August 23, 2005

Catbird's Watch List

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Now that Ashlan Davis has been named to the Walter Camp watch list and Nick Bunting to the Chuck Bednarik watch list, while Garrett Mills has been snubbed by the tight end watch lists, it is time to publish my preseason watch list.

Similar to John Madden, who picks players that like to get muddy and bloody, my list doesn't focus on the big stars that so many media like to talk and write about. My list is reserved for those guys who fly under the radar, but that I think are going to make some big contributions.

Let's start with some receivers -- Landon Keopple, Monroe Nichols and Roderick Foster.

Landon Keopple has finally started getting a bit of press. His is a great rags-to-riches story, beginning when his dad was hired as a defensive coach by then-Head Coach Keith Burns. It was probably the only way "Kep" was going to make a Division I-A roster.

Since that first walk-on year as a left-handed quarterback, Keopple has switched to wide receiver and worked his tail off to buff his body and learn the position.

Much like storied TU receivers Steve Largent and Howard Twilley, Keopple doesn't have the blazing speed coaches look for these days. He's about the same size, too -- small. But, like them, he runs great routes and catches whatever you throw at him. Look for him to excel.

Monroe Nichols sat out last year with a knee injury, but is back to full speed this fall. One of the smartest guys in the Blue & Gold, he's majoring in political science. I hope I have the chance to vote for him someday, even if he isn't a member of my favorite party.

In fall drills this year, Nichols has shown the ability to break loose and find the open space. He's got good hands and good size, and I expect him to be a solid contributor this year.

Roderick Foster is another walk-on little guy. He put himself on the radar this spring with his speed, moves and hands. He has continued to work hard this fall and is turning into a heck of a player. Just 5-foot-9 and 165-pounds, he's not one to ignore when it comes to downfield blocking.

In a scrimmage situation this fall, Rod laid a downfield block on free safety Bobby Klinck that had my own eyes watering. It was a crunch. Add to that his jitterbug running, and you have a good one for my list.

In high school, George Clinkscale was nicknamed "Hell Hound" by his coach for the tenacious way he assaulted opposing ball carriers. The true freshman is doing the same at TU this fall and may well see some significant action at linebacker for the Hurricane.

Whether lined up as a traditional outside linebacker or easing up to the line to go over, under, around or through an offensive blocker on his way to the quarterback, Clinkscale holds the drive to become a terror.

Another linebacker on my list is Nelson Coleman, a sophomore. When he came to Tulsa in 2003, I thought of him as a Pillsbury Doughboy with a magnificent smile. Between then and last year, he turned his chunkiness into chiseled muscle. He is now a specimen.

When defending an inside rush, he has the tendency to pack things up and tackle several players, just to make sure he has the ball carrier. On anything in the open, he has the athletic ability to time the hit, wrap and lift perfectly to smother the runner. He's a keeper.

When you think of free safeties, you generally picture a lanky fellow who sits back and waits for a free pass to come his way. Well, Jeff Thibodeaux did a fine job of doing just that when he started at that spot in his freshman year in 2001 and in 2002. He even had four picks.

Now, though, he's moved up to cornerback, where he has to stop the rush on his side and stop those flare and toss passes that seem to be so dangerous. This fall, he has become a "smackdown artist" out on the edge. I've seen him do it at least a half dozen times this fall. I would never survive one of his (becoming) patented hits on the edge. Add in a few interceptions and great athletic skill, and he's a natural for any list I make.

You're not going to read a lot about Courtney Tennial this year, since he has to sit out after his transfer from OU. He will be critical, though, in preparing Tulsa's defense to face the Heisman candidates they catch early in the season. He'll play the part of all of them on the scout team this fall, and I'd be willing to bet our defense will find him tougher than the backs we'll see on game days. Tennial is definitely on my list.

No watch list is complete without a helping of beef.

Brandon Lohr could have hung it up a year ago and completed his graduation requirements. Instead, he came back and will wreak his havoc from a defensive end position. Playing as a very undersized nose guard last year, he proved he can play in the trenches and, at 250 pounds, should give some opposing quarterbacks serious grief.

A Canadian who spent the last couple seasons at tight end, Jon Hameister-Ries, has grown to nearly 300 pounds and has begun living up to the nickname, "Hammer". As an offensive guard, he can now do his own version of a slap shot on opposing defensive linemen. And he scores!

The final member of this year's Watch List is a former offensive lineman who has moved to tight end -- Charles Ramsey. Charlie was a greyshirt enrollee in the spring of 2003 before redshirting in the fall. Last year, he learned his trade in the trenches, becoming a good (but far undersized) blocker.

With the move to tight end, Charlie had to pick up a new talent -- catching the ball. He's done that through hard work and sweat, giving TU a big blocking end who is also a threat to catch it. He's a great counterpoint to the gifts Garrett Mills brings to the table.

There you have it, the 2005 Catbird Watch List. This might be the only list these young men make, and they may not hit the headlines in the next couple of months, but each will give everything he has for this year's edition of the Golden Hurricane.

I don't know where they may appear on Tulsa Head Coach Steve Kragthorpe's depth chart, but they sure have made an impression on mine.

Until next time…

Catbird
catbird@mail.com

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