SAN ANTONIO — About 100 of the top football prospects in the nation practiced Monday and Tuesday in preparation for Saturday’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The state of Texas is well represented on the West squad, including Longhorns commitment and San Antonio Reagan product Derek Kerstetter, a three-star offensive lineman.
Much of the two days were spent installing an offense and a defense for Saturday’s game. But there were some highlights and skills on display, especially when the two teams converged on Heroes Stadium on Tuesday afternoon for 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 competitions.
West offensive line dominates: Defensive lines tend to rule high school all-star games. An offensive line must be a unit to thrive and it is hard to find cohesion among five strangers with only a few days of practice. The defensive linemen, who tend to be more athletic by nature, usually win the individual drills during the week and that eventually translates to the game. It’s usually the case at the Army All-American Bowl.
Not in 2017, though. The West offensive line looks impressive and ready to buck the trend. Among that group is Kerstetter. He spent most of his time over the first two days of practice working at right guard. The San Antonio native spent his prep career playing offensive tackle, but appears ready to transition inside after a redshirt year spent gaining strength and flexibility. He struggled some Monday, but rebounded with a fantastic showing in 1-on-1 drills when the two teams mixed Tuesday afternoon. Kerstetter exhibited a strong base as a pass protector with a good punch.
Kerstetter wasn’t the lone star from Texas. Walker Little, a recent Stanford commit, and uncommitted Chuck Filiaga performed well at offensive tackle. Texas is not expected to be in the running for Filiaga’s signature with less than a month before national signing day. Kerstetter isn’t as highly ranked in recruiting circles like Walker, Filiaga or West teammate Wyatt Davis, but he’s more than held his own through two days of practice.
Two receivers to watch: Wide receiver Damion Miller is already committed to the Longhorns. The Tyler John Tyler product fits Tom Herman’s system and remained committed after the coaching change. Montrell Estell, an athlete from Hooks, could also end up playing receiver at the college level. That doesn’t mean Herman’s staff isn’t on the hunt for more prospects. Omar Manning, currently committed to TCU, and Jamire Calvin out of Los Angeles are hearing from Texas and both are interested.
Manning was one of the stars at Monday’s practice. He was performing well in the West’s portion of Tuesday’s practice before suffering some sort of injury that prevented him from taking part in the scrimmages between the teams. Calvin starred when the two teams mingled. His lack of size is made up for by quickness. He was one of the best pure route-runners over the two days and is primed for a big game Saturday if the quarterbacks can find consistency.
Browning, Okudah look the part: The top two players in the recently updated Fabulous 55 will start for the West’s defense. Kennedale linebacker Baron Browning, the No. 1-rated player, and South Grand Prairie defensive back Jeffrey Okudah made an impact through the first two days.
Browning is a physical imposing linebacker. There’s no denying his ability at the point of attack. His combination of size, length and athleticism were too much for the offensive line any time a run play was called. He moves sideline-to-sideline against sweeps and has the muscle to take on lead blockers. It was Browning’s ability to defend receivers that stood out Tuesday. His ability to play in space separates him from most high school linebackers.
Okudah had an uneventful day until the final play, which is a compliment to cornerbacks. At 6-1, 190, he’s big enough to play safety but is quick enough to play cornerback, which is where he’s lining up this week. He wasn’t challenged often, but he closed Tuesday’s afternoon session with an interception in the end zone. Okudah will announce his college destination during the game Saturday. Ohio State is the favorite.
Ohio State commit JK Dobbins will be in attendance for the game Saturday, but an injury suffered in the first game of his senior season kept him participating throughout the week. If Okudah does pick Ohio State, the Buckeyes will hold commitments from the Fab 55’s No. 1, 2 and 4 prospects.