Bryson Echols shakes the rust off

SOUTHLAKE, Texas -- As leadoff leg on DeSoto (Texas) High School's sprint relay teams, which is one of the nation's best, Bryson Echols (DeSoto, Texas/DeSoto) has been spending more time this spring with a baton than a football.

The Texas commit admitted to being rusty in Sunday's Dallas Under Armour combine at Dragon Stadium, but still came away with the biggest prize -- an invitation to play in the 2012 Under Armour All America Game.

"It is just amazing, a total surprise,'' said Echols, a cornerback, after being pulled aside and notified by a camp official. "I guess the long hours in the weight room paid off.''

The Under Armour All America Game spotlights the nation's top high school seniors. Echols received All-State recognition for his cornerback play in 2010 on an 11-3 Eagles team that advanced four rounds in the Class 5A Division I state playoffs.

On a damp, chilly day that didn't lend itself to particularly good times in the combine's three tests of speed, the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Echols held his own.

"I felt really loose out there today,'' he said. "I felt faster, probably because of track.''

His 4.55 time in the 40-yard sprint was tied for second best among the 250 camp participants. He also placed in the top 10 in the vertical jump (29.5,) the L-cone drill (7.16) and the 5-10-5 shuttle run (4.25.)

In the heat of the track & field season and with a football scholarship in his pocket, Echols could have spent a relaxing Sunday in his nice, warm residence watching basketball. Instead, he chose to come to the combine to "compete and see how I stack up against the best."

His prior offseason football work has been limited to weight training.

"I don't think I've touched a football since our season ended in December,'' Echols said. "I figured I'd be rusty today, but I think I got better as we went along.''

Echols has a likeable personality. He's a well-mannered yes-sir, no-sir type and thoughtful when answering questions.

Camp secondary coach Don Cox twice in drills pulled Echols aside, put his arm around him and passed along tips. In Cox's view, it is Echols' hips that allow him to be fluid in his backpeddle.

"He has great hips, Even rusty, he's the best defensive back out here,'' Cox said.

And that's saying something considering a fifth of the 250 entrants signed up as defensive backs, the most at any position.

"It might be a problem for some guys to get named to the All America Game, but not Bryson,'' said DeSoto football coach Claude Mathis, an interested spectator. "It should help his confidence, which every cornerback needs.''

As a junior, Echols intercepted five passes, returning one for a touchdown. He also had a fumble return for a score. Mathis said Echols, whom he calls a "lockdown" corner, does not turn into a spectator on running plays.

"He'll come up and hit,'' Mathis said. "And another good trait for a cornerback: He has a short memory. He doesn't let it get him down if he gets beat. He's a fighter.''

When it came to choosing his collegiate future, Echols turned down the opportunity to follow the path of two former DeSoto stars, linebacker Von Miller and running back Cyrus Gray, at Texas A&M.

Instead, he went with A&M's biggest rival at the earliest opportunity after making a visit to Austin.

"I did a lot of thinking,'' said Echols, who also turned down offers from Arizona and North Texas. "It came down to the fact that I loved Austin. It is a great place to go to school.''

Randy Jennings covers high schools for ESPNDallas.com.