College-Caliber Secondary Could Have Nacogdoches in Position to Make Noise
NACOGDOCHES -- You think you know what you're getting into when you visit a Dragons spring football practice.
This is the home of East Texas' leading Class of 2015 and 2016 prospects in terms of scholarship numbers, rising senior cornerback Jaylon Lane and rising junior safety Brandon Jones. The defensive backfield shouldn't be a problem for Nacogdoches anytime soon.
Yet a closer look at the squad's defense revealed even more talent. There are at least four Division I prospects patrolling the skies and supporting a physical front seven.
"I've never had a group likes this," head coach Bobby Reyes said. "When you've got what I think is three Division I players and a Division I-AA that possibly could be a Division I player, we've got a pretty good secondary. The good news is two of them are currently sophomores and the other two will be seniors. They're pretty talented and they do a good job of listening. They keep getting better which is a pretty good thing."
Tuesday's practice featured some individual position drills, then broke out to line drills and skeleton drills for the skill players and wrapped up with a few periods of full 11-on-11 work.
Jones had a light practice. He'll run on the Dragons 800 meter relay team at the state championships in Austin this weekend.
Lane, who holds 34 Division I offers, was all there and showed why so many schools want him.
It wouldn't surprise anyone that he can jam a receiver at the line of scrimmage and then ride their back pocket down the field. What really stands out about the 6-2, 185-pound cornerback is he can sit on short routes designed to lure him away from the open field and quickly make up ground once the quarterback throws the ball for a target yards away from him.
Lane moves, puts his body in front of the ball and a Division I-caliber safety is right on the receiver to create a very small window for the reception.
Aside from Jones at safety, there's Lane's little brother Corey Lane who already has an early scholarship opportunity with Louisiana Tech.
And working along the other sideline is rising senior Tay Forest who Reyes referred to as the Division I-AA player with upside.
Forest isn't very well-known in the recruiting sphere, but that could change soon. He's a big corner who can handle receivers with brute force and consistently prevents the route runners from separating and making easy plays in space.
"We've all been playing varsity football for a while," Jones said. "We have some really good experience and technique will take you far as a D.B. It just helps out overall how the D.B.s play and then the overall defense."
How did four standouts all end up in the same backfield?
Up until December, Reyes and his staff were only expecting Jones and Forest. They planned to raise other solid players in the depth into their starting spots because Jaylon and Corey Lane were students at San Angelo Central in West Texas.
"It's not just been Jaylon," Reyes said. "It's been his brother, too. Both of them have been great additions. Jaylon was here through the seventh grade and he didn't want to leave and they left and went to San Angelo. The Lord works in funny ways, he's been wanting to come back.
"Jaylon is long, 6-1 and a quarter, but he breaks on the ball like he's 5-9. He's physical. He comes to play everyday, and his brother Corey is going to be a terrific safety for us. It's nice to fill that slot and not have to worry about that cornerback spot. He can do a lot of good things for us."
Jaylon Lane and the guys also are forging a battle-tested passing game. In May.
Quarterback Hunter McClellan is a player who is respected for his arm and his success in the classroom. Reyes says McCllelan averages '100.2' test scores.
The signal caller is coming back from a broken arm last season to guide the Dragons in his senior campaign.
"The defense is very physical and the offense is too," McClellan said. "It makes it more challenging as the quarterback against the defense if they're physical against the receivers. What it's doing is making both sides of the ball better."
Nacogdoches' offense runs a spread and spent most of the day giving balanced looks between the run and the pass.
Its offensive line matched up well against the front seven, and the running backs generally were able to fight for intermediate gains while the receivers fought on and progressed with their blocking and dealing with tight windows for the catch.
This is a program that made headway last season with a 7-4 record and a trip to the first round of the playoffs. The goal in 2014 is to reach December and see what happens.
"Us going to the playoffs last year helped us a lot in realizing we can make it and that we're a good enough team to make it there," Jones said. "We want a winning season and to get deep in the playoffs."
Jaylon Lane interjected.
"I feel like we have respect, but I feel like we don't have enough," he said. "I feel like some people are still sleeping on us. That's what I like, personally. We want to go out there and prove some of those guys wrong. I feel like we have a really great chance with some guys coming back on offense. Then our secondary is the strength of a really good defense. When we put it together and compete in practice, it helps out a lot."