UT’s 2017 class has gained a member, and some intriguing matchups are in store this week
The Labor Day weekend was a pretty good one for your Texas Longhorns, to say the least. On Sunday night, 50-47 over Notre Dame happened, to the delight of UT fans and high-profile football recruits. The next day, four-star Temple defensive end Taquon Graham committed to Texas, becoming UT’s eighth commitment for its 2017 recruiting class.
What will this weekend bring? A win over UTEP by any score won’t bring the same level of joy or positive recruiting momentum that Sunday’s thrilling double overtime upset win over college football’s all-time winningest program did, but continued improvement on defense and establishment of a clear identity on offense should help the program’s perception moving forward with recruits and college football observers at-large.
For now, here’s where you can see UT’s 2017 commits this week. Then for this week’s Unheralded 2017 Athlete feature, I’ll profile an all-state defensive end from a small town near the Red River who is a Red Raider legacy.
QB Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake)
Last week: Did not play in a 21-14 loss to Henderson (Nevada) Liberty
This week: Friday, September 9 at 7:30, vs. Pflugerville
Notes: Ehlinger suffered injuries to both knees in his team’s Week One win over Katy. He had surgery a week ago and will likely sit out at least a few more weeks, though I’ve read no definitive date for his expected return. In his absence last week, senior Matthew Gense got the start at QB for Westlake and completed just 10 of 21 pass attempts for 106 yards, 1 touchdown, and no interceptions, and Westlake’s offense gained a mere 209 total yards, or, roughly 116 yards less than Ehlinger produced by himself on a per-game basis in 2015. Because of their narrow loss to out-of-state power Henderson Liberty, Westlake fell from #1 to #6 in Class 6A in this week’s AP poll.
Westlake will next face Pflugerville, which lost 7-0 in Week One to Austin Bowie (Westlake’s opponent in Week Four) and won 28-20 last week over Leander (Westlake’s opponent in Week Ten).
WR Damion Miller (Tyler John Tyler)
Last week: Caught 2 passes for 102 yards and a TD in a 30-14 win over Ennis.
This week: Saturday, September 10 at 12:00, vs. New Orleans Warren Easton (at Shreveport’s Independence Bowl Stadium)
Notes: Miller’s touchdown came on a 93-yard reception with 6:08 remaining in the 4th quarter, and helped widen John Tyler’s lead and essentially ice the game.
John Tyler is off to a strong 2-0 start and will travel across the border into Louisiana for their next game: a neutral site matchup in Shreveport against Warren Easton High School out of New Orleans. Easton has been one of Louisiana’s top 4A programs in recent years; in each of the past three seasons they’ve advanced at least three rounds into the LHSAA Class 4A playoffs, losing in each year by single digits to the eventual state champion. The John Tyler-Easton game is the first in a Saturday triple-header that will close out a Thursday-Saturday set on contests billed as the Battle on the Border. The later games that day will pit Lufkin against Bossier City (LA) Parkway, and Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington against national powerhouse IMG Academy of Bradenton, Florida.
OL Xavier Newman (DeSoto)
Last week: Team gained 399 total yards in a 51-17 win over Denton Guyer
This week: Friday, September 9 at 7:30, at Midland
Notes: I don’t believe Newman played in last week’s game. Multiple sources reported that he was injured to start the season, and Inside Texas reported after Week One that he would be out at least 2-3 weeks. Last Friday’s matchup with Denton Guyer was one of the Metroplex’s most anticipated games of the week, with DeSoto QB Shawn Robinson (a 2017 TCU commit) facing his former teammates, as he had transferred to DeSoto from Guyer during the spring. It turned out to be a blowout, as DeSoto led 30-3 less than a minute into the 3rd quarter, and 51-10 for most of the 4th quarter before a Guyer TD with six seconds left gave them another seven points.
DeSoto moved from #3 to #2 in this week’s AP poll for Class 6A. Next, the Eagles make the long drive out west to take on 2-0 Midland High, whose offense is averaging just shy of 500 yards per game after early season wins against two of El Paso’s better programs: Franklin and Montwood.
DE LaGaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau)
Last week: Did not play in a 34-20 loss to Carthage
This week: Friday, September 9 at 7:30, at Texarkana Texas High
Notes: Carson was suspended for last week’s game versus Carthage, and his availability for this week’s game is as yet unknown. After opening their season with losses to the teams currently ranked 4th and 5th in 4A (Gilmer and Carthage, respectively), Liberty-Eylau will next face Texas High, the 10th ranked team in Class 5A. If nothing else, that’s a murderous non-district slate that should make their district schedule feel like a breeze by comparison. A loss on Friday would drop L-E to 0-3 to begin the season, something that hasn’t happened since 1970!
DE Taquon Graham (Temple)
Last week: Credited with two tackles in a 39-25 win over Round Rock.
This week: Friday, September 9 at 7:30, at Waco Midway
Notes: Graham announced his commitment to Texas via Twitter on Monday afternoon, becoming the eighth member of its 2017 class, and the second commitment along the defensive line. He is also the third member of the class who earned First Team All-State honors as a junior, along with Ehlinger and Carson. Graham was named to multiple Class 5A all-state teams following the 2015 regular season, in which he was credited with 50 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. He committed nearly ten months after receiving his offer from Texas.
Temple is 2-0 so far this season under first-year head coach Scott Stewart, who was promoted from defensive coordinator after former head coach Mike Spradlin (who was a college teammate of Art Briles and later an assistant coach under him at Houston) left to become Athletic Director at Magnolia.
Temple’s Week Three opponent, Waco Midway, is also playing under a new head coach: former Mansfield HC Jeff Hulme. Hulme had some successful years at Mansfield before taking over a Midway program that has advanced at least two rounds into the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons, but the Panthers have struggled mightily in the first two games of his tenure, losing to Cedar Park (the defending 5A Division II state champion) and Round Rock Cedar Ridge by a combined score of 95-16. Part of those struggles can no doubt be blamed on the unavailability of standout 2018 QB Tanner Mordecai, who is very much on Texas’s radar and held a half dozen D1 offers before he’d made his first varsity start. Mordecai missed Midway’s first two games of this season with a shoulder injury. If he is healthy and available for this week’s game, it should be anything but a cakewalk for Temple.
A year ago Midway lost its first three contests before winning its next nine games and ending its season with a loss in the regional semifinal round of the playoffs to eventual 6A Division II runner-up Lake Travis. Temple also made a deep playoff run in 2015 and had its season end at the hands of eventual 5A Division I state champion Richmond George Ranch.
CB Kobe Boyce (Lake Dallas)
Last week: Had a 55-yard punt return for a TD and had one carry for 3 yards in a 21-9 win over Frisco Centennial.
This week: Friday, September 9 at 7:30, at Plano Prestonwood Christian Academy
Notes: Boyce’s punt return TD came at a critical moment late in the 1st half. Centennial had taken a 9-0 lead mid-way through the 2nd quarter, while Lake Dallas’s first six possessions had resulted in a turnover on downs, lost fumble, punt, turnover on downs, punt, and another turnover on downs. After Lake Dallas forced Centennial to punt on their next possession, Boyce received the punt and ran down the sideline to his left before cutting across the field and outrunning Centennial’s coverage for a TD to pull his team to within 9-7 with 1:53 left in the half. Lake Dallas got no points on its first two possessions of the second half but its defense held Centennial off the scoreboard for the rest of the game, and two touchdowns scored late in the 3rd quarter gave them a 21-9 lead that held up.
You can see Boyce’s punt return TD at around the 0:23 mark in the video below.
Next, Lake Dallas faces Plano Prestonwood Christian, one of the DFW area’s top private school programs over the last decade and the defending TAPPS Division I state champion. PCA graduated a lot of talent from its 2015 state championship team though, most notably three-year QB starter Ryan Cash (now a freshman baseball player at Oklahoma State), who finished his high school career with over 11,000 yards passing and 122 touchdowns. Among the players who has been vying to replace Cash at QB for PCA is junior M.J. Rivers, who holds an offer from Iowa State and could project to multiple positions at the next level. PCA is 1-1 on the season and last week they were drilled 70-21 by a Houston Bellaire Episcopal squad that featured two top Texas Longhorn recruiting targets in DT Marvin Wilson and OT Walker Little.
CB Josh Thompson (Nacogdoches)
Last week: Caught one pass for a 32-yard TD in a 42-28 loss to Lufkin.
This week: Friday, September 9 at 7:30, at Tyler Lee
Notes: 5A Nacogdoches ran away from 4A foe Kilgore in Week One, but their defense allowed 42 points and 508 total yards to 6A Lufkin in Week Two. Thompson’s TD catch (which you can watch at about the 0:30 mark in the video below) came with 7:24 left in the 2nd quarter and gave Nacogdoches a brief 14-7 lead, but Lufkin answered with a long TD pass less than a minute later to tie the score, then scored on a short TD run as time expired at the end of the first half to take a 21-14 lead going into the 3rd quarter. Lufkin extended their lead to 28-14 in the first minute of the 2nd half, and though Nacogdoches cut the deficit to 8, and later to 7, they never got closer than that, and a one-yard TD run by Lufkin early in the 4th quarter gave them a 42-28 lead and concluded the scoring for the evening.
Thompson and the Nacogdoches defense, having allowed 352 yards through the air against Lufkin, will have to contend this week with maybe the best quarterback they’ll face all year: Tyler Lee’s junior signal-caller Chance Amie, who received his first offer from Bowling Green a week ago. Lee, a 6A program and one of the largest schools in east Texas, is 2-0 in the young season, with wins over 5A programs Marshall and Corsicana.
S Montrell Estell (Hooks)
Last week: Team lost to Redwater 22-19.
This week: Friday, September 9 at 7:30, vs. Mount Vernon
Notes: Hooks is now 0-2 for the season and I’ve come across precious little info on their season thus far, though it doesn’t appear that their narrow loss to Redwater last week was due to any lack of effort on Estell’s part, at least if the video below is any indication of how he performed when at his best.
Unheralded 2017 Athlete of the Week: DE/TE Xavier Waggoner (Electra)
After profiling a small-town east Texas running back (Harleton’s Ted Fuller) and a small-town north central Texas athlete (Farmersville’s Caleb Twyford) in my first two installments, this week we’ll take a look at a talented athlete from an even smaller school in Electra senior Xavier Waggoner.
Electra lies just a few miles south of the Red River on the far western edge of Wichita County, and its high school competes in the U.I.L.’s smallest classification for 11-man football: 2A Division II. It may be small school football, but Xavier Waggoner is a big-time athlete for that level, and would be for pretty much any level. Standing just under 6’4” and about 215 pounds, Waggoner is a very tough matchup for 2A offensive linemen when lined up at defensive end, and is a receiving mismatch when he lines up at tight end. Playing primarily as a 4-technique defensive end in a 3-4 front, he doesn’t put up numbers indicative of a high-level pass rusher, but he has a good motor and a level of explosiveness that helps him get to the ball with regularity.
As a junior he earned second team Class 2A All-State honors at defensive end from the Texas Sports Writers Association after compiling 118 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He also caught 17 passes for 335 yards and 4 touchdowns and earned all-district honors at tight end. Below are his junior year highlights.
An explosive leaper with long arms and good lower body strength, he also puts his talents to good use on the basketball court. As a junior he was named his district’s defensive player of the year after averaging 14 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots per game, and he helped lead his team five rounds into the playoffs before they were defeated in the 2A Region II regional final round, falling one game short of advancing to the state tournament. Below you can see Waggoner reject a few shots on the low block and posterize a poor Petrolia defender.
Through two games in the 2016 football season, Waggoner has more than played like an all-stater. He has been credited with 27 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. And that’s just his defensive contributions. In Week One against Seymour, he caught a 43-yard touchdown pass with under a minute left to cap off a 30-27 comeback win. In Week Two, he caught a 4-yard TD pass in the 4th quarter of a 20-7 win over Frederick, Oklahoma. Through two games he has caught 4 passes for 71 yards and two scores.
Electra head coach Todd Doughty told BON during the summer that Waggoner was receiving interest from college coaches as both a defensive end and a tight end, with the split being maybe 60/40 in favor of defensive end. He is an athletic menace to opposing offenses at defensive end, and Doughty - who in his 16th season as a head coach - has described Waggoner as “the best blocking tight end I’ve ever had.”
He may only be 215 pounds now, but Doughty says he has no problem seeing his senior star carrying 240 pounds or more in a few years. He describes Waggoner as an athlete with “excellent feet for a guy his size”, “excellent hands”, and “loose hips that help him move well for a taller guy”, and his wide shoulders and long arms suggest that he’ll be able to add good weight in his upper body in the coming years. He is also one of the youngest members of his class, so he may not be done growing.
Considering his body type and the level of competition he faces on a weekly basis, where Xavier Waggoner suits up on Saturdays in the next few years and what position he’ll play will depend greatly on how college coaches project him. Will he retain his quickness and closing speed at 250 pounds or more? Will he still be a good blocker when facing much bigger and faster defensive ends than he’s ever faced in high school? Can he still be an effective receiving tight end when covered by speedy and physical safeties more of the caliber of Sam Houston State than Archer City? Those are questions coaches will have to make educated guesses on and decide if he has the potential to play at their team’s level.
Thus far most of the recruiting interest Waggoner has received has been from schools at the Division I-FCS level and below. He could end up playing anywhere from Division II Angelo State to SMU or somewhere in between and I wouldn’t be surprised. If he landed on a D1 roster he wouldn’t be the first member of his family to do so, as his uncle Stephen Gaines played defensive tackle for Texas Tech in the early 1990s.
For anyone interested in watching Xavier Waggoner and the Electra Tigers in person this season, here is the team’s remaining schedule:
September 9 - at Wichita Falls City View
September 16 - at Alvord
September 23 - vs. Windthorst
October 7 - at Haskell
October 14 - at Munday
October 21 - vs. Petrolia
October 28 - at Quanah
November 4 - vs. Archer City