The cold is going away, the days are getting longer, and the lovebugs are swarming the country side. It’s spring time. And with Spring comes Spring practice on Texas high school football fields – providing an excellent opportunity to get to know some of the Longhorns’ top targets as well as identifying other players certain to emerge as the recruiting cycle progresses.
I began my journey through the state this year where the talent is most abundant, in Houston. I visited Houston Heights, Lamar, and Katy Taylor to take a look at the programs and get some insight first-hand. I talked to a lot of guys and watched a lot of talent during my time at practices. Here are some of the guys to familiarize yourself with:
Max Wright – 2018 DL (Taylor | Katy, TX)
Let start off with the business side of things. Max Wright made it out to Texas’ Spring Game April 16th and was blown away by the experience, “It was a lot of fun. I got to hang out with Giles and the defensive line men and hear their schemes. I liked how they did defensive line competes and how ferocious they are.” Wright apparently was very impressed with Giles and the defensive line especially at the end of the game. “It was pretty cool seeing how the defensive line stepped up and how Giles was so fired up for his team. Just showed how intense that coaching staff really is.”
During Wright’s recruitment, he initially had his doubts about playing in a 3-man front, where he’d be asked to be a space-eater, his current role in high school, so I asked him what he thought of the new defense after the game. “Really what I’ve seen in practice is that it’s not really just a 3-man front. It’s a 3-man front with kind of a stand-up end type of guy. (The B-Backer). It’s not just three guys who are down.” He continued to praise the defense by saying, “It’s a really good defense and I really like it. I really do because the mix it up a lot up front. They don’t ever make it to where they always key on one thing. You’re always going to be mixing it up with the stunts. They’re trying to get the defensive line to make the plays.”
But it wasn’t just the play on the field, but the conversations off it that impressed Wright. He and his family are devout Christians, so the fact that the chaplain of the university carved out his day to talk with Max and his family and show them around for the day was very important to them.
Now, I’ve said it before, but Max Wright is one of my favorite guys in the 2018 cycle. Not only because he’s a monster on the field but also because he has fun with just about everything he does. When I asked him his outlook on this entire process he told me “I’ve had two older siblings who’ve already been through this. And while it wasn’t necessarily on the same scale, it’s still a lot going on. I never want to feel like this is overwhelming me where I feel like I’m not a kid. I’m not going to change because of how I’m being recruited. I’m still going to be a goofy guy.” He continued by saying, “My baseball coach calls me an 8-year-old in a 25-year-old body. I don’t think anyone should take this so seriously to the point where they’re stressed out and angry about stuff. (Like fans?) Yeah! And kids. It should overwhelm you. This doesn’t define me as a human being…” Max really attributes his friendliness to his mother. “My mother taught me this. She’s always raised me to never big-league anyone because football is going to be gone one day. It could be tomorrow… I don’t want to be that guy who is too cool for anyone. So I’m going to enjoy this for as long as I can.”
As it stands now, Texas has really improved their stance with Max Wright. He’s loving the coaching staff, loving the school, and really being sold on the prestige of the program, which something very important to him. While it is not over by a long shot (Texas A&M is still in good standing with him and he’s very much looking forward to traveling around), I’m fairly confident that Texas has really secured a spot in Max’s top schools when he makes his decision come February 2018.
D’Shawn Jamison – 2018 CB (Lamar | Houston, TX)
When I was walking up to the field to watch Lamar’s 7-on-7 practices, I watched as a guy in glasses high pointed a ball and came down with an interception on an insanely athletic play. I talked to the defensive backs coach of Lamar to ask who that was. I quickly found out I did not recognize Jamison with his glasses on and that there is good reason why Texas has made him a priority.
— Will Baizer (@WillBaizer) April 26, 2017
D’Shawn recently visited Texas during the Spring Game with his teammates to check out the program, including the new lockers and Coach Tom Herman’s style of play. Jamison came away impressed, but above all he loved the new defense. “The new defense is great. It was great seeing how the defense moved around and covered as a team. I got to see how they fix everything and work everything out. Working with the new coaching staff shows that they are catching on quickly.”
— Will Baizer (@WillBaizer) May 2, 2017
D’Shawn is feeling the love from the Longhorns as he is in constant contact with the Texas coaching staff and even tells me that Michael Huff is “his dude.” When Jamison decides to commit in August, Texas will be in a very good position in his list of top schools.
Al’Vonte Woodard – 2018 WR (Lamar | Houston, TX)
The speedy Lamar receiving threat has made it up to Austin a number of times. He seems to have really enjoy his latest trip during the Texas Spring game quite a bit telling me, “The Texas Spring Game was awesome! I liked the way they threw the ball 98 times. Almost every play they were throwing the ball… And that new offense they showed us, we kind of do the same thing here at Lamar.”
As for his performance on the field when I went to see him, he is as athletic as they come. I was impressed by his hands, ability to stick with the catch, and he possess top-line speed. Most impressive is the fact that his get-off and route running are more advanced than his peers. Talk to any receiving coach and he’ll tell you the importance of the first three steps. Al’Vonte seems to have a good grasp on that.
— Will Baizer (@WillBaizer) April 26, 2017
He and his fellow Lamar teammates seemed visibly excited when I asked them about the Spring Game and the new lockers. In fact, Al’Vonte had expressed to me that he looked forward to seeing the new locker room way back in February. When I asked him what he thought about the $10,000 lockers they displayed at the Spring Game he told me they are “out of this world, top notch.”
Much like his teammate D’Shawn, after speaking to a few people, I feel very confident in saying Texas is among the top schools in position to win over Al’Vonte Woodard’s services.
Jalen Green – 2018 DB (Heights | Houston, TX)
While I was at Heights High School, I didn’t get to see Jalen in action (did you know he’s a pretty good quarterback?), but I did get to talk to quite a few coaches who touted Jalen Green as the top corner in the state. When I talked to a few other writers, there was a general consensus that Jalen Green has the highest ceiling of any player in the state due to his athletic ability and frame he possesses. The best part about all of it is that he’s only played defensive back for 2 years. That means, he’s nowhere near his potential and he already has some very impressive tape.
— Will Baizer (@WillBaizer) April 26, 2017
Green is a very soft spoken guy off the field, but he is very high on Texas as of now. I feel confident saying they’re up in his top schools from what I understand. Jalen will take some visits from now until July and will very likely commit somewhere before the season.
Andrew Coker – 2019 OT (Taylor | Katy, TX)
The 6’7” 338-pound OT, is a huge (pun intended) 2019 target for the Longhorns. While I’d like to see him play a little lower, I love his mean streak. The guy is big, strong, and powerful. His pass blocking is decent, but he’s asked to run block most of the time. And when he does block he makes smart, athletic plays. He’s a take.
And Texas thinks so too, as Coker was invited to the Spring game and made his way up to Austin. “It was a great atmosphere, actually. I loved it there. Even after the game a fan had me take a picture with his daughter, which was intriguing to me. I loved it… [Oklahoma] and Texas probably have the best atmosphere I’ve been to.”
I also asked him to give me his thoughts on the new lockers that will be installed this summer. He immediately got excited and said, “The lockers are very, very impressive. I was just astonished. I couldn’t even believe that was a locker… It makes you feel like you’re part of something that means a lot more than just football. It’s like you’re at a major university, the University of Texas, everyone knows that. You feel the classic atmosphere, but then you see the locker and you’re like, ‘this is what I should be getting when I go to the University of Texas.”
The thing that will win Coker over is finding a school that “immediately feels like home.” Right now those teams at the fore-front of Coker’s mind are Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Florida – with no clear favorite.
Being Evaluated by Texas
Braedon Mowry – 2019 DE (Taylor | Katy, TX)
Talk about being slept on. Braedon Mowry is a 6’4”, 235lbs wrecking ball at defensive end. The thing the Texas staff would love about him is he’s a perfect fit for their defense. He possesses some top-line burst and strength, and he can play standing up or with a hand in the dirt. He’s the guy who is always around the ball making a play because it appears getting off blocks comes second nature to him. Double teams do not stop him, as he will charge through an offensive guard and tackle and still find a way to take down the quarterback. He’s an excellent mix of speed and power that coaches want in a defensive end.
However, what I’m most impressed with is his awareness on the field. He knows where a play is going and follows it to break it up whether it’s a pass or a run. He recorded a number of PBUs last year due to some pretty athletic plays.
Currently Braedon doesn’t have any offers, but I don’t see that staying the case for much longer. Braedon is currently in contact with the Texas, TCU, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma staffs.
Otito Ogbonnia – 2018 DL (Taylor | Katy, TX)
A big strong guy at 6’4” 270-pounds, Otito is much more than a football player as he is 4th in the nation in the shot put with a 64’2 throw, which I know Coach Oscar Giles likes. On the football field he has the size and build you’d like out of a nose guard, however in the Katy Taylor defense he’s used as a space eater up the middle to close gaps. If Texas does decide they’d like to have him in burnt orange, he’d have a very different role.
Otito is currently really getting the love from Texas and Coach Giles. In fact, he will be working out with Coach Giles on the 28th of May.
He wasn’t able to make it to Texas in April, but he definitely saw the new lockers. “The 46-inch screen and $10,000 locker looks nice. With all the renovations and what his recruiting is doing, I think he’ll have one of the top classes by the end.”
He is also talking with Ole Miss, TCU, and OU.
Joshua Reed – 2018 ILB (Heights | Houston, TX)
Reed is a Coach Todd Orlando favorite since he was at Houston and the reason why is obvious. Josh Reed is a nasty MLB who blitzes very well and the Texas staff is evaluating him closely. Reed has definitely stuck out to a number of different coaches after they saw his work ethic and leadership during practices. Add to that his strength and mental makeup and you have the making of a nasty ILB.
Josh recently made a visit to Texas and received the royal treatment from Orlando and Herman. “I was talking with Coach Orlando and Coach Herman… As soon as [Coach Herman] walked down he came straight toward me to ask me how I was doing and talked to me. He asked me to come down and take another visit, so he can show me himself around the school.” He also got to go with Coach Orlando to see the new lockers. “That’s the best locker room I’ve been in. At first it was A&M, but now it’s Texas all the way.”
While I imagine his height may be a factor that causes schools to look elsewhere, it appears that if you’re a good ILB who can defend both the pass and run well and can get to the ball fast then Texas will be interested (see Gary Johnson). Add to the equation that Texas needs ILB depth badly and Reed is a guy to keep an eye on.
Caught My Eye
Praise Amaewhule – 2018 DE (Taylor | Katy, TX)
Let me start off by saying the Nigerian DE has a 6’10” wingspan. It’s fairly incredible. He’s an athletic, well built (6’3” and 215 lbs) player, but teams have been cautious on him after he broke his leg last year. Teams are evaluating his recovery, which is progressing faster than expected.
But what’s most exciting about him as a prospect is what he can become. He moved to the United States five years ago. The story of how he actually got into the sport is quite funny. As he tells it, “Whenever I came over here and I was trying to sign up for football, I thought it was actually soccer.” So he accidentally started playing football, and he came out to the first practice and “I saw guys in helmets and pads, and I asked the coach what this was and where the football was. He gave me a little egg shaped ball.”
So, when you’re looking for a moldable player with a frame and athleticism, Praise Amaewhule is your guy.
Jacoby Hopkins – 2018 WR (Heights | Houston, TX)
It’s unfortunate that Hopkins is in such a deep class of WR because he’s a great player that has been overlooked. He’s a real deep threat with great hands. When I saw him out at practice I was legitimately impressed with some of his reps.
Jacoby Hopkins (@IAmJacoby_) had some awesome reps today at practice.
He already has offers from Louisville, Oregon State, and Lousiana-Lafayette, but with a break out season he could see a lot more offers from some big-time schools. Keep an eye on him.
The program is loaded and will stay loaded. Their defensive line is absolutely stacked (as you can see above), and their offensive line has some crazy talent coming in with two eighth graders who are 6’4” and 6’6” and looking to play left tackle next year (how in the world do they produce these guys?!). With a 2500-yard rusher in Ean Beeks (a guy who may blow up next year), Katy Taylor is a program to keep an eye on for now and down the road.
Another program stacked with talent. However, this is the year for them with their three senior leaders in Jalen, Jacoby, and Josh. Coach Stephen Dixon is a very good coach who cares a lot about his guys, so I am not surprised that the team responds so positively toward him. I expect to see some major improvement from the Bulldogs this year, as they finished just 4-7 last season.
Talk about a program that has been blessed with talent. Houston Lamar, should better be known as DB High due to the fact that they have a deep secondary with Anthony Cook, D’Shawn Jamison, Zion Burrell, and Alex Hogan – and are coached by some of the best in the high school game. On the other side of the ball, Lamar has plenty of play makers with Al’Vonte Woodard, Ta’Zhawn Henry, and a nice crop of young upcoming players who were very impressive.