Texas A&M Aggies: Otaro Alaka

When it comes to Texas A&M's spring, the first question surrounding the Aggies often relates to the quarterback battle and who is in the lead to succeed Johnny Manziel.

The next question is usually relates to the defense, and how much better -- if at all -- the unit will be after a disastrous 2013 season.

While neither can be definitively answered, when it comes to the defense, there is at least some reason for optimism coming out of spring football. The Aggies can't get much worse than they were a year ago, when the ranked last or near last in the SEC in virtually every major statistical category, but there were signs during spring practice that indicate that brighter days are ahead for defensive coordinator Mark Snyder's group.

One reason the Aggies have to feel better about their defense is the experience they'll have. Last year the root of the struggles seemed to be the youth and inexperience up and down the depth chart, with the Aggies having as many as a dozen freshmen in the defensive two-deep.

Though the Aggies will still be relatively young in some areas (particularly linebacker), most of the players who are candidates to start or see significant time were thrown in the fire last season.

Middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni is a perfect example. Though he'll only be a sophomore this fall, he started against Alabama last Sept. 14 and in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Duke. Mastrogiovanni called it "overwhelming," but as the guy getting first-team work at his position this spring, coaches have heaped praise upon the former ESPN 300 prospect.

Should defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne return from suspensions (both missed the spring after February arrests), they too will benefit. Both started a large portion of the season as true freshmen.

Other players who could be in position to contribute, such as linebacker Shaan Washington or cornerback Noel Ellis, weren't starters but saw enough field time to give them a taste of what life in the SEC is like.

Add to those young players a host of returning veterans, such as the starting secondary of Deshazor Everett, De'Vante Harris, Howard Matthews and Julien Obioha, Gavin Stansbury and Alonzo Williams and the Aggies can begin piecing together a more experienced defense.

With so many players returning (nine starters return from last year's defense) and a top-five recruiting class on the way, the Aggies will continue to add to their talent level on defense. One defensive player is already on campus (defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson) and showed flashes of his potential during spring football.

With players like defensive end Myles Garrett, the nation's No. 4 overall prospect, ESPN 300 athlete Nick Harvey, who will be a defensive back at Texas A&M and other ESPN 300 prospects like Deshawn Washington, Otaro Alaka, Qualen Cunningham, Armani Watts and Josh Walker, competition will only increase when preseason training camp starts.


The increased depth on the defensive line could be the biggest factor in helping the defense improve. Snyder indicated how critical it was earlier this month.

"Up front for the first time, we're going to be able to roll people," Snyder said. "I told [defensive line coach] Terry [Price] … that when we get to the fall, we're going to have to practice our rotations, which is a great thing."

For the Aggies, there really is nowhere to go but up defensively. They could be another year away from being the kind of defense they hope to be, but the developments this spring suggest at least some improvement is in order in 2014.
Editor's note: This is the third part of a weeklong series looking at five position battles to watch in spring practice, which begins Feb. 28 for Texas A&M.

When it comes to linebackers, the 2013 season was one of change for Texas A&M, at least when compared to 2012.

[+] EnlargeDonnie Baggs
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNSenior Donnie Baggs could get the first crack at Texas A&M's starting strongside linebacker job.
After a 2012 season in which the linebackers were a model of consistency with then-seniors Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart and then-junior Steven Jenkins, 2013 brought much more shuffling.

With Jenkins the only returning starter among the linebacker corps, youth and/or inexperience was served. The Aggies went through an early-season change at middle linebacker, started a converted receiver at strongside linebacker at times and threw some true freshmen into action early for myriad reasons, whether it was injury, suspension or ineffectiveness.

This season, and particularly this spring, linebacker, particularly the strongside position, will be a compelling position to watch.

With Darian Claiborne likely to start at weakside linebacker and Jordan Mastrogiovanni projected to be the starter at middle linebacker going into spring football, it leaves several candidates to battle for the strongside linebacker job.

The candidates will be numerous. Donnie Baggs, who will be a senior, ended the 2013 season as the No. 1 player on the depth chart at the position and should be a factor in the race. In 12 games last season, playing both outside and middle linebacker, Baggs had 30 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, though he began the year as the starter at middle linebacker before being replaced by Claiborne, who had a strong freshman season.

Shaan Washington, who earned playing time as a true freshman on both special teams and as an outside linebacker, is another to watch. Washington appeared in 12 games and garnered three sacks and four tackles for loss while compiling 26 tackles.

Outside linebacker Tommy Sanders, a junior college transfer who was in his first season in Aggieland last year, started in place of a suspended Jenkins early in the season and received playing time as Jenkins’ backup at weakside linebacker and could serve in that role to Claiborne this year as well. Last year’s strongside linebackers, Baggs (6-foot-1, 230 pounds), Washington (6-3, 220) and Nate Askew (6-4, 235), were slightly heavier or larger in stature than Sanders (6-2, 220), though.

Could A.J. Hilliard be a candidate? He is also a little smaller (6-foot-2, 210), than the aforementioned names, but the transfer from TCU is an intriguing possibility. An athletic linebacker, he received plenty of practice time on the second team during spring football in 2013 but had to sit out the fall per NCAA transfer rules. Hilliard was a player that head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff recruited when Sumlin was at Houston before Hilliard eventually chose TCU, and he’ll have a chance to compete somewhere in the linebacker corps.

When the summer arrives, the Aggies will also welcome two incoming outside linebacker recruits in ESPN 300 prospect Otaro Alaka and ESPN 300 prospect Josh Walker. So when preseason training camp begins in August, it stands to reason that those two will get a chance to compete for a spot as well. But when spring practice begins later this month, there should be no lack of competition at outside linebacker.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 27, 2014
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Less than two weeks remain until national signing day, and this was the second-to-last official visit weekend before Feb. 5. There were a couple of big decommitments, a few commitments and several key official visits. Here’s a closer look at all the latest recruiting news around the SEC.

Early Offer: Trojans get their QB 

January, 27, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Steve Sarkisian and USC landed a major building block for their future this past weekend when a blue-chip 2015 quarterback committed; a longtime Texas commit flipped to rival Texas A&M on Sunday; and a five-star cornerback said he will narrow his list to four schools early this week.


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ESPN 300 LB Alaka flips to Texas A&M

January, 26, 2014
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ESPN 300 linebacker Otaro Alaka (Houston/Cypress Falls) made it official on Sunday night: He’s going to Texas A&M.

The longtime Texas commit made his final decision and became the 22nd commitment of the Aggies’ No. 2-ranked recruiting class after a weekend of careful consideration.



Alaka committed to Texas in April but reconsidered his options after former Texas coach Mack Brown resigned. He took an official visit to College Station last weekend and hosted both Kevin Sumlin and Charlie Strong for in-home visits on Thursday.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound linebacker spent three days going back and forth, weighing his two final options. In the end, Cypress Falls coach Kirk Eaton said the decision came down to the relationship Alaka had built up with the Texas A&M staff over the last year. Linebackers coach Mark Hagen and special teams coach Jeff Banks joined Sumlin on the in-home visit.

The No. 187 ranked recruit in the ESPN 300, Alaka will play outside linebacker for the Aggies and has been told he can contribute immediately. He joins Josh Walker (Gilmer, Texas/Gilmer) as the second linebacker pledge in the class.

With the addition of Alaka, A&M now has verbal commitments from 11 members of the ESPN 300. Alaka is the fifth recruit to decommit from Texas following Brown's resignation.

ESPN 300 LB Alaka close to final decision 

January, 24, 2014
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ESPN 300 linebacker Otaro Alaka (Houston/Cypress Falls) just wants this process to end.

He’s down to Texas and Texas A&M and believes his final decision should come in the next few days.

"It just depends on how I’m feeling," Alaka said. "It might be two or three days. It’s just going to take a lot of thinking, a lot of praying.”


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Thursday is a big day for ESPN 300 outside linebacker Otaro Alaka (Houston/Cy Falls).

Thursday, however, may be an even bigger day for both Texas and Texas A&M.

In one of the biggest recruiting battles remaining, Alaka will host visits from both the Longhorns and Aggies on Thursday, a day that could ultimately break what Alaka’s calling a tie in the race for his services. Currently a Texas commit, Alaka said before Mack Brown and the Longhorns parted ways that if Brown were to leave, he would consider other options.

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Key recruiting visits -- SEC 

January, 17, 2014
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The dead period is in the rearview mirror, coaches are back on the road and the last three official visit weekends are set to begin. That means the rush to national signing day is upon us, and the scratching and clawing to close with a bang begins on Friday.

As expected, nearly every SEC program is hosting key visitors with both committed and uncommitted prospects remaining in play. Here's a look at some of the top recruits who are taking visits this weekend:

1. No. 14 prospect Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross): One of the three uncommitted five-star prospects, the recruitment of Carter is down to LSU, Florida, Florida State and Georgia, with the Tigers getting an official visit this weekend. Trips to Florida State on Jan. 24 and Georgia on Jan. 31 remain on the schedule.


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ESPN 300 OLB Alaka setting up visits 

January, 7, 2014
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Otaro Alaka has already lost his recruiter once. He’s not ready to do it again.

The ESPN 300 outside linebacker from Houston Cypress Falls has been committed to Texas since April but admitted Tuesday he’s considering a decommitment depending on which assistants new coach Charlie Strong decides to retain.


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Each week this spring, GigEmNation reporter Sam Khan Jr. will bring you notes and nuggets from watching and visiting with high school football prospects in the Greater Houston area that week, including observations of Texas A&M commitments and targets and other players that catch his attention. Here's this week's installment:

MANVEL, Texas -- Plenty of colleges have their eyes affixed on Manvel (Texas) High School because of 2014 prospect Koda Martin, who we profiled in-depth last week, but there are plenty more reasons for coaches to keep stopping by the school just south of Houston.

[+] EnlargeKemah Siverand
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNTexas and Texas A&M are stopping by soon to check out Class of 2015 wideout Kemah Siverand.
The 2013 class was loaded with the likes of receivers Austin Bennett (Oklahoma), Kyrion Parker (Texas A&M) and Carlos Thompson (Texas Tech), cornerback Tavares Garner (Texas A&M), defensive tackle Dewan Edmonson (UTEP), quarterback Shane McCarley (Old Dominon) and center Travis Romero (Southeastern Louisiana). Martin headlines a 2014 class that also includes a large defensive tackle, 6-foot-6, 280-pound Justin Gardner.

Last season was Gardner's first on varsity and he's getting interest from Houston, Maryland and Texas Tech. His size and athleticism will get him looks and Manvel coach Kirk Martin is looking for a big senior season from Gardner.

There are prospects in the 2015 class as well but the class to watch at Manvel is the 2016 group, where two potential stars are: safety Deontay Anderson and receiver Reggie Hemphill.

Hemphill received playing time on varsity last season alongside Bennett, Parker and Thompson. The 6-2, 170-pounder was a big-play threat, averaging 40 yards per reception (10 catches, 400 yards) and hauling in six touchdowns, including an 80-yarder. Anderson is 6-1, 180 and racked up 55 tackles last season but he also has the ability to line up at receiver and be a weapon there for the Mavericks. Both are going to hit the camp circuit this summer in an effort to impress college coaches. Both are fast, athletic talents with good size who should be stars at Manvel and likely big-time prospects down the road.

As for Koda Martin, he looks the part of a tight end at 6-6, 247. He has enough strength for the defensive side of the ball, which some schools are recruiting him to play. Should he end up at offensive tackle, the position Texas A&M sees him playing, he'll have to grow into the position, weight-wise. But considering his instincts and intelligence, plus his experience as a blocker when he plays tight end, that adjustment should be smooth should he have to make it.

Several to watch at Houston Cypress Ridge
In an effort to simulate the fall and get some quality work in, Houston Cypress Ridge is scrimmaging under the Friday Night Lights during spring practice. The Rams got after it this past Friday and several players showed why they are on the college football radar.

Class of 2014 offensive guard Willie Wright is a quality player on the Rams' offensive line, lining up at tackle. Wright looked solid on Friday and already has an offer from Houston, with UTSA also showing interest.

Class of 2015 receiver Kemah Siverand is already on schools' radars. He has a good mix of size (6-foot, 178) and speed (4.56-second 40-yard dash) and he's still learning the receiver position. Texas and Texas A&M are expected to stop by Cy Ridge in the next two weeks to see Siverand and he has visited both.


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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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LB Alaka has top four, but two have edge 

March, 28, 2013
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The plans just keep changing for Otaro Alaka. Blame all the other schools trying to make a move for the Houston Cypress Falls outside linebacker.

Alaka hoped to make a decision by the end of March. Now it’s likely going to come in late April or early May, after Alaka takes at least three more visits.


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After A&M visit, LB Alaka wants to wait 

March, 4, 2013
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Now that the offers are piling up, Otaro Alaka thinks it’s time to slow down and do some thinking.

Texas A&M was the latest to offer a scholarship to the Houston Cypress Falls outside linebacker during its Saturday junior day, after LSU and Texas did earlier in the week.


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ESPN Watch List receiver Armanti Foreman spoke with Texas A&M coaches before, but coming into this week, he had no idea an offer was on its way from the Aggies.

The 5-foot-11, 175-pound receiver from Texas City (Texas) High School has been committed to Oklahoma since October, but recently, he has seen his offer list grow as coaches have gotten a hold of Foreman's junior highlights. On Saturday, Foreman got an offer from Texas. The Aggies entered the picture on Monday and Florida jumped in the ring on Wednesday.


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Emerging LB Otaro Alaka on Aggies' radar 

October, 25, 2012
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One of many 2014 prospects who were present at Kyle Field when Texas A&M took on LSU last week was Houston Cypress Falls outside linebacker Otaro Alaka.

The 6-foot-3, 196-pound Alaka has been picking up momentum in recruiting this fall. He recently added offers from Mississippi and Northwestern to add to offers he already had from Arkansas, Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Several other in-state schools are showing interest in Alaka, including Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.


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