July 19, 2008

Welcome to Gopher Nation Kid - Eric Stephens

The Gophers have landed their second 4-star running back from the state of Texas in the 2009 class. The other verbal came from Hasan Lipscomb who committed back in early May. The two backs will instantly upgrade our backfield as we head into the 2008 season with questions of depth and mediocrity surrounding the current core of RBs.

Eric Stephens
Size: 5-8, 177
High School: Mansfield, TX (Timberview)
Stars: 4 (rivals)
Rank: 196th, 25th in Texas
Notes: Fort Worth NIKE running back MVP, high school team is ranked #20 in preseason class 4A
Other Offers: Boise State, Duke, Vandy, Houston, Buffalo

More than just being a highly ranked offensive weapon landing that Stephens is a significant get because it continues a Texas pipeline that has been started by Brewster and staff. As we start to establish a presence in Texas, continuing to land recognized players is very important to future recruiting endeavors. If you have read quotes from southern kids considering MN you know that many of them believe it is winter here 11 months out of the year. This gives us seven Texas commits in two years with a presence in Dallas and Houston. I have no doubt in my mind that this does make a difference. Landing a handful of Texas kids every year will help kids to see that they CAN survive a winter in Minnesota and this is a viable institution to continue their careers.

Stephens has plenty of praise coming from Rivals and ESPN Insider, while Scout barely recognizes him giving him just 1 star and not ranking him in the top 200 running backs in his class. Rivals however has him ranked 196th overall, 5th among all purpose backs, 4th best RB "in space" and 25th overall in the state of Texas. At a recent Fort Worth Nike Camp, Stephens picked up an MVP award and caused "several linebackers to whiff completely during the one-on-ones."

According to ESPN, Stephen's skills are the perfect fit for a spread offense.
"Stephens lacks great size but is a very slippery, elusive back with the skills to shine in a spread offense. Shorter frame but has a sturdy, strong body. Attacks the line of scrimmage with great burst and is a very sudden, quick-footed runner through the initial traffic. Avoids defenders with excellent lateral quickness and loose hips. Slips through the small cutback creases showing good body control and vision."

"Overall, Stephens is a quick-twitched athlete with great initial burst as a running back prospect. Could be a potential sleeper if he lands in a spread or zone read type offense that utilizes his great quickness and skills in space. Not a high-carry runner but a kid that could develop in a great change of pace back."
From everything I have read Coaches Dunbar and Brewster want to feature a running game in their spread. We threw the ball a lot last year but we really lacked depth and quality at the RB position. The only thing that will change that this year is a little more experience for the likes of Bennett and Thomas , and how well incoming freshman Kevin Whaley recovers from getting shot in the thigh. All of this adds up to a great opportunity for Stephens in Hasan Lipscomb to come in and contribute immediately as the next great running back duo at Minnesota.

Stephen's lack of size or top end speed does not concern me. I'm happy he is on board as our eithth verbal commitment of the year. What does make me nervous is that there is still a LOT of time between now and signing day in February. Until he puts his signature on a MN letter of intent I'll be worried the big boys from Texas will come calling.

But for now, welcome to Gopher Nation and I'll be sure to keep tabs on his senior season with the Mansfield Timberview Wolves, who texasfootball.com ranks as #20 in class 4A.
Why They're Ranked: We'll admit some intra-office dissent with this selection, and not because Timberview is ranked. Everyone agrees on that, but some feel Timberview should be among the Top 10. Their reasoning: for starters, 14 of them are back, seven on both offense and defense. No running back in Class 4A, in fact, returns with more rushing yardage than Eric Stephens, whose 1,906 yards came against 5A competition. Stephens was the offensive MVP in his district last year, while another decorated player, CB Christian Spears, was named the district's top sophomore. Both Stephens and Spears have what coach Terry Cron said is the overall strength of the team: speed. Fleet feet are in the receiving corps (where all three starters return) and the defensive backfield (where four starters return). Don't just assume Timberview will finish behind Stephenville and Everman in this district; Timberview will challenge for the district crown, and in doing so, it will justify its ranking.
Sounds like Stephens should have an exciting senior season that will then flow into a brilliant freshman season with the Gophers.


(photo stolen from Dallasnews.com, don't tell them)

1 comment:

Andy said...

He's also got some time to put on some size. He could still be growing. A grew a couple inches my senior year in HS. This kid could be good. Hope they close him. Saw this on RootZoo- keep the good work comin'. GOPHERS!