Photo By Greg Powers

Pony Stampede Hilltop Review Jan. 27

Come inside another edition of the Pony Stampede Hilltop Review with the latest updates on new SMU offers and prospect day visitors.

Frisco offensive lineman's recruitment blowing up as SMU offers

By: Billy Embody

2018 Frisco (Tex.) Wakeland offensive tackle Rafiti Ghirmai has blown up with offers from the likes of Texas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and TCU, but SMU was one of the early ones to jump in the mix after stopping by the nearby school last week. Ghirmai also took in SMU's prospect day, where he picked up the offer.

"I wasn't expecting an offer from them, but he showed me around and they invited me into coach Morris' office where they talked with me and my mom for about 45 minutes," "They offered me at the end of the meeting. It's a really big school. I'm blessed I got the offer."

SMU's third-year head coach Chad Morris was complimentary of what he sees in Ghirmai after offering as well.

"Coach Morris made me feel really good about myself. He said I'm one of a kind and all that stuff. I've got size and he sees a lot of potential in me. It just went on from there," Ghirmai said.

The 6-5, 294-pound lineman got the full tour at SMU and came away impressed with its facilities and getting to meet all the coaches.

"I was impressed with their facilities. We got to try on their jerseys and helmets. I got to meet all their coaches and other top prospects. Got to see their hype video too," the 

Ghirmai has been recruited by defensive backs coach Jess Loepp for the past couple months, while also being impressed with offensive line coach Dustin Fry right from the start when he met him.

"Coach Fry is an amazing guy. He had a positive attitude and he made me feel at home. Coach Fry is a good offensive line coach. I also talked with Jacob Todora, who plays right tackle for them and is my old teammate. He always talked highly about him and he talks about how good he is," Ghirmai said. "Coach Loepp is the one that has recruited me out of our area. He's not scared to show his real stuff. He tells you what he thinks and that's what I like. I don't want coaches to sugarcoat it."

There's still room for improvement, says Ghirmai, who is going to work on his explosiveness in the run game this offseason.

"I think I'm real good in pass set. I can honestly say I give my quarterback a lot of time. I'm good in the run game, but I've got to get better there," Ghirmai said.

The future business or engineering major said that it's early in his recruitment, but he's going to narrow some top schools down this spring and take visits.

"It's a school to look at. It's a fantastic school for academics. I haven't really made my first list of top schools, but it's coming. Everything stands out to me right. I haven't narrowed down anything."

Kansas, Colorado and UCF also jumped into the mix with offers this month.

2018 wide receiver one of SMU's top prospects

By: Patrick Engel

Since high schools don’t have class on Martin Luther King Day, SMU has used it as a chance to bring in some top juniors for a visit. This year, one of SMU’s 2018 wide receiver targets paid a visit to Dallas: Magnolia (Texas) receiver Michael Woods and his parents drove up to the Hilltop on an unofficial. He and family couldn’t help but notice the welcoming atmosphere the SMU coaching staff created.

“They’re not like coaches, they’re like family,” Woods said. “They want to get to know you. They’re really cool and they seem really genuine.”

The family atmosphere wasn’t a surprise to Woods, but rather expected based on his previous interactions with the coaching staff since picking up the SMU offer in December.

“Since the contact period started, they’ve been down every chance they could. They’ve been down every week,” Woods said. “I’ve been talking with coach (Justin) Stepp every day, and on the visit they treated us really well.”

Woods’ family got the same down-to-earth, genuine impression of the SMU staff when they met for the first time on the visit. Also apparent was the effort Stepp and the staff has put into recruiting Woods, an effort that trumps all other schools so far. 

“He (Stepp) really wants to get to know me,” Woods said. “He has my whole family’s phone numbers. He’s always checking in. He’s the only one who’s always reaching out and who comes down every time he can.”

On the visit, Woods and his family toured the campus, the football facilities, listened to an academic presentation and even met SMU’s star wide receiver, Courtland Sutton. 

“That’s the guy over there,” Woods said of Sutton. “He’s pretty good.”

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Woods has offers from Northwestern, SMU, Tulsa and Vanderbilt. Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery and Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald and assistants have both been by to see him at school. He said Baylor and Texas A&M have also stopped by.

“They’re all keeping in contact, but SMU is the school that has been contacting me the most,” Woods said.  

Woods says he’s still figuring out where he will visit for junior days in the next couple months. He says he does not have a leader or top school right now.

Local offensive lineman takes in SMU prospect day

By: Demetrio Teniente

It’s been a long winter for 2018 Plano East offensive lineman Tyler Barma.

Halfway through the 2016 season, he discovered that his L5 vertebrae had two fractures. Though he played through the injury, he has been taking the offseason to recover and is anxious to get things back into full gear.

While he has been letting his body rest, Barna hasn’t stopped working.

“I’ve been looking at film,” he said. “Really been working on strengthening my core and my flexibility, but just mostly looking at film and seeing what I can do better there.”

Barna recently visited SMU for the Mustangs’ junior day. It was his second time on campus, after having attended a camp a year ago.

While on the Hilltop, Barna spoke with assistant coaches Dustin Frye and Jess Loepp.

“I really liked them,” Barna said. “They make you feel welcome and like you are the only one there that they are talking to. They seem to have a really good relationship with all of their players.”

Barna really enjoyed his visits and found a lot of things to like about the school, particularly on the academic side.

“I want to go into accounting,” he said. “And SMU is one of the best schools for business. I really liked how you have to stay on campus for at least two years and I like how everything is on campus. And all the facilities that they have for the players are among the top ones that I have seen.”

Barna doesn’t have any offers just yet, but he isn’t too worried about it. He knows that schools are likely being wary of his injury—another reason he can’t wait to get back on the field.  

“Once I get past this, I will have more confidence when I talk to schools,” he said. “I got hurt mid-season and played through it. I’ve been playing football since I was eight. The sudden impact all the time just wore it down. They [doctors] said a lot of linemen in the NFL have had this injury.”  

 Barna doesn’t have any visits planned right now as he is trying to focus on school, but he might start planning some out around Spring Break.

Manvel linebacker liked what he heard at SMU prospect day

Brian Johnson (PATRICK ENGEL)

By: Andrew Hattersley

2018 Manvel HS (Tex.) outside linebacker Brian Johnson was all smiles after his visit to SMU for prospect day, where he got a chance to tour the facilities and have a good talk with coach Morris. 

“I really loved it, it was great I loved the school’s facilities it was like really neat and the coaching staff was great,” Johnson said. 

The 6-1, 180-pound was extremely impressed in coach Morris’s message and just how much he would be able to trust him. 

“He really told me a lot about the school, and about himself and I really love that,” Johnson said, “If I had to go to him I know that I could depend on him since I don’t have my family with me, I’m going to be all alone in Dallas I know that I can go to him if I need anything just the way I first met him.”

Johnson also has a very good relationship with coach McDaniel, who he chats on the phone with regularly and is hoping to hear good news from soon. 

“Me and coach McDaniel have a good relationship, we talk on the phone here and there,” Johnson said, “Coach McDaniel said he’s going to call me so I’m hoping they are going to offer me, as soon as they offer me I’m going to go in there no doubt, I’m going to be down there for another visit because I really loved it.” 

Johnson currently has offers from Tulane, UTSA, Bowling Green, Iowa State, Texas State and is scheduled to take a visit to Oklahoma State this weekend as well. 

Aside from the coaches, the Manvel linebacker also came away very impressed with the weight room at SMU and how they show the growth of some of the players in their locker room. 

“The weight room was so cool, they have a little TV, it was the first day the incoming freshman were coming in and over the past years they’ve really grown,” Johnson told PonyStampede, “I really like the strength coach he really told me a lot, he could manage my weight and get my weight up.” 

Among the highlights of the trip for Johnson was a stop in the SMU locker room, and he sure loved putting on a Mustang jersey for the first time. 

“The locker room was really good, I love the pony in the middle, I like the uniforms and everything, it looked real cool on me when I put my jersey on.” 

SMU extends offer to 2019 quarterback

By: Andrew Hattersley

2019 John Jay HS (Tex.) quarterback Jacob Zeno has a wide range of schools interested in him and he added SMU to the list after they offered him earlier this week. 

“I’m blessed, I just want to thank my coaches, my teammates, my dad, and my coach for pushing me and allowing me to do well,” Zeno said. 

Interest in Zeno picked up after his teammate and close friend Matthew Huhn committed to SMU just a couple weeks before Signing Day. 

“I’m very close to Matthew I talk to him on a daily basis,” Zeno told PonyStampede, “We talk about everything football, academics, life, and with him going to SMU it brings me closer to them because I know if I go there I have somebody to lean on and I have someone that has my back there along with the coaches.” 

A lot of credit has been given to coach Morris for recruiting Clemson quarterback DeShaun to the Tigers and among those giving him his due is Zeno. 

“I think he is a great guy, everywhere he goes he’s great,” Zeno said, “He recruited DeShaun Watson and he says I remind him a lot of DeShaun Watson and I took that as a complement because I work hard every day and DeShaun Watson is one of my favorite football players.”

Like many players, Zeno has aspirations of playing in the NFL, and believes after watching Watson, coach Morris may be the guy to get him there. 

“Since he was able to recruit DeShaun Watson and what he was able to do with the Heisman and winning the National Championship,” Zeno said, “I know that if I was to go there he would groom me and develop me into a better quarterback so that I could potentially go to the NFL.”

Currently Zeno just has an offer from Penn, but is hearing from a number of Power 5 schools in Texas, as well as, LSU.

Louisiana defensive tackle's recruitment picking up steam

By: Demetrio Teniente

It’s been a pretty good five months for 2018 Plaquemine, LA defensive tackle Nelson Jenkins.

He picked up his first offer on September 10 from the University of Louisiana Lafayette. The very next day, he was offered by Kansas.

Now he holds offers from Nicholls State, SMU, UTSA, and Tulane—all of which offered him in January.

Jenkins, who stands at 6-4, 290 pounds, hasn’t let all the recent attention change too much.

“It’s been good,” he said. “Nothing has really, changed but starting to see that schools know who I am is cool.”

SMU, UTSA, and Tulane all offered Jenkins on January 24. It was the first time he had spoken to anyone from the Mustangs, so you’ll have to forgive him for not remembering the coach’s name.  

“One of the coaches sent me a message on Twitter, telling me to hit him up,” Jenkins said. “So I did and he told me they were offering me.”

Last season, Jenkins recorded 52 tackles, five for a loss, six sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles and three fumbles recovered. He says an elbow  injury during the 2016 spring motivated him to have a great junior season.   

“I had injured myself right before my junior year, so I was really looking to get back on the field,” he said. “I wanted to get back into the grind because I had missed a lot.”

Jenkins doesn’t have any solidified plans for visits, but if he goes anywhere he thinks he’ll be stopping by Kansas.

“They’ve been wanting me to go and check them out,” he said. “So I will, but I don’t know when. Other than that I don’t have any other plans.” 


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