East Texas: Finding gems among the pines
LUFKIN, Texas -- What makes East Texas football different? Lufkin recruiting coordinator Alton Dixon is almost outraged by the mere question.
"What makes us different? We play in the woods," he said. "It's totally different. We ain't nothing like Houston, and we ain't s--- like Dallas. You've got kids who grow up tough and don't know nothing but football. It's live, eat, die, pray football."
Well, that's one way to put it.
Class of 2015 defensive tackle Daylon Mack is one of the top recruits in the state.
Explaining the essence of East Texas football, of what makes the recruits in this area unique from those found elsewhere, isn't easy to do without dipping into easy generalizations.
Coaches say their players are the children of hardworking people or are just more blue-collar. Some argue East Texas football has faster players. Another coach says all the players in his program are fighters. These compliments can't be proved, but the following can be.
East Texas has produced some freaks. It is the home of Adrian Peterson, Earl Campbell, Billy Sims and a long list of legends. These high school coaches still marvel at Dez Bryant and all of those elite Big 12 players who started in East Texas.
And the area is about to enjoy another bountiful crop of big-time recruits in the 2014 and 2015 classes. This year's class already has two of the state's top 10 prospects, ESPN 150 receiver K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant) and Baylor athlete commit Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau), plus four-star Texas A&M commits Josh Walker of Gilmer and Jamal Jeffery of Lufkin.
The 2015 group should be even better and features perhaps the state's No. 1 prospect, Gladewater defensive tackle Daylon Mack, plus six others who hold early Big 12 offers.
For the full story, check out ESPN's HornsNation .
Watson feeling the pressure of the SEC
Clemson commit Deshaun Watson made a secret trip to Auburn last weekend. Will he be able to resist the pull of the SEC?
It's easy to see what's happening here.
Whether he gave in to the pressure in May -- days after the end of his junior year -- or if it happened in the fall of his senior season, Watson could never be counted as a recruiting victory for Clemson until he arrived on campus to begin school in January.
I visited Watson and Gainesville coach Bruce Miller two weeks ago. Nice people. Watson had good intentions when he committed to Clemson in February 2012, halfway through his sophomore year. And though he's not making any promises, I believe his intentions remain honorable with the Tigers.
But it's nearly impossible for Watson to escape the pressure of Southeastern Conference schools.
Before the interviews at Gainesville High School, I visited downtown. Got a cup of coffee on the town square, which felt pulled straight out of fictional 1955 Hill Valley, Calif., complete with the courthouse, clocktower and everything but the DeLorean time machine.
I chatted with proprietors of a gift shop filled with books, cards, picture frames and SEC football memorabilia. Our conversation turned quickly to football – the SEC brand, of course. They inquired about new member Missouri and whether the Tigers could ever fit in their league.
That's a different tale for another day.
The point is this: There's nowhere to hide around here for Watson, whether he's at home or out on some secret visit to an SEC campus.
Perhaps if he lived 40 miles south in Atlanta, the QB could find a bit of peace among the population.
Not here. Not when the powers of the SEC, who command attention everywhere, march into town in pursuit of Watson. Looks like we're set for a long, hot summer in Gainesville.
Clarett's message resonates at alma mater
WARREN, Ohio -- Maurice Clarett was on top of the world after the 2002 national championship game. But his story since that day might resonate with young athletes even more.
He was a major player in Ohio State's victory over Miami, as he rushed for the winning touchdown and made a game-saving play that still makes the highlight reels. As a freshman, he rushed for 1,237 yards on the season and scored 18 touchdowns.
But that was his only season playing for the Buckeyes. He was dismissed from the team after several troubling incidents and later served a 3½-year prison term for robbery and concealed-weapons offenses.
But this isn't a story about the bad. It's a story about what the former college standout is doing at his high school in Warren, Ohio. More than 10 Division I prospects who play for the Harding Raiders are among the student-athletes getting advice from Clarett.
For the full story, check out ESPN's BuckeyeNation .
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