Despite being only blip on the map of the East Texas landscape, there are few schools with more tradition and man-for-man talent than Daingerfield.
Located about an hour north of Longview, the sleepy town with an estimated population of 2,517 might not be very big, but it has become a must-see attraction for college football coaches on the recruiting trail as the Tigers, who play in the state's second smallest public school conference, have one of the most talented football rosters in Texas.
"I don't care what classification you're talking about, they've got kids who could play for anybody in East Texas and probably the state of Texas," one East Texas high school coach said recently. "There are a lot of great athletes in East Texas, but you go to any track meet and you'll see Daingerfield has the best-looking kids by far."
Having captured the last two Class 2A Division II state championships with a combined two-year record of 30-2, coach Barry Bowman's team is loaded for a run at a third-straight title. Bowman has six legitimate Division I prospects on his roster -- a healthy number of prospects for a powerhouse from a major metropolitan area.
Six Division I football prospects at a school with an enrollment of around 400 students, however, is astounding.
"This is a special class. I've coached at every level from 4A on down and I've never had six kids on one team who were being recruited at the Division I level," Bowman said. "You tell even college coaches that and you know they're thinking you've lost your mind."
It isn't a figment of Bowman's imagination, however, as schools like Baylor, Missouri, Oklahoma, Purdue, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M and Tulsa are among the schools who have extended offers to Bowman's 2011 prospects.
Small town, Big-time tradition
Now while this 2011 class might seem like an extraordinary group, keep in mind that the Tigers have a storied history that few schools across the state (regardless of size) can match.
The school's five state championships are the third most in state history. The Tigers have been to the state playoffs 32 times including a historic 1983 team that set a new mark for domination in Texas prep football outscoring its opponents 631-8 and becoming the first Texas high school to win 16 games in season en route to the school's first-ever state title.
Even more eye-popping than those team numbers are the players the school has produced. Thirteen former Tigers have gone on to play in the NFL, most notable is Thomas Everett who played at Baylor and won the first Jim Thorpe award as the nation's top defensive back. He went on to win two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys.
Having gone 38-5 since taking over in 2007, Bowman has kept Daingerfield's winning tradition alive.
"I feel very blessed and very fortunate to be at a place like this where the kids expect to win and losing is unacceptable," Bowman said. "At the same time, expectations are always high so if and when we do take one on the chin there are a few things that'll happen. You'll get some help you might not necessarily want sometimes, but you know your kids will be extremely focused the next week. Fortunately we haven't had to deal with that too much."
It also makes Bowman's job easier when the players take pride in what they're doing at Daingerfield.
"The kids know what kind of tradition this place has," Bowman added.
Head of the class
The headliner in Daingerfield's 2011 class is Steve Edmond, an ESPNU 150 Watch List linebacker. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound wrecking ball was named East Texas' Defensive Player of the Year and after being courted by the Aggies, Sooners and a host of other programs, Edmond committed to Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns in February.
Regarded as a top-10 prospect in Texas, Edmond recorded 182 tackles, 34 for loss, five sacks, seven forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, five interceptions, two pass breakups and a defensive touchdown as a junior while brining an intimidating presence to the field.
"When he stands in the middle of our defense he basically covers the two 'A' gaps by himself," Bowman said. "With him standing in there I know I wouldn't want to play us."
On the offensive side of the ball, 6-foot-5, 265-pound offensive tackle Shayvion Hatten is blessed with long limbs and an impressive combination of quickness and strength. Hatten has verbally committed to TCU.
Bowman said Hatten, who has gained 40 pounds of lean muscle since his sophomore year and is a good character kid who could get even bigger while maintaining his athleticism.
"His dad weighs about 330 and he's a big man," Bowman said. "He can run. He got so much better throughout this year at pass protection. Our line coach has done a great job with him on that. He comes from quality folks who have done a great job of raising him."
Daingerfield quarterback Tyler Boyd said playing with Edmond, his cousin, and Hatten is part of what makes this group of recruits unique.
"Our class is special to me," Boyd said. "To see all of the colleges come through and for us to be in the spotlight is fun."
Four prospects and counting
Two other Tiger prospects in the 2011 class have also received scholarship offers this spring and four more could end up with offers very soon.
Boyd has won 30 games as the trigger man for the the Tigers' offense, but his 5-foot-10, 170-pound size will likely having him moving to receiver or defensive back at the college level. With Purdue and Tulsa extending offers, Bowman said his star quarterback will have a chance to show off his extremely competitive nature at the next level.
"He's a warrior," Bowman said. "If I had ever had to go to war, I want him (with me). He's just an amazing kid."
Six-foot-5, 181-pound receiver Keyarris Garrett has offers from Purdue and Tulsa and he should be Boyd's go-to receiver this season with last year's top wideout Chris Jones heading to Texas. Bowman said Garrett eats up a lot of ground with his long strides and has soft, sure hands.
Among those who could potentially see offers this spring are 6-foot-3 lineman Donald Bryant who runs a 4.85 40-yard dash and cornerback David Mims whose father played for the Atlanta Falcons.
Bowman said schools are also starting to call about running back LaMarce Lafayette and defensive tackle Odyissous Chism.
"These are special kids," Bowman said. "Not only are they talented athletically, they're 3.0 (GPA) kids or better, they have good families and good people looking after them, and they're never in trouble in school or in the community."
Going for the three-peat
The Tigers will likely be the state's No. 1-ranked Class 2A squad to start 2010 and its returning nucleus of players will look to do something the previous teams have not -- go undefeated.
Daingerfield again has reigning Class 3A Division I state champion Gilmer (the only two losses for Daingerfield over the past two seasons) on the schedule. Bowman said his team looks forward to playing the East Texas powerhouse and adds that this talented group of seniors would love nothing more than to beat the Buckeyes on their final try.
"All the way back to junior high with this group they view losing as unacceptable," Bowman said. "It doesn't matter who we play, it's still the same thought and same feelings. That makes it nice for us as coaches."
Whether the Tigers beat Gilmer or not remains to be seen, but with all the pieces in place, winning a third straight state title is certainly feasible.
For the class of 2011, it's one final ride to try and make a little more history.
"It hasn't been talked about much around here," Boyd said. "It's something that we look forward to trying to do."
"These six [prospects] are very special," Bowman said. "They understand how to win and they don't care anything about losing. I sure am glad they're back."
Jeff Howe is the recruiting analyst for ESPN affiliate and Texas fan site Inside Texas.