September 12, 2011

An Elite Collision in Southwest Oklahoma

LAWTON, Okla. - For some time now Oklahoma's class of 2013 has been well regarded with prospects from across the state making early impacts for their high school programs. For even longer it's been well known that no area in the state turns out more elite talent per capita than Lawton. With those two things in mind it should come as no surprise that perhaps the state's top two juniors have the Southwest Oklahoma town as their current mailing address.

And on Friday most of Lawton met at Cameron University stadium to watch running back Darius Graham of MacArthur high and Lawton high's prize defensive end D.J. Ward hook up on the field. In the game a last second desperate dash by Lawton was undone just five-yards shy of the end zone when MacArthur's T.J. Turner made a game-winning tackle to preserve a 21-14 win for the Highlanders.

On the night Ward logged 10 tackles and a sack while Graham was the focus of the Mac offense, and most importantly the Lawton defense.

On the day Graham managed just shy of 100-yards rushing but every yard was hard-earned against possibly the state's best defensive line and an ever-athletic back-seven. On the night he showed why so many think his physical gifts as a back separate him from the incredible current collection of upper classmen at the position in Oklahoma.

Though he failed to score or make any long runs Graham showed his ability to lower his shoulder between the tackles and also the difficulty in taking him down in one on one situations. Though he may not specialize in dancing past defenders, the ability to use the stiff arm and a variety of other power moves makes him a load to deal with.

In the end, Graham was though of as an elite talent coming in, and his work on Friday night did nothing to change that opinion. Though Lawton did much to try and stifle his productivity his presence opened up things for the Highlanders passing game.

Meanwhile it's been Ward that most have considered Oklahoma's top prospects in the 2013 class for some time and it seems that MacArthur was more than aware of his talent spending much of their game running draws, bootlegs, or simply doubling him.

At times the Highlanders ran directly at him, and found some success but more than anything it may be seen as more of an attempt to wear Ward down and slow down his pass rush as the game wore on. Even with the efforts on the rare opportunity MacArthur's passing game wasn't a screen or short pass Ward accumulated a sack and several pressures.

He is still working to use his hands more properly but his balance has grown since last saw him in the spring. This time last year he was seen as something of a complete defensive end who may not have some of the pass-rush upside of the truly elite defensive ends in each class. However, the more you watch Ward the more one starts to think his athleticism and overall coordination are just beginning to come together.

That's not to say the previous belief is wrong, but his maturation will be one of the more interesting things to watch over the coming year - can he become that scary edge pass rusher that programs from coast to coast are clamoring for?

Stealing the Show

Coming in Ward and Graham may have been the storylines but it was Lawton's 2012 wide receiver/cornerback Demarious Littles that ended up being the star of the night.

Before the game was a few minutes into the second quarter Littles already had two intermediate catches that he turned into touchdowns of 62 and 70-yards along with a drive-ending interception as MacArthur seemed ready to tie the game at 7-7. Unfortunately after a tremendous start Littles suffered a knee-injury, of currently unknown degree, but that doesn't slow the ability the 6-foot-2, 180-pound prospect showed off.

While coming into the game Littles was thought of as more of a cornerback, it's hard to deny the big plays and his ability to use his body and speed to create passing windows for his quarterback, Brandon Bartlett. Either way should he gets his academic standing in complete order some of the schools, like North Texas, that have shown him early attention could end up getting the biggest steal of the state's class.


* Promising Altus transfer Wilson Chandler made a positive first impression on thought it was under somewhat unfortunate circumstances. Chandler received spot playing time prior to the injury to Littles but was essentially the big receivers primary replacement after he was injured, and held out for the rest of the game. Chandler has a solid build and if the rumors around the Lawton sidelines are true, impressive speed - though he didn't get a true chance to show that ability. However, he is clearly a name to keep an eye on, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

* Tulsa commits Daniel Schwarz and Michael Thomas both had solid nights for the Highlanders as Schwarz put one kickoff after another out of the end zone though he did fall surprisingly short on a pair of 50-yard-plus field goals. Meanwhile Thomas suffered through some minor ailments through the night but aside from some problems with Littles had a solid outing of his own.

* Wolverine linemen Patrick Diaz and Brandon Dewitt both put together solid nights and continued to clarify their roles in the future. While Dewitt very much looks the part of a future college center Diaz seems likely bound to play as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 system.

* Finally one of the state's real prizes that is absolutely not getting his due in recruiting is MacArthur tight end Quinton Paras. Part of the issue has been a feeling by many that the 6-foot-4, 210-pound prospect had his heart set on basketball but to hear MacArthur head coachBrett Manning tell the story nothing could be farther from the truth. Paras isn't a traditional tight end but in this day and edge of the flex-tight end, he has great hands, great feet, and tons of athleticism.

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