By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (April 1, 2015) — It was widely believed EJ Speed would change positions at the college level.
But nobody, except perhaps Tarleton State head coach Cary Fowler, believed he would change sides of the ball.
But it’s not an April Fool’s Day joke, nor is it just a spring ball experiment, Fowler says.
Speed, a star quarterback at North Crowley, redshirted last year, and began the transition to what many believed would be his ultimate position – wide receiver.
But with Tarleton halfway through spring ball, Speed, who measures at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, is lining up at defensive end. And Fowler couldn’t be more pleased with his progress.
“Oh my goodness, he’s come so far so fast,” said Fowler. “He’s gaining the weight he needs to play there and he has unbelievable athleticism for that position. He has the level of athleticism when Rufus Johnson (now with the New England Patriots) was there a few years ago.”
And Speed isn’t the only athlete turning heads at a new position, or on a different side of the ball.
Cody Burtscher has also moved positions. After two seasons contributing to the running back rotation, Burtscher, a Glen Rose product who will be a junior this fall, is now playing linebacker.
“Cody is a good running back, we know that. But we have running backs all over the place now, it’s a position where we have a lot of depth. Cody is as good a defensive player as he is an offensive player, we knew that when he came here out of high school,” said Fowler. “This gives us the chance to get the maximum we can get out of Cody, and still be good in the backfield.”
The running back depth remains intact without Burtcher in the equation because of a Division I transfer from Incarnate Word. Joseph Sadler was one of the nation’s leading scorers as a running back at Devine, southwest of San Antonio, and spent one year at UIW, a former Lone Star conference member that has completed two seasons of play in Division I FCS as part of the Southland Conference.
“He was a kid we wanted out of high school, but he wanted to go Division I,” said Fowler. “He played some for them last year, but he wanted out and now we got him.”
Sadler joins a backfield that already includes talented young runners in past Oil Bowl MVP Jabari Anderson and past 4A 100 meter champ Glenn Roberts.
Not everybody had to change positions to catch their head coach’s attention. Stephenville products Chase Varnado, a defensive end, and Alex Sanchez, a receiver, have been impressive, says Fowler, who also noted the progress of Tyler Pettit in the secondary. Pettit did make a slight move, going from cornerback to safety.
“They’re doing great. Chase is a great competitor who is going to be a great player for us, and Alex keeps getting better and is such a strong receiver,” said Fowler, who coaches defensive backs and has also named himself defensive coordinator. “Tyler has come a long way. I’m playing him from the safety position, and he’s just learning every day and finding a way to make plays.”
Fowler said his primary concerns the rest of spring ball are the continued development at the linebacker and secondary positions and among the second-team offensive linemen.
“We have a lot of good athletes in our linebackers and secondary kids, we just need to see them to keep learning the game and our schemes so they will be in a position to help us this fall,” said Fowler. “On the offensive line, we have some starters who have been with us a long time now, and we know what we have in those guys. I’m looking to see who the guys are who will step up and push those guys to make them better. If you can’t push the guy ahead of you, then how am I supposed to know you can help us on game day.”
Tarleton, 5-5 last season, has its annual spring game set for 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 18, at Tarleton Memorial Stadium.