DeSoto churns out Division I talent

DeSOTO, Texas -- When Claude Mathis took over as coach at DeSoto in 2008, an assistant there told him he wouldn't have time to coach many drills during spring football.

"I was like 'Yeah I will,'" Mathis said. "I always coach spring drills."

Make that Mathis always used to coach spring drills.

Mathis doesn't have much time to work with his team during the spring because now every year he is too busy entertaining the scores of college coaches that visit one of the most productive schools in the country in terms of developing Division I talent.

"It's a real good problem to have and I'm glad to have it," Mathis said. "A lot of these guys that come through, I have a chance to sit down and talk some football. More importantly, I'm making sure I'm selling my kids. Those guys are very interested in my kids and that's a good thing for DeSoto right now."

This spring was certainly no exception. Mathis said more than 100 college scouts came to DeSoto, some on multiple occasions, to take a look at members of the classes of 2012 and 2013.

Already, four members of the 2012 class have committed to Division I colleges. The three four-star members of the class have all elected to play in the Big 12. Cornerback Bryson Echols (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) and offensive guard Curtis Riser (6-4, 290) committed to Texas, and defensive end Michael Richardson (6-2, 230) decided to head to Texas A&M. In addition, running back Devin Rushing (5-8, 167) has decided to attend Air Force.

Mathis expects the number of Division I commitments to increase to seven before the first snap of the season. Three-star linebacker Alex Lyons (6-1, 216), defensive back Jalen Mills (6-0, 180) and wide receiver Ridge Jones (5-10, 165) all have Division I offers and could commit over the next two months.

Mathis said there are four or five more that could end up signing with Division I schools.

"It's awesome being a part of this program," Riser said. "It gives you a lot of possibilities and gives you a lot of opportunity to be seen by coaches scouting Division I athletes. You've got to work hard, but as long as you do that, it's easy to get noticed because so many colleges are looking at you."

The tradition of developing top-caliber athletes started well before Mathis arrived at DeSoto. In the early 1990s, running back Byron Hanspard ran through defenses for 2,084 yards as a senior for the Eagles. He went on to Texas Tech, where he won the Doak Walker Award for the top running back in the nation in 1996 and played for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL.

The pipeline of DeSoto alumni to Division I schools and eventually the NFL has increased since. Last season, wide receiver Mike Thomas led the Jacksonville Jaguars with 66 receptions for 820 yards. Ellis Hobbs started at cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles. Patrick Crayton had 514 receiving yards for the San Diego Chargers. And wide receiver Patrick Williams was on the practice squad for the Seattle Seahawks.

This season, Von Miller will make his NFL debut. He finished his career at Texas A&M and was the No. 2 overall pick by the Denver Broncos.

"Those guys have really laid the foundation for all the other scouts coming through here," Mathis said. "Ever since then, it's been more talent here and there's been more scouts coming here."

There's reason to believe more are on the way to the NFL. If Texas A&M and former DeSoto running back Cyrus Gray build on his junior season in which he gained more than 1,000 yards he could be a high draft pick in 2012.

DeSoto has had 15 players sign with Division I schools on national signing day over the past two years, and that number will increase significantly with this class.

"It's my first class I've had since I took over, so I'm excited about it," Mathis said. "I think this is going to be one of my best classes that I'm going to have here as a coach. We're going to get the job done with that group."

The success of sending players to Division I schools helps lead to more success.

The players are well aware of all the scouts in attendance during spring practice. Mathis jokes with the coaches that they need to come by more often because his kids practice harder.

Considering there are college coaches in attendance every day during the spring, it makes for a pretty focused team.

"You just try to do your best to make sure that they look at you, and they see you," Rushing said. "You want them to want you on their team."

Mills is a recent addition to DeSoto, having moved there in the spring from Lancaster. He noticed a difference between the schools.

"There were scouts at Lancaster, but it is bigger schools here," Mills said. "So it was a bigger opportunity for me to be seen."

The talent level at DeSoto also helps college scouts evaluate the players. Instead of seeing a top recruit manhandle inferior talent, the Eagles often go head to head against some of the top talent in the state.

Riser, the seventh-ranked offensive guard in the country, often squares off against Richardson, the 20th-ranked defensive end in the country.

"From my standpoint, there's not too many offensive linemen better than Curtis Riser," Richardson said. "It helps going against him every day. And it helps our wide receivers when they go against Echols and Mills. When you go against the best, it only makes you better."

Mathis has to let his assistant coaches handle most of the spring drills as he takes care of the college scouts and talks to them about his players.

"You've got to be honest with the coach," Mathis said. "There's not a perfect kid. There's going to be a negative about any kid. But being truthful with those guys really helps out."

Mathis also makes sure to have things like a player's transcript, SAT score and film easily accessible.

"We have all that stuff ready for them when they come in here so it makes it a lot easier for them," Mathis said.

While the Eagles have the talent that has college scouts swarming to DeSoto, that talent level does not guarantee victories on the field. Despite all of the Division I talent that has come out of DeSoto, none of them has been able to win a state championship. The Eagles made it to the quarterfinals last season for the third time in school history, matching their best finish.

"This whole year we're focused on trying to win a state championship," Riser said. "They haven't won a state championship before. Hopefully that's something that will set me apart from the players that went on to the NFL, that they didn't win a state championship and we did."