NR: 11 (at TE) SR: 26 Star Rating: ****
An Inside Texas conversation with Diboll head coach Finis Vanover on Jermichael Finley:
IT: What are Jermichael's strengths as a football player?
Vanover: Well, he's got the huge body. He's got the skills of a world-class-type athlete in a big frame, in a big man's body. He's still young and there's no telling how large he's gonna be. He's got the work ethic of a lineman as far as weight room, and conditioning, and strength training and speed training, he loves all facets of athletics and the work that you have to do to improve your skills and you throw that skill level and that God-given talent in there with that ethic he's got as far as practice. He probably has as much practice as anybody does playing the game. He understands what it's about and what it's for and the importance of it. It doesn't matter if it's football or basketball, he approaches all of it the same way and that's what makes him so (special).
IT: What did the Texas coaches tell you that they like about Jermichael?
Vanover: Those things there. His body type is just incredible, the Roy Williams-type size and speed and strength. He doesn't have world class sprinter's speed but like he's said, 'Coach, I've never had to run that fast. I can run as fast as I want to.' And I've watched him at the next levels. I've seen him at the big time AAU basketball tournaments and those leagues where he was going to New York and Atlanta and Las Vegas and all points in between and when he plays with those big time guys, he just flies over them and around them and it's an amazing thing, so he has that ability to turn it up a notch or two based on the talent level he's playing against, and that's a sign of those great ones and (the Texas coaches) noticed that. Mack and them four years ago -- we had some young men who were really highly recruited, we had a great bunch of kids for a 3A school, and Jermichael was a freshman and he went to Texas camp that summer, and just wowed 'em, knocked 'em dead at the camp that summer. They called and said 'Who is this Finley kid that you've got. It's just incredible what he just did.' I said, 'He's just going to be a freshman, he's that talented.' It's just that mark they have on them that they're going to be special, God gave them a great blessing of talent and Jermichael fits that group. He's never been guilty of the often-committed act of not using that blessing and that gift and that's what's always made him special for everybody because he's so fun at practice, he's so committed to working out. Last week, the senior class was going up to SFA every day. The English classes were doing their senior research papers. They went to school till 10 and they loaded up all the seniors and went to the library at SFA and they spent each day and they wouldn't get back in time for athletics and he knew he was going to miss weight workouts, so he called me at home concerned about if one of us would get here at 6 in the morning to open it up so he could get his weight workout in before he went and missed school. Usually, and it's a shame to say but that's just the way it's cycled through the days, usually those kind of athletes aren't going to have that type of attitude. Those thoroughbred, prima donna guys, that's just missing in them. When it has to be just on themselves, when they have to be the ones, the difference makers are the ones that do that and he's always been that way. During the Christmas holidays he'll come by, 'Coach, I haven't worked out in about three days. Can I get the keys to the weight room?' Those things catch your eye, doesn't matter who you are, whether you're a high school coach or a college coach at The University of Texas, it doesn't matter. Those things jump out at people especially when you have the stature that he has and that body that he's got and the demeanor. Everything adds up, everything is weighed and measured and everything looked at, and those things just make you want to be with a kid like that.
IT: How big is Jermichael right now?
Vanover: Six-five, 218.
IT: What kind of frame does he have?
Vanover: Oh goodness, he's a 325-pound free weight bench presser. He can do sets and rips with 300 pounds which is nothing at The University of Texas but it is in 3A football in a skilled athlete. He can basically do just anything that we want him to, that's what's amazing. Running, jumping, throwing, catching, it doesn't matter so, he's got a great blessing there and if he wants to use it, he's got a chance to go as far as he wants to.
IT: Are the Texas coaches looking at playing him at tight end, at wide receiver, at both?
Vanover: That's what we've done. He's played inside and outside, and he loves being a wide receiver. Whether he can develop the world class speed that he needs... like I said a while ago that he said the other day, how fast can you run, he said, 'Well, I don't know, I've never had to run that fast.' He's always in front of 'em a step or jumping over the top of them anyway and it's not a boastful thing, it was just a pure unadulterated honest statement from a kid who has that ability. I'm seeing H-back to that extra tight end slot, move him around where he can go in, he can go out, he can go wide, he can go motion, because he's got such a great concept of the game. He understands what's going on out there all the time. He understands movements and shifts and motions and alignments and responsibilities and route changes; he can do all those things and he's just so incredibly gifted at catching the ball. It's just amazing the way he can reach out and catch the ball.
IT: Did Texas look at him as a guy who can realistically play both basketball and football?
Vanover: I know coach Barnes is awfully excited about him coming. He wants to be afforded the opportunity. Now whether he can hold up to the rigors of academics and time constraints on practicing and working out -- they all want to believe that and feel that and I know that he is an incredibly talented basketball player, but he hasn't even scratched the surface yet of what he's going to be as a football player because of his skill level and his body type. You don't find many wide receivers built like that. I don't care if it's a tight end or what. I know that has been discussed very thoroughly by all parties, coach Barnes, coach Brown, Jermichael's family, everybody. It may be a grandiose delusion, but I know the opportunity is going to afford itself because he is that talented.
IT: What are the areas of his game that Jermichael needs to improve upon to be successful at the next level?
Vanover: The intense studying films and opponents and things that he can get by at this level without having to do to their extent. And understanding adjustments. He's so natural athlete and he understands those type of things, like man-to-man and zone coverages and things people are doing to you, through his basketball skills and his playing of that and understanding that, it's amazing... it's easy to apply as a coach and the teaching of it by referring back and forth to those two things and if you can apply your teaching methods like your talking to a basketball player as a football player or in reverse, they can understand talking about screens and picks and slides and working to get open and seeing coverages and changes and being able to adjust his routes and picking up on those things. That's where he's going to have to really concentrate just like any other high school kid but he is so gifted at that I don't see it being a problem at all. It certainly not going to be the work, it's certainly not going to be the physical labor, because we work them to a nub, pretty much unmercifully and he's here before everybody and stays after everybody and he's in the front of every line and he understands that that's what it takes, so that's not going to be a problem. Adjusting to the lifestyle in a very metropolitan area compared to this little sleepy sawmill town may be the hardest thing, I don't know. But he's had such great exposure once again through his basketball travels. This is a kid that's been flying to New York City and Atlanta and Las Vegas and Los Angeles since he was in the 9th grade... That's why I don't think the life adjustment is going to be a problem to him like it would be to some small town kids because he's totally comfortable in New York City for five days, or Atlanta or Los Angeles. It's just going to be the rigors of the intense studying and training that goes with the national championship type I-A football program. Receiver and secondary and offensive linemen may be the most intense in terms of studying and understanding, so that would be my opinion on the biggest adjustment to make.
IT: Is Jermichael a leader, and if so, how does he lead?
Vanover: Tremendous, but it was by example. He has fun but he's not one of those loud, wild TV commercial-type guys. He plays extremely physically; he dishes it out as well as he can take it. And once again, his work ethic inspires all the others around him. He's so unafraid of tremendous physical training and it really motivates the other kids. That's not your norm in today's skilled-athlete personality. He's not afraid of the weight room, he's not afraid of the track or those plyometric boxes, he's not afraid of practicing, drill and drill and drill and going in there throwing blocks for 15 minutes, working on the crossing route 100 times, run the fade route and the try to beat each other up, put two guys on one and give them 12 yards to catch -- there is no interference, do whatever you can to keep him from catching the ball -- 20 straight times, every day. He never gripes; it's all focused on how hard he practices. That's a good leader.
IT: Did he play both ways for you guys?
Vanover: Almost every down as a safety. He was defensive newcomer of the year as a freshman at defensive end for us -- quite an incredible deal -- and then we rolled him back to safety. He's punted, he's kicked off, he's thrown passes. He can do everything. He's just like his half-brother up there at Lufkin (Javorskie Lane) but a better athlete.
IT: What did Jermichael mean to your football program?
Vanover: He meant everything because he is so versatile, he could do so many things for us, and he was so respected by all the other kids but he also personified what we believe in. Two years in a row we've had five kids catch over 20 passes each with him being out there, so it's not where it was just him or nothing. A lot of 'em have a hard time handling that but he never blinked, never winced; he understood. It was just as important for him to explode across and open things up to get someone else open as it was for him to get open and catch a ball... and also to play defense for us and on special teams and return kickoffs and so on and so forth, so he was very important and meant the world to us. But he also knew that from me all the way down, everybody is expendable and we talk to them about that all time. This thing is going to go on no matter whether you're down, or I'm down -- a disgruntled parent shoots me from the stands, whatever -- this baby is still going to keep rolling, and he personified that all the time, always nonselfish. (The basketball coach) has to tell him all the time, 'Stop being so unselfish. Take the damn ball to the goal. If you can score 50, score 50. Stop passing it all the time.'
Note from Clendon: I've included below an in-person scouting report on Jermichael from Brad Allis, the editor of Cat Tracks, the Arizona site on the Scout.com network. The Wildcats, of course, received an early soft verbal from Finley (he pledged last summer after driving down to Tucson from Las Vegas, where he was participating in a hoops competition). The Texas coaches, who always liked Finley, waited till he knocked out a qualifying ACT score in December to seriously pursue him but not surprisingly won over the long-time Longhorn fan in early January. As I wrote on Signing Day, Mike Stoops' gang worked on getting Finley back in the Arizona fold literally until the minute the kid faxed his LOI to Austin (more in next week's Inside Scoop). Obviously, he was wanted in Tucson. Here's the hoops scouting report, written back in May of last year before Finley had made a commitment to play anywhere:
The first thing you notice about Finley is his size. At 6-4 he isnt particularly tall for a wing player, but he is very strong. Hes got a football players build. With his superior strength he is able to fight inside and get to the rack. He is a very good rebounder and uses his muscle to outrebound taller players.
He is also very quick. He has nice speed in the open floor and can also take opponents off the dribble. With legit WR speed, hes got the advantage over most basketball players. His quickness makes him very effective in the open floor and he has the hops to be a very fun finisher.
Where Finley struggles is finishing. Hes not a particularly good shooter and he even has trouble with very easy shots. He will battle on the boards, only to miss several put backs. While he doesnt finish well, his shot looks fairly nice. You can see the potential is there to develop into an effective offensive player.
[Note: Based on feedback, we're going to include UT's Signing Day bio in each of the remaining Inside the Class of '05 installments.]
UT Signing Day bio: A four-year starter at tight end has also played defensive end, wide receiver , safety, punter and kicker owns school career records with 316 receptions, 30 TD catches and 2,217 receiving yards named first-team 3A All-State by the Texas Sports Writers Association and second-team 3A All-State from The Associated Press as a senior also tabbed first-team All-District (21-3A) played primarily TE, WR and safety, and recorded 36 catches for 878 yards (a school single-season record) and 10 TDs that year also punted for a 37.9-yard average, kicked off and played an average of 101 snaps per game helped Diboll to a 6-5 record and Bi-District Finals in 2004 named first-team All-District as a junior set school records with 13 TD catches and a 98-yard TD reception that year led team to 8-4 record and 3A-Division II area finals in 2003 named District Offensive Player of the Year in football and District MVP in basketball as a sophomore also an all-state small forward basketball selection averaged 24 points and 20 rebounds through 22 games as a senior led Diboll to an 18-4 record in that span had a season-high 48 points versus Kountze led Diboll to a 33-3 record as a junior a prep honor roll student who is a two-time Academic All-District pick participates in his church youth group active in the local Boys and Girls Club enjoys listening to music.
NEXT UP: CHRIS HALL