YOU’LL FIND PLENTY OF STAR POWER
near the Texas and Arkansas border, playing
in an old stadium that still had natural grass a
year ago. That’s where Texarkana Liberty Eylau
defensive end Lagaryonn Carson, one of the
nation’s top recruits, will be blowing up plays in
the backfield again this season.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” Carson said of
the cramped, and sometimes overflowing, sta-
dium. “We always show out at home games.”
There’s usually a lot for fans to see at
Liberty-Eylau, which finished 12-2 last year and
advanced to a 4A Division I regional final. The
school’s enrollment is only about 750, but it
has put eight players in the NFL.
“They’ve had a lot of great kids come
through here. Lagaryonn is one of those,” said
Liberty-Eylau coach Steve Wells. “There’s no
doubt that he has a chance to be good at the
next level, and even the level after that if he
works hard enough.”
Carson, a 6-4, 260-pound senior who has
verbally committed to Texas, was named the
4A Defensive Player of the Year after he made
170 tackles and forced six fumbles last season.
He was also a sack machine, which could also
describe another small-school defensive end
who made it to the big time: Tony Brackens.
Brackens was a star at Fairfield, about
90 miles south of Dallas, before he played
for Texas from 1992 to 1995. He also spent
eight seasons in the NFL. In his senior year at
Fairfield, Brackens piled up 18 sacks doing
exactly what Carson likes to do now.
“I like getting in the backfield,” Carson said.
Carson does it constantly, chasing down
quarterbacks and stuffing running backs. And
he feels like he could do it against players at
the biggest schools.
“It doesn’t matter who I go out there
against,” he said. “I can go against anybody.
That’s my mentality.”
LA GRANGE, WHICH IS 65 MILES SOUTH-
east of Austin, has an enrollment of about 650
and is in 4A Division II. But running back J.K.
Dobbins has the same “I’ll take on anyone”
mentality as Carson.
“Just because they’re bigger doesn’t mean
they’re better,” Dobbins said of other schools.
“I think I can go out there right now with any of
the 5A or 6A schools and play with them.”
Few would doubt that when they see the
speed, agility and versatility of Dobbins, a
5-10, 185-pound senior who has committed
to Ohio State. Dobbins rushed for 2,741 yards
and 35 touchdowns last season.
The Leopards finished 7-4 and lost in the
first round of the playoffs, which was a disappointing dip after the 13-1 season of 2014.
But Dobbins never disappointed when he was
on the field.
Coach Matt Kates is heading into his
seventh season at La Grange, and he understands how some players at smaller schools
can get overlooked. Kates grew up in the
Dallas-Fort Worth area and was an assistant at
Fort Worth Arlington Heights before taking over
at La Grange.
But while larger schools might have more
college recruits, they probably don’t have
anyone more impressive than Dobbins.
“This cat is the most dynamic football player
I’ve ever seen,” Kates said.
Small schools have always produced ter-
rific running backs. In the Seventies, Billy Sims
(Hooks) and Eric Dickerson (Sealy) were high
school heroes destined for stardom in the NFL.
More recently, Palestine High School, with an en-
rollment this year of less than 1,000, produced
current Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson.
As a senior at Palestine in 2003, Peterson
rushed for 2,315 yards and 32 touchdowns.
Peterson could’ve played for any school, of
course, and Dobbins feels the same way. But
playing for La Grange is special, he said, and
his coach said all the Leopards feel that way.
“Growing up in the Metroplex, I’ve seen both
sides of it – the bigger and smaller,” Kates said.
“These kids have been Leopards since they
were pre-K. They care so much about playing for
the purple and gold. That’s all they’ve thought
about since they were 3 years old.”
NOT LONG AFTER BARON BROWNING WAS
3 years old, he was thinking about playing football in high school. But he didn’t think it would
be at Kennedale until he moved from Everman,
a nearby 5A school, in the eighth grade.
Now the senior, who is one of the nation’s
top linebacker recruits, can’t imagine playing
anywhere other than Kennedale, a 4A Division
I school near Fort Worth.
“I love being a Kennedale Wildcat,” he said.
“The people in the community, the coaches and
the teachers, and just the vibe. They’ve made
When Browning started playing pee-wee
football, he was on the offensive line. “I was
short and fat,” he said, which is hard to picture
when you see Browning now. He’s 6-4, 230
pounds and as physically impressive as any
recruit at any position. You’ll find him at a
school with a little more than 1,000 students.
“Coach [Richard] Barrett always tells us it
doesn’t matter what classification you play in,”
Browning said. “If you can play, the recruiters
are going to find you.”
Recruiters have found linebacker gems at
some really small schools over the years. Back
in the Sixties, the University of Houston found
Greg Brezina at Louise High, a school that is
about 80 miles southwest of Houston and has
a current enrollment of 140. Brezina ended up
playing 12 seasons for the Atlanta Falcons.
Before that, there was Jerry Tubbs of Breckenridge High, which is about 60 miles northeast
of Abilene and has a current enrollment of just
under 400. Tubbs actually played lineman in high
school, and also at Oklahoma, where he had
a 31-0 record as starter. He played linebacker
in the NFL for 10 seasons and was a longtime
assistant to Cowboys coach Tom Landry.
Browning, who last season made 74 tackles
and was named first-team all state for a team
that finished 12-1, comes from a larger school
than Brezina or Tubbs. But Kennedale still has
a small-school feel that Browning enjoys.
“The fans here love Kennedale football,” he
said. “It’s so great to go out and play for them.”
HEZEKIAH JONES FEELS THE SAME WAY
about Stafford, a 4A Division I school in the
suburbs of Houston. The senior receiver, who
is committed to Baylor, said home games are
always a huge event.
“I love Stafford. It’s just a great environment
“I definitely think some smaller schools
to be around,” he said. “It’s not a big city, but
it’s not small. You can have fun in Stafford.”
We’ve got a lot of that small-town feel.”
In many ways, that’s good. But it can create
challenges for recruits, such as Stafford senior
defensive end Kameron Hill. He didn’t get a
lot of recruiting attention in the spring, but his
coach believes Hill would “have offers left and
right” if he played at a 6A school.
get overlooked, but I understand that it’s a
numbers game,” Counter said. “The colleges
need to go where the most players are.”
Recruiters have traveled from all over to
see Jones, who goes by the nickname “Hez”
because some people have difficulty pronouncing Hezekiah (Hez-uh-kye-uh). The 5-11,
195-pound receiver started getting recruiting
attention as a sophomore, when he averaged
25 yards per catch. Slowed by a high ankle
sprain last season, Jones had only 31 recep-
tions for 481 yards and five touchdowns.
But he still looked like a star on game film.
He wowed recruiters with the way he acceler-
ates after a catch.
Running back J.K. Dobbins of
La Grange is an Ohio State commit.