COLLEGE STATION – Texas A&M added a talented and versatile group of athletes on national signing day as 17 individuals (10 men, seven women) signed a national letter of intent to join the Aggie track and field program for the 2013-2014 season.
“This first signing group we’ve had for this season, I’m very pleased with,” said Texas A&M head coach Pat Henry. “We addressed some needs and areas that we will be losing some talent in after this season. We gain some great talent with this group that signed with us today. It’s a typical class for us. I think we’ve done well, but we can always do better.”
A dozen of the athletes nationally-ranked Texas A&M signed are Texas natives, while the Aggies will also bring in three from Illinois, one from California and a Bahamas native currently in a Texas junior college.
“On our team we have right at 100 Texans,” noted Henry. “But you also have to recruit people from all over the country. We were fortunate in signing a couple of ladies out of Illinois, who are very talented. We were able to get a couple of sprinters from junior college, one of which was already able to join us in January, as well as jumper from California and a distance runner out of Illinois.”
The men’s signing class includes Austin Cook (New London, Texas, Overton HS), Shavez Hart (Freeport, Bahamas, South Plains JC), Xavier Jimenez (Clute, Texas, Brazoswood HS), Jeffrey Protho (Union City, Calif., James Logan HS), Alex Riba (O’Fallon, Illinois, O’Fallon HS), Dallas Rushing (Waco, Texas, Axtell HS), Bralon Taplin (Round Rock, Texas, Stony Point HS), Ryan Teel (Friendswood, Texas, Friendswood HS), Cameron Villarreal (Arlington, Texas, Martin HS), and Austin Wells (San Antonio, Texas, Clark HS).
Among the women’s signing class are Lauren Bedrich (Rogers, Texas, Rogers HS), Aaliyah Brown (Frankfort, Illinois, Lincoln-Way East HS), Karis Jochen (College Station, Texas, A&M Consolidated HS), Lyric Lawrence (Ft. Worth, Texas, Saginaw HS), Shelby Leppin (Cedar Park, Texas, Cedar Park HS), Shamier Little (Chicago, Illinois, Lindblom College Prep), and Katie Willard (The Woodlands, Texas, The Woodlands HS).
“The versatility of this group is strong,” said Henry. “If you look at a guy like Cook, who is a two-time State champion in the discus, we think he can be a very good hammer thrower. We see some talent in these young people and hopefully made some good educated guesses on a couple of others in this class, who we hope continue to become better athletes.”
Hart, a basketball player in the Bahamas at St. George high school, started competing in track and field in 2010 and has excelled in a short time frame. As a freshman at South Plains junior college in 2012 Hart was a double NJCAA champion, winning titles in the 100 (10.28) and 200 (21.02). He also ran a leg on the NJCAA silver medalist 4x100 relay (39.94).
Internationally, Hart was a member of the Bahamas junior team that set a national junior record (40.26) in claiming a bronze medal at the 2011 Pan Am Junior Championships.
Taplin, a teammate of Hart’s at South Plains, joined the Aggies in January. Taplin won the 2012 NJCAA 400 meters in 46.00 after recording a career best of 45.36 during the season. As a freshman in 2011, Taplin finished second in the 400 at the NJCAA Championships, indoor and outdoor. Taplin was also a member of the 4x400 relay that claimed four NJCAA titles during his two seasons with the program.
A&M’s signing class includes a pair of Gatorade Athletes of the Year from their respective states. Karis Jochen, a local product who competes at A&M Consolidated in College Station, received the prestigious honor this fall in cross country as she successfully defended her State 5A title and placed fifth nationally at the Nike and Foot Locker competitions.
Aaliyah Brown earned the Illinois Gatorade honor in track and field following a season in which she won the 200 State 3A title and finished second in the 100 while being part of runner-up finishes in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays for Lincoln-Way East high school in Frankfort, Illinois.
As a sophomore, Brown won three Illinois State titles in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay. Brown recorded career best times of 11.48 and 23.96 in sweeping the sprint events at the Arcadia Invitational in California last season.
A three-event Illinois State 2A champion, Shamier Little won titles in the 400, 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles while placing second in the 200 to place third in team scoring for Lindblom in Chicago. She sports career best marks of 24.48 (200), 53.46 (400), 13.79 (100H), and 57.44 (400H).
Little earned international experience this past summer as a member of the USA junior team that competed in Barcelona, Spain. As a sophomore she won Illinois State 2A titles in the 100 hurdles and 400 while placing third in 200.
Another Illinois signing for the Aggies is Alex Riba, a distance runner from O’Fallon. Riba, recently named the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Athlete of the Year in cross country, was the 2012 Nike Midwest Region champion. After placing second in the 2011 Illinois State 3A cross country meet, Riba placed fourth this past fall.
A triple jumper from Union City, California, Jeffrey Protho placed fourth in the 2012 California State meet with a best of 48-10.25. His junior season included a runner-up finish at Arcadia (48-1 ¼) before winning three consecutive meets – Sacramento (48-0 ½), NCS Bayshore (48-3) and NCS Meet of Champions (47-10 ¾ w).
This past fall as quarterback, Protho threw 24 touchdown passes with only a couple of interceptions as James Logan high school produced a 12-2 record and averaged 44 points per game in reaching the North Coast Section Division I championship game.
Austin Cook has claimed the past two State 1A discus titles for Overton high school and added a runner-up finish in the shot put in 2012 after placing fourth in 2011. Cook dominated 1A competition with discus throws in excess of 170 feet. Competing against larger classifications during the Texas Relays, Cook placed fifth in the discus in 2012 and sixth in 2011.
State champions from Texas in this recruiting class include Ryan Teel of Friendswood, Dallas Rushing of Axtell and Katie Willard of The Woodlands.
Recently named the 2012 Houston Chronicle Athlete of the Year in cross country, Teel won State 4A titles in 2011 and 2012. Teel has also qualified for the Nike national cross country meet the past two years. This past track and field season he claimed a distance double at the State meet in winning the 1,600 (4:15.69) and 3,200 (9:14.82).
Rushing won the State 2A title in the 1,600 last year, and claimed the 1A title in cross country this past fall. Willard won the 2012 State 5A title in the 800 with a 2:10.31 after recording a best of 2:10.01 in winning the Region II-5A title as a junior. She also posted a best of 4:58.91 in the 1,600 during the 2011 season.
Lauren Bedrich of Rogers and Lyric Lawrence of Ft. Worth Saginaw supply their respective schools with multiple scoring opportunities on the State level.
In the State 2A meet Bedrich finished second in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles while adding points in the long jump and triple jump. She also ran on the 4x100 relay that placed sixth. Lawrence, the younger sister of current Aggie All-American Donique’ Flemings, qualified for the State 5A final in the 100 and 300 hurdles after winning the Region I-5A titles in both events.
Cedar Park’s Shelby Leppin won a district title in the 100 this past season and finished second in the district pole vault as a sophomore.
Distance depth in this recruiting class is supplied by Xavier Jimenez of Brazoswood, Cameron Villarreal of Arlington Martin, and Austin Wells of San Antonio Clark.
Wells earned the 2012 San Antonio Express-News Runner of the Year in cross county as he placed 11th in the State 5A race and ninth at the Nike South Region meet. Villarreal placed sixth in the Nike South Region and was sixth in the Region I-5A race. Jimenez finished 13th in the State 5A meet and placed 12th in the Nike South Region.