Next in line is receiver Chris Jones of 2008 2A state champion Daingerfield.
The 6-1, 165-pounder with real speed wasn't on the radar of many, if any, as a sophomore or early in his junior season. Even though Jones finished the season with 1,045 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns on 45 catches as well as 340 rushing yards and six additional scores, he didn't become a dominant force until midway through the 2008 season.
Daingerfield head coach Barry Bowman, who played collegiately for Louisiana Tech and two years in the NFL, says Jones came of age and his improved play snowballed.
"Well, obviously he's a very special player," said Bowman. "He's really kind of come out of nowhere in the last year or so. As a sophomore, he played really in a back-up role until we got to Tatum in the second round of the playoffs. He played a lot the last four or five ball games. He had a real good summer. With our tough non-district schedule, he really didn't stand out until we hit district and then it just snowballed."
While Jones has been talked about as a receiver only since his commit, he has a body type and skill set that could be attractive to defensive back coaches on the island. Coach Bowman thinks Texas is set on him as a slot receiver.
"I think he's going to be a receiver. The trips he has made to Austin this spring, listening to Coach McWhorter, they are looking at him as a slot receiver. I know Coach Davis was really excited about him in the slot when we were down there. In spots, he will play some defensive back for us, but not much," Bowman said.
Because of Jones' legit 4.4 type of speed, defensive backs give ample cushion to the future Longhorn. As he prepares for the next level, working against man press coverage is an area his coach believes he has to work on.
"Releasing off the line of scrimmage is going to be a transition for him from high school to the college level. At our level of play, he's not going to get any press man coverage because of his speed. I know that is something we work with him on, but he'll have to improve in that area and he will. He'll figure it out. Two, he has to understand that everybody he's going to play with in a year's time is going to be just as good. Continuing to work and understand he'll have a role at that level is key. Chris has grown up mentally in the last couple of years. That's been the thing that has enabled him to have this opportunity. That is the thing I'm most proud of," Bowman said.
On Thursday afternoon after Daingerfield wrapped up their athletic period workout, it was easy to see what Coach Bowman was speaking about. Jones is focused on improvement, leading and having the chance to play for another 2A crown.
"Winning the title has made an impact in Daingerfield," Jones said. "We haven't won it in about 25 years. Everybody has been waiting for us to bring it back. Ever since the title game, it's been different here. Being in this position with incoming players that will have to play, we have to have focus. Just because we won it doesn't mean we will again. I need to become a leader. Step up and take control of things along with our quarterback, but he's only 15 years old. I've been trying to help the young guys with basics like route running. They are listening and following along. We just have to get them to listen to coach and be coachable."
While Jones' main focus is on preparing for the regional track meet and helping the younger players get ready to help make another title run, he takes the time to think about playing at Texas every day. The family atmosphere put the Longhorns over the top over offers from Oklahoma, Texas A&M and TCU among others.
"I picked Texas because of the family atmosphere and tradition. It's more than football at Texas. I grew up a Texas Longhorns fan as well as other colleges, but there has always been something about Texas. It was fun watching the team play (spring game). It made me want to be there worse than anything. It was crazy. Coach McWhorter and I talk often. We talk about the players, incoming players, my position, the offense and everything else," Jones said.
There are currently 17 players on NFL rosters from 1A, 2A and 3A programs in East Texas.