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Finding Division I-caliber athletes in West Texas tougher to doGeorgraphy, commitment play role in number of quality recruits. Danny Servance was still just a young coach trying to learn all he could during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Sneezy Beltran at Abilene, Cedric Benson and Eric Winston at Midland Lee, Roy Williams and John Norman at Odessa Permian. Farther north there was the likes of Kendal Briles and David Thomas at Frenship, Cody Hodges at Hereford and Kevin Curtis and Mike Smith at Coronado.
Servance remembers what it was like back then, with college coaches doing everything within their power to get these prized recruits on campus. Servance said Coker told him that’s all he needed to know, hit the door and was never seen again. It’s a typical scene that plays out hundreds of times across the state every season, coaches trying to gauge the interests of 17- and 18-year-olds who are busy trying to simultaneously gauge the interest from each school. That’s a big reason why most high-profile Division I college football players from the state of Texas come from the “Interstate 35 Corridor” between Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and down to Houston.
And it’s why, by comparison, few Division I athletes seem to be signed out of the West Texas area from west of Abilene and north of Interstate 20. Perhaps for the first time since the era that produced Briles, Thomas, Smith, Curtis and others, the South Plains might have its best crop of potential Division I talent. Four players — running back Robert Johnson of Estacado, defensive end Devondric Meadows of Coronado and running back Jarek Black and tight end Cameron Knight of Shallowater, have either drawn interest from or committed to Division I colleges. The recruitment of Johnson slowed down some after he missed most of the 2012 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Black burst onto the scene last season, averaging well over 280 yards per game and was well on his way to a 3,000-yard season before suffering a broken hand against the Matadors. Slaton quarterback Bryce Whaley, listed in Texas Football’s Top 300 as an athlete, was the Offensive MVP of the NFL Developmental Camp held at Coronado this summer.
There are currently 495 schools in the state in Classes 5A and 4A competing in varsity athletics.
The number of high school football players from this area signing with major Division I colleges the last five years has been almost non-existent. Former Monterey receiver Arrius Holleman (class of 2010) has had two unproductive years at SMU, missing all but two games last season due to an injury.
The opportunities to sign with major Division I colleges come few and far between for players on the South Plains. Lubbock Independent School District athletic director Mark Ball was the head coach at Wylie High School before arriving in Lubbock.
In the Lubbock area only three schools, Frenship, Cooper and Shallowater, have true indoor turf-field practice facilities. LISD schools each have what is called a “turf room,” but is basically a gymnasium with carpet on the floor that isn’t big enough to work on the kicking game or the passing game very effectively. Ball said there have been conversations about constructing indoor practice facilities for the four LISD schools and that there is interest in making that happen.



But he added that producing Division I talent goes beyond just having the nicest facilities.
That’s why one of the improvement projects for LISD in the near future is to construct tracks at all middle school football fields in order to begin building speed at as early an age as possible. He mentioned schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex that have turned their strength and conditioning programs over to Performance Course, a company that, according to its website, “combines proven strength and conditioning principles with the latest methodologies to give the participant the top athletic performance program in the nation.” Not any one single factor will help create more Division I athletes in West Texas.
Because right now, it’s got to be absolutely worthwhile for college coaches to step foot in West Texas. Even large schools like the University of Texas — which has all the money it needs to spend on whatever it needs within its athletic budget — have to be frugal sometimes.
Longhorns head coach Mack Brown said recently he has six coaches who recruit West Texas, which is actually up significantly from what it was in the past. By contrast, the University of North Texas in Denton, which in terms of student population is actually the fourth largest university in the state behind Texas, Texas A&M and Houston but just this year moves up from the Sun Belt to Conference USA, can dedicate just one full-time assistant coach to recruit West Texas, leaving the area south of I-20 to graduate assistants. Some of the larger universities such as Texas have been able in recent months to create new staff positions related to finding high school talent. Suddes, Rucker and Shipley can’t recruit, but they can hit the phones, mercilessly turning over every stone for Division I talent. Of course, there is the BCS school right in Lubbock, buzzing with excitement over the beginning of the Kliff Kingsbury era.
Having college coaches show up on their doorsteps always has and still does make an impact on high school coaches and players.
It started out as a way for coaches to be able to scout opponents without having to travel long distances, an answered prayer in West Texas. Two years ago, Hudl acquired Digital Sports Video, which had film on schools nationwide, and that led to the creation of Hudl Recruit with the specific intent of increasing exposure for potential Division I athletes. Gries said roughly 70 colleges, including most schools in the four major conferences (Big 12, SEC, ACC, Pac 12), subscribe to Hudl Recruit. But that has also taken away some of the face-to-face recruiting that high school coaches say makes a difference. Now, however, the occasion is rare for a college coach to walk through the door at Chapman Fieldhouse, a change he’s getting used to. Missionary Church with a Wesleyan Arminian theological construct an hour north of Detroit located on the banks of the Saint Clair river.
He was coaching at his alma mater, Odessa Permian, and was fortunate to watch some of the best football players ever produced west of Fort Worth.
He remembers when former Miami coach Larry Coker, now at UT-San Antonio, came down to take a look at Williams, a standout receiver for the Panthers. But it also illustrates how precious the time is for college recruiters, who these days can ill-afford to miss on a player. Black enters the season with offers from Air Force and UT-El Paso, both of whom also offered Knight.
But he is expected to be 100 percent going into his senior season and is listed as a three-star recruit by 247 Sports.


He returned for the playoffs but injured a shoulder, finishing his season with 2,326 yards and 29 touchdowns.
He’s been known as much for his blocking on the edge, but could be more of a factor in the passing game this season. Brownfield quarterback Sha’Colby Hill is listed as one of the top juniors in the state, and Estacado receiver Veshondrick Hastings is one of the top sophomores.
Of that number, only 45 are situated west of Abilene and north of or right on Interstate 20. Walters and former Frenship quarterback Seth Doege (Texas Tech), who actually never played a down for the Tigers after tearing the ACLs in both his knees in successive seasons after transferring from Crane after his sophomore season, are the last two area players to make impacts at a BCS school.
New Deal’s Stephen Bryant (class of 2009), a junior tight end at TCU, was slated to be the Horned Frogs starter until suffering a season-ending injury in a preseason scrimmage. Most area football players wind up signing with local colleges like West Texas A&M in Canyon, Eastern New Mexico in Portales or Wayland Baptist in Plainview. Several 5A schools in West Texas have them as well, including Odessa Permian and both San Angelo schools. More specifically, a dedication to doing things in the offseason, such as 7-on-7, lineman challenges and, more importantly, weight training, in order to produce Division I-caliber athletes.
But a commitment to all of them combined could close the gap between east and west of I-35. But those coaches aren’t just going to come this way looking at every possible athlete they hear about.
Brown recently hired Patrick Suddes away from Alabama to serve as his Director of Player Personnel, and along with that hired former high school coach Ken Rucker as his Director of High School Relations and Player Development and former Brownwood coach Bob Shipley, father of UT receivers Jordan and Jaxon Shipley, as a football analyst. He and his assistants have been able to make an impact in recruiting because most of the assistants aren’t that far removed from their playing days, and many of them like Smith (Coronado), Curtis (Coronado), Sonny Cumbie (Snyder) and Eric Morris (Shallowater) played locally. Hudl, based in Lincoln, Neb., takes a team’s game film and puts it onto an online server, and schools can subscribe to Hudl to view an opponent’s game film, much the same way they would by trading film after games or during the week.
Brandon Gries, an event coordinator and public relations representative with Hudl, said players can go in and pull individual clips that they can then use to make their own online highlight videos that can be sent out or access granted to college coaches to view. Colleges can now purchase packages to watch video highlights of thousands of recruits across the country. As a head coach near Tampa, Fla., Strunk was at one of those schools where college coaches were constantly coming through the door — the “I-4 Corridor” in Florida. He’s back as a senior, giving the Mustangs a boost on the end, and automatically becoming one of the top recruits in the area. He’s also been on a college staff at Purdue that preferred Texas athletes because they were the most ready to play as freshmen due to how they were coached and developed in high school.




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