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One of my lasting impressions in this job is pulling up to Lancaster’s Spring game in 2012. As I was walking to the field, I heard the instrumental to the timeless classic John by New Orleans musician Lil Wayne playing during the team stretch/hype period. At this point one might want to put the pads on too, at least until they started popping.
I was there to see Daeshon Hall (DE, class of 2013) and Nick Harvey (DB, class of 2014), but I was also curious to see the less heralded DeMarcus Ayers (Ath, class of 2013). I came away as impressed with Ayers as anyone else on the field. His athleticism and change of direction was evident as he lined up all over, including quarterback.
From that day, I followed his recruitment rather closely and was pleased when he committed to U of H. I thought he was a steal and that he’d have a nice career there. He did and then some, leaving early after exploding for 98 receptions in his junior season, ultimately being drafted by the Steelers in the 7th round. That explosion in stats – 33 receptions to 98 – coincided with the hiring of Tom Herman and Greg Ward becoming full-time quarterback. It wasn’t coincidental.
We’ve mentioned on numerous occasions just how weaponized the slot receiver can be in Herman’s offense. Here’s a visual aid.
actual highlights begin around 1:10
After getting dizzy you’ll need to sit down to count the myriad ways Houston worked to get Ayers the ball: jet sweeps, bubbles, outs, slants, punt returns, as a passer — the list goes on.
The potential to turn slot receiver into one of the nation’s most famed positions, a la quarterback at USC, running back at Alabama, and defensive back at
LSU Florida Texas is there.
Looking around the NFL you’ll notice many of the slot types are not from traditional powerhouse schools. In fact, you might be hard pressed to name any other players from whence they came. The main reasons being, the simple abundance of 6-foot and under quick-twitch athletes and the proliferation of the spread in college and it’s growing assimilation into the NFL.
Tom Herman was recently asked about his level of talent at Houston. He said it was much greater at Texas – which we all know – but he was unsure if the talent was better relative to conference. I can answer that for him, yes, it is, and because he seems to get the most out of his players, he’ll find that out within this very calendar.
Ayers was a great player at Houston, and since his timing wouldn’t have coincided with Bryan Harsin, would have largely been wasted at Texas. As fine of an athlete as he is, his measurables and testing numbers from his Pro Day won’t wow you: 5’9″, 182 pounds, 4.66 40, 35″ vertical, 10′ broad jump, 4.33 short shuttle.
Between these numbers and his highlights, some things get lost in translation; things like he’s just a really good football player. But this isn’t an athletic profile that will be hard to come by in this state, and especially not if you can turn it into a marquee position.
Texas wide receivers coach, Drew Mehringer, who served in the same capacity during Ayers’ breakout season, is already ahead of the curve in this recruiting cycle with a commitment from one of the nation’s best athletes, Justin Watkins from Florida.
There are other options for the position if need be, including Jaylen Waddle from Bellaire Episcopal and Jaquayln Crawford from Rockdale. Each of these three possess elite traits, and it’s not hard to envision any of them having success similar to what Ayers displays above.
After Ayers left Houston early to feed his family, I asked a Houston contact how they’d replace him. He responded, “You can’t just replace a Demarcus Ayers.” No, but at Texas the options to approximate him should be endless and finding the next great slot receiver for this offense might not be as hard as you think. In fact, there’s a very good chance that player is already on campus. If not, he’ll surely be in the next recruiting class.