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The Eyes in the Sky: Donovan Jackson, Hayden Conner, Loic Fouonji

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This week’s film review is headlined by some of the state’s top offensive linemen in the 2021 recruiting class.

Bellaire Episcopal OT Donovan Jackson
Photo Credit: Emily Madison

Over my years as a player and a coach I heard and used my fair share of coachisms. Many of them I probably can’t write in this setting, but the one I will share is one that often rang true whether it was referring to the good, bad, or just plain ugly.

“The eye in the sky doesn’t lie”.

The eye in the sky, of course, being the cameras up in the box watching your every move during games and practices. When that film got turned on you would always hope the truth was kind to you in the eyes of the coaches, because if there was one thing I learned quickly it was that you never wanted to get that laser pointer put on you in the film room so that the whole team got to watch you bust an assignment. To say it can be uncomfortable would be severely understating it.

There is no hiding from the eye in the sky. It sees all and it is a great tool for coaches and folks like myself when it comes to the evaluation process. With everything being being digital these days, we have come a long way from the stone age of using VCR tapes and even CDs to be able to watch game film and cut-ups. Now everything is at your fingertips via websites like Hudl and it makes it much more convenient to track progress of players even if you are not able to to see them live.

The point of this exercise will be to get readers familiar with some of the names on the recruiting radar for Texas. Some you may already know and some you may not, but for each we will take a peek at some of the tape and give you the rundown on their game.

If you have followed me for any amount of time you know I am biased to the big fellas, so I figured we would kick things off with a couple of big bodies. Don’t worry I got a skinny guy (skill player) in there as well.

Donovan Jackson, Bellaire Episcopal

Seahorn’s take: Jackson has been a known commodity for awhile now, but he really caught my eye at The Opening this summer, where he took home MVP honors for his position group as an underclassmen. Jackson displayed sound technique and good patience in a setting that is not really meant to be favorable for offensive linemen and showed positional versatility by performing well at both guard and tackle in Frisco. In 2019, Jackson has lined up at left tackle for Episcopal, and he is picking up right where he left off this summer being a dominant force. Jackson excels in the run game and shows good play strength, as he is able to consistently displace defenders off the LOS as a drive blocker. As a puller, Jackson shows he’s nimble and possesses good coordination as he is able to sift through traffic and locate his assignment on a consistent basis. As a pass blocker, Jackson displays good feet and patience in his pass set and doesn’t overset his man. Jackson is proficient with his hand usage and doesn’t often miss his target and he shows the ability to anchor against power rushers both at guard and tackle.

Cody’s take: Jackson’s film is fun, to say the least. He quite clearly houses some tremendous size and strength, and he uses that to absolutely impose his will on his matchup, and often times another body once his man is on the ground. Jackson routinely finishes plays 10-12 yards down the field and keeps driving his feet until the whistle blows. If his man is on the ground before then, he gets up and finds someone else to bully. He plays like he takes a sense of pride in physically dominating.

How he fits at Texas: The 2021 class is absolutely loaded with stud offensive linemen, and if you are trying to put together the best five for Texas’ recruiting class I think you have to include Jackson at this point. Jackson is likely a swing candidate (Guard/Tackle) given he doesn’t meet the ideal size/measurement threshold to play tackle, but regardless he is a stud and is one of the best offensive linemen in the state and country.

Hayden Conner, Katy Taylor

Seahorn’s take: Conner is an absolute mountain of a man at 6’5.5 and 317 pounds. Conner’s physical measurables alone make him incredibly tough to get around and if that wasn’t enough he packs a mean punch and knows how to use it. Conner possesses very good play strength and it is often on display on tape when you see him tossing defenders five yards or putting them on skates before burying them into the turf. The entertainment value of Conner’s film is quite high and you can tell he enjoys tossing dudes out of the club and just being being a bully in general on the football field. Possessing that kind of demeanor is important when you play in the trenches, so it is good to see that Conner checks that box early and often on film. My main question for Conner when projecting him to the next level is if he will be able to stick at tackle long term. I think his body type has him heading towards the interior at the collegiate, but doesn’t at all diminish his value in my eyes.

Cody’s take: Conner’s size is unmistakeable, as Seahorn noted, which alone makes him a difficult matchup for edge rushers at the high school level. It only helps that he understands how to use that size and frame to seal the edge, often leading to massive running lanes. Whether it’s run blocking or pass blocking, when Conner gets his hands on you, you’re typically out of the play. To that end, he seems to understand hand placement to gain leverage, while other times, he simply presents a tremendously powerful punch and tosses defenders aside with a single blow. In short, Conner is almost always better than his matchup and he displays that kind of confidence. That said, whether it’s because of that confidence or not, he doesn’t always seem to play with a ton of effort, which he admittedly doesn’t need to to thrive at the high school level given his sheer skill set. But that will need to change at Texas. Similarly, he can afford to be more assertive, as he seems to rely on strength alone at times. Like Seahorn, I think his future is inside at guard.

How he fits at Texas: Conner gave a jolt to the Texas 2021 recruiting class when he surprised everyone and committed to the Longhorns not too long after Jalen Milroe acted as the kick starter for what would be a wild run of success on the recruiting trail for the Texas. Like Jackson, Conner is a potential swing player at the next level that will probably start out working at both, but his long term upside likely lies on the interior as a mauling guard. Landing Conner was a great tone setter for Texas as they try to assemble a potentially historic offensive line haul in 2021.

Loic Fouonji, Midland Lee

Seahorn’s take: At 6’4, 194 pounds, Fouonji shows the ability to get separation consistently and is physical enough to beat press when corners walk up and try to put him in a phone booth. His best trait is his long speed (ran 21.42 this spring in the 200m) and that really shows up when he is in the open field on vertical routes and when he is racking up YAC. I really like Fouonji’s potential as a down field threat due to his physical tools and ability to separate and with the tape he is putting on so far this season, I imagine we will see his stock take off a bit as we head towards December.

Cody’s take: Fouonji looks the part of your typical Texas receiver target at 6’4, 194 and there’s much to like about pretty much everything else he puts on film, as well. He flashes impressive footwork and a quick first step at the line of scrimmage to beat press coverage and get out into his route quickly. Often times, those routes are fades and posts, which allow him to showcase notable straight-line speed, courtesy of long stride. Unsurprisingly, he’s a deep threat who knows how to use his body down the field to set himself up for the catch. Was also impressed by how little movement there seems to be from Fouonji when running his routes. He’s a three-star right now, but I expect that to change.

How he fits at Texas: Fouonji fits the profile of the kind of wide receiver Texas covets on the outside and he is off to a fantastic start to his senior season. I think under most circumstances Fouonji would be a take, but with Troy Omeire flipping from Texas A&M and numbers being tight this cycle, there may not be room to fit him in the class.