January 27, 2013

Fort Worth-area football heroes overlooked in college recruiting

Many area high school players wait for that dream scholarship from a big-time school.

At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Quade Coward of Cleburne has the look of a prototypical top-tier college quarterback.

The 2012 District 8-4A MVP threw for 3,270 yards, 36 touchdowns and rushed for 603 yards and 15 touchdowns to lead Cleburne to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Coward also became a town hero after leading a handful of last-second game-winning drives.

First-year coach Jeff Merket and Coward hoped scholarship offers would pour in, but a little more than a week away from the Feb. 6 National Signing Day, that has not been the case.

"It's been slower than I thought it would be," said Coward, who has been offered by several NCAA Division II schools. "We had a pretty good season and put up some pretty big numbers, and I thought that would kind of jump-start the recruiting process, but it's a tough deal having an all-right junior season and then having to step up your senior season. There's already those guys that did well their junior year and they are ahead of you."

Coward is not alone. Considered too small, too slow or a late bloomer, several top-producing area players are hoping for a last-minute big-school scholarship offer.

"Colleges are trying to find players who can play right now," said Arlington Bowie coach Kenny Perry, who has sent dozens of players to top college football programs during his tenure. "No. 1 they are looking for the upside of the kid; the tangibles such as speed, size and are they a good football player. Then, how fast can they come in and play for us."

At 5-foot-9, 180 pounds with a 40-yard time of 4.7, Crowley running back Larry Cheeks is neither especially big nor fast, yet has been one of the most productive running backs in the area over the past three seasons.

After churning out more than 4,100 yards and 40 touchdowns on the ground as a three-year starter, Cheeks has numerous accolades, such as second-team all-state, Star-Telegram Super Team and first-team all-district selections. What he doesn't have is a Division I scholarship offer.

"I will play somewhere, it may not be a Division I school, but I will play somewhere," said Cheeks, who plans to visit Southeastern Oklahoma State and Arkansas Tech. "I think it's just my size for the position I play, but I can play multiple positions. I just think that they don't want to take that chance."

Arlington Martin coach Bob Wager considers helping his players attain scholarships one of the most important facets of his job and calls this period their "second season." In the seven years since Wager's arrival, the Warriors have sent players to top programs such as Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon and TCU as well as Division II and III schools.

At one point last week, Wager said recruiters from Oklahoma State, Alabama, Notre Dame and Texas were outside his office at the same time and all of the attention has a snowball effect for fringe Division I players.

"Maybe their forearm isn't quite thick enough, their feet aren't quite long enough, they are a few inches short, or whatever it might be, but then you look at them on film and they just make plays all of the time," Wager said. "I think that's a whole separate sub-category of recruiting in itself. The guys that we've had who fall into those categories over a period of time make it because they grind."

Matt Waller, a three-year starter at defensive back for the Warriors, falls into the grinder category. Waller finished his career at Martin with 254 tackles, nine interceptions, participated on every special teams unit and even stepped in to play quarterback over the final half of his senior season.

"I get out of class, I come down for 30 minutes, talk to the coach, go back to class and maybe 10 minutes later someone else is down there and I have to leave again," said Waller, who is holding out for a Division I scholarship. "So it's been kind of hectic and kind of up and down at times. Some days I'm talking to four recruiters, other days it's none. It's been a roller coaster for me, but I've enjoyed it."

Jarret Johnson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JohnsonJarret

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