February 4, 2007

Berkner lineman to beef up SMU front

One look at SMU's Boulevard was all it took for Josh LeRibeus to get excited about playing college football, and staying close to home to play for the Mustangs.

LeRibeus was one of the first commitments to SMU's 2007 signing class, and his campus visit only confirmed the comfort he felt on The Hilltop and talking with the Mustangs' coaches. He jumped at the chance to play for the first school to show strong and consistent interest in him last spring.

The 6-4, 340-pound offensive guard from Richardson's Berkner High School ranks as one of the standouts in the Mustangs' class which, based on oral commitments to date, is almost full per the available scholarships. Based on rankings by Rivals.com, his three-star status is the highest among SMU commitments thus far, and fills a major need up front.

"Josh is by far the best offensive lineman I have ever coached," Berkner coach Jim Ledford said. "He can move extremely well for a guy that big. He has the uncanny ability to get his second step in the ground and move the pile. That's the key for any offensive lineman. He's extremely intelligent, easy to coach, and loves to maul you at the point of attack."

Through Jan. 25, SMU has commitments from six offensive linemen. Only three Division I schools have commitments from more linemen.

SMU assistant coach Jim Gush established a rapport with LeRibeus during the off-season. LeRibeus considered other schools, but felt the location of staying near home would suit him best. LeRibeus repeated this week that he is solid on his choice to play at SMU.

"Early on I had some other visits to Texas A&M, Baylor, and Houston. There were a lot of good Texas schools showing interest," LeRibeus said. "I didn't want to go far, and SMU turned out to be the perfect fit. They weren't the first to talk to me, but they were the best."

LeRibeus played in an option offense for a Berkner team that made extended runs through the last three Class 5A playoffs, and has two other Division I commitments this spring. Joining a program that is on the cusp of postseason success is nothing new to LeRibeus.

Berkner had not made the playoffs in 15-plus years during LeRibeus' junior high years watching from the stands. He enjoyed three consecutive playoff seasons at the close of his career there, and hopes to take SMU into the postseason as well.

He has a big adjustment ahead of him blocking in the Mustangs' spread formations, but has a full off-season to improve his pass blocking techniques. Ledford said LeRibeus was only called on to pass block 5-6 times per game at Berkner.

"We didn't ask much on pass protection," Ledford said, "but the coaching staff and (SMU running back) DeMyron Martin will love him when they are running the football."

Ledford compared LeRibeus to Texas' All-American lineman Justin Blaylock at this stage. Ledford coached against Blaylock for three seasons in the same high school district.

"It would not surprise me at all if he's not an All-American too one day, and a top draft pick for the NFL if he continues to improve," Ledford said.

Berkner averaged 364 yards per game rushing in 2006, and LeRibeus averaged eight pancake blocks per game and graded out at 88 percent efficiency.

"It's going to be different playing in that offense, but I'm sure I can do it," LeRibeus said.

LeRibeus said his early commitment shied other schools away from him, and he's received little interest toward changing his mind. He decided early to avoid recruiting distractions, and the strategy worked.

"I expected more people to call. But after I made the commitment, everyone's left me alone," he said.

Offensive linemen usually don't receive the type of attention he got early in the recruiting season. Being high in the rankings that Rivals.com and other services provide brought an excitement of its own to LeRibeus' decision.

"Coach (Phil) Bennett has improved every year he's been there," he said. "I look forward to getting there and just being a part of college football and all it involves. I love the atmosphere. Up until now, football's just been a Friday night thing. Now it's a game day, all-day thing."

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