When it comes to evaluating players, watching highlight cut-ups only tell part of the story. Most coaches always want to be able to go see a player in person so they can confirm what they saw on tape. So when I heard that Austin Westlake and Southlake Carroll were scheduled to meet up here in Austin for their season opener, I made sure my butt would be in a seat in that stadium.
I couldn't miss a chance to see 2017 Texas quarterback commit Sam Ehlinger live after becoming a fan of his after seeing what he had to offer on tape. Even though the tape I saw was from his sophomore year, it was clear that this kid was talented and had some tools that were going to translate to the college level in the next couple of years.
Again, that was a highlight tape, so I wanted to see for myself if those things I saw matched up when I went to see him live. After thriller of a game that resulted in Westlake coming out on top after SLC's Lil'Jordan Humphrey (more on him in a bit) dropped the game-winning touchdown, I came away even more impressed with Sam Ehlinger and what he offers as a prospect.
For starters, I was given the impression that his listed height wasn't accurate, and from eyeballing him in person I don't think 6'1 is too far of a stretch. On top of that the kids is well put together -- he has a muscular build, with thick calves. He looks like a mini-Tim Tebow.
On the Tebow notion, the first thing I noticed about Ehlinger's game is how he is fearless with the ball in his hands. He isn't going to shy away from contact. The first few plays from scrimmages were all designed quarterback runs from the shotgun (power read, QB power) and Ehlinger ran the ball up inside and was looking to drop a shoulder on linebackers and defensive backs. If you are looking for an easy out when a kid takes off and runs with it, this guy isn't it. I think I recall him only sliding once all game and that came after he picked up about 12 on third down and had multiple defenders coming at him from multiple directions. Kid is tough, but he isn't reckless.
He also has some legitimate lateral quickness:
From a passing standpoint, Ehlinger checked off boxes all night. He has enough arm to make the necessary throws, and he applies great touch on passes down the field. The one bad throw he had all night was a fade ball that he put too much touch on and ended up being under thrown. The thing that I was impressed with the most was his pocket presence. For a junior in high school he already has a great feel for the pocket, and he knows when the ball has to come out or when he has to take off and run.
On top of that he is great at eluding pressure and making free running defenders miss and buying time while keeping his eyes down the field. SLC pass rushers were frustrated all night long as they tried to get a hand on Ehlinger, but they were only able to log one hustle sack late in the game when Sam had nowhere to go with the ball as he scrambled to his right.
On top of being a tough target to hit, Ehlinger gets the ball up and out at a very quick clip and seems to always know where he needs to go with the football. That alone will keep you upright and off the turf. Ehlinger definitely has a mental grasp of the game, and that is 100 times more important than any physical attributes you can bring to the table in my book.
All and all, it was a very solid showing for Ehlinger, as he accounted for almost 300 yards of offense and three touchdowns (two passing, one running) and his rushing touchdown came on a 4th and goal on a QB power call. Ehlinger was hands down the best player on the field for Westlake and it wasn't really close. The wide receivers did Ehlinger absolutely no favors all night long, as they had about seve or eight drops, which had to be frustrating for Ehlinger, but he never let it show. He stayed in control and he stayed in command, and best of all he never turned the ball over.
Texas fans should be giddy about the kind of player they are getting in the next couple of years and a major positive is that he still has another year in the Todd Dodge school of quarterbacking, which is never a bad thing.
Speaking of Todd Dodge, his former school has a few players that will for sure be playing ball on Saturdays. While Robert Barnes and Obi Eboh were not tested much all night, Lil'Jordan Humphrey impressed me and intrigues me a lot as a prospect.
First off, Humphrey being as tall as he is looks freakish as hell at the running back position. He was deployed in a variety of ways on offense, including being split out at wide receiver and even a brief appearance at tight end. For being as tall as he is, he runs with pretty good power, and he moves really well for his size. I'm not sure what position he will end up at in college, but I would take him and figure out the rest later. Despite him dropping the game-winning touchdown on a back shoulder throw that hit him in the hands, I came away impressed with him as a player.
Overall, it was a good game to be able to get out and watch. The Westlake side of the stadium was sold out and there was a nice turn out from Carroll as well. I was just happy to be around football again -- it felt like Christmas morning being inside the stadium and hearing the buzz in there air.
Next Saturday can't get here fast enough.