Texas A&M Aggies: Dylan Sumner-Gardner

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M’s defense struggled across the board in 2013, and the Aggies can use all the help, and depth, they can get in order to improve in 2014.

That is probably more true at safety than any other position. It’s a spot the Aggies have found challenges when trying to maintain or add talent and depth, with the latest hurdle coming recently as spring practice opened.

The loss of safety Kameron Miles, whom the Aggies announced officially on Thursday had been dismissed from the team for unspecified reasons, isn’t cause for panic because as head coach Kevin Sumlin pointed out, Miles didn’t see the field at all last season.

[+] EnlargeClay Honeycutt
Juan DeLeon/Icon SMIClay Honeycutt is one of the returning players Texas A&M hopes will fill the open safety positions.
But it is cause for concern at position of need for the Aggies. This is one of the biggest challenges facing new Texas A&M secondary coach Terry Joseph this spring.

Safety is certainly a position where they need to see on-field improvement, both from the 2013 contributors who are returning this season (Clay Honeycutt, Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven) and the new bodies that could step in.

So while Miles -- an ESPN 300 recruit who signed in the 2013 class -- didn’t play (he redshirted after missing all of preseason training camp recovering from a knee injury), he certainly was a candidate to do so this season. Losing him is impactful, especially considering his potential and the rough end to Class of 2014 recruiting at the position.

Texas A&M had an ESPN 300 safety committed to them for months in Dylan Sumner-Gardner, but he switched his commitment to Boise State in early January after former secondary coach Marcel Yates left his post in Aggieland to accept the defensive coordinator position at Boise State. Even before Sumner-Gardner’s switch, the Aggies were still trying to add another safety to the 2014 recruiting class.

The loss made finding a safety even more urgent in the class. The Aggies long recruited ESPN 300 safety Steven Parker II (who signed with Oklahoma) and made a late run at ESPN 300 safety Mattrell McGraw (who signed with Oregon), not to mention other ESPN 300 prospects whom they recruited earlier in the process but decided on other programs.

The Aggies were able to land a safety late in the 2014 recruiting cycle when three-star athlete Donovan Wilson (Shreveport, La./Woodlawn) committed four days before national signing day and inked a letter of intent with the Aggies. He will enroll at Texas A&M for the fall semester, but whether he will be able to have an impact this fall is unknown until he arrives on campus.

Texas A&M has commitments from two elite safeties in the 2015 recruiting class in ESPN Junior 300 prospects Justin Dunning and Larry Pryor Jr., but that has no bearing on this fall.

What is known is that the Aggies need the three who played the most last season to improve and for others to contribute. One name Sumlin mentioned on Thursday was junior safety Devonta Burns, a 6-foot, 214-pounder who contributed mostly on special teams last season.

“Devonta Burns is having a really, really good camp,” Sumlin said. “He’s been around here a long time and really was a good special teams player for us from game three, four, five, on. It’s about time for him to start showing up and he has. You’ve got three guys back there [Honeycutt, Matthews and Raven] who have played a lot, not always well, but have played and are experienced and need to step up. I think Devonta is right in the mix with the other three guys.”

The Aggies also have the services of 6-3, 213-pound sophomore Jonathan Wiggins, a 2013 signee who saw most of his time on special teams last season. Beyond him, the options consist of mostly walk-ons such as Sam Moeller (last year’s 12th Man) or perhaps even someone like Shane Huhn, a transfer from UTEP who sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules.

Another potential option is using the secondary’s best player, senior cornerback Deshazor Everett, at safety. Everett has flip-flopped between cornerback and safety before, including on certain occasions last season when the Aggies needed the help. However, it appears that Everett is working exclusively at cornerback, and Sumlin said he doesn’t anticipate that changing, at least “Not right now.”

Everett said last week that he has seen improvement from the safety returnees, especially Matthews.

“He’s a different player now,” Everett said of Matthews. “He’s not lagging around or doing it his way. He’s playing hard, he’s going hard every play, he’s being vocal. That’s what we need at the back end from the safeties, because they have to communicate to everybody on the defense. He’s definitely changed.”

“Floyd is definitely understanding the defense more, and Clay has always been a smart player. With the new coaching change and the way we’re running it, it’s set up so that you can always make plays and always be in the right position, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

The Aggies’ secondary also have new blood in the form of Joseph, the former Nebraska secondary coach. The reviews for Joseph have been positive thus far, including from defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, who called Joseph a “technician” and “fundamentalist.”

Everett also has noticed his new position coach’s impact thus far.

“He’s a real vocal coach and he wants you to do it exactly the way he wants you to do it, and there’s no other way about it,” Everett said. “If you’re not going to do it his way, you’re not going to play, so you have to adjust to that and you have to go out there and do it his way.”

If Joseph has it his way, there will be more answers than questions at safety come August. Fortunately for the Aggies, three weeks remain in spring practice to find some.

ESPN 300 DB talks flip to Boise State 

January, 4, 2014
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When Marcel Yates left Texas A&M to take the defensive coordinator position at Boise State, there was immediate chatter.

Would Dylan Sumner-Gardner (Mesquite, Texas/West Mesquite) follow Yates?

Three days of practice are now in the books and overall execution was sharper as the players begin to move into final preparations for the Under Armour All-America Game on Thursday. The productivity of the players picked up as did the speed of the play, and they’re continuing to think less and display their natural ability more. It was a physical day, with the pads popping and some big hits throughout the practice. Here are some of the highlights.

Top performers


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Manziel or Winston? Prospects weigh in

December, 29, 2013
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- There are many topics of conversation among prospects playing in the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game. One of them centers around the past two Heisman Trophy winners.

On Saturday, upon checking in for the prestigious game, a number of prospects weighed in on a hot topic involving Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Florida State's Jameis Winston.

If they had to choose between the two, who would the players take as their college quarterback? Here are their responses:

[+] EnlargeMarlon Humphrey
Courtesy of IntersportNo. 9 overall prospect Marlon Humphrey likes how Johnny Manziel makes others around him better.
Five-star cornerback Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Al./Hoover High): Ah man, I think I’m going to have to go with Johnny Manziel. I just feel like he kind of made a team out of nothing. Jameis Winston is a great quarterback too, but he doesn’t have the scrambling skills that Manziel has. This year, you could tell that his teams defense wasn’t that good, the players around him weren’t as good, but he kept making his team better. He’s has the fight in him I would want on my team.

Florida commit and No. 20-ranked Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central High): I would say Jameis Winston. He’s really a pure quarterback, and I think he sets up things more for a running back than Johnny Manziel does.

Auburn running back commit Racean Thomas (Oxford, Al./Oxford High): I would probably pick Jameis Winston. The reason behind that is because he is more of a leader for a young quarterback, and I think he can make his team a more mature team. I really think he would be a great quarterback to play with.

Florida wide receiver commit and No. 28 Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead Senior High): Whew, I don’t know. I think Jameis Winston. I look at how both of them played as a freshman, and I like how Jameis Winston leads his team. He is also more pro-ready than Manziel.

Texas defensive end commit and No. 78-overall Derick Roberson (San Antonio, Texas/William J. Brennan High): I guess I would say Johnny Manziel. I like how he plays with his swagger and confidence the most, so I would probably say him.

Notre Dame commit and No. 76-ranked Tyler Luatua (la Mirada, Calif./La Mirada High): I would take Manziel just because of the way he plays. If he doesn’t have a wide receiver open, he can make plays himself. He can get the ball to his players if and when he wants to, but can also do it on his own when he needs to.

No. 38 overall John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach Polytechnic High School): That’s a hard one. As of right now, I would go with Jameis Winston. Overall, he’s a great player. I think Winston has an awesome football IQ. Johnny had his year too, but I think Winston is just a great player. Outstanding.

Dylan Sumner-Gardner: Jameis Winston, man. I feel comfortable with Jameis Winston as my quarterback because he’s smart and accurate. Johnny is accurate too, but Johnny is Johnny. How he runs around, people may get nervous. I would just feel more comfortable with Jameis as my quarterback.

No. 22 overall Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville High): That’s a hard one right there. Let me think ... maybe Johnny Manziel because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a white boy get down like that. It would have to be Johnny Manziel.

Penn State wide receiver commit Chris Godwin (Middletown, De./Middletown High): I think Jameis Winston. I think overall he’s a better passer. I want a quarterback back there that can get me the ball on a consistent basis, but Johnny Manziel is a great player, too. I’m actually a big fan of both of them.

Five-star and Virginia defensive tackle commit Andrew Brown (Chesapeake, VA
Oscar Frommel Smith High)
: Dang, that’s a good question, man. I would go with Jameis Winston. His leadership qualities, coming in as a freshman and doing the things he is doing is definitely uncommon. It just foreshadows what he is going to do in the future, too. He’s already established a great foundation for himself, and I would definitely take him in the future.

Maryland commit Will Ulmer (Washington, D.C./Saint John’s High): I’m going with Johnny Manziel. I think he’s more dynamic, and more of a game-changer. Jameis Winston is a great quarterback too, but you have to think about all the dudes he has around him at FSU -- all the great receivers and good running backs. I would go with Manziel because if you put him on the Florida State team, or a stacked team like that, it would be a scary sight.

Best SEC recruiters 

October, 15, 2013
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Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.

It's no secret that Southeastern Conference has been the top conference in the country as far as recruiting over the last several years. The league currently has six teams ranked in the top 11 of the team recruiting rankings. Here's a look at the top 10 recruiters around the ultra-competitive conference.

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UA Game jersey tour: Sumner-Gardner

September, 13, 2013
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Senior safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner was presented his honorary game jersey Friday at West Mesquite High School in Mesquite, Texas, during the American Family Insurance Selection Tour for the 2014 Under Armour All-America High School Football Game.

[+] EnlargeDylan Sumner-Gardner
Courtesy of IntersportDylan Sumner-Gardner is one of 90 players selected to compete in the seventh annual Under Armour All-America Game.
Sumner-Gardner, a Texas A&M commitment, is one of 90 players selected to compete in the seventh annual Under Armour All-America Game presented by American Family Insurance, a nationally televised competition spotlighting the country’s top high school seniors. The 2014 Under Armour All-America Game is set for 4 p.m. ET on Jan. 2 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and will be televised on ESPN.

“First off, I just want to thank God,” Sumner-Gardner said. “I want to thank my coaches, my teammates and everybody that came out."

West Mesquite coach Jeff Neill said it’s a great honor for the school to have its first Under Armour All-America selection.

“This is our second All-American, first Under Armour All-American and I know Dylan is really proud to have the opportunity to experience this, get to go to Orlando, get to experience that game and represent West Mesquite High School.” Neill said.

Following in the footsteps of the players that have come before him is a highlight for Sumner-Gardner.

“I’m looking forward to going out and having fun, playing with the best players in the nation … and get out of this Texas heat. That’s great to follow in the footsteps of Julio Jones and A.J. Green because they made it to the NFL, so hopefully one day I can make it to the NFL.” He said.

The 6-foot-1, 198-pound Sumner-Gardner is the No. 91 prospect overall and the No. 7 safety in the class. He committed to Texas A&M over offers from Clemson, Texas, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, TCU, LSU, Baylor and others.
One good way to describe ESPN 300 safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner (Mesquite, Texas/West Mesquite)? "A smiler."

At least, that's what stands out to some people around him.

"He's always smiling," West Mesquite defensive coordinator Kyle Ward said. "When he's angry or frustrated, you can tell, because he's always smiling, so you can tell something's wrong when he's not smiling."

When it comes to football, there has been plenty for Sumner-Gardner to smile about. In March, he committed to Texas A&M. In May, he announced he'll play in the Under Armour All-American Game in January. Next week, he'll be in Oregon to participate in The Opening.

Sumner-Garnder, who is the No. 90 overall player in the ESPN 150 and ranked as the seventh-best safety prospect nationally in the 2014 class, is loving the doors football has opened for him.


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Texas A&M instant impact recruits 

June, 25, 2013
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Here is a look at the top 10 Texas A&M commits and targets who are capable of making the biggest impact in 2014:

1. OLB Hoza Scott (La Porte, Texas/La Porte)
6-foot-3/225 pounds
ESPN 300 rank: 42


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ESPN 300 analysis: Texas A&M Aggies 

June, 17, 2013
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If you want evidence as to why Texas A&M has one of the best recruiting classes in the nation, look no further than the latest ESPN 300.

Last season, the Aggies -- who had college football's No. 8 recruiting class -- hauled in 10 players in the 2013 ESPN 300.


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MESQUITE, Texas -- Good news, Texas A&M fans: Dylan Sumner-Gardner (Mesquite, Texas/West Mesquite) is back.

A bone bruise in his left knee has kept Sumner-Gardner sidelined since March. It even turned the ESPN 150 safety into the nation’s most recruited cameraman. Sumner-Gardner was expected to return to action June 15, in time for the upcoming Camp of Conquerors 7-on-7 Tournament.


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There is a lot a young defensive back can learn through repetitions against an older sibling or friend. But it's just not going to have the same effect as, say, going up against an NFL wide receiver.

The talent gap was extreme, but Bailey Phillips already was well versed in going up against older wide receivers. He wasn't going to shy away from Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Emmanuel Sanders during a workout back in 2010, the summer before Sanders left for training camp.


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ESPN 150 targets: Texas A&M 

April, 18, 2013
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Myles GarrettWilliam Wilkerson/ESPN.comESPN 150 defensive end Myles Garrett is feeling strong, as his offer list is a who's who of elite Division I football programs.
Texas A&M has three commits in the 2014 ESPN 150, which was released today. Here's a look at the Aggies' top 10 targets in the ESPN 150, listed from highest to lowest ranked:

1. CB Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra)
5-foot-11, 183 pounds
ESPN 150 Rank: 5

Why they want him: Speed and athleticism. Jackson has most of what coaches want in a cornerback. His fluid hips, foot quickness and natural athleticism make him an elite prospect. Could wind up on the offensive side of the ball and said some schools are recruiting him as a receiver.

Who else wants him: Plenty of power programs have offered Jackson, including Florida, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oregon and USC.

Odds they get him: Jackson said he intends to visit Texas A&M this summer, so the Aggies will have their chance to impress the five-star prospect. USC and UCLA are also schools that the Illinois native is interested in but Aggies' secondary coach Marcel Yates has experience recruiting the West Coast from his days at Boise State and landed 2013 ESPN 150 receiver Sebastian LaRue for the Aggies earlier this year.


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Five stories to watch: Dallas NFTC 

April, 7, 2013
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The Nike Football Training Camp series will continue outside of Dallas on Sunday. Athletes will trek to Allen, Texas, the home of one of the most impressive high school stadiums in the country. Allen Eagles Stadium, a $60-million facility, opened last year and featured nearly 22,000 fans watching Texas powers Allen and Southlake Carroll clash.

Here are five storylines to watch on Sunday.

Talented DBs aplenty

It’s been said on multiple occasions that the 2014 class may be one of the strongest in years at producing big-time defensive backs in the region. The battle for defensive back MVP has the potential of being extremely competitive with players such as Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville), Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron), Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen), Steven Parker (Jenks, Okla./Jenks) and Arrion Springs (San Antonio/Roosevelt) expected to be in attendance. Chris Hardeman (Houston/Alief Taylor) has committed to LSU, while Dylan Sumner-Gardner (Mesquite, Texas/West Mesquite) and Armani Watts (Forney, Texas/North Forney) have pledged to Texas A&M. Deionte Thompson (Orange, Texas/West Orange-Stark), a 2015 prospect, has verbally committed to Alabama. All of the DBs will have their shots in one-on-one drills against equally talented ESPN Watch List receivers such as Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis), K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant) and Texas commit Lorenzo Joe (Abilene, Texas/Cooper).


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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- In his first spring as Texas A&M's head coach, Kevin Sumlin hosted a night-time scrimmage open to Aggies fans, invited some of the top recruits in the state to come watch it, put it inside Kyle Field and dubbed it "Friday Night Lights."


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Going into last weekend, Texas A&M had a little ground to make up when it came to the race for Katy (Texas) Seven Lakes defensive end Jarrett Johnson.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound prospect already had visited Texas, but his visit to Aggieland closed the gap in the race. The Aggies made quite the impression on Johnson, enough for him to call the race "even."


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