BY RYAN COX
TSU ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS
The record-setting 2018 Tarleton Football team turned heads across the country all season long.
From unranked to start the season, to an undefeated regular season and outright Lone Star Conference championship that led to a top five national ranking, teams took notice. Not just NCAA Division II teams, but NFL teams.
The Texans started the year 12-0 – the longest winning streak in program history – advancing to the regional finals, a spot no Texan team has ever been in the NCAA era.
With an explosive offense and lockdown defense, talent was spread all across the field. The Texan roster featured over 20 players that combined to receive All-American, All-Region, and All-Conference awards. Now those decorated players are starting to get noticed by NFL scouts.
Running back Xavier Turner, defensive tackle Tyrell Thompson, and linebacker EJ Speed all have the attention of scouts with hopes of getting drafted on April 25-27 to fulfill their lifelong dreams.
“It’s truly a dream come true,” said Thompson. “But just hearing my name called or getting a phone call isn’t enough. I definitely want to make it through rookie minicamp and then training camp and suit up on a 53-man roster or practice squad come fall 2019.”
All three have begun the draft process of working out in front of NFL scouts and going through Pro Days in preparation of the draft.
“The draft process has been hectic,” added Thompson, who finished his two-year Texan career with 103 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. “It’s been countless hours of training and preparing for combines, pro days and transitioning back into getting into football shape.
“It’s also been stressful not knowing where you’re going and when you’re going … things of that nature. But I trust my agent, God, my trainer, and those around me that I’ll be prepared and ready.”
Thompson, listed at 6-foot-3, 306 lbs and is a two-time Don Hansen All-American, has received interest from the Los Angeles Rams and Atlanta Falcons, so far.
While Thompson controlled the line of scrimmage on the defensive side, fellow teammate EJ Speed had his back all season to help set records for the Texan defense. Defensively, Tarleton enjoyed one of the greatest statistical turnarounds in program history. The Texans boasted the No. 9-ranked scoring defense and No. 14-ranked rushing defense in the country and allowed just 303.2 total yards per game.
“It’s been a blessing and a great opportunity to show that coming from a small school like Tarleton what I can bring to the table at the next level,” said Speed. “I’m very grateful for my family, coaches, and teammates to be in this position.”
Speed led the nation in forced fumbles as a sophomore and continued to develop into an all-conference linebacker and the leader of the defense as he finished his senior year with a team-leading 106 tackles. Now he has nearly a dozen NFL teams on his radar, but it’s no surprise to Speed because he knows he can play at the next level.
“It’s not shocking because I know the type of work that I’ve put in to be in this situation,” Speed said. “The goals and aspirations have never been just to make it to the NFL, it’s been to have a long Hall of Fame career.”
While the defense was holding teams to just 16 points per game, the rushing offense was ranked No. 3 in the country and shattered every record in the Texan record book. Led by Harlan Hill nominee Xavier Turner, who had 1,506 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior, NFL teams have him on their draft board, including the hometown Dallas Cowboys.
“I was with the Cowboys a few weeks ago,” said Turner, “and it was an honor when they told me ‘You remind us so much of Zeke [Ezekiel Elliott] the way you run, the way you carry yourself and how you catch the ball out of the backfield. We need a guy to come in and compete with him.'”
Turner, like his defensive teammates, have heard from a number of NFL teams and is projected on some NFL mock drafts to go in the sixth round on Saturday. But Turner is just trying to enjoy this opportunity and when draft day comes, he hopes to hear his name called and make it a dream come true.
“It’s been everything I’ve dreamed of as a kid,” Turner added. “You hope to be in this situation as a kid and hope to hear your name called on draft day. For it to actually be a strong possibility of getting draft and you’re working out for teams and they know who you are, it’s a blessing and surreal.”
Last season was special not just for the trio of Texans, but everyone involved with breaking records and making history week after week. It was a year they will never forget and they know they laid the foundation for years to come for future Texans.
“We had a really special team,” Thompson said. “All over the country people know who the Tarleton Texans are and they respect us. It was just an amazing season and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
The NFL Draft is scheduled for later this week April 25-27. The first-round selections will be made Thursday with rounds two and three scheduled for Friday evening. The final four rounds of the draft will take place Saturday. All rounds of the draft will be aired on ESPN.
Tarleton has had five players drafted into the NFL, including two in the league’s modern era – James Dearth and Rufus Johnson. Dearth was selected in the sixth round (191 overall) by the Cleveland Browns in the 1999 draft. Johnson was a sixth-round choice (183 overall) by the New Orleans Saints in 2013. Randy Winkler was a 12th round selection in 1967, just after the NFL-AFL merger, while Marv Brown (1957) and Walter Bryan (1955) are other former Tarleton stars to have been drafted into the league.