Texas A&M Aggies: Marcel Yates

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.

Texas A&M WR LaRue to transfer

January, 10, 2014
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Texas A&M freshman receiver Sebastian LaRue asked for his release and will transfer out of the program, the receiver confirmed to ESPN.com.

LaRue, who redshirted during the Aggies' 2013 season, was an ESPN 300 recruit who was a part of Texas A&M's eighth-ranked 2013 recruiting class. He was one of six receivers the Aggies signed in the 2013 class and he was rated the second-highest in the 2013 crop.

The Santa Monica (Calif.) High School graduate indicated in a text message that he plans to transfer to a school closer to home, though he's not sure where he'll land just yet.

"I just need to be closer to my family," LaRue said.

The story was first reported by GigEm247.com.

Coming out of high school, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound LaRue was an Under Armour All-American and a four-star recruit, ranked as the No. 74 overall player in the nation. He was the ninth-ranked receiver in the country and was known for his speed and playmaking ability, both as a receiver and as a return specialist.

LaRue was recruited by former Texas A&M secondary coach Marcel Yates, who recently left the Aggies to become the defensive coordinator at Boise State.

During his recruiting process, LaRue was originally committed to USC before decommitting roughly a month before national signing day. Washington State was also one of LaRue's finalists before he chose the Aggies.
Nebraska secondary coach Terry Joseph is weighing a move from Lincoln to Texas A&M, saying on Saturday that he had been offered a position to coach defensive backs for Kevin Sumlin.

Formerly the secondary coach and recruiting coordinator at Tennesssee, Joseph came to Nebraska before the 2012 season. He told the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star that he needed to speak with Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after the visit this weekend to College Station.

“They offered me the job,” Joseph said to the newspaper. "It’s a lot of money, but I told Bo I would come back and talk to him before I took the job.

[+] Enlarge Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsSenior CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste was part of a dramatically improved secondary under assistant coach Terry Joseph.
“Now, if you say, ‘It’s a lot of money and Nebraska isn’t going to match it?’ Then, yeah, it’s a done deal, because that’s what it comes down to, getting my contract extended and me getting a lot of money.”

How's that for a money quote?

Joseph earned $245,000 at Nebraska this year as part of a group that ranks third in the Big Ten in coaching staff pay. Former A&M secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Marcel Yates, who left recently for Boise State, earned $308,200 on Sumlin’s staff.

Mitch Sherman, who covers Nebraska for ESPN.com, and A&M reporter Sam Khan discuss the situation:

How significant would the loss of Joseph rate for Nebraska?

Sherman: It’s a big deal. Under Joseph in two years, Nebraska ranked fourth nationally in opponent completion percentage. In 2012, it led the nation in that category. And in 2013, the Huskers ranked seventh in opponent third-down conversion rate in large part because of the work of his defensive backs. Cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste improved considerably under Joseph in addition to safety Corey Cooper, who developed into one of the Huskers’ top tacklers this year. In the Huskers’ TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl win over Georgia, cornerback Josh Mitchell intercepted a pass and recovered a fumbled punt return. And young players like LeRoy Alexander have shown signs of growth under Joseph’s watch. His secondary, over two years, easily rates as the most consistent area of a Nebraska defense that has undergone a transformation. Without him, the task to replace Evans and Jean-Baptiste turns much more complex.

Would the addition of Joseph rank as a big score for Sumlin and the Aggies?

Khan: Definitely. The secondary is an area that still needs improvement for the Aggies (all you had to do was watch the Chick-fil-A Bowl to figure that out), and the sooner the Aggies fill the void left by Yates, the better. But aside from on-field coaching, Sumlin puts a priority on guys who can recruit. Joseph clearly can. His background as a high school coach and a college assistant in the state of Louisiana is attractive to Sumlin and the Aggies because that's a state in which they're continuing to grow a presence. Several key defensive starters hail from "The Boot," and the Aggies are trying to go toe to toe with LSU and recently won a key battle in nabbing five-star athlete Speedy Noil. Joseph can likely help the Aggies efforts in recruiting that state.

How else has Joseph impacted Nebraska?

Sherman: He’s one of the Huskers’ top recruiters, landing prospects such as tight end Cethan Carter, defensive back Boaz Joseph and receiver Tre'Vell Dixon a year ago. Joseph helped land athlete Jaevon Walton and defensive backs Joshua Kalu and Trai Mosley in the unsigned 2014 class. His connections run deep in fertile Louisiana, where Joseph played baseball at Northwestern State and coached football in the high school ranks before a stint as the secondary coach at Louisiana Tech.

What would Joseph have to work with in Aggieland?

Khan: There's some depth in the defensive backfield at cornerback with starters Deshazor Everett and De'Vante Harris set to return in 2014. Behind those two are several young corners that were part of a large 2013 recruiting class haul, including Noel Ellis, Tavares Garner and Alex Sezer, all of whom saw playing time on either defense or special teams as true freshmen this season. Safety is another story. The Aggies do have returnees back there in Howard Matthews, Floyd Raven and Clay Honeycutt, but all of them struggled last season. Freshman Kameron Miles, who injured his knee in training camp and redshirted and 6-foot-3 freshman Jonathan Wiggins, who played in nine games mostly on special teams, should be ready to contribute come next season.

What would his absence mean for Nebraska?

Sherman: While never good to lose a coach in a lateral move, Sumlin is offering money the Huskers just may not want to match. Pelini is well connected and should find a solid replacement. But Joseph’s departure, inevitably, would raise questions about the staffers’ confidence in the stability at Nebraska after Pelini received a stay from the school’s administration at the close of a rocky regular season.

What would his impact mean at Texas A&M?

Khan: He would be a quality addition to the coaching staff and fulfills the requirements Sumlin looks for in assistants: someone who can be both a good on-field coach and a presence in recruiting. He has worked in the SEC and has a solid overall resume, so he should be a solid fit in Aggieland.

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?

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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Aggie Snapshot: S Howard Matthews 

June, 24, 2013
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During the summer, GigEmNation will take a closer look at returning starters and other key players on the two-deep for Texas A&M -- excluding the Aggies' 2013 recruiting class -- that could make notable impact this fall in our Aggie Snapshot series. Starting with No. 1 De'Vante Harris, the series will follow the roster numerically through our final analysis of No. 95 Julien Obioha.

No. 31 Howard Matthews
Junior safety



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2015 DB Sheffield planning SEC visit 

June, 24, 2013
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PEARLAND, Texas — June has been a busy month for highly-regarded 2015 cornerback Kendall Sheffield (Missouri City, Texas/Thurgood Marshall).

Since the spring semester concluded, Sheffield took a visit to Texas A&M, traveled to Chicago for the Rivals Five-Star Challenge and he has been working on his other passion, track and field, in anticipation of some big meets this summer.


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Since he could remember, ESPN 300 athlete Armani Watts has been playing multiple roles on the football field.

Even when he was at the tender age of 5, the Forney (Texas) North Forney prospect can remember not wanting to come off the field.

That mentality has stayed with him throughout his football development. The 5-foot-11, 179-pound Watts, who is the No. 258 player in the ESPN 300 and committed to Texas A&M, likes playing multiple roles for his team.


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Texas A&M held its second one-day camp of the month on Sunday at the Coolidge Grass Practice Fields in College Station, Texas and there was plenty of action during -- and after -- the camp when it came to recruiting. Among the highlights:

Aggies offer 2014 OT

La Grange (Texas) High School offensive tackle Zachary Ledwik has seen his recruiting stock skyrocket recently. A week ago, Texas offered the 6-foot-5 prospect and on Sunday, Texas A&M became the latest team to offer Ledwik. He weighed in at 273 pounds and with a handful of power conference offers already (Arizona State, Baylor, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Oregon State and Texas Tech are the others), he's finding that his decision will be a difficult one. Ledwik will return to Texas today for a visit and after that's complete, he said he plans to schedule an unofficial visit to return to Texas A&M.


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RICHMOND, Texas — The ongoing transition for ESPN 150 athlete Nick Harvey (Richmond, Texas/Travis) has been mostly positive.

After moving to the Houston-area with his family after a memorable run to the Class 4A Divison II state championship game last fall with Lancaster (Texas) High School, the spring semester has been about adjustments -- to new surroundings, new teammates, new friends, a new life.


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Prospects use Twitter in a multitude of ways when it comes to recruiting, including announcing their commitment or their lists of top schools.


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2015 S Dunning talks TAMU spring game 

April, 15, 2013
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Texas A&M's Maroon-and-White spring football game was not Justin Dunning's first trip to Aggieland.

Like many high school football players in Texas, he has participated in the Texas state 7-on-7 championships, which were annually held at Texas A&M's Penberthy Rec Sports Complex until this year, when it will move to a new town. Dunning also attended the Aggies' home game against South Carolina State in 2012 on his own accord.

But his trip on Saturday was his first true recruiting visit to Texas A&M and in his words, it was a good one.


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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Going into the 2012 season, Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder could take some comfort in the fact that the Aggies' defense had experienced upperclassmen in key spots.

Two starting linebackers, both of whom emerged as leaders for the 11-2 Aggies, were seniors (Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart). So was the starting free safety (Steven Terrell) and one defensive tackle (Spencer Nealy). The player who emerged as the team's leader in several statistical categories was a junior and third-year letterman, Damontre Moore.

[+] EnlargeDeshazor Everett
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesCould Deshazor Everett become a leader for Texas A&M this season?
With all of those players gone, the Aggies are hunting for new leaders on their defense. Interestingly, it may come from the part of the defense that was the youngest last season: the secondary.

"Coming into the spring, we basically have been trying to find our new leaders," senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said. "Vocal leaders, people that lead by example. We have a couple of people that are falling into that role. Donnie Baggs, Howard Matthews, Deshazor Everett and I've also been one of the people that are trying to step into this new role. We're trying to find new leaders for the defense and for the team next year."

Baggs is the first team middle linebacker -- the same position Stewart was in last year -- so his emergence is key. The new blood replacing the other departed seniors, and Moore, are all young or inexperienced or both.

Matthews, who started the Aggies' last four games at strong safety and played in 12, has probably made the biggest transformation. At the start of last season, he wasn't even on the two-deep. By season's end, he became a key player and this spring, Snyder and defensive backs coach Marcel Yates are looking to him to help others, like junior Floyd Raven, who has moved to free safety from cornerback.

(Read full post)

A&M trip opens Watch List safety's eyes 

March, 21, 2013
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The secret is out about ESPN Watch List safety Steven Parker (Jenks, Okla./Jenks), and now Parker is starting to get out himself.


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Adoree JacksonBlair Angulo/WeAreSC.comAdoree' Jackson is interested in visiting Texas A&M this summer.
ESPN Watch List athlete Adoreé Jackson wasn't able to participate in the Los Angeles Nike Football Training Camp over the weekend because of a foot injury, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been busy on the recruiting trail.


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