The linchpin on Judson’s rugged defensive line, DeMarvin Leal, has had college recruiters practically salivating since his sophomore season last year.
While FBS schools go after the cream of the crop, it’s not every day that they’ve got a 6-foot-6, 280-pound junior on their radar. Leal’s size got him noticed initially, but it’s his steady play that’s kept him in the spotlight.
“He got on a hot streak toward the end of the year,” Rockets coach Sean McAuliffe said Thursday, referring to last season. “He was real consistent all year, but he just started taking over games (in the playoffs). The recruiting thing has just kind of gone through the roof with him. When recruiters showed up originally, they were like, wow, who’s that kid?’”
Only five games into his junior season, Leal already has scholarship offers from such schools as Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, and Michigan.
“I’m sure there will be many more before it’s all said and done,” McAuliffe said.
Although he visited A&M last weekend and was at Kyle Field for the Aggies’ game against Alabama, Leal made it clear Thursday that he’s in no hurry to decide on his college future.
“I just try to not be big-headed and stay focused with everything I have to do in high school,” Leal said, when asked how he’s kept the recruiting from becoming a distraction for him.”
Is Leal leaning toward a school, and would he like to stay in the state?
“Right now, I’m not leaning anywhere,” he said. “I really haven’t thought about that yet.”
McAuliffe said Leal, “a very humble, down-to-earth kid,” has taken the attention from recruiters in stride.
“He knows how to talk to people correctly,” McAuliffe said. “He’s done a great job.”
Leal, no doubt, will draw plenty of attention from the East Central offensive line Friday night when Judson goes on the road to play the Hornets in a District 27-6A game.
The Rockets, 5-0 overall and 1-0 in district, are No. 1 in the KENS 5 area Class 6A rankings and No. 2 in the Associated Press 6A state poll.
Judson leads the series against East Central 18-8. The Hornets (0-5, 0-2) have lost 14 consecutive games to the Rockets since their last victory in the series (1981).
Leal made the Judson varsity as a freshman and saw playing time on a defense that was anchored by defensive end Alton Robinson, now playing the same position at Syracuse. Leal wore jersey No. 97 as a freshman, but changed to No. 9, Robinson’s former number, last year.
“He was just a good player overall,” Leal said of Robinson. “I watched him since eighth grade and I was like, ‘Dang, that dude’s good.’ Being able to play with him was probably one of the best things of my freshman year.”
McAuliffe has compared Leal favorably with Robinson, who graduated from Judson in 2016 and helped lead the Rockets to the state semifinals as a junior and senior.
“The comparison with him and Alton is they’re so good,” McAuliffe said. “For only being a junior, he’s (Leal) really good with his hands. There’s some advanced pass-rush stuff that we’re able to do with him, technique-wise, that you’ve kind of got to be an upper-echelon type kid.
“We’re fortunate enough that we got him and he’s one of those types. He’s got a grab bag of tools that he can use on passing downs. He’s probably our best overall down lineman, as far as defending the run and occupying space and all that other good stuff.”
Leal has 19 tackles, including three for loss, this season. He also leads the team with 16 quarterback hurries and has one sack. Leal’s mere presence on the defensive line opens things up for his teammates because he attracts so much attention.
“He’s got all the intangibles that the college guys are going to look for,” McAuliffe said. “He’s legitimately 6-6 and 280-and-up range. Long arms, super explosive. He can play any of the positions.
“He can play end, he can play our nose tackle, plays tight end for us in certain sets. He’s just a big-body, athletic kid that’s got a super-high football IQ, and a motor and all the physical tools you look for in a big-time Division I-caliber player. That’s him.”
Texas Football magazine picked Judson to win the 6A state championship this season. The Rockets have won six state titles, including one by forfeit, in school history, but they haven’t taken high school football’s biggest prize since 2002.
Judson lost in the second round of the postseason last year after making their back-to-back appearances in the state semifinals.
“Our kids are hungry,” McAuliffe said. “I know last year is last year, but the second-round exit, the way that ended, I think left a little sand in the shorts, so to speak, I guess. They just come to work every day. They’ve got great work ethics. They do a great job with just about everything we ask them to do. On Friday night, they play the game the way it’s supposed to be.”
Leal said McAuliffe has a knack for keeping the Rockets grounded.
“If we get too big-headed and start having bad practices, he has us doing up-downs or running bleachers, whatever he has to do to keep us right,” Leal said.
For the most part, Leal and his teammates have stayed on task and not gotten ahead of themselves. McAuliffe attributes the discipline to a strong senior class led by quarterback Julon Williams, who started since midway through his freshman season.
“He kind of keeps people grounded,” McAuliffe said. “As he goes, we go.”