TCU football loading up on track stars

Sam Houston wide receiver Darrion Flowers, who is expected to sign with TCU on Wednesday, was the fastest junior in the country in the 100-meter dash last season.
Sam Houston wide receiver Darrion Flowers, who is expected to sign with TCU on Wednesday, was the fastest junior in the country in the 100-meter dash last season. Star-Telegram

Last spring, there wasn’t a single high school junior in the country who ran the 100-meter dash faster than Darrion Flowers.

The Arlington Sam Houston receiver, who will sign with TCU on Wednesday, won the District 3-5A championship in 10.27 seconds, the best time of his career. A month later, he raced to the Class 5A state title in 10.39 seconds.

But Flowers’ track-style speed won’t be an unfamiliar asset for the TCU football team, where six Horned Frogs were among their state’s fastest athletes in high school.

Receivers Kolby Listenbee (Arlington Bowie), Deante’ Gray (Houston Westside), Ty Slanina (East Bernard), Cameron Echols-Luper (Auburn, Ala.) and Corey McBride (Dutchtown, La.) and defensive back Ranthony Texada (Frisco Centennial) all finished in the top 10 of either the 100- or 200-meter dash in their state championships.

Listenbee and Echols-Luper — who returned 33 punts for 349 yards and a touchdown in 2014 — continued their track careers at TCU. Both earned second-team All-America honors as part of the Frogs’ 4x100 relay team last year. Listenbee ran the 100-meter dash in 10.12 seconds at the Big 12 Championships last year.

And in August, he and Echols-Luper, a two-time 200-meter state champion in high school, were named two of the fastest 14 players in college football by

Flowers will join the pair on TCU’s track team next season.

“[Track speed] translates into big plays,” said Jeremy Clark, who covers TCU recruiting for Scout’s “It’s having a guy that can take a little pass to the house.”

Speed flourishes

That was particularly true for TCU’s offense in 2014, when the Frogs switched to a more up-tempo spread scheme under new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham.

While Echols-Luper returned punts and Texada started on defense as a redshirt freshman, the numbers for Listenbee, Gray and Slanina skyrocketed.

Listenbee entered the season with three career catches, including two for 23 yards as a sophomore. But in Meacham’s offense, Listenbee became TCU’s second-leading receiver, hauling in 41 catches for 753 yards and four touchdowns.

“I think people recognized his athleticism,” said Clark, who scouted Listenbee when he was a quarterback at Bowie. “But as far as pure speed, I don’t even think TCU recognized it until he went out there and ran a 10.12.”

Gray and Slanina also saw noticeable jumps in production.

Gray, who finished fourth in the 2012 Class 5A 100-meter state championship, went from eight catches for 156 yards in 2013 to 36 catches for 582 yards with eight touchdowns.

Slanina, a fourth-place finisher in the 2013 Class 2A 100- and 200-meter championships, jumped from 19 catches for 184 yards as a freshman to 32 catches for 383 yards as a sophomore.

Lost in translation

But if having speed in a spread offense has worked so well for TCU, why not simply recruit the fastest high school track stars?

“Track fast” doesn’t always translate to “football fast,” or vice versa. In the case of Listenbee, Echols-Luper and others on TCU’s football team, track success came through pure speed that began on the football field.

“It goes back to the old saying: sometimes you’re a football guy who runs track or you’re a track guy who plays football,” Clark said. “Guys like Kolby Listenbee and Cam Echols-Luper are just football guys who run track.”

Jordan Moore, the Big 12 champion in the 60- and 110-meter hurdles last year, recently left the TCU football program after struggling to see the field. An impressive athlete at 6-foot-3, 221 pounds, Moore bounced from safety to linebacker to running back to receiver.

But even in TCU’s spread-it-out approach, Moore could barely find his fit, catching just five passes in 2014.

“We typically don’t see the track guys have the same angular agility,” said Bryan McCall, the director of performance at Michael Johnson Performance in McKinney. MJP, among other services, trains college players for the NFL Combine.

“Running fast is one thing, but you have to have the vision to read and react to something,” McCall said.

Those who have watched him closely don’t see that being a problem for Flowers. As a senior, he caught 41 passes for 663 yards and six touchdowns. He also rushed for 308 yards on 29 carries.

“He has controlled speed,” said Anthony Criss, the football coach at Sam Houston. “He understands how to turn it on and accelerate.”

Said Clark: “If you can get the ball out to him on a quick pass — it sounds cliché — but he can score from anywhere on the field when he touches the ball.”

And, as Criss pointed out, Flowers is a “natural football guy.” He didn’t start running track until his freshman year of high school, and only after Sam Houston track coach Sam Bell persuaded him to come out for the team.

Wearing a pair of borrowed track spikes, Flowers sprinted past everyone on the team at his first day of practice.

“The whole deal was to run and beat everyone that was in the track program at the time,” Flowers said. “As time went on, I knew I had some potential.”

Speed demons

A number of Horned Frogs starred on their high school track teams:

Cameron Echols-Luper (Auburn, Ala.): 2012-13 Alabama 6A state champ in 200-meter dash; 2014 outdoor second-team All-American in 4x100; holds third-best indoor long jump in TCU history.

Kolby Listenbee (Arlington Bowie): Seventh in 2011 5A state 200-meter dash; 2014 outdoor second-team All-American in 4x100 relay.

Deante’ Gray (Houston Westside): Fourth in 2012 5A state 100-meter dash.

Ty Slanina (East Bernard): Fourth in 2013 2A state 100- and 200-meter dashes.

Ranthony Texada (Frisco Centennial): Sixth in 2013 4A state 100-meter dash.

Aaron Green (San Antonio Madison): 2011 district champ in 110-meter hurdles.

Recruit Darrion Flowers (Arlington Sam Houston): 2014 5A state champ in 100-meter dash.

Recruit Niko Small (Arlington Bowie): 2014 district champ in 110- and 300-meter hurdles.

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