Texas Panhandle Athletes Sign to Play at the Collegiate Level


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Amarillo High‘s Erik Gray, left, and Zack McCown will continue their playing careers for Texas Tech University. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]

Christian Atkins, Bethany College

High School: Caprock

Position: Defensive end

About Atkins: The hard-nosed defensive end made 65 total tackles, 14 of those for a loss, racked up four sacks, forced two fumbles and had an interception return for a TD.

Why BC: “I really wanted to go there to continue my athletic and academic career. It has my degree plan so I can’t wait to get going. I can’t thank Coach (Dan) Sherwood and all the coaches for getting me ready for this. The countless hours, the practices, in the weight room. Coach Sherwood has made me better.”

Bradyen Boggs-Rushing, Hardin-Simmons University

High School: Dumas

Position: Linebacker

About Boggs-Rushing: The Demons captain had 62 tackles on the year including 10 for a loss with four forced fumbles, and four sacks.

Why HSU: “I went there with my family and I loved the culture. It’s very similar to how we work in Dumas, and the coaches are great. I also like Abilene a lot, so It’s a great fit for me. It’s special to do something not many people get to do. I’ve wanted this my entire life, and now It’s here.”

Elliot Brown, Hardin-Simmons University

High School: River Road

Position: Running back

About Brown: Brown led the Wildcats thanks to a stellar season rushing for an eye-opening 2,125 yards and 25 touchdowns on 270 carries.

Why HSU: “It’s a place I felt that was right for me. I loved everything about it, and It’s really special to me to be able to continue playing football at the next level.”

Braxton Burd, Southern Nazarene University

High School: Randall

Position: Quarterback

About Burd: The dual-threat QB finished the season throwing for 1,598 yards, adding 1,298 rushing yards for a combined 32 touchdowns.

Why SNU: “I was in contact with my recruiting coach quite a bit, and I went on a game visit. They just showed that they wanted me. Ever since I was a little kid this is all I’ve wanted to do. So today is a big moment because I’m taking that big step.”

Sebastian De La Espriella, Fort Hays State University

High School: Bushland

Position: OL/ DL

About Espriella: Despite missing five games with an injury, Espriella was still a force up front for the Falcons racking up 21 tackles with two sacks. He also had 11 pancakes on offense.

Why FHS: “I’ve been working hard to get this opportunity. I’m so glad Fort Hays gave me this chance. It was just the best school for me. It felt like family, I got along with everyone. I’m ready to go play football.”

Erik Gray, Texas Tech University

High School: Amarillo High

Position: OL/ DL

About Gray: Gray was pivotal on both sides of the ball for the Sandies. Offensively, Gray graded out at 91 percent with 23 pancake blocks. On defense, he made 36 tackles, four for a loss, with 5.5 sacks.

Why Texas Tech: “I love Joey McGuire. He’s a great coach, and they’ve gotten new coaches at every position. All the coaches just have great energy, and McGuire resembles Coach (Chad) Dunnam. They both love their players so much. I also love that Tech is just down the road. It can’t get better than that.”

Jillian Howell, Louisiana State University of Alexandria

High School: Bushland

Position: First base/ Pitcher

About Howell: Howell enters her senior season as one of the top players in the Texas Panhandle. As a junior last year, Howell hit .535 with 10 home runs and 63 RBIs. Howell also carried a 2.60 ERA in the circle.

Why LSUA: “I’ve been working to get to the next level my entire life, so this dream is a reality. I really loved the coaches and the community was great. I loved it all. It was difficult to chose softball over track, but I weighed my options and softball is what I want to do.”

Brayden Klafka, West Texas A&M University

High School: West Texas A&M

Position: WR/ DB

About Klafka: Before a season-ending injury, Klafka was a leader for the Lynx tallying 371 receiving yards, 271 rushing yards and throwing for 104 yards combining for 12 touchdowns. He also made 77 tackles on defense with 4 interceptions.

Why WT: “I didn’t plan going to WT at first,” Klafka said. “But as soon as I stepped on campus I knew I wanted to go there. The coaches have great energy, and all they want is the best for you. This is something I’ve wanted to do since I’ve flag football. I couldn’t be happier.”

Zack McCown, Texas Tech University

High School: Amarillo High

Position: Tight end

About McCown: The tight end used his 6-foot-5 frame as a blocker most of the time, but did snag three catches for 83 yards.

Why Texas Tech: “It’s a dream come true. I’ve dreamed about this my entire life, and now really doing this is surreal. I really love the coaching staff. Coach (Joey) McGuire came here on Friday, and he just made it feel like home. They want me, and I wanted to go somewhere I was wanted.”

Jason Quintanilla, Southern Nazarene University

High School: River Road

Position: Linebacker

About Quintanilla: Quintanilla had a fantastic senior season making a team-high 177 tackles, four of those for a loss, and four sacks.

Why SNU: “I’ve always wanted to play college football. It’s something I’ve always dreamed about. Getting to go with my teammate (Tate Upchurch) is also special. We’ve played together since we were kids, so I’m excited to be able to continue playing with him.”

Shamrock Head Coach Jeff Caffey, left, poses with Sean Wright, Justin Moon, and Wes Putnam, after the trio signed to Sul Ross State University. [Provided photo]

Shamrock signs three

Justin Moon, Sul Ross State University

High School: Shamrock

Position: Tight end

About Moon: Moon hauled in 24 catches for 437 yards with five touchdowns for the Irish last fall.

Why Sul Ross: “I just knew a lot of people who have gone there and know a lot of people down in Alpine. The campus was very nice and the mountains were something I wasn’t used to. I want to play my freshman year. There’s no guarantee about playing time. We all went on the visit together and I knew by the looks we gave each other this was the place.”

Wes Putnam, Sul Ross State University

High School: Shamrock

Position: Offensive line

About Putnam: Putnam was a key piece up front for the Irish starting both ways on the line in all 11 games.

Why Sul Ross: “It was going down there to see what it was but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get in with my dyslexia. I saw what it was like with the players and the scenery. The coaches goals and mindset was to make it a better place. They said that they would give me as much help as I’d need. My goal is to be on the field before the end of my freshman year.”

Sean Wright, Sul Ross State University

High School: Shamrock

Position: Wide receiver

About Wright: Wright did everything asked for head coach Jeff Caffey. Wright rushed for 866 yards with 14 TDs, and caught nine passes for 156 yards with two more scores.

Why Sul Ross: “The visit that we went on the coaches gave me a good head space of what it was like down there. The players told us that the town had some things to do and that it would be like a brotherhood. It was beautiful. There are a lot of places to go hiking. I want to play as soon as I can but I know I’ll have to earn my spot. It is exciting and it’s starting to sink in.”

Tate Upchurch, Southern Nazarene University

High School: River Road

Position: OL/ DL

About Upchurch: Upchurch was solid upfront for a powerful River Road ground game grading out at 87 percent with had 40 pancake blocks.

Why SNU: Playing college football is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’m so glad that day has come, and I’m getting that opportunity. I’ve worked hard everyday for this moment. It’s great I’ll be playing with Jason (Quintanilla). I’ve been playing with him my entire life. It will be really exciting.”


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