeSoto team will face its biggest area rival in Cedar Hill, and the teams of LaGaryonn Carson, Taquon Graham, and Kobe Boyce will try to rebound after recent losses.

I’ll preview Week Five as it pertains to UT’s commits, then go just south of Austin for this week’s Unheralded 2017 Athlete of the Week.

2017 commits

QB Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake)

Last week: Did not play in a 35-18 win over Austin Bowie

This week: Friday, September 23 at 7:30, at Austin Vandegrift

Notes: Ehlinger sat out his third straight game on Friday following surgery on his left knee after Westlake’s Week One win over then top-ranked Katy. Backup QB Matthew Gense had another solid if unspectacular performance in Ehlinger’s absence, completing 10 of 17 passes for 142 yards, a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions, and junior running back Nakia Watson had another strong game, rushing for 214 yards and three TDs, as he continues to emerge as the legitimate running back threat Westlake’s offense sorely lacked a season ago.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, Ehlinger has said that he will return to the field for Westlake’s district opener this Friday. Westlake went 2-1 in his absence and is the 6th-ranked Class 6A team in this week’s AP poll.

WR Damion Miller (Tyler John Tyler)

Last week: Caught 4 passes for 47 yards in a 59-58 loss to Rockwall

This week: Friday, September 23 at 7:30, at North Mesquite

Notes: Greg Easterbrook (he of the long-running Tuesday Morning Quarterback column formerly featured at ESPN and The New York Times) surely would have granted John Tyler a spot in the “700 Club” for its performance last Friday. Facing 0-3 Rockwall (who I said a week ago might be the best 0-3 team in Class 6A), the Lions scored 58 points, gained 712 total yards, never punted, committed only one turnover, and...lost.

Tyler led 30-20 at halftime, and held a 44-27 lead following a TD with 4:39 left in the 3rd quarter, but Rockwall scored two TDs and a field goal in the span of 3:09 late in the quarter to tie the game. The lead changed hands multiple times in the 4th quarter, before Rockwall receiver Sam Crawford scored his fourth TD of the game with 3:13 left in regulation, and Rockwall scored on a two-point conversion attempt to take a 59-58 lead that held up for the remainder of the game.

I don’t know if it has more to do with Tyler’s scheme, the routes Miller is asked to run, the way opponents are covering him, or secondaries leaving other receivers more open, but like last season, Damion Miller is gaining a pretty good chunk of yardage on a per-catch basis but not getting a big volume of receptions, and on Friday night, Rockwall’s three-star senior Sam Crawford was by far the best receiver on the field, catching 9 passes for 200 yards and 4 TDs. Through four games Miller leads his team in receiving yards (354) but is third in receptions (11) behind junior Michael Givens and sophomore Devlen Woods. In 2015 he caught just over 3 passes per game but averaged over 22 yards per catch. He seems to be on a similar track this year.

OL Xavier Newman (DeSoto)

Last week: Idle

This week: Friday, September 23 at 7:30, at Cedar Hill

Notes: I don’t believe Newman has played yet this season. He reportedly suffered an injury in a pre-season scrimmage and has missed every game since. DeSoto’s bye week came at a good time and Newman will hopefully be ready to play in DeSoto’s district opener versus southwest Dallas County rival Cedar Hill. With or without Newman, between those teams’ rosters this game may have the most talent on the field of any regular season game played in DFW this season. In this week’s AP poll, DeSoto is tied with Converse Judson for the #2 spot in Class 6A, while Cedar Hill is ranked 7th.

DE LaGaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau)

Last week: Team lost to Atlanta 31-26

This week: Friday, September 23 at 7:30, at Texarkana Pleasant Grove

Notes: Liberty-Eylau continued what’s been a rough streak to start the 2016 season, losing to Atlanta and dropping to 0-4. L-E lost its first two games to Gilmer and Carthage (now ranked 7th and 3rd in Class 4A, respectively), then fell to 0-3 for the first time since 1970 following a loss to Texarkana Texas, the current #9 team in Class 5A. This week they’ll look to get their first win against a 1-2 Pleasant Grove team.

DE Taquon Graham (Temple)

Last week: Did not play in a 28-14 loss to Round Rock Cedar Ridge

This week: Friday, September 23 at 7:30, vs. Waco University

Notes: Graham sat out last Friday’s game against a very talented Class 6A Cedar Ridge team that had outscored its first three opponents 131-10. Because of injuries to Graham and some other defensive starters, Temple needed several underclassmen to play significant snaps in the game, and they reportedly acquitted themselves well, but not enough to get Temple the win, and the Wildcats are now 2-2 and have lost consecutive games for the first time in three years. With or without Graham (whose status for this week I have not seen reported), Temple should get back to its winning ways this week against Waco University, a program that has lost 30 consecutive games and got its last win on September 27, 2013.

CB Kobe Boyce (Lake Dallas)

Last week: Idle

This week: Thursday, September 22 at 7:00, at Carrollton Newman Smith

Notes: 1-2 Lake Dallas is coming off its bye week and will face 2-1 Carrollton Newman Smith, a team that has reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons but was blown out in the first round both times. Historical note: Todd Dodge (currently the head coach at Austin Westlake, and former HC at North Texas and Southlake Carroll) served as head coach at Newman Smith for two seasons in the late 90s, going 8-12 overall and missing the playoffs both years. Newman Smith is in its 39th season of varsity football but has reached the playoffs just five times, though four of those postseason trips have come since 2009.

CB Josh Thompson (Nacogdoches)

Last week: Team beat Hallsville 35-14

This week: Friday, September 23 at 7:30, vs. Gilmer

Notes: Nacogdoches moved to 3-1 on the season with a dominating win over Hallsville. Before starting their district schedule they have one last non-district game, this one against Gilmer, Class 4A’s 7th-ranked team. Nac - which competes in Class 5A - previously beat 4A Kilgore and 6A Tyler Lee, and lost to 6A Lufkin. So they’ll go into district play next week having not yet faced a team from their own classification.

S Montrell Estell (Hooks)

Last week: Had a touchdown reception in a 14-13 loss to Hughes Springs

This week: Friday, September 23 at 7:30, vs. Queen City

Notes: Estell’s brother Malik scored late in the 2nd quarter to give Hooks a 6-0 halftime lead over Hughes Springs last Friday. Montrell Estell scored on an amazing 46-yard reception (more on that in a minute) in the 3rd quarter to put Hooks ahead 13-0, and they seemed to be on their way to evening out their season record at 2-2, but Hughes Springs scored twice in the game’s final eight minutes to pull ahead and held on for the win.

So far this season Hooks has won a game by 8 points, and lost their three other games by a combined six points. Estell’s early season senior year highlights can be viewed below. His TD from Friday night shows up at about the 0:25 mark. Lining up to the QB’s left in a diamond formation, he flares out into the left flat and appears to catch the pass behind a defender’s back, before slipping away and out-running the defense to the end zone.

Unheralded 2017 Athlete of the Week: WR/TE Tyler Henderson (Kyle Lehman)

When I highlight unheralded athletes in this space they tend to be, almost by definition, not just uncommitted and but also lacking Division I offers. That’s not the case with this week’s player, Tyler Henderson, a senior at Lehman High School in Kyle, Texas who committed to Navy in June.

Henderson has good speed to go with his 6’4” 220-pound frame, and as a junior he was his team’s leading receiver with 31 catches for 325 yards and one touchdown. This season he has put his hands, speed, and quick feet to work in snaps at not only wide receiver but also running back and quarterback. Through four games he has amassed 33 carries for 346 yards and 5 TDs, and caught 9 passes for 83 yards and another score. Navy, which is still his only offer, recruited him as a wide receiver, but I think he could project as a tight end for other schools. (Hmm, can you think of any teams that could use a good pass-catching tight end right now? *Paging Coach Traylor*)

Despite having good skills and the kind of size that would make him truly undersized only for the offensive line or defensive tackle, Henderson’s recruitment has been pretty quiet, at least as far as his level of contact with FBS programs is concerned. Aside from Navy, he names FCS programs Abilene Christian, Houston Baptist, and Stephen F. Austin as schools that have shown the strongest interest in recent months.

Unlike most previous Unheralded Athlete of the Week picks, Henderson’s recruitment is not being held back by geography or the size of the school he attends. Lehman is a Class 6A school whose campus is less than 2 miles east of I-35. One of two high schools in Hays Consolidated ISD, is serves students in Hays County between Austin and San Marcos. In the middle of nowhere, it is not.

No, what has kept Henderson’s recruiting profile fairly low may be his school’s lack of historic success. Lehman, now in its eleventh season of varsity football, has just 27 wins in its program’s history, has never reached the playoffs, has finished just two seasons with more than three wins, and went 3-27 between 2013 and 2015, the 9th-11th grade seasons of its current seniors.

At the time of his commitment in June, the Austin American-Statesman’s Danny Davis wrote that Henderson was “believed to [be] Lehman’s first-ever Football Bowl Subdivision-level recruit”, though the program has had a few alums who made FBS rosters as walk-ons.

Lehman is 2-2 this season and has won consecutive games for the first time in years, with wins over Austin Akins (who beat Lehman by 21 points a year ago) and San Antonio Jay in the past two weeks. It would take some monumental upsets for Lehman to make the playoffs out of District 25-6A, which includes an astounding four teams that advanced four rounds or more into the 2015 playoffs.

But the Lehman Lobos are just one win away from equaling their total from the previous three seasons, and even if they miss the playoffs the season should be considered a success if they can win another game or two and/or at least be competitive in their remaining games, after a 2015 season in which they scored just eight offensive touchdowns as a team and were outscored by an average of 35 points per game.

Henderson will no doubt be a big part of whatever successes the team experiences over its final six games, and if he continues to perform well and produces impressive-looking film against the high-profile opponents left on Lehman’s schedule, he could very well see some FBS programs come out of the woodwork looking to sway him from his Navy commitment. Watch his early senior year highlights below and see if you can get more than four plays into it without wondering, “How is Navy his only offer?”

If you’d like to see Tyler Henderson and the Lehman Lobos in action this season, here is their remaining schedule, which includes a date with UT commit Sam Ehlinger’s Austin Westlake Chaparrals in four weeks.

September 23 - at Cedar Park Vista Ridge
September 30 - vs. Austin Vandegrift
October 7 - at Buda Hays
October 14 - vs. Lake Travis
October 21 - at Austin Westlake
November 4 - vs. Leander

Previous Unheralded 2017 Athletes of the Week:
Week Four - RB Roman Turner (Wichita Falls Hirschi)
Week Three - DE/TE Xavier Waggoner (Electra)
Week Two - WR/RB Caleb Twyford (Farmersville)
Week One - RB Ted Fuller (Harleton)