- Jon Mahoney, ESPNHS.com
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Comparing a high school football player to an NFL All-Pro can be tricky.
First off, the kid hasn't even proven himself at the college level. Right now, NFL
stardom is as far from his grasp as the Super Bowl
trophy is for the Kansas City Chiefs.
But when Eisenhower (Houston) senior safety Craig Loston is making plays all over the field, it's hard to think of
anyone but Baltimore Ravens superstar Ed Reed. Oh yeah, Reed just happens to be the best safety in the NFL, not to mention Loston's favorite player.
Could the comparison be a stretch? Sure -- for now. But to his opponents, Loston is already playing at an
All-Pro level. Even some of the nation's best players are afraid when they see Loston roaming the secondary.
"We call him 'The Hawk,'" says Cypress Ridge senior quarterback Russell Shepard, who's arguably the nation's most dynamic offensive weapon and is also Loston's cousin. "He recognizes his reads so fast and moves so fast. And he'll hit you, too. To play against someone like that in high school is crazy."
"He's one of those impact players who you see and think, 'If everything falls into place for this kid, this kid can definitely play on Sundays,'" says first-year Eisenhower head coach Ray Evans, who was previously the team's defensive coordinator for three years.
Rated the nation's No. 1 safety and No. 8 overall recruit in the ESPNU 150, Loston is the type of player you can build your defense around. With the college and pro levels in need of quicker and more athletic safeties, the 6-foot-2, 208-pound Loston is just what the doctor ordered. His speed and athleticism allow him to stay with lightning-quick receivers, while he also has the strength to hang with tight ends or jack up any tailback in the run game.
And when the ball's in the air, few at the prep level are quicker at reading and reacting than Loston.
"I'm someone who flies around the field and is a
headhunter," says Loston, who has committed to LSU
after originally pledging to Clemson. "I'll do whatever it takes to win."
Clothing Line: Blac Label
Video Game: NCAA Football 09
He's not kidding.
Last season, Loston shined in all three facets of the game en route being named District 9-5A MVP. He also copped All-Greater Houston first team honors from the Houston Chronicle.
Loston finished the year with 65 tackles, three
interceptions and 11 pass breakups at safety and caught 21 passes for 847 yards and seven scores at wide receiver. He also returned two kickoffs and two punts for scores and served as the team's punter. Eisenhower finished the year 8-4 and was edged by Shepard's Cy Ridge squad, 35-28, in the Class 5A, Division I area round.
While Loston is no doubt a dynamic player on the
gridiron, his football exploits are only part of who he is as an individual.
To fans of high school football and recruiting, he's arguably the top defensive player in the country. But to those who know him, the kid who goes by the nickname "Poppa" is a superstar off the field.
Loston is on track to graduate from Eisenhower in December so he can get a head start on college. He plans on going pre-med with the hopes of one day becoming an obstetrician, the doctors who help deliver babies.
"I've wanted to do this since I was 12," says Loston. "I just like being around kids."
If balancing pre-med and football becomes too
difficult, Loston says he'll switch his major to drama and go pre-med once his football career is finished. Since his
freshman year, Loston has participated in theater and dance classes at Eisenhower.
In theater, he's had starring roles in "Miss Evers' Boys" and "A Raisin in the Sun." Meanwhile, doing ballet in dance classes has helped with his flexibility and footwork on the gridiron.
"Poppa was just a natural," says Nimitz assistant principal Lydia Davis, who taught Loston in both disciplines when he was a freshman at Eisenhower.
"He really enjoyed it. He knew he could take care of business on the field and on the stage as well. He's a phenom on the football field. My God, the boy is just bad. But we also know the other side of Poppa. We know the softer, creative side."
In the gladiator world of football, just admitting you're injured is a faux pas. So what kind of reaction do you think a hard-hitting safety who acts and does ballet would get? Loston hasn't heard anything yet. And if he does, it's not like he cares. Besides, you really think any receiver is going to talk smack to Loston?
"All the great NFL players have done it, like Jerry Rice," says Loston, referring to the Hall of Famer's appearance on "Dancing with the Stars." "I don't see anything wrong with it."
And he shouldn't. Loston knows that in football, more than any sport, nothing is guaranteed, and he's making sure his bases are covered.
He also receives advice from his cousin, Cleveland Browns safety Brodney Pool, about staying humble and patient. Even though he's the nation's No. 1 player at his position and an Under Armour All-American, Loston is always looking to improve.
"I don't care too much about the rankings," says Loston. "The rankings aren't going to get you where you want to be."
Loston dreams he'll one day end up in the NFL as the next Ed Reed, but he'll be the first to say he's not ready to be compared to his hero just yet.
Maybe not. But he sure acts the part.
Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.
Eisenhower (Houston) senior Craig Loston is a pretty good actor, but there's no faking the skills that have made him the nation's top safety.