outside linebacker

Dallas Carter linebacker Cameron Hampton commits to Texas at its first Junior Day

Cameron Hampton gave the Longhorns their eighth verbal commitment of the 2014 class. 
Cameron Hampton gave the Longhorns their eighth verbal commitment of the 2014 class. 

Texas snagged its eight commitment on Sunday when Dallas Carter outside linebacker Cameron Hampton verbally committed to the Longhorns.

Hampton committed at the first of two Junior Days the Longhorns will hold this month. He joins San Antonio Brennan defensive end Derick Roberson as the only two defensive commitments of the class thus far.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Hampton will likely remain at outside linebacker in college. In addition to Texas, Hampton received scholarship offers from Louisiana State, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ohio State, and others.

Hampton’s commitment injects a much-needed boost of momentum to Texas recruiting. The eight commitments in the 2014 class represent a drastic improvement over 2013. This time last year, Celina athlete Jake Raulerson was Texas’ lone commitment.

Though Hampton was the only player to commit to Texas at Junior Day, he was joined in Austin by a number of top Texas targets.

Uncommitted prospects who had already received a scholarship offer included Ozen cornerback Tony Brown, Mansfield safety Ed Paris, and Galena North Shore linebacker Zach Whitley. All three are listed among the top 250 prospects for the 2014 class by rivals.com.

Houston Lamar defensive back John Bonney also attended, and received a scholarship offer early in the day. Bonney told orangebloods.com that he will visit Ohio State, Northwestern, Auburn, and UCLA before making his decision.

Texas will hold its second Junior Day on Saturday, February 23. Unconfirmed prospects expected to attend include Mount Pleasant wide receiver KD Cannon, Cypress Falls offensive tackle Otaro Alaka, and Arlington Bowie safety Edwin Freeman.

Belton tight end Durham Smythe as a member of USA Football’s 19-U team. Smythe is part of Texas’ 2013 recruiting class (Daily Texan file photo).

Photo Credit: Andrew Torrey | Daily Texan Staff

If Harker Heights outside linebacker Naashon Hughes and Belton tight end Durham Smythe didn’t know each other before their game last Friday, they’re certainly acquainted by now.

The Texas commits found themselves matched up against each other for the entire night during Harker Heights’ (1-3, 1-0) 7-0 homecoming victory over Belton (3-1, 0-1,) who entered the game averaging 32.3 points and 392.3 yards per game.

“Coach [Mike Mullins] said it was going to be Texas versus Texas the whole game tonight, and that’s what it was,” Hughes said.

Smythe spent most of his night trying to keep his future teammate out of the Belton backfield or looking for open space in the flat. Friday was the first game this season that the 6-foot-6 prospect failed to record a catch.

“We were moving the ball pretty well,” Smythe said. “We just needed to do a better job of finishing drives.”

Hughes made 2.5 tackles as the former safety also took several snaps as a Wildcat quarterback and tight end on the game’s only scoring drive.

Down 7-0, Belton faced a fourth-and-goal on the Harker Heights 18-yard-line. Smythe, lined up in the slot on the left side of the field, fought off Hughes’ jam at the line and routed himself toward the back corner of the end zone.

Belton quarterback Peter Shelburne lofted a pass to Smythe, who tried to make a leaping grab to tie the game, but Hughes had other plans.

“I just went up and elevated to the highest point, [and] knocked the ball down,” explained Hughes. The play resulted in a turnover on downs for Belton, who never got the ball again.

Immediately after the ball bounced to the turf, Smythe was seen pleading with the officials for a holding or pass interference call.

“He held me,” Smythe said. “There’s no question. He was doing it all night.”

Hughes was called for holding on Smythe in the 3rd quarter when he grabbed the inside of Smythe’s shoulder pads and slung him to the ground.

“I might have [held him a little bit], I’m not too sure,” Hughes admitted.

Harker Heights’ 6-foot-5, 319-pound Darius James, also committed to UT, is rated as the nation’s best center prospect by rivals.com. He was sidelined with a broken left foot but was impressed by his future teammates.

“They played really good,” said James. “[Smythe], that’s my brother out there, he looked good tonight.”

Smythe, a three-star player ranked as the 14th-best tight end in the nation by rivals.com, chose Texas over Stanford and Notre Dame.

“The offenses are similar. I don’t know if [Texas] uses as much tight end motion as [Belton] does, but I’ll still get to do a lot of the same things,” Smythe said.

Smythe plans to report to Austin in the summer, Hughes is less certain when his college career will start. He’s accepted Texas’ offer to gray shirt, meaning that he will enroll at UT in the spring so that his scholarship will count toward the 2014 class. He still wants to enroll at UT in the fall.

“I’m cool with it,” said Hughes. “But I’m still busting my butt out here so I don’t have [to gray shirt]. I want that full scholarship.”

Hughes’ scholarship offers from Baylor, LSU and South Carolina would have allowed him to begin college in the fall of 2013, but his heart was always with Texas.

“That’s my school,” said Hughes, whose older brother, Camrhon, is an offensive lineman that is redshirting at Texas this year. “I’ve played with my brother my whole life. I just can’t wait to get up there.”

Printed on Monday, October 1, 2012 as: Commits play head-to-head

Former Longhorn Brian Orakpo, a two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker, speaks to participants at his youth football camp at St. Michael’s Catholic Academy.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

For two days this past week, two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker and former Longhorn Brian Orakpo held what he hopes to be the first of many youth football camps in Austin.

“I was really happy that we had such a good showing for my first camp in Austin,” Orakpo said. “I plan on continuing to sponsor camps and letting it grow.”

Safely tucked away among the rolling hills at St. Michael’s Catholic Academy, just west of the city limits, Orakpo offered his time to roughly 100 kids from the ages of 7-18 eager to soak up his vast football knowledge.

While he spends his time on the defensive side of the ball in the NFL, Orakpo was still able to assist young offensive-minded players as well.

“They’re able to run drills and have a good time, and that’s what it’s all about is the kids,” Orakpo said. “It’s a great thing to put on because it allows the kids to get better through practice and work on their technique.”

After splitting players into groups by position, Orakpo and several other coaches from around the state didn’t waste any time setting the tone of the camp. Orakpo could be seen taking a literal hands-on approach with many of the defensive linemen drills while offering them advice on techniques that have helped him in his time playing football at the highest level.

But for Orakpo it’s not only about helping kids better grasp the game of football.

“At the same time I’m out there helping out, I can work with coaches and other professionals to improve myself as well,” Orakpo said.

For the kids, however, it wasn’t all about work. Orakpo took a short intermission from drills and sprints and signed autographs for everyone in attendance.

While he rested his hand in between signing footballs and posters, Orakpo took a moment to talk about the upcoming NFL season. After finishing last season with a 5-11 record, Orakpo and the Washington Redskins are looking to make a move in the NFC East and make the playoffs for the first time in five years.

“I’m excited about the future of the Redskins,” Orakpo said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys in Washington, it’s like our own youth movement.”

Part of that youth movement includes former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III who was selected second overall in this year’s NFL Draft. Orakpo and Griffin have a bit of history playing against each other, with Orakpo and the Longhorns claiming bragging rights with a 45-21 win at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium back in 2008.

“Robert is ready for the season to start and to get out there with the rest of us,” Orakpo said.

This will be the first season that Orakpo and Griffin play on the same team, but another former Longhorn also joins the Redskins’ defensive ranks this year. Keenan Robinson was selected in the fourth round and will likely find himself backing up Orakpo.

“All the guys are ready and amped up about this year,” Orakpo said. “July 26 is when we start training camp and the entire team is ready for the new year and what it has to offer.”

Sophomore linebacker Jordan Hicks makes a tackle in the Longhorns’ season-opener against Rice. Hicks has moved into a starting role in his second year at Texas after playing mainly on special teams as a freshman. He leads the team with nine solo tackles in 2011.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

Sophomore linebacker Jordan Hicks was a wide-eyed freshman when Texas lost to UCLA last year and played only on special teams against the Bruins. This time around, he’ll have a much bigger role.

“We all have that in the back of our mind,” Hicks said. “It was tough, but it’s a new year, and we’ve worked since January to become a better team and a better defense. I think we are.”

The Longhorns were ravaged for 264 rushing yards in the 34-12 defeat at the hands of the Bruins a season ago. This weekend, Texas travels to Pasadena hoping to return the favor.

Hicks’ name was not in the box score for that 22-point demolition, but the six-foot-two, 228-pounder from West Chester, Ohio is the Longhorns’ second-leading tackler. Hicks did not start at all in 2010 but has been relied on much more this season, starting at outside linebacker from day one.

Despite the drubbing Texas took last year, Hicks is confident in his team’s chances Saturday.

“If we focus on what we’re doing and execute, no team, we think, can beat us,” Hicks said.

The Longhorns can certainly feel good about themselves with Hicks on defense.

Hicks racked up 11 tackles against BYU, eight of them before halftime. It’s only been two games, but Hicks has already notched 16 stops and has a chance to put a triple-digit number in the tackle column this season. Not bad for someone who had just 23 as a freshman last year.

But if Hicks’ performance against BYU was any indication as to how the linebacker will play this season, 100 tackles is a legitimate possibility.

“[Jordan’s] really played well the first two weeks,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “He’s a very physical tackler. We think very highly of Jordan. He takes his craft very seriously. You’re happy for all your guys, but Jordan’s a guy that when you see him playing well, it gives you a lot of pride.”

Emmanuel Acho is the only player who made more tackles than Hicks for Texas in its contest against BYU, and his 23 tackles lead the team. Acho and fellow senior linebacker Keenan Robinson have done well leading a group of linebackers that, with the exception of Acho and Robinson, is made up of entirely underclassmen, including Hicks.

“I thought the linebackers played well,” Diaz said. “They understood the challenge, first of all, in terms of attacking the line of scrimmage in order to contain the run game. It turned into a passing game and we were able to do some things from there to shut them down.”

Diaz has been demanding of his defense, and it’s paid off so far. Texas has allowed only one touchdown and has buckled down when needed to, as it gave up only three points and held the Cougars to less than three yards per play in the second half this past weekend.

“We have to do everything exactly right,” Diaz said. “Not almost right. Not a little bit right. When we fly to LA, we want the pilot to land the plane exactly the way it’s supposed to land. There’s a lot of airports in LA. It can land in Burbank. It can land in Orange County. No, we want it to go to LAX. We want it to be exact.”

Wherever the plane lands, the Longhorns will be glad that Hicks is on it.

New defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Manny Diaz has a bevy of backers at his disposal, and this year’s group may prove to be one of the most talented to roll through Texas in quite some time.

Last year as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, Diaz’s defense ranked 22nd in the nation in scoring defense and 17th in tackles for loss. That isn’t a simple task in the SEC, and with the talent available at Texas, the entire defense should flourish under Diaz. Here’s how his corps of linebackers stacks up.

Position Leader — Keenan Robinson
The outside linebacker burst onto the scene last year with an exceptional performance in the season opener against Rice. Robinson not only intercepted a pass in the first quarter of the game, but also scooped up a fumble and returned it for his first career touchdown, setting the tone for a breakout year. He fielded a team-leading 113 tackles, along with eight tackles for loss and two sacks in 2010. The senior from Plano has since moved to the inside linebacker position, a change fellow backer Emmanuel Acho is anxious to see in action.
Diaz watched some film and wanted to put Keenan in middle and me on the outside,” said outside linebacker Emmanuel Acho. “I’m excited for it.”

Stock Rising —Jordan Hicks
After choosing to become a Longhorn rather than an Ohio State Buckeye, Hicks didn’t quite live up to the hype surrounding him in his first year with the team. He recorded 23 tackles and a single sack in 12 games as a freshman. Hicks then suffered a broken right foot during spring practice and was forced to sit out the rest of the spring in order to heal. All signs point to him being back in action come Sept. 3 when the Longhorns host Rice in the season opener.
“He’s healthy now, and I think he’ll be one of the better linebackers in the conference,” Acho said.

Top Backup — Demarco Cobbs
Cobbs was listed on the depth chart last year and played one game at safety. He also recorded five tackles on special teams. The sophomore put on some weight in the offseason, and the coaches felt he could make the most impact as an outside linebacker. He possesses a quickness on the field unmatched by many on either side of the ball. Having played at quarterback in high school in Tulsa, he has proven to be a playmaker and should grow into a great player over the next three years.
“After making the switch from safety, Demarco is probably the fastest linebacker in the nation,” Acho said.

Most To Prove — Aaron Benson
Benson redshirted last year and gained valuable experience with the scout team. At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, he has the size to play at any of the three linebacker positions. It should be interesting to see how Diaz plans to play Benson; on blitz packages or as a run-stopper. Like many of the other linebackers, Benson was highly-touted coming out of Cedar Hill in 2010, and he should also make a name for himself this year.

Position Battle — Kendall Thompson vs. Steve Edmond
Both will vie for playing time behind the other talented linebackers this year. As freshmen, they still have to learn, but because everyone on defense is under new management with Diaz, the learning curve shouldn’t be as steep for the pair. Edmond came into the program as the fourth-highest ranked inside linebacker in the nation and is an excellent run-stopper. Thompson is listed as an outside linebacker but could fill in at the inside position as well.