The high-powered Lake Travis offense came up short against Westwood in the Round Rock SQT finals (Photo by the author).
Multiple FBS quarterback prospects highlighted the field at the Round Rock SQT on Saturday.
ROUND ROCK, TX -- "This is their Super Bowl," the Lake Travis 7-on-7 coach told his assembled players after the Cavaliers dropped a 26-15 contest against rival Westwood in the finals of the Round Rock State Qualifying Tournament on Saturday at the Palace.
Both schools qualified for the State 7-on-7 championships held in College Station in July, but for Westwood, it was about more than punching that ticket -- it was about revenge, the type of of revenge the Warriors struggle to achieve against the five-time defending state champion Cavaliers on fall Fridays.
Lake Travis roared off to a quick start that included two touchdown passes from 2013 prospect Baker Mayfield to classmate Zach Austin on a well-thrown fade route in the corner of the endzone and a subsequent strike down the seam on a double move that created separate for the senior wideout.
However, a methodical Westwood attack led by 2014 quarterback Bear Fenimore, a lifelong Alabama fan named after the legendary Crimson Tide head coach, consistently marched the Warriors down the field as the defense held the high-powered Cavalier attack scoreless through the final 35 minutes of action.
As the Warriors seemingly gained strength, surely buoyed by hatred for their opponent, the Lake Travis squad hit a wall, struggling with cramping on the warm field turf at the Palace, baking in the more than 90-degree Texas heat. The last opportunities for Lake Travis ended in interceptions thrown by Mayfield, including one near the Warrior goalline, two of the only poor decisions the LT signal-caller made during the final rounds.
Westwood had previously defeated Connally in the semifinals, while Lake Travis barely edged a Pflugerville Hendrickson squad that was without graduated Texas commit Daje Johnson, Rice signee Reid Mitchell, and 2013 star running back prospect Samaje Perine, out with an injury sustained in Hendrickson's final playoff game in 2011. The Hawks still managed to find receivers running behind the Lake Travis secondary, a notable weakness for a team with aspirations of once again competing for the state title in College Station and have a strong chance next weekend at Lake Travis.
Several prospects stood out during the semifinals and the finals:
Baker Mayfield, senior Lake Travis quarterback: The latest in what is becoming a long line of successful Lake Travis quarterbacks -- including Todd Reesing, Garrett Gilbert, and Michael Brewer -- Mayfield excels during the fall in the Lake Travis spread and helped lead the Cavaliers to a deep run in 2011 at the state 7-on-7 tournament..
On the recruiting front, the 6-1, 200-pound Mayfield holds offers from Washington State, Rice, and Houston, and believes that North Carolina may be close to offering, with interest from TCU and SMU as well. During the summer, Mayfield plans on camping at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and TCU, though he will be somewhat limited by his commitment to the Lake Travis baseball squad.
When asked about the Washington State offer, Mr. Mayfield said that Mike Leach and his staff have done a tremendous job of recruiting his son, especially area recruiter Eric Morris, the slot receiver known as the Elf during his time in Lubbock under Leach. For his part, the younger Mayfield lit up when asked about the Cougar offer. However, the issue for the Mayfields is the distance from home, though a tentatively planned visit to the Palouse could help the Washington State cause.
Where Mike Leach still at Texas Tech and recruiting Mayfield, it seems safe to say that his recruitment would have already been over. When asked about a timetable, Mayfield indicated that he's not in a hurry and will likely take advantage of his official visits in the fall, as his ability to travel during the summer is limited by those aforementioned baseball commitments.
On the field, Mayfield doesn't have ideal size for the position, but neither did former Kansas starter Reesing or Brewer, currently a Texas Tech Red Raider. What Mayfield does have is a strong arm for his size, relatively refined mechanics that include solid footwork, ideal pre-release ball placement, and an over-the-top delivery that maximizes the height of his release.
In the short and intermediate passing game, Mayfield is accurate nearly every time and capable of hitting his receivers in stride and with velocity. On the run, Mayfield can throw moving either left or right with no loss of velocity, as he keeps his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and takes advantage of his lower body.
Besides the interceptions, mostly a result of attempting to force passes as Lake Travis attempted their comeback, the only apparent concern with Mayfield is that he can push the ball when attempting to throw well downfield, resulting in inconsistent accuracy and a loss of RPMs, perhaps the area that represents his greatest potential for improvement. It's not a lack of arm strength either -- more about developing touch in that specific area.
If Mayfield does end up committing to Washington State, he'll fit well into the Airraid scheme run by Mike Leach. In the end, that fit may well overcome the distance factor.
Zach Austin, senior Lake Travis wide receiver -- The best receiver among the four pool winners, Austin does not currently hold any offers, likely a result of a combination of factors -- his height, a lack of strong top-end speed, and the fact that he suffered a separated shoulder. Austin is receiving interest from Washington State, North Texas, SMU, and UTSA. During the summer, he plans on camping at UTSA, Rice, and North Texas, and could possibly attend a regional camp for the Cougars.
A breakout star during a junior season that saw Austin explode onto the scene with more than 70 catches and 18 touchdowns, similar or better production during his junior season could significantly increase interest in the 6-0, 170-pounder. While Austin has been clocked in the 4.6 range in the 40, his shuttle times are much better, as evidence on the field in his short-area quickness, burst in and out of breaks, and the wiggle that he can show in the open field, even in 7-on-7. A strong route runner as a result of that quickness, Austin plays bigger than his size because he can time his leaps well to elevate over defenders for catches and shows the ability to catch the ball outside his body with his strong hands.
Varshaun Nixon, 2014 Lake Travis running back -- Perhaps the top overall prospect at the event, Nixon is considered one of the best backs in the state for the 2014 class. At 5-9 and 180 pounds, his size leads to the classification of him as an all-purpose back, but he's well built and physically strong enough to handle a relatively high volume of carries in college and already holds offers from Clemson, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech.
The 7-on-7 setting is not the best for showcasing running backs, but Nixon was a standout last summer on a team that included 2012 TCU signee Griffin Gilbert and 2013 Ole Miss pledge Dannon Cavil. On Saturday, Nixon wasn't targeted often in the final two games and notably dropped one pass at full extension during the attempted comeback against Westwood. Still, he looks the part, produces in the fall, and will continue to be a highly-coveted prospect.
Dajon Williams, 2013 Pflugerville Connally quarterback -- Out of the three potential FBS quarterback prospects in the finals, Williams has the best frame at 6-3 and 190 pounds. However, he's also even more raw than Fenimore and isn't benefiting from the exceptionally deep 2013 quarterback class in the state of Texas.
Currently holding an offer from Montana, Williams indicated that North Texas has told him he'll receive an offer at their summer camp. He's also receiving interest from Baylor, TCU, and Houston, and plans on camping at the latter two schools during the summer.
A true dual threat who excels as a runner when he has pads on, the 7-on-7 environment is an invaluable learning experience for Williams, but it doesn't show off his true talents to full effect. Williams admitted that he needs to work on his footwork and it shows at times, as his accuracy was not always there. He also tends to hold the ball low and loose, while letting his elbow drop, so Williams will have to work on almost his entire motion when he gets to college.
At times he can use his length to put some serious torque on the football -- Williams is not particularly limited physically in terms of where he can put the football, but he's far from developed as a prospect.
Bear Fenimore, 2014 Westwood quarterback -- While Fenimore would surely love to receive an offer from his childhood favorite, it's not yet clear if he has the talent level to earn an offer from a school like Alabama or other high-profile BCS schools, especially since he is yet to start a game at Westwood after backing up Texas baseball signee Ben Johnson last season.
At around 6-2 and over 200 pounds, Fenimore has a strong, sturdy build that helps him as a runner and his ability to gain yards on the ground will in large part determine his collegiate upside. With a clean and ideal delivery, it's clear that Fenimore has been receiving some high-level quarterback instruction and that he can translate that to the field.
What stood out the most is that Fenimore spun the football with more consistency than any of the other quarterbacks and showed his accuracy as he mostly worked short routes, making the correct decisions and not forcing passes. At times, Fenimore opted to take sacks rather than force the football -- a strategy that plays better in 7-on-7 than it would during the season, when the Westwood prospect would likely seek to vacate the pocket or otherwise extend the play.
It would have been nice to see more variety in terms of throws from Fenimore, especially down the field outside, in the seam, and from one harshmark to another. As such, his ultimate arm strength wasn't on display, but he did what it took to win, and that is what will always define a quarterback at the end of the day.