St. Mark's School of Texas
National Rank at WLB: 27
Overall State Rank: 72
Star Rating ***
An Inside Texas conversation with St. Mark's head coach Bart Epperson on Emmanuel Acho:
Inside Texas: Interesting to have two UT-quality athletes roll through this program again.
IT: What are Emmanuel's strengths and weaknesses?
Epperson: His strengths are his instincts and his pursuit angles are unbelievable. He's got great closing speed. He packs a punch when he tackles. He led our team with 14 sacks and that's just feeling the snap count and timing it up right. He's a student of the game, I tell you. Ever second I walk through here, Emmanuel's in here watching film. When we go out there on Friday nights, he was directing everyone at every position, what they needed to be doing.
IT: Like a coach on the field.
Epperson: Without a doubt. He was pretty remarkable. And his weakness? It'd be interesting to find a weakness right now. Honestly. He was that dominant. I would say dropping into coverage, because we blitzed him so much, so I don't know. Honestly I do not know a weakness he has.
IT: I guess a better way to word it, then, would be 'areas to work on' so he can make that jump to the Division I level.
Epperson: Areas to work on would be shedding the block if we didn't blitz him and he was sitting in the hole. I'd say that'd be the one area, if breaking him down on all aspects of his linebacker play, would be shedding a block effectively every single time. Instead of 80 percent, let's try to make it 100 percent.
IT: Did you move him around the field a bit?
Epperson: Yeah, we treated him like a monster back. He went inside, outside, A, B, C, D, everywhere. We'd drop him down into a Tampa 2 and have him cover the middle of the field. Very little we were doing that; more times than not we were bringing him.
IT: How would you compare him to his brother, Sam?
Epperson: He has the same work ethic as Sam and he's probably more athletic.
IT: Than Sam is?
IT: Sam had a good year at Texas.
Epperson: Sam did really well as a freshman. Their quickness is great, their instincts and they both really study the game.
IT: So would you say Sam is much bigger, more the 'bull', whereas Emmanuel is much more the refined athlete?
IT: What was the dynamic like when those two were on the field together?
Epperson: The complete team. They're very positive to everyone. You won't find them being negative at all, even if there's a big play given up. Extremely positive, telling them, 'Hey, let's work on this' or 'Hey, let's work on this.' With both of them on the field, team, that's all it is.
IT: Was Emmanuel a vocal leader? Did he just show it on the field or was he one of those guys who'd get up in front of the team?
Epperson: Not overly vocal, but there's a time and place for everything. If things weren't going great, he'd be vocal. For the most part it was, 'We've got a job to do. Let's hold ourselves accountable and get after it.' We only lost one game and that was probably the game he was most vocal because we were doing some uncharacteristic things. He just gets after it.
IT: Is there an individual moment you can think of that it hit you that Emmanuel is a special player?
Epperson: Probably when we started our summer strength training and him holding everybody accountable and a making phone calls and making sure everybody got up here. We averaged probably about 20 before that. We had 45 in the summer and that was him pounding the phones and making sure everybody got there so we could have an opportunity to win the championship. Right there it showed it meant a lot to him.
IT: Is there a game that stands out or a play from this past year?
Epperson: There was a fourth down stand in the first game when he went right through and lit up the running back, right through the A-gap. They were trying to power it in on us and he slipped through and made an excellent form tackle that kick-started everything for him that season. And then there were the three sacks and multiple tackles for loss in the state championship game.
IT: So he's got a good nose for the football.
Epperson: His spacial awareness inside and outside the box is probably one of the best I've seen.
IT: How much can you coach that kind of thing?
Epperson: I don't think you can make it. You can try to improve it, but as an athlete, you have to have those instincts of your awareness on the field. Great athletes have that spacial awareness and he has it. Yeah, we do certain drills in practice, pursuit angles, but it's something he's just had over the years.
IT: Do you have a sense of how he's received by the general student body?
Epperson: Big brother. They really see him as a big brother. He's very low keyed when he walks around. He's not boasting at all. He's really good to all of the kids, because this (school) is 1st through 12th. You always see him high-fiving the little kids and talking to them.
IT: Was he here all twelve years?
Epperson: No, he came in in the fifth grade. So he's been here eight years.
IT: Did you see a blossoming of his leadership after Sam left? I was curious about the dynamic of having an older brother on team at the same time. Is there an sense he deferred to Sam a bit because he was older?
Epperson: I think because Sam was going to be a senior, not because he was his older brother. 'You're a senior. This is your team. Here you go.' Emmanuel, when he was a junior did some things behind the scenes that I didn't see, get the junior class together, working hard, whatnot. But it was more because Sam was a senior. I think that's something great about them both being at UT because Sam can say, 'You don't need to worry about that,' or 'That you can stay away from.' I think they'll be an excellent fit, honestly, because of how their family is, caring for one another.
IT: Was Emmanuel on his family's trip Nigeria over the Christmas break?
Epperson: Yes, the medical trip where they go to different villages.
IT: And then they go again in the summer, correct?
IT: What has he told you about his experiences in Africa?
Epperson: Pretty remarkable. They do all these different operations in a four by four room with hardly any light, seeing all these people that are extremely needy and they're there helping them, giving everything for free. It's pretty eye-opening for him.
IT: Doing research for the story on Sam last year, it was amazing. I mean, the mortality rate and the HIV rate. The country's median age is 18.7 years? That's incredible.
Epperson: I don't know all the statistics, but it's incredible.
IT: It's always interesting to find out things like that about a player. People know a player's stats, but it's fascinating to see things like that and get to know him better.
UT Signing Day Bio: A two-time All-Southwest Preparatory Conference (SPC) performer ... versatile three-sport letterman who also lettered in basketball and track and field ... earned nine letters as a prepster ... a member of ESPN's top 150 national prospects ... tabbed the state's top linebacker by Dave Campbell's Texas Football ... a first-team member of Dave Campbell's Super Team ... helped St. Mark's to a 32-9 record during his four seasons and a Southwest Preparatory Conference Championship as a senior ... posted 210 tackles in his last two years as a prepster ... was named captain by his teammates as a senior ... earned All-SPC and was named the team's Most Valuable Player ... notched 107 tackles and 15 sacks ... tallied six tackles, a sack and a forced fumble against Dallas Episcopal ... recorded a season-high 12 tackles and two sacks in a win over Oklahoma City Casady ... tabbed All-SPC as a junior ... named the team's Defensive Most Valuable Player ... recorded 103 tackles and forced five fumbles ... also was a four-year letterman in track and field, throwing the shot put and discus ... boasts personal bests of 52'6" in the shot put and 156'10" in the discus ... two-year letterman in basketball with career averages of 10 points and eight rebounds per game ... Born 11/10/90 in Dallas, Texas ... full name is Emmanuel Cinedum Acho ... middle name means "God is my leader" ... brother, Sam, is a sophomore defensive end at Texas ... both parents, Sonny and Christi, were born in Nigeria ... mom, Christi, ran track at University College Hospital in Nigeria ... member of the Honor Roll all four years of high school ... served as Class Secretary as a junior ... spends time each summer taking mission trips to Nigeria to perform mission work and helping provide medical care ... has also served as a counselor at summer basketball camps.
Up next: Brock Fitzhenry