Commentary

Defensive stars from Rice NFTC

Originally Published: June 1, 2009
By Billy Liucci | Special to ESPN.com

HOUSTON, Texas -- At last month's Fort Worth Nike Football Training Camp, all of the buzz centered around a ridiculously deep, talented group of offensive linemen. On a blistering Sunday afternoon at Rice Stadium, all eyes were once again focused on the trenches. This time, however, it was an impressive crop of defensive linemen that took center stage.

A pair of gifted underclassmen highlighted a strong contingent, as defensive tackle Desmond Jackson (Spring, Texas/Westfield) and end Jermauria Rasco (Shreveport, La./Evangel) both showed exactly why they will be among the nation's most heavily-recruited defenders in 2011.

When talking about the Lone Star state's top junior prospect, Jackson's name is thrown around regularly. The big man didn't hurt his cause on Sunday. He is an extremely explosive interior defender whose first step, powerful punch and array of inside moves already have college coaches drooling. On more than one occasion Sunday, he was out of his stance and into the backfield before would-be blockers knew what had hit them. The 6-1, 275-pounder also impressed during drill work, as he ran step-for-step with much smaller and lighter defensive ends.

A finger to the eye and the large number of defensive linemen in attendance limited Rasco's reps during one-on-one drills. When he did put his hand on the ground, the 6-3, 230-pounder's length and speed off the edge were simply too much for opposing offensive tackles to handle. With two high school seasons yet to play before he steps foot on a college campus, he already holds verbal offers from LSU, Texas A&M, Alabama and UCLA.

While Jackson and Rasco were the 2011 headliners, the defensive star of the day was a 2010 talent. Following a truly dominating performance, Tennessee-commitment Risean Broussard (Lake Charles, La./Lagrange) took home MVP honors at the position. The rock-solid, 6-2, 295-pounder quickly proved that he could bull-rush his way into the backfield at will. Rather than lean on the fact that he was significantly stronger than the opposition, Broussard showed both versatility and the ability to accept coaching by adding a few finesse moves to his power game as the day wore on.

Texas A&M-commit Gavin Stansbury (Franklin, La./Franklin) and Holmes Onwukaife (Cedar Park, Texas/Cedar Park) also drew high praise throughout the afternoon. Stansbury is a raw talent whose frame and all-around athleticism make him a great early catch for the Aggies. Onwukaife isn't as tall or rangy as Rasco or Stansbury, but he simply explodes off the ball and around the corner. Holmes, who holds six Big 12 offers among over 20 total, plans to sit down with his family sometime in the next couple of weeks and really begin to narrow his list.

Aldine's Phillip Dean is a 2011 talent whose size probably points to a future as a collegiate linebacker, but he more than held his own mixing it up at defensive end and even took a rep or two on the inside.

Linebackers

Shaun Lewis (Missouri City, Texas/ Fort Bend Hightower) was the most decorated linebacker in attendance on Sunday, but the nationally-ranked recruit actually could be found working on offense. With Lewis wearing a white jersey, Houston-commit Efrem Oliphant (Langham Creek, TX/Langham Creek) stepped forward and emerged as the best linebacker in attendance. En route to earning MVP honors at the position, Oliphant put his ability to make plays in space, stop tailbacks in the open field, excel in coverage and even rush the quarterback on display.

Lowell Williams (Missouri City, Texas/Fort Bend Marshall) is a hard-working defender who spent his junior year at end. As a senior, the 6-2, 205-pounder will spend more time at his natural linebacker position. The Rice Owls were the first program to step forward and the offer the Houston-area sleeper.

Defensive backs

Throughout the spring evaluation period, two-sport standout Sheroid Evans (Sugar Land, Texas/Dulles) was one of Texas' most talked-about 2011 prospects. On Sunday, a second Dulles Viking defensive back emerged. From start to finish, 2010 cornerback Zach McMillian stood out. The 5-10, 155-pounder earned MVP honors and was particularly impressive during one-on-one drills. What McMillian lacks in weight, he more than makes up for in toughness. An extremely aggressive corner, he loves to mix it up at the line of scrimmage and, thanks to outstanding hips and a fluid backpedal, had no problem turning and running with opposing receivers.

Toney Hurd, Jr. (Missouri City, Texas/Fort Bend Marshall) is nursing a slight hip injury, but the nationally-ranked senior-to-be didn't let that keep him off the field on Sunday. Hurd was easily the most physical defensive back on the field and always seems to find himself in position to make a play on the football. He has a busy summer planned, as he intends to hit several camps, including the Friday Night Lights event in Gainesville.

The class of 2010 was well-represented in the secondary at the Houston event, as several soon-to-be-seniors flashed legitimate Division I talent and put together strong efforts. Leading the way were McMillian, Hurd, Roland Veal (Houston, Texas/Chavez), Alton Demby (Galena Park, Texas/North Shore), Larry Stephens (Galena Park, Texas/North Shore), Sam Holl (Katy, Texas/Katy) and Jonathan Anderson (Corpus Christi, Texas/Carroll).

Holl currently holds offers from Air Force, Rice, SMU and Navy. He should see his offer list grow following the recently-completed spring evaluation period.

Most major programs envision Anderson as a candidate to spin-down to linebacker, but his coverage skills stacked up nicely against the rest of the field on Sunday. Don't be surprised to see the 6-3, 200-pounder's recruiting stock begin to rise as college coaches realize that Anderson is exactly the kind of hybrid safety/linebacker that teams need in order to successfully defend against spread offenses.

Billy Liucci covers recruiting for ESPN affiliate TexAgs.com.