Attention Getters: Amarillo-area foursome bringing in the D-I offers


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Graphic by Cobi Pace/ Press Pass Sports]

By Lance Lahnert

Fair or not, the perception over the past few decades of Texas Panhandle Division I college football recruiting looked like a player standing on the 50-yard line of an empty stadium waving his hands and shouting.

Here I am!

Here I am!

That’s not the case when the 2021 Texas High School football season kicks off in late August.

The D-1 recruiting spotlight currently shines bright on four Amarillo-area athletes who have secured more than 80 offers between them in seniors Brenen Thompson of Spearman, Major Everhart of Tascosa, Erik Gray of Amarillo High, and junior Avion Carter of Tascosa.

The D-I offers range from the biggest stage college football plays on, like Alabama, to the Football Championship Subdivision Southland Conference, heavy on Texas schools.

“It feels great to see all these dudes getting looks,” said Everhart, Tascosa’s speedy running back and defensive back with 19 current D-I offers including Notre Dame in late July. “And then it’s a chance for kids in the future as well. They are finally finding us.”

Everhart’s teammate Carter, already a defensive man-child as a 6-5, 255 junior, owns double digit D-I offers and is ranked No. 94 in the ESPN 300 for the class of 2023.

Carter said he’s not sure why recruiters are now finding their way to the 806, but he knows they aren’t wasting their time.

“I love the talent is being seen in the Texas Panhandle,” Carter said. “We have some amazing talent up here. I’m learning recruiting goes quickly. So I don’t have a reason why it’s changing. But I like to see it.”

Spearman senior wide receiver/defensive back Thompson, lightning fast having run a 10.18 in the 100 meters, has been on the recruiting fast track for almost two years.

Thompson’s speed and playmaking ability earned him nearly 40 offers, which he narrowed to an impressive six on June 26 to Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Texas and Texas A&M.

“It feels good to rep the 806 this way,” Thompson said. “Look, not all the kids up here get to do what we are doing so it’s definitely been a blessing. For me, I’ve been dreaming about this since middle school. Now the D-I schools are seeing us. It’s a good feeling and you want see what the next level is going to be like.”

The attention these four have received nationally also has meant a day rarely goes by when the questions of ‘Where you going?’ or ‘When you committing?’ haven’t reached their ears.

“It’s pretty much every day,” Amarillo High’s Gray said. “But that’s good. I tell them I have a year to think about it.”

“I can’t remember the last day somebody didn’t ask,” Spearman’s Thompson said. “I really don’t mind.”

Tascosa’s Carter breaks into a smile when asked about the last day he didn’t hear about recruiting.

“Everywhere I go I get asked about it,” Carter said. “I’m just this all cool, it’s cool. I don’t mind it.”

“For me it’s probable been a couple of years since I haven’t been asked about it,” Tascosa’s Everhart said. “I’m OK with that. My passion for football right now is as big as it has ever been. To be able to play and get these offers means a lot to me.”

Of course, the recruiting road is as different for each player as the Texas burnt orange jerseys are to Texas Tech’s red and black jerseys.

So here (by alphabetical last names) is a glimpse into the current worlds of D-I Texas Panhandle recruits Carter, Everhart, Gray and Thompson.

Graphic by Cobi Pace/ Press Pass Sports]

Avion Carter

Tascosa High

6-5, 255, Junior

Defensive lineman

Standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 255 pounds before he has walked one Tascosa High hallway as a junior has D-I recruits on a mission to land Carter.

Not only does he own an NFL-like body at a young age, Carter is a baller. He proved that last year as a starting sophomore at defensive end for playoff-qualifying Tascosa making 67 tackles and a team-high seven quarterback sacks.

Carter has made unofficial visits to Texas and Texas Tech with his current offers just under 20. With his junior and senior seasons still yet to be played out at Tascosa, he’s in no rush to commit.

“I’m going to be very patient and chose my options,” Carter said. “Just be patient. I have no idea what my determining factor will be. Right now I’m just chillin’ and waiting to see what’s going on. I love talking to the college coaches. If they want me to call at a certain time, I will. They ask how I’m doing, how my mom is doing, it’s pretty casual. It just depends on the coach if they talk football, or not.”

Tascosa coach Ken Plunk said in Carter the recruiters get speed, strength, a love of the game attitude “and once they talk with Avion they quickly find out how likeable and humble he truly is. The question is what’s not to like about Avion?”

While talking with big-time college coaches and programs is more routine now for Carter, never will he forget the first time a D-I college contacted him. Baylor phoned Coach Plunk asking about Carter.

“I was crying the first time I got a recruiting call,” Carter said. “It was Baylor my sophomore year and I didn’t expect it to come so fast. They called Coach Plunk and he got me and said Baylor wants to talk to you and I’m like ‘no way.’ So it was crazy.”

Carter said the recruiting process for him has been nothing but positive. He said no way the attention will get in the way of playing for the Rebels in 2021.

“This season will be easy to focus,” Carter said. “Because I will just put the recruiting aside and be me.

“My passion for football started when I was young. Real young. I loved it right away. Erik (Gray) and I played on the Little Rebels together. Ever since I’ve been getting better. Now, when it was flag football, I was running back so why wouldn’t I like that?

“I’m here to dominate and do a job for my team. Our defensive line is really fast this year and we have a lot of movement.”

Graphic by Cobi Pace/ Press Pass Sports]

Major Everhart

Tascosa High

5-11, 175, Senior

Running back/defensive back

Speed. Speed. And more speed.

The D-I college coaching world loves the sight of speed in a player and the 200-meter state-qualifying Everhart is quite a speedy sight when he runs.

“Obviously, Major can run,” said Tascosa coach Plunk of his running back/quarterback last year who gained 831 yards on 70 carries and scored eight touchdowns, one a memorable zig-zagging, sideline-to-sideline TD against Amarillo High. “But he’s a football player who likes contact and is physical. Like Avion, when college coaches talk to Major they find out quickly how humble and what a good kid he is.”

As of the end of July, Everhart had been offered 19 D-I scholarships including Notre Dame, Texas Tech and Texas Christian.

Everhart’s first offer arrived his freshman season from Stephen F. Austin. He said he would love to make the big decision before the 2021 Tascosa season opens, but it could be later.

“It was definitely very exciting getting that offer because I always wanted to play at the next level,” Everhart said of the first few offers to come his way. “It was an eye-opener for me.”

Everhart knows exactly what will open the door to the college he attends.

“The determining factor for me is the relationship with the coaches. All the way,” Everhart said. “It’s about the relationships.”

Everhart, like his teammate Carter, said being recruited has been a blessing and joy for hm and his family. However, this fall his passion and attention will 100 percent be on the 2021 Tascosa Rebels.

“Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be involved in sports,” Everhart said. “From the very get-go. I always played Kids, Inc., and started running summer track for my dad when I was like four years old. My passion for football right now is as big as it has been. To be able to play and get these offers means a lot to me.

“But you have to turn it all down and just focus on the season. College is later and this is right now. It’s my last season so it’s where all my focus will be.”

Graphic by Cobi Pace/ Press Pass Sports]

Erik Gray

Amarillo High

6-3, 280 Senior

Defensive/Offensive lineman

By normal every day standards of walking around Eric Gray at 6-3 and 280 is a big man.

By D-I major college football standards it’s pretty normal for an offensive or defensive lineman.

Gray is far from an average performing football player.

With a bench press in the 450 pound range and squat above 650 pounds, Gray’s strength, speed (he scored on a 72-yard screen-type pass last year) and energy set him apart from many players.

Gray currently has 12 D-I offers and visited the University of Houston last weekend. But with a senior season ahead, Gray said he will until next winter to make a final decision.

“Right now, I don’t have any time frame planned,” Gray said. “I have another year to play and want to go on visits after the season and see what’s going on.

“The really big factor for me is going to be the relationship with the coaches. Obviously, you want to have a great relationship with your coaches. Also, just the atmosphere. I want to feel like I am home and have a community come out and watch. So yeah, it’s relationships, feeling at home and I really want a place where the coaches treat us like their own.”

Amarillo High head coach Chad Dunnam said the reasons are obvious why schools like Southern Mississippi, Houston, Arizona State, Fresno State, San Diego State, Colorado State, North Texas and New Mexico have offered Gray.

“Erik is so athletic that’s what recruits like,” Dunnam said. “He is a big kid, obviously he’s not the biggest kid out there. That concerns some guys. But they are in love with his athleticism. A lot of guys aren’t concerned about his 6-3 height because they can move him to center, or to the defensive side of the ball. They also like his physicality.”

Dunnam said the off-season Gray has put in “the best summer he has ever had maturity wise and work ethic alone. Every year he gets better.”

Gray’s passion for football is a family affair and has grown in depth when the recruiters came calling.

“Growing up I just loved the game,” Gray said. “My dad played and my two brothers played. One of my brothers played at Tech. Then realizing I have a chance to go big, it just clicked in my head how much I love football. Also, I’m pushing to do well for my mom (Andrea). She is a strong individual and makes me go harder every day. So I’m doing this for her, as well. And my mom will have a say in my decision, and I want that.”

Gray said the first time he heard from a recruiter, well …

“It was Southern Mississippi and at first I was freaking out,” Gray said. “He followed me on twitter. I was thinking he was just talking to me and kinda of getting recruited. Well, he told me to send him my number and he called like right away. It was just after a summer workout so I was kind of tired. I get the call and as soon as he said, ‘Well, we are going to offer you,’ I started losing my mind. I wish I had recorded it all because you could hear me in the background screaming. It was so fun.

“Now it’s more business. The calls are really casual. They want to know how you and your family are doing and the background of your life. Each coach is so different. Like the UNLV coach call was completely different. We were talking about Las Vegas and the weather here.”

Gray, like his rivals over at Tascosa Carter and Everhart, refuses to let recruiting take away from his senior season.

“I do have goals this year,” Gray said. “The past two years we haven’t made it past the second round. We want to get on that road to state and then we want to win district. Obviously, beating our rivals Tascosa my senior year is a big deal.”

Graphic by Cobi Pace/ Press Pass Sports]

Brenen Thompson

Spearman High

5-10, 170, Senior

Wide receiver/defensive back

Brenen Thompson’s world of recruiting out of Class 3A Spearman is best said in two words: Oh my!

Which means few high school football players in the history of the Texas Panhandle have been sought after by elite D-I programs like Thompson.

The shifty, speedster chalked up nearly 40 offers with his football skills and setting social media ablaze days before the 2020 Pandemic shook our worlds in March of that year.

Thompson, then a sophomore, ripped off a 10.18 in the 100-meter dash at a Canadian meet that March, put together a stellar junior football season, and now owns a list of six finalists that’s mind blowing in Alabama, Clemson, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Oregon.

Thompson said he has no exact time frame of when he will make a final decision after upcoming visits, but narrowing the list to six has freed his mind.

“It feels good to be down to the final six and get the list narrowed,” Thompson said. “I took my time and I’m still taking my time. I kind of knew where I wanted to play ball at so it helped narrow things down.”

Recruiters are in love not only with Thompson’s elite speed, but his ability to make tacklers miss in the open field. Plus, his grit as he is a two-way starter for Spearman at wide receiver and defensive back.

Spearman head coach Aaron Witten said Thompson is a salt of the earth type kid and handles the attention coming his way in a humble way.

“I really think what the recruiters love is Brenen’s explosive play-making ability,” Witten said. “Every coach I’ve talked to says how they love his versatility and how he makes plays from everywhere on the field.

“The attention and exposure here in Spearman over his recruiting has been crazy but great for our program and kids.”

Thompson said the constant phone calls before selecting his final six could get overwhelming, but he will always remember when the recruiting world all started for him.

“The first time I was recruited was different,” Thompson said. “I had kind of had a mentor tell me this coach and school are looking forward to getting to know you and they want to offer you. I’m like, ‘Ok, cool.’ But I was shocked and the same time confused. Then all the sudden Nebraska and Baylor are calling and offering. I was like here we go. The first school was Illinois State.”

Thompson said his deciding factor won’t be determined by say arriving on a campus and seeing his face plastered on the big screen. A welcome like nobody else receives.

No, Thompson’s wants face-to-face discussions with those coaches he will eventually play the game he loves wearing their school colors.

“I’m not a big wow guy,” Thompson said. “Like when you see something you go, ‘Oh wow.’ I’m more of a relationship kind of guy. You get to know me and I get to know you and where am I going to fit in.”

For now these final six schools on Thompson list want to know two main things from him when they call.

“Where your head is at?” Thompson said. “Where you going to visit next?”

Next up for Thompson is playing his senior season in Spearman. He said he’s all in for the Lynx.

“I started playing football when I was 4 or 5 years old and started tackle football in first grade,” Thompson said. “My love of football has been ever since I was a little kid.

“A fall Friday night in Spearman is small town vibes. It’s awesome. In the locker room before the games I’ll try and help make sure the team is handling what they should handle. That’s being calm, cool and collective. But at the same time it’s time to get turnt up.”

Thompson will also take lessons learned from the 2020 season when the D-I offers were already sitting on his shoulders.

“I learned a lot how to handle this situation from last year,” Thompson said. “This season coming in Spearman is before any college, so this Lynx team is going to be put before as far as college goes. This is where I’m at now and I’ll wait for college when it gets here.”

No doubt, if you attend a game this fall played by Thompson, Gray, Everhart and Carter, their D-I level of talent will shine bright.

And you will get those fans and players who will question, ‘Is that a D-I player?’ after one of the four is tackled for a loss, or blocked to the ground, or drops a pass.

But just know. These four young men have brought D-I attention to the Texas Panhandle the past 20 months like we’ve rarely seen in these parts the last 30 years.

And, they hope it’s just a start of what’s to come on the Texas Panhandle recruiting trail.

“The love the Texas Panhandle is getting from Division I is great,” Gray said. “Growing up in the Panhandle you really didn’t have a lot of big stars. I mean there is Ziggy Hood and others. But having people like Major, Avion and Brenen, it has changed things. We are able to get exposure for the younger kids now. You can tell just talking with college coaches there is more focus on the Panhandle from in the past. And that’s going to be less stress in the future for other kids in the community to help them see it can be done.”

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