Cougs eye another Texan: Pawelek is old school

<B>IF YOU LIKE throwback football players -- hard-nosed linebackers that'll smash another guy in the mouth and then turn around, line up and do it again -- then you'll love <b>Joe Pawelek</b>, says his high school coach.

"He's the best football player that we've ever had, regardless of position," said Smithson Valley coach Larry Hill of Joe Pawelek, the 6-3, 217-pound linebacker from Spring Ranch, Texas.

Strong stuff, considering the history and tradition of Smithson Valley -- a team that over the last eight years, has lost a total of eight regular season games.

"He's just a football player," said Hill. "There are linebackers that are bigger, there are some that might move a little bit better. And then there's those that understand the game -- But none do that as well as Joe. At the end of the day, he's going to have 18-20 tackles. He's just a great tackler in space."

Washington State has offered Pawelek, as has Houston and Baylor. He will trip to Pullman the weekend of Jan 21.

"He very likely may go out of state. I know he's excited about going up to Pullman next week."

Pawelek plays on a perennial powerhouse in Smithson Valley. The Rangers have advanced to the state title game three of the last four years, this season dropping a heartbreaker to the No. 1-rated high school team in the nation on a field goal as time expired. Because Smithson Valley's season lasted until Christmas, Hill said teams may now be regretting not having given Pawelek as much of a look as other players.

"He's not an early commit guy. So as it worked out, he will only have had three or four weekends to take trips. So there's some Big 12 teams, like UT and A&M and others that by and large get theirs done by early commit, that might be kicking themselves a little bit at this point."

"Because here is clearly one of the premier players in Texas."

SMITHSON VALLEY competes in the highest classification in the Lone Star state. Over 16 games, Pawelek logged 201 tackles with 15 of them tackles-for-loss. He also forced 7 fumbles, picked off a pass, blocked 3 kicks and recovered 6 fumbles.

"He's just all over the place," said Hill.

Pawelek garnered a slew of postseason awards and honors this season, including the San Antonio Express-News Area Defensive Player of the Year and was named first team All-District and selected to the AP All-state team.

Pawelek is just as impressive in the classroom, earning first team honors from the Texas High School Coaches Association on it's Academic All-state football team. Pawelek also excels on the baseball diamond, Hill saying he has received interest from major league teams as well as Div 1 scholarship offers, although football appears to be where Pawelek would like to make his mark.

LINEBACKERS MAKE UP the heart of special teams units. Hill emphasized that Pawelek was simply a huge performer on special teams in addition to his exploits from his 'backer position.

"He was an unbelievable special teams player. Some of the blocking he did for us on kickoff returns, the tackling that he did on kickoff coverage -- it just indicates a player that can really play out in space."

Pawelek was the heart and soul of Smithson Valley this year, doing all of those things like calling out keys to the other players on their assignments, spending extra time in the film room, getting the rest of the team to spend more time on film work.

"Our whole team feeds off of him," said Hill. "As great a player as he is, I think the best compliment you can pay a player is that he makes everyone else around him better. He has the unique ability to understand the entire game."

AT 6-FOOT-3 and 217-pounds, Pawelek is already one heck of a football player but Hill said he's going to be something to behold once he gets in a college program and begins his tutelage under a good strength coach.

"I think he probably has not yet scratched the surface on how big he's going to get."

Nor on how good a football player he's going to be.

WSU already has two verbal commitments from Texas in its 2005 recruiting class -- RB Demaundray Woolridge and safety James Bradley -- and had a third in LB Marcus Burton before he switched to Colorado.

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