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April 10, 2009

Bringing out the best

SPRING -Some of the state's best high school football talent gathered together Saturday for a glimpse of what the future may hold.

More than 130 football players from across the state took the field for TheOldCoach.com's invitation-only combine at Spring Westfield High School.

The day started with what is comparable to the NFL combine. The athletes went through the same tests as college football players undergo in preparing for the NFL draft.

The 40-yard dash, shuttle run, vertical jump, broad jump and bench press were the five disciplines participants were tested on.

"We kind of set up this format to help these kids get recruited," said combine coordinator Steve Clements, a former Huntsville Hornet who played college football at Texas and then at Brigham Young.

"A lot of combines out there invite everybody. We just wanted the recruitable-type athletes because it's not fair to the athletes that come to these things expecting that they'll get their name and their face out there when the talent level is just not there. So we wanted to create an atmosphere where they got through the testing that all the NFL guys do and the college coaches look at closely."

Afterwards, players were split up into groups by position. Each group had coaches from the Houston area began working on position-specific drills.

Defensive lineman worked on their stances and exploding off the snap. Running backs ran drills on making quick cuts and running between defenders.

"It was fun," Huntsville junior defensive lineman Quenntin Tucker said. "We're probably going to take most of it back to Huntsville and tell some of the coaches about it and try to get some of that going."

"It was a good experience," Hornets sophomore defensive lineman Jamaal Lenoir said. "There were some good coaches out here and they taught us some different drills."

After about an hour and a half, the groups then competed against one another in one-on-one drills.

Wide receivers battled defensive backs, running backs going against linebackers and offensive and defensive linemen went at it with the goal of either protecting or getting to a quarterback dummy in three seconds.

"We got to be physical with each other in the one-on-ones," Huntsville junior defensive lineman Forbes Baggett said. "That's what I liked."

The Hornets competed against some of the best athletes the state has to offer and walked away feeling pretty good.

"I think it's always good to come in and compete against the best in Texas," Hornets junior running back Joseph Maxey said. "It's an honor because they don't just invite anybody. That lets us know that we're some of the top athletes and we can compete against some of the top athletes.

"We know now what things we have to work on. You work hard and run hard. Then you get out here and run against people that work as hard as you or even harder. You've got to work harder to keep up with everybody else and work even harder to pass them up.

"This whole thing was really like a wake-up call. You think you're working out hard and running hard, but there's always someone working harder. We could see that today, so we have to step our game up."

While a good number of invitees still have time left in high school, it wouldn't surprise Clements if some of the players develop and become highly sought recruits like defensive end Alex Okafor of Pflugerville, who is set to play for the Texas Longhorns, and quarterbacks Garrett Gilbert of Austin Lake Travis, another five-star recruit headed to the capital city and Russell Shepard of Cy Ridge who is already on the campus of LSU.

"I think the combine MVP Johnathan Cross from Cy Woods is a stud at wide receiver," Clements said. "I think that Baggett and Joseph can go play somewhere. They impressed us today. Pearland has a quarterback in Trey Anderson, who is a sophomore, that is an absolute stud. I saw him last year. He's going to be the top quarterback in the state in two years. Roland Hannah from Westfield is really good too."

After all the one-on-one drills were completed, Clements spoke to all the players, encouraging them to strive to be not just the best player in their respective districts at their position, but to be the best in the state and in the nation.

"You just have to set goals high and go after it," Clements said. "It's not just about being better than Brenham or Willis. Be better than the Austin Westlakes or the Euless Trinity Trojans or the Katy Tigers. That's what you'd ought to shoot for."

Overall, it was quite an eye-opening experience for the Hornets, who after Saturday, could hardly wait for football season to start back up again.

"You think that just because you're the best at your school and you might be doing everything right and then you come here and it hits you," Tucker added. "I haven't really done anything yet. I've got to step it up. There's always room to improve."

Before all the Hornets started making their way back Huntsville, Clements made sure to speak to them, letting them know that the former Hornets still pay attention to what goes on and have pride in what Huntsville does.

"I told Joseph not to think that the guys that went to Huntsville High School don't follow or don't know what's going on with the football program," Clements added. "With such a small school, there's a lot of pride in Huntsville, Texas. That's part of what makes Huntsville a good place. I still talk to my high school friends all the time.

"Whenever it's football season, we're always talking about Huntsville Hornet football and how they're going to be this year with Maxey and (Justin) Gilbert and Baggett. It's not just football, it's everything. We care about and expect big things. Even though we're a long ways away, we still support them. The amount of support those kids have and may not realize is pretty big. Especially with that class coming in that coach (Mitchell) Coey has, ex-Hornets like myself are expecting big things from those guys."


Gene Schallenberg; Huntsville Item Sports


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