Inside the Class of '06: Dustin Earnest

The 7th in a daily series of 25 interviews and photo essays on members of the Longhorn Class of '06: Signee Dustin Earnest.

Dustin Earnest
Texarkana Texas High School
NR: 13 SR: 11 Star Rating: ****

An Inside Texas conversation with Texarkana Texas High head coach Barry Norton on Dustin Earnest:

IT: What are Dustin’s strengths as a football player?

Norton: Dustin obviously has all the physical tools. He's 6-foot-3, about 220, he runs real well, so he has all the physical things. I think the things that may separate Dustin a little bit is his understanding of the game, his willingness to study the game, and his desire to be the very best he can possibly be. Dustin's a kid we've had through time that we had to ask him, Time to go home, get out of the weight room, you've run enough. That type of kid. But he's got great instinct and he really, really takes coaching and understands the game really well.

IT: Is the instinct and understanding something that he displayed early on in his career or is it something that has developed as he's developed and matured as a football player?

Norton: I think as a sophomore, the thing that held Dustin back was he was almost too coachable in that he tried to do everything exactly right, exactly like the coach said, but then you started to see more natural instincts take over along with the coaching which I think is really important for a player. By the time he was a junior he was an outstanding player and obviously his senior year he had a great year, but he's a kid that -- there were times I would tell him, Dustin, go mess up, just go screw up, because he tried to do everything exactly right and he worked really, really hard at doing everything exactly right. His desire to be good is probably greater than any kid I've ever coached. He really wants to be a really good player. He wanted to be a great player here at Texas High and he wants to go be a great player at The University of Texas, so they're getting a special young man in Dustin. I've always told everybody that Dustin's a kid that you want your son to grow up to be like; not as a player but just as a person, as a young man, and he's the one you want your daughter to marry someday. He's the total package. Great kid, great player, great work ethic, everything. I can't say enough good things about Dustin.

IT: How did that desire he had translate into work ethic?

Norton: Talking with his mom, he's always wanted to play football and he's always loved football and he's real mature and I think that's something you don't see forever in a lot of kids -- it takes a long time -- and he really matured early in that he understood what he wanted to do, that football was really important to him, and he's been willing to make the sacrifice and the commitment to be a good player, to be the best he can be. He's a workout warrior. He stays in the weight room and works and runs and if he finds an area that he's not as strong in then that's what area he works in to try to strengthen. So he's just a mature kid that really, really understood what he wanted to do. I'll never forget, I asked him one day, Dustin, where do you want to go to school. And he said, Coach, I want to go somewhere where it's warm. This was his junior year, and I said, Well, there's a lot of places that are warm, and linebacker coach Darren Preston said, Coach, he told me he wanted to go to Texas, and I said, Is that right, and he said, Coach, that's where I've always wanted to go. That's when I talked to coach Brown to get the ball rolling and he was offered shortly thereafter, so he's had a goal, he wanted to play at Texas and he's worked hard to be there. The Longhorns are going to have a fine, fine young man on their team.

IT: What did the Texas coaches tell you that they like about Dustin?

Norton: Just watching him and watching tape and seeing him athletically and the way he plays, it makes him recruitable. I think the thing that separates him, that Mack really looks hard at and that he really wants is kids that are going to be really good academically. He's a great student academically and he's a great kid and I think those qualities are evident in the Longhorn program and I think that was really big in the recruitment of him because he's as fine a young man as their is so I think that was big, plus, he's got everything you're looking for. His size, speed, everything is there and the natural ability to play football is there so I think he's a guy you can't help but like.

IT: What are the things you think Dustin needs to work on to succeed at the next level?

Norton: I think the thing that all high school linebackers have to come out with and be better in is coverage and I think that's something he'll continue to work on. I think that is a big deal in coming from high school because we see some teams that throw it but the passing game is not as intricate as it is in college football and the linebacker drops are not quite as critical, so I think that's the area that he'll have to work on. He'll continue to always work on his speed and quickness. Coach Chizik has told him, I don't care how big you are, we want you fast, so he's going to work on his speed and continue to work on maintaining flexibility while staying strong but work on speed and quickness.

IT: Do you have a program that will help him in those areas before he heads to Austin in June?

Norton: Yeah, Dustin is actually staying in our athletic program. He came down and asked if he could help and he does some different things for me at different times and then he gets his workouts in. He'll do a lot of plyometrics, he'll run in track and do everything. I don't know if he'll actually throw the discus and shot in track but then he'll do some running too -- he used to be a hurdler. Just try to maintain his flexibility and work on his speed. They don't have to worry about him. He'll come to the Forty Acres in great shape and ready to go.

IT: He played in the middle for you guys...

Norton: Yes. He played outside linebacker as a sophomore and then moved to the middle his junior and senior year.

IT: Where do you see him playing at the next level?

Norton: I think he can be either one. He's a long, rangy kid so I think he could play outside or he could play inside. I think he could play either one and I think that's something that's good for him. I think he could learn to play any of the three linebacker spots.

IT: What are his current measurables?

Norton: He's six-three, probably 218 to 222.

IT: Is that his playing weight?

Norton: Yeah, he might have gotten down to 215 or somewhere around there.

IT: From a frame perspective, what's his upper weight potential while still keeping his speed?

Norton: I think he can put some weight on. I think he can carry probably 225, 230 pretty easily. And again, I think the thing for him, and coach Chizik has expressed to him, he's looking for guys that can run. And he wants as much speed on the field as he possibly can, so I don't think he's that concerned (with Dustin's weight). Obviously, if you're big and fast, that's good but he wants you fast, No. 1. And Dustin runs real well. But he's got to continually work because everybody at that level is going to be really fast. I think he learned at the U.S. Army all-star game -- if you saw that ball game, as great as the players were, nobody just stood out and really dominated the game because all of a sudden, they're playing against players of equal caliber and I think that was a good game to make him understand what he'll be facing when he gets to Texas.

IT: Has coach Chizik expressed the idea to Dustin that the linebacker position at Texas is pretty open?

Norton: I think what they've told Dustin is, You come in and you can play early, you'll play, if not, you'll redshirt. He's always looking for the best three. I think Mack's approach these last few years, there's not really a starter -- they're playing a lot of kids -- and I think that makes it exciting for a young to kid to maybe go in there and play as a freshman. I've told Dustin, I think personally one of the best things in the world is if you get an opportunity to redshirt and get a year in the program and I think it would be wonderful either way for him. If he's able to play, then he'll be ready, if not, I think a redshirt year will be great for him.

IT: Playing middle linebacker for you, was he the leader of the defense?

Norton: No question. He was the leader of the defense and one of the leaders of the team. Everybody looked to him. He's a really quiet kid, doesn't say a whole lot, but when he does, everybody pays close attention. Kinda like E.F. Hutton, when he speaks, everybody listens. He's a great leader. And he just did it by example, how he worked. First guy to practice everyday, did everything exactly right and a great role model and we'll use his name around here for a long time as how we want kids to be.

IT: You may have just answered this with that last sentence, but what did Dustin mean to your football program?

Norton: I think one thing that Dustin shows everybody is that kids can be successful both places, really good academically and really good athletically. But he also showed the commitment and time that it takes to do those things. I think that's one thing he'll leave and I think that's a great compliment you can give a kid. You can talk about a kid's ability and how they played, and I tell our kids all the time, the ability they have was given to them by God and if that's the case, we can't brag about it too much, but how we use it and how we use all our talents is what we control. So I think Dustin will be known as a great student at Texas High and it'll be a long time before we quit using him as an example with other kids.

IT: Is there anything you'd like to add about Dustin that we didn't already cover?

Norton: You can't say enough nice things. He's one of the best kids I've ever had the opportunity to coach and we'll miss him here but we're really proud for him and his opportunities to play. To get to go play college football at a place where you've always dreamed of playing is really special. We're proud of his opportunity and will follow him closely as a Longhorn.

Also see: ScoutTV: All-American Highlights

UT's Signing Day bio: A two-time all-state selection who competed in the 2006 U.S. Army All-American Bowl … recorded 304 tackles, 24 TFL, seven sacks, five fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and scored five defensive TDs over his final two seasons … named first-team 4A all-state by The Associated Press and earned second-team all-state honors from the Texas Sports Writers Association as a senior … also earned first-team all-region and all-district honors … named district 12-4A defensive MVP … earned a spot on Dave Campbell's Super Team first team in the preseason … registered 140 tackles, 11 TFL, three fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, five sacks and scored three defensive TDs … helped Texas High School to a 9-2 record … played middle LB as a junior … named second-team all-state and district MVP that year … recorded 164 tackles, 13 TFL, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles, two sacks and scored two defensive TDs … also had four rushing TDs … had 19 tackles versus North Lamar … played strongside LB as a sophomore and was named all-district … had 48 tackles, five TFL, three fumble recoveries and two sacks … also competed in track and field and powerlifting … ran hurdles as a freshman and sophomore … competed in the discus as a sophomore and junior and made regionals … a prep honor student who was a second-team academic all-state selection … named a scholar athlete at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl … member of the National Honor Society … member of a leadership class that heads the student council … participated in community service projects, including Christmas caroling at hospitals and hosting a cookout for victims of Hurricane Katrina … interested in architecture and design … full name is Dustin Carlyle Earnest … born on March 16, 1988 in McAllen, Texas … lived in San Antonio from ages 3-14.

"I grew up in San Antonio, and you were either a Longhorn or an Aggie, and I picked the Longhorns pretty early. I stuck with them and it was a dream to play with them, so when they said I could come, I said yes. I liked the way everyone handled themselves there. The facilities they have are awesome, especially the bubble, and they have a nice locker room and weight room. I'm hoping to spend a lot of time in there, so that was a plus. The academics are great and the coaches really made you feel part of the family."


All photos: Will Gallagher/Inside Texas

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