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September 5, 2008

NATION'S BEST: Backfield | Wide Receivers | Offensive Line | Defensive Line | Linebackers

If you researched every high school football team in the country, you would find a safety or two better than those at Lancaster (Texas) High School. You would also likely find a few cornerbacks that can outplay Lancaster's as well.

However, you're not going to find a group of defensive backs at one school with more talent than the Lancaster secondary.

This season, Lancaster's defensive backfield is led by four seniors, Demontre Hurst, Joshua Brown, Phillip Harvey and Kerry Lewis. All four are three-star prospects rated among the top 100 players in the state of Texas.

"It's a fun group to coach," said Lancaster defensive backs coach Aaron Fletcher. "They all kind of bring something different to the table."

Kerry Lewis is an undersized but hard hitting safety. The 5-foot-9 standout holds offers from Vanderbilt, Kansas State, Arizona, Iowa and several others. Despite his physical play, Fletcher notes that the mental aspect of the game is what sets him apart.

"Kerry Lewis can be another coach on the field," Fletcher said. "He's the guy that understands football the most. He's a very smart guy. He can make those adjustments on the field and we trust him to do that."

Phillip Harvey at 5 feet 9 and 165 pounds, is one of the more versatile players in the group. He doubles on offense as the team's quarterback. Harvey holds offers from Iowa and Oregon.

"Phillip Harvey is probably the best athlete out there," Fletcher said. "He's a natural. He hasn't had the experience like the other ones, so his technique isn't as polished. But he's a great athlete."

If one player passes the eyeball test among the group, it is Brown. At 6 feet and 175 pounds, Brown has a great frame and long arms. The athletic DB has received offers from Nebraska, North Carolina and Wake Forest, among others.

Here is a look at some of the top Class of 2009 defensive back groups at one high school:
Lauderhill (Fla.) Plantation
Brandon McGee, CB, 5-11/186
Vladimir Emilien, S, 6-1/186
Josh Robinson, CB, 5-10/178
Fresno (Calif.) Edison
Cliff Harris, CB, 6-0/165
T.J. McDonald, S, 6-2/182
Indian Head (Md.) Lackey
Darrell Givens, CB, 6-1/170
Malcolm Willis, S, 5-11/201
Euless (Texas) Trinity
Eryon Barnett, CB, 6-2/180
Prinz Kande, S, 5-11/182
Columbia, S.C.
Chris Payne, S, 5-10/190
Damario Jeffery, S, 6-3/215
Upland, Calif.
Osahon Irabor, CB, 5-10/178
Davion Fleming, S, 6-0/210
Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln
Jawanza Starling, S, 6-2/195
DeAndre Byrd, CB, 5-10/170
Greenbelt (Md.) Eleanor Roosevelt
Stephon Morris, CB, 5-8/172
Derrick Thomas, CB, 6-0/176
Glen Allen (Va.) Deep Run
Jordan Love, CB, 6-0/185
Antone Exum, CB, 6-0/198
"Josh Brown, that's our enforcer," Fletcher said. "Whatever you need Josh to do, he'll do it. He's very aggressive. He has great hands. He's a ball hawk. We even have Josh play linebacker in nickel and dime packages."

To date, Hurst has been the member of the group that has attracted the most attention from college coaches. He has offers from Arizona, Wisconsin, Iowa, Wake Forest and many more. That attention has thrust him into a leadership role in the group.

"Demontre Hurst is just technically sound," Fletcher said. "He's ahead of everybody from a technical standpoint, and he can run. He's the guy that's getting recruited the hardest, so a lot of guys look up to him. He pushes guys with his work ethic."

Though they all are unique players that bring different personalities and skill sets to the Lancaster secondary, one of the things that makes them special is the camaraderie in the group.

"They've done a lot of maturing and pushing each other," Fletcher said. "I can remember one day Kerry was off a little and Josh picked him up. I can remember when Josh was off and Kerry picked him up. Those guys kind of pull for each other."

What's scary is that the talent doesn't stop with the senior class. There are several underclassmen that are already elbowing their way onto the field and adding depth to an already talented backfield.

"Those underclassmen - and the seniors hate to hear this - if they really want it, they have potential to be better than the senior class because they're deeper," Fletcher said. "You've got four, maybe five players right now that are going to be very good players."

That underclassman group consists of Quentin Hayes, a 6-foot-1, 185 pound safety prospect; Deon Criss, an undersized cornerback that his coach describes as "lightening in a bottle;" Cuiney Jones, a freshman that is already pushing the upperclassmen; and Kendall Hayes, an outside linebacker/safety hybrid.

Rounding out the group is Tyler Stephenson, a prospect that almost gave up football for track just a few weeks back. As one of the top hurdlers in the nation, Stephenson clearly has upside. Fletcher thinks that Stephenson's potential on the football field is as high as anyone that has walked the halls of Lancaster.

Even senior safety Jaqwuan Mills, who just started playing football this fall, is getting serious looks from some programs like Utah despite never playing a high school game.

With such a diverse and deep pool of talent, scheming is easy for the Lancaster coaching staff. There isn't too much that this group can't do.

"You can play just about any defense you would want to," Fletcher said. "You can do anything with those guys back there because they can cover. You can blitz those guys. You can plug them in at linebacker. You can play just about any scheme and with that depth have confidence and knowledge that they're going to be successful. It's a real pleasant feeling."

What won't be very pleasant is the feeling that quarterbacks get when they scan the Lancaster backfield this season with as many as six lock-down athletes champing at the bit - and several more itching to get on the field.



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