Thursday, October 15, 2009
I-35 rivals have taken different roads
By Tim MacMahon
The road from Oak Cliff to NFL riches has been rocky for the two most highly rated Dallas ISD recruits in recent history.
Kimball's DeMarcus Granger and Woodrow Wilson's Sergio Kindle went opposite ways on Interstate 35 out of high school. Granger, a defensive tackle considered a top-10 national recruit by many services, was one of the jewels of Oklahoma's 2005 recruiting class. Kindle, a consensus top-five national recruit as a linebacker/running back, was the headliner in Texas' 2006 class.
Their experiences at the rival universities have been somewhat similar: huge expectations, slow starts, embarrassing off-field incidents and significant contributions to elite teams.
While Kindle will be in the spotlight during Saturday's game at the Cotton Bowl, Granger's name probably won't be mentioned during the national television broadcast.
Kindle has found a home at defensive end, developing into an elite pass-rusher who projects as a first-round pick in April's NFL draft. Oklahoma's coaches hope Granger, who is recovering from back surgery and will apply for a medical redshirt, gets a chance to fulfill his potential and achieve his NFL dream.
Kindle, No. 18 on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's Big Board, can smile about the tough times he's endured since arriving at Texas. He's become one of the Big 12's most respected defensive players.
Just ask Oklahoma left tackle Trent Williams, who said this week that Kindle is a bigger threat than Brian Orakpo, whose trophy haul as a UT senior last season included the Lombardi, Nagurski, Hendricks and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year awards.
It took Kindle two years to break into UT's starting lineup. He was stuck behind an experienced outside linebacker, had his development slowed by a nagging ankle injury as a freshman and was suspended for the first three games of his sophomore season because of a DWI arrest.
That arrest caused a lot of suspicion when Kindle crashed his car into an apartment in the wee hours of the morning in June. He then left the scene before contacting his lawyer. Kindle, who suffered a concussion in the accident, said it was caused by text messaging while driving. He paid for the damages and did not face legal consequences or disciplinary action from the UT football program.
"All the ups and downs, I wouldn't take it back for anything," said Kindle, an honor-roll student on pace to graduate in December with a degree in youth and community studies. "It was a slow process. You have to start from the bottom and work your way up. It takes time.
"It's been four years, and I've been through a lot of learning experiences. They made me who I am today, a better and more mature man."
Granger prefers to say nothing. He declined an interview request through the Oklahoma media relations department.
The 6-foot-2, 327-pound Granger also needed two seasons to become a starter. Although he disappointed coaches by reporting in poor shape before the 2007 season, he was a force for a Big 12 title team that year. He was third on the Sooners with 8.5 tackles for losses, earning second-team All-Big 12 recognition.
However, that season ended in humiliating fashion for Granger. He was sent home from the Fiesta Bowl after being arrested for shoplifting a coat at a mall in Tempe, Ariz.
"The kid just made a mistake and got another chance," said Darrell Jordan, Granger's coach at Kimball. "He's done everything Bob Stoops and the University of Oklahoma has asked of him since."
Granger's career has been derailed by injuries since. He played most of last season with a painful foot injury, coming back earlier than expected to play against Texas. He also battled constant back pain, finally having surgery that forced him to sit out the national championship game.
He tried to come back this season but is still working to regain his explosiveness.
"It's got to be hard to see his teammates out there," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "He's been a part of that front for four years and has been a big part of our success since he's been here. To see him going through the mental and physical anguish is tough, but he's had a great attitude and great approach. He wants to finish strong."
Venables said Granger "has not been a disappointment for us one bit." But Granger hasn't been the dominant force so many people expected.
Woodrow Wilson coach Bobby Estes refers to Kindle as "the best high school football player to come out of Texas in a long, long time."
Kindle was a four-year starter at linebacker and tailback at the East Dallas school, where he transferred because his father wanted him to avoid trouble, recording more than 500 tackles and rushing for almost 8,000 yards in his high school career.
Kindle, who called himself "The Oak Cliff Man of Steel" during his high school days, hoped to be a two-way force at Texas. While he got a few spring reps at tailback, he never got the opportunity to contribute on offense. After the arrival of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, Kindle developed into a disruptive force as an outside linebacker/defensive end.
His sack total this season (two) isn't impressive, but that's largely because he's the primary focus of most opponents' pass protection schemes.
"I don't think anybody could match the expectations -- even that he set for himself," Estes said. "But he's had a great college career."
Kindle certainly can't complain about his situation. He's a superstar on a team with realistic national title hopes and will likely be a millionaire within months.
Granger can only hope he gets a similar opportunity next year.
Tim MacMahon covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.