- John Miller
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TYLER, Texas -- Anchored by seven juniors, John Tyler High School (Tyler, Texas) picked apart its opponents in pool play of the Tyler State Qualifying 7-on-7 Tournament on Saturday.
It's nothing new for those seven, who have been doing the same thing since they were little kids.
They started playing football together in the street while growing up in Tyler, Texas, and progressed to the point where they made a significant impact for the Lions last season as sophomores.
"All seven of those guys have the potential to play [FBS] football," Tyler coach Derrick Rush said. "It was pretty busy during spring football with the scouts coming in and watching them. That's what it is all about, getting them that attention."
Quarterback Greg Ward (5-foot-10, 160 pounds); wide receivers Fred Ross (6-1, 185), Darion Flowers (6-1, 175) and Justin Ligges (6-2, 175); running back/linebacker Dequante Woods (5-11, 175); defensive end/tight end Tyus Bowser (6-2, 205) and safety Elliot Hart (5-10, 165) started for the Lions last season. All seven helped the Lions advance to the state quarterfinals of the Class 4A Division I playoffs, where they lost to Wylie, 20-16.
"They played a big part in our success last season," Rush said. "Right now, they are working hard in the weight room and doing the right things in the offseason and throughout this whole summer to continue to get better."
Tyler went undefeated in pool play on Saturday, but did not play in the semifinals because they had already clinched a berth to the state tournament a week earlier in Mesquite, Texas.
On the offensive side of the ball, Rush said Ross has received the most attention from college scouts. With his size, he gives the quarterback a big target and also has the speed to stretch the defense.
"He's big, he's physical and he can run," Rush said. "That kind of sums it up."
However, the Lions have a history of producing top defensive players including former defensive end David Warren, who went on to play for Florida State. Rush said Bowser has similar ability.
"I think about [upholding that tradition]," Bowser said. "I want to try to get up to their talent. I don't want to be known as the guy that is not elite like everyone else."
Ward would like to play quarterback in college, but with his height, he might need a growth spurt in order to make that a reality.
"I hope I stay at quarterback, but I like receiver too," Ward said. "It really doesn't matter. If they move me, they move me. I will do whatever to help my team."
When all seven graduate, it's unlikely they will be able to continue their run of playing together at the same school. But don't expect all of them to go their separate ways.
"We talk about [staying together]," Ross said. "There's a pretty good chance that a couple of us are going to end up going to the same college."
Class of 2013 Jacksonville (Texas) wide receiver Darrell Minifee and Class of 2014 quarterback Andrew Black showed off their skills at the 7-on-7 tournament, and coach Steve Wells wouldn't be surprised if the duo rewrites the school's wide receiver and quarterback records over the next few years.
Minifee (5-11, 155) has already started his assault, catching 60 passes for 901 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore. He helped lead Jacksonville to the playoffs against Sulphur Springs, where he had six catches for 215 yards in the first half, finishing with 269 yards in a 56-52 loss.
"It's a good start," said Minifee, who stated he's currently most interested in Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Texas. "Now I have the basics down, so when I go out there, I know what to do and how to read the defense."
Wells said Minifee has drawn comparisons to Oklahoma record-setting wide receiver Ryan Broyles.
Last year, Minifee caught passes from Ryan Black, who set most of the passing records at Jacksonville and went on to sign with Tyler Junior College.
This year, it will be Black's younger brother Andrew, who played wide receiver as a freshman, under center for the Indians.
Wells expects the younger Black to break his older brother's records, and believes he could be the best quarterback to come out of Jacksonville. That's high praise for a program that had brothers Josh, Luke and Randy McCown, all of whom played FBS football with Josh and Luke making it to the NFL.
"Before it's over with, I think [Black] has the potential to be as good as any of them," Wells said. "He's an exceptional kid and I think he's going to be fun to watch for the next three years."
Tyler Lee (Tyler, Texas) center Conner Grooms has already finished second in one recruiting battle and hopes it doesn't happen again.
The three-star prospect was told by Texas Tech that he was its second choice behind Jared Kaster of Rice (Altair, Texas), who committed to the Red Raiders on Thursday.
Grooms is in a similar position now with Oklahoma State as the Cowboys' second choice, and they've given their top choice a deadline of July 5 to make his decision.
"They said they will get in touch with me as soon as the deadline passes," said Grooms, who did not play in the tournament, but did attend to support his teammates. "It's been grueling, but I've just been patient. I've got all the time in the world. I've got a whole season ahead of me."
Grooms does have offers from Kansas and Memphis but is interested in finding a school closer to home. In addition to Oklahoma State, he has also been talking to Baylor and Houston.
"Not everyone has options," Grooms said. "I'm happy where I'm at."
Advancing to the state tournament
Tyler Lee and Rockwall (Rockwall, Texas) advanced to the finals of the Tyler State Qualifying 7-on-7 Tournament, clinching berths into the 2011 State 7-on-7 Tournament from July 15-16 at College Station.
With the top two teams receiving automatic bids to the state tournament, the two teams elected not to play the final.
For Tyler Lee, it is the 12th consecutive year the Rebels have earned a spot in the state tournament.
"We may be the longest streak going," said Tyler Lee coach Randy Huffstickler, who was named interim head coach on Monday. "Our guys take pride in that tradition and it needs to carry over, it needs to mean something."
It will be Rockwall's fifth trip to the state tournament.
1dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne