Does high school track and field prepare linemen for big time football?
Last year I wrote a blog about the possible connection between offensive and defensive line play and throwing the shot put and discus. Many of last year’s highly touted collegiate linemen had throwing backgrounds dating back to their high school days. With so many high profile linemen throwing the shot and discus I thought ESPN college analsyt and blogger, Bruce Feldman, might be interested. Fortunately he was and this topic received greater exposure and interest. Over the past year I’ve received some feedback about the blog and questions about linemen and throwing so I’ve decided to give it a follow-up.
What struck me this time is the revelation that high school participation in throwing is not regional. Division I linemen from all over the country have backgrounds in throwing. The percentages of high school linemen from Texas (seen as a track and field haven) may be a bit higher overall but throwing is nearly as popular in Midwestern high schools. Even with high school spring football so prominent and popular down south a lot of current SEC linemen participated in high school throwing. You’d think with so many top notch linemen possessing track backgrounds that it wouldn’t be overlooked or deemed irrelevant by college recruiters. However most college coaches I’ve encountered don’t seem to know much about track or care to learn. As you’ll see below it might have paid some recruiters big dividends to learn.
The bigger question, in my mind, is…does ability to throw the shot and discus have any correlation to playing line? I say yes, in a pure physical sense. Of course player size is the key correlating factor along with development of football skills but the ability to throw indicates a wide range of physical skills related directly to line play. It is probably a stretch to claim that track participation alone can improve football skills. However throwing does provide athletes a competitive outlet to improve footwork, functional strength and explosive ability. Those are all physical attributes essential to excel at line play. Again having a large frame is nearly essential for success at any line position but possessing and enhancing the physical abilities necessary to throw certainly don’t hurt either.
Nearly every defensive and offensive linemen I included in last year’s blog were three-sport and four-sport athletes in high school. A good argument could probably be made regarding a connection between multi-sport participation and line play. But if that were true why not say that linemen playing baseball or golf is just as good a physical measuring stick as throwing the shot or discus? Not an easy answer as participation in any additional sport is a great way for football players to keep or improve their competitive edge. Unfortunately not every sport or activity is measurable or quantifiable in a pure physical sense. Throwing performance is measurable, quantifiable, comparable and fairly objective unlike some other sports performances which are not measurable or objective.
It is my belief and experience most high school linemen go out for track simply for something to do or because their friends are doing it BUT there’s something that goes on during all the practices and throwing movements that probably contributes to the physical development of linemen. Of course this is an area of much debate and isn’t a scientific demonstration but I’ll supply quite a few player anecdotes below. Amazingly several linemen mentioned weren’t just throwers but successful track sprinters.
Current standout Division I Defensive Linemen that participated in high school track & field
Billy Winn – Boise State: A three-star athlete coming out of Las Vegas HS, Nevada. Winn was state runner-up in the discus with a best of (171’11) and qualified for state track meet in shot put with best of (53’01). He is known as one of the leaders of Boise State’s defense and is second on the team with 5.5 TFLs.
Brandon Bair – Oregon: Great story, South Fremont HS grad in Idaho, in 2002. He’s six-foot-seven and leads the Ducks with 12 TFLs…also won Idaho state championship throwing discus (168’00) and threw shot put and ran 400 meters.
Cameron Jordan – California: The senior defensive lineman has quietly registered three sacks and 4.5 TFLs this season. Jordan had 20.5 TFLs the past two seasons and perhaps extra attention and double teams have impacted his numbers. However no argument can be made about this guy’s explosive ability and as one might expect he was a state champion discus thrower (175’07) at Chandler HS (AZ). He also qualified for state in the shot put.
Cliff Matthews – South Carolina: The Gamecocks have some really freaky athletic guys along the defensive line, might have to blog about later, but Matthews has been very consistent the past few seasons while playing in the SEC with 10 sacks and 15.5 TFLs. While he only has one sack and 3.5 TFLs this season he’s been a steady player. He also had an impressive athletic career at Cheraw HS, in South Carolina, winning the state shot put title (54’00) and qualifying for state twice in the discus with throws over (134’00) and even high jumped (6’04).
Christian Ballard – Iowa: Has great size and is listed on Mel Kiper’s list of top seniors at defensive tackle. He has the speed to match…attended Lawrence Free State HS in Kansas. Qualified for state track meet in the 400 relay (42.82) and 200 meters (22.97). Perhaps most impressive he ran indoor (6.80) 55 meters dash in high school.
Da’Quan Bowers – Clemson: Attended Bamberg-Erhardt HS in South Carolina, leads NCAA with 14.5 TFLs and 7.5 sacks. Qualified for state meet in shot put (46’00) and ran a reported 11.5 in the 100 meters…impressive for a six-foot-four and 250lb high school athlete.
Dontay Moch – Nevada: Known primarily for his great speed, attended Hamilton HS, in Nevada and was a state champion in the 100 meters (10.78), 400 relay (41.78) and 200 meters (21.84) as a junior. Only rated two-star by Rivals but listed at 220 pounds as a high school senior his track times were incredible. Currently tied for second nationally with 14 TFLs, may project as LB in pros.
Drake Nevis – LSU: Has really come on this season and leads team in sacks with five, 11.5 TFLs and third with 38 total tackles. Threw shot put (50’09) qualifying for state meet and threw discus (147’04) at John Ehret HS in Louisiana.
Ethan Johnson – Notre Dame: Johnson has steadily improved the past few years with 10.5 TFLs and seven sacks. This season he’s tied for the team lead with 3.5 sacks and helped improve the team’s defense – okay they haven’t improved a whole lot - this year. He attended Lincoln HS, in Portland, Oregon, and threw the shot put and javelin. Finished fourth at the state meet in shot put with a best of (54’09) and threw the javelin (176’03).
Guy Miller – Colorado State: Set school and Mountain West Conference records with 4.5 sacks against UNLV. Miller graduated from Scott City HS, in Kansas, and was a successful high school thrower qualifying for the state meet in the shot put (46’01) as a junior.
Jabaal Sheard – Pittsburgh: Really stepped up for Pitt after the injury to Greg Romeus by leading the team this year with 8 TFLs and is tied for team lead with five sacks. Sheard went to Hollywood Hills HS (FL) and finished fourth at state meet in the shot put (53’00) and also threw the discus.
Ja’Gared Davis – Southern Methodist: Sort of cheating here as Davis is a linebacker and a bit undersized at that. However Davis ranks second in Conference-USA in sacks with six and 11 TFLs. He attended Crockett HS, in Texas, and qualified for the Texas State Meet (not easy to do) in the 300 hurdles (38.74) and ran the 110 high hurdles (14.75), triple jumped (46’02), high jumped (5’10) and ran a leg on the regional qualifying 400 relay (43.37). Not bad for a linebacker…his teammate defensive end, Margus Hunt, has been mentioned on this blog before could also appear on this list – he’s pictured above - as he’s blocked NINE kicks in 20 career games!
Jared Crick – Nebraska: Last year was Suh’s sidekick but certainly has his own identity now and was listed on virtually every preseason all-whatever teams this year. He’s lived up to the hype and pressure by tying for team lead in TFLs with 4.5 and tackles by defensive lineman. Crick has been mentioned on several FTA blogs for his background as a high school thrower at Cozad HS, in Nebraska, where he was state runner-up in the shot put and threw (61’03) at B5 district meet. Yeah he was probably an easy one to find on the recruiting trail…
Jarvis Jenkins – Clemson: Another massive tackle that has accumulated some serious TFL numbers in the past few years. He currently has five TFLs this season and while he’s not a sack master and has battled some injury issues he has been productive. Jenkins attended D.W. Daniel HS (SC) was a very successful basketball player and a regional qualifier in the shot put (46’06) and discus.
Jeremy Beal – Oklahoma: One of nation leaders in TFLs with 8.5 and six sacks. According to Mel Kiper he’s one of the five best senior defensive ends in the eyes of NFL brass. Probably not too much surprise Beal threw the discus at Carrollton Creekview HS (TX) and was quite successful throwing (163’02) at the District 10-5A Meet in 2006.
J.J. Watt – Wisconsin: Just off a completely dominant performance against Ohio State with two sacks and three TFLs…and his story how he got to Wisconsin is just awesome. Clearly part of his success stems from his high school athletic career as a four-sport athlete. Pewaukee HS (WI) grad and state champion shot putter (59’11) as a senior…he intially attended Central Michigan as a tight end and walked-on at Wisconsin.
Kheeston Randall - Texas: Instrumental in Texas defeating Nebraska last week and holding Taylor Martinez to just 21 yards on 13 carries. Currently leads stingy Texas defense with nine TFLs…attended Monsignor Kelly HS (TX) and finished third at the TAPPS 6A State Meet in the shot put (46’04) with a best of (48’07) in 2008.
Marcel Dareus – Alabama: One of this most highly regarded defensive linemen in college football and MVP of last year’s BCS game was suspended for several games but hasn’t missed a beat. Dareus attended Hayes, East Lake and Huffman HS (AL). He played basketball while in high school and threw the shot put (41’09) and discus as a senior.
Markus White – Florida State: Prepared for a breakout season this year…had 10.5 TFLs last year but like the entire defense last year looked lost at times. This year he’s second with 3.5 sacks on a team that leads the nation with 30! White a junior college transfer attended John Leonard HS (FL) and was a regional qualifier in the shot put (46’08) and threw the discus too.
Mike Martin – Michigan: This guy is built like Juggernaut from X-Men…but seriously he’s the backbone of Michigan’s d-line. Martin is second on the team with 5.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks but more important than his stats is the ability to anchor. He put his tremendous strength and build to good use while at Detroit Central Catholic HS, in Michigan, by winning the state heavyweight wrestling title, twice, and winning the state shot put two straight years. His best of (63’09) in the shot was just short the state record.
Mike Daniels – Iowa: Perhaps a lesser known name but no less productive as Daniels actually leads the Hawkeyes in TFLs with eight and sacks with three. He’s even outshined his better known teammates like Adrian Clayborn and Karl Klug in the stats department thus far. So he deserves to be named here. Daniels graduated Highland Regional HS (NJ) was a three-year letterwinner in wrestling and state qualifier in the discus (143’06) and threw the shot put (58’09) at the New Jersey Meet of Champions.
Sam Acho – Texas: Senior defensive end is among the leaders for the Longhorns with 7.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks and an additional four quaterback hurries. Acho and his brother, Emmanuel (Longhorn’s starting linebacker), attended St. Mark’s HS (TX). Sam was TAPPS state champion in the shot put (57’09) and discus (163’05).
Stephen Paea – Oregon State: He’s been mentioned before as Paea has been a very good linemen for several years. His three sacks and 3.5 TFLs might not be as impressive this year but his ability to anchor the line is very impressive. Paea’s strength is well documented (think bench press) and was a thrower at Timpview HS, in Utah. He was state runner-up in the shot put (52’08) and state qualifier in the discus with a best of (153’03).
Tyrone Crawford – Boise State: For the most part Boise State’s offense has received most of the hype and credit for their team’s success but players like Crawford and Billy Winn, mentioned above, deserve some for what they do on defense. Crawford leads the team with 6.5 TFLs and has 2.5 sacks and 19 total tackles which is saying a bunch on a defense that leads the nation against the run. He went to high school at Central Catholic in Windsor, Ontario and was a three-sport athlete. He was a national-caliber shot put thrower leading the country in the junior nationals category and qualified for nationals in the discus. His best in the shot put exceeded 56-feet and over 140-feet in the discus.
Von Miller – Texas A&M: Speed rush defensive end set the world on fire last year with 21.5 TFLs and 16.5 sacks but has been a bit dinged up this year and maybe not quite as effective. At least his numbers, 4.5 TFLs, 20 tackles and two sacks, aren’t nearly what they were the first half of last season. Perhaps the schedule is tougher this season and no dobut Miller has faced constant double teams and schemes to stop him. Certainly can’t argue with his athleticism and speed. Miller was a very successful hurdler in high school (Desoto, TX) running a sub-14.5 in 110 hurdles and even triple jumping and throwing the javelin at the junior olympic meet in 2005.
Okay enough of that…offensive linemen next time.
Tags: Billy Winn, Brandon Bair, Cameron Jordan, Christian Ballard, Cliff Matthews, Da'Quan Bowers, Discus and Football Linemen, Dontay Moch, Drake Nevis, Ethan Johnson, Guy Miller, J.J. Watt, Ja'Gared Davis, Jabaal Sheard, jared crick, Jarvis Jenkins, Jeremy Beal, Kheeston Randall, Marcel Dareus, Markus White, Mike Daniels, Mike Martin, Sam Acho, Shot Put and Football Lineman, Stephen Paea, Tyrone Crawford, Von Miller