By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (March 26, 2017) — Tarleton State held its first full-padded practice to conclude its opening week of spring football Saturday. A couple newcomers turned some heads while returning players also strutted their stuff.
The Texans are practicing from 8-10 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then from 10 a.m. until noon each Saturday until Easter, per head coach Todd Whitten. The schedule will be adjusted around and following Easter break, with the spring game set for Monday, April 17 at 7 p.m. All practices, Whitten says, are open to the public.
Saturday’s practice did include a stretch of live ball scrimmage with officials. Here are some news and notes from my perspective:
SIZE, SIZE SIZE:
If you followed Tarleton the past few seasons and walk curiously up to a spring practice to see what the Texans have got, the first thing you can’t help but notice is their sheer size. To say they have linemen transfers who pass the eye test is a little like saying the sun rises in the east.
You can’t miss left tackle Shawn Best, a transfer from Arizona Western College. At 6 feet, 8 inches tall and weighing in at 340 pounds, Best has won a state championship at New Bern High School, began his college career by helping Division I FCS North Carolina A&T to a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title before helping Arizona Western to a Western States Football League conference crown.
There are also newcomers in 6-4, 295 pound lineman Deon Sheppard from San Antonio Highlands by way of Navarro College, where he helped the offense average 45.8 points and 564.2 yards per game. Joan Pruitt, at 6-6, 360 (and really appearing to weigh closer to 400), is another big body. A product of Dallas Bishop Dunne, Pruitt has transferred from Trinity Valley community College, which was 11-1 last season while averaging 49.6 points and 559.6 yards per game. He was an all-district and all-state selection at Bishop Dunne.
BIGGEST HEAD TURNER:
The newcomer who raised my eyebrows a few times for sure was defensive end Gary Moore, who came to Tarleton after making 29 appearances and four starts in three seasons at Texas Tech. He actually spent four years – including a redshirt season – at Tech, and brings his final season of eligibility to Tarleton. Moore appeared in 11 games with one start in both his first two seasons, then made two starts and appeared in seven games as a junior last fall.
At 6-5, 240, Moore’s presence at defensive end has prompted Tarleton defensive coordinator Marcus Patton to move EJ Speed to linebacker. At least that’s where Speed lined up in Saturday’s action, a move that frees him up to use his speed – no pun intended – to make plays all over the field. Moore can make plays all over, too, once pursuing a toss the opposite way and making a tackle on the opposite sideline.
MOST FUN MATCHUP TO WATCH:
It was a battle anytime Moore lined up across from Best with the first team defense and offense on the field. Moore would get penetration, then Best would cut him off. There was good contact between the two at the point of impact, and no doubt each is getting better battling in practice daily.
RETURNERS SEND REMINDERS:
Several players who return from last season reminded the scant crowd in attendance that they can play, too. Tight end Brant Bailey made a couple good grabs over the middle of the field, including holding on through a hard hit that dislodged the extra concussion-prevention padding from his helmet. Bailey burst onto the scene as a freshman last season, and Whitten has big expectations for the Eastland product.
Nick Prestwood broke free from would-be tacklers and generated several whoops and hollers from the offensive sideline on a big play, Del’Michael High had a nice catch and running back Jabari Anderson broke off a few nice runs. Anderson is finally healthy, and his confident body language alone showed he is much more involved in the offensive game planning.
Defensively, there was Speed adjusting to his new role at linebacker. The versatile junior-to-be was a quarterback at North Crowley, when recruiting analysts thought he would play wide receiver or safety at the college level.
SPEAKING OF RUNNING BACKS:
Since he returned to Tarleton in December, 2015, Whitten has said he hopes to find a talented running back and give him his share of opportunities with the football. If Saturday was any indicator, he may have found his guy. Sharing snaps with Anderson and bursting through tackles for extra yardage on a regular basis was Adam Berryman. A Gainesville product, Berryman is a 5-9, 220 pound bruiser who rushed for 1,061 yards in two seasons at Trinity Valley, including 788 yards – 7.7 yards per carry – as a sophomore when TVCC was 11-1. He rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries against East Texas rival Navarro College last September. At Gainesville, Berryman was a three-time all-district pick a two-time all-state honoree and his district’s MVP in 2014.
Talented wide receiver Jeff Thomas was having a big year before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the midst of his best game at Eastern New Mexico and still has not returned. He performed some physical rehab exercises then worked with the chain gang while cheering from the sideline.
Defensive end Chase Varnado played much of last season with an injured shoulder later determined to be a torn labrum. He had successful surgery but is not expected to be full strength until July. Varnado was out on the field with the teams, constantly critiquing and cheering on his fellow defensive ends.
The Flash Today photos by BRAD KEITH