Recruiting The Blacklands: The 2021 Class, A Closer Look

Greetings, Lion fans, and the staff here at The Wire are excited to provide you with a breakdown and analysis of the newest additions to the Lion family. After exhaustive research, and studying highlights on each individual recruit, we’ll have a thumbnail sketch on each player.

The obvious question is: Will any of these players have an impact or see the field this season? There’s always a possibility. The Lions have reached a talent level where they are not as reliant on freshmen to produce right away. The most likely scenario is, especially a running back, tight end. or lineman, is to redshirt, and spend the year acclimating to the increased talent level, and have that time to develop in the Strength and Conditioning Program, headed by Coach Joey Caldwell, one of the best in the business. There’s always the possibility that due to injuries, or a surprise performance, that one could break through.

With that being said, let’s dive right in, and take a look at newest Lions.


Defensive Linemen-3

Offensive Linemen-3

Tight End- 3

Running Back- 1

Linebacker- 4

Defensive Back- 3

Quarterback- 1

Kicker/Punter – 2

Wide Receiver- 3

Overall, a very balanced class. The Lions are currently well stocked at the quarterback and running back positons, so that explains the low numbers there. There may not be many, but as we’ll explain later, it does not lack quality.

With all the four and five wide receiver sets, a team can not have too many good wide outs, and David Bailiff and crew did a great job of restocking the cupboard.

The offensive and defensive line recruits are often overlooked, but it would not be wise to do that with this class. They are a good mix of transfers that can contribute immedately, as well as some outstanding high school recruits who just need time to develop.

The same can be said for the linebackers and defensive line group. Legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once said….”Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.” The Lions recent run of success has been largely due to a stifling group mentality that has revived memories of the Blue Gang.

The Lions have managed to sign two outstanding kicker/punter recruits. For anyone following the Lions in recent memory, they know just how valuable these two positions can be. Despite seeing less time than any other positon in the game, they are often the difference between victory and defeat.


DL Anthony Hayes Panama City, Florida (Southwest Mississippi CC): 6’5″ 260 lbs.-Big and quick, with good technique and footwork: Very fast, and a ferocious pass rusher.

TE Kendrick James-Waco Tx. (SMU)- 6’5″ 260 lbs: Originally signed with the University of Alabama, James then transferred to SMU in 2019 was injured during the 2020 spring, and was unable to play for the Mustangs. Great size and speed for a big man, with soft hands. A former four star recruit, James is very strong and athletic, and a punishing blocker.

LB Tyler Malin- (Kentucky)6’1″ 220 lbs. : Great size for a linebacker; intelligent player with good size and speed.

WR Cameron Nellorc6’0″ 180 lbs. – Mt. Vernon HS (Trinity Valley CC): Was a slot receiver at Trinity Valley; Good speed, elusive runner; can also play at quarterback; good hands.

DL Justice Williams 6’6″ 260 lbs.: Detroit, Michigan( Independence CC): Comes from the same junior/community college program that produced Lion starter Miklo Smalls; Great size, quick hands, and good footwork; Great speed, aggressive, and a solid tackler.

QB Brock Nellor 6’2″ 220 lbs.(Mt. Vernon HS): Mobile quarterback who can make plays with his feet; strong runner with good arm strength; led his Mt. Vernon team to the state semifinals, where they narrowly lost to eventual state champion Tuscola Jim Ned.

OL Peyton Ellis 6’6″ 295 lbs.(Bullard HS): Good footwork and agility for a big man; good strength, finishes blocks.

K Josh Vogel 6’5″ 200 lbs. Rockwall (Heath HS): The town of Rockwall just seems to produce great kickers that somehow find their way to Commerce. Vogel has a strong leg and is very accurate.

LB Jaheim Lowe 6’1″ 200 lbs. (Cedar Hill HS): A starter on the Cedar Hill state finalist team; Vicious edge rusher with good speed and aggressiveness; Big hitter, but is fundamentally sound, has good speed and instincts.

WR Tony Lacy 6’2″ 190 lbs. Ft. Worth (All Saints Episcopal): Great speed, with soft hands and good football instincts. Played some defensive back, and is a good tackler. Very athletic and a sound blocker. Has the ability to play wide receiver, defensive back, strong safety, or linebacker. A good all around athlete that coaches find a way to get on the field.

K/P Jude Collins 6’3″ 220 lbs. Ft. Worth (Western Hills HS): Handles both punting and kicking. Strong leg, and does well under pressure. Accurate up to 44 yards.

LB Kion Hurd 6’2″ 190 lbs. (Columbus HS): Solid tackler, with good speed and strength. Saw significant time at running back, and is a powerful, brutish runner. Can fill in on either side of the ball.

TE Austin Samaha 6’3″ 240 lbs. Sour Lake, Tx. (Hardin Jefferson HS): Big target with soft hands. Saw plenty of time at defensive end. Good tackler. Punishing blocker, and a tough runner after the catch. Very strong and aggressive who plays with a fast motor, and right to the edge of the whistle. Very determined.

OL McKenzie Agnello 6’5″ 320 lbs. (Copperas Cove HS): Lion assistant coach Jack Welch reaches in to his old stomping grounds, and helps pull out a solid offensive lineman who was the 11th ranked in the state. Agnello has great size and strength, who has good footwork, and is a punishing blocker.

DB Jaden Rios 6’3″ 175 lbs. Frisco (Lone Star HS): Good size and speed. Great instincts who can close on the ball very quickly. Also saw time at wide receiver, and displayed good moves with soft hands.

RB Ke’ori Hicks 5’11” 195 lbs. Denton (Ryan HS): A starter and driving force on the 6A state champion Denton Ryan team, Hicks is a dangerous blend of power and speed. A tough runner with good size. Very comparable to current Lion star E.J. Thompson and the legendary Cary Noiel.

DB Mchael Ray 6’1″ 195 lbs., Crosby HS: A starter and outstanding player on the Crosby state finalist team. A ferocious hitter who is aggressive and plays with a fast motor. Has the ability to return punts. Good speed and instincts.

DE Michael Surface 6’4″ 260 lbs., Greenville HS: Good hand technique and footwork for a defensive end. Solid tackler.

WR Shawn Brown 6’3″ 185 lbs., Greenville HS: Good speed and an elusive runner after the catch. Operates well in traffic, and will do the dirty work.

OL Chandler Denaway 6’3″ 250 lbs. Klein (Oak HS): Played under former Aggie All American and NFL star Jason Glenn. Denaway appears as if he was born to play guard. Aggressive blocker with great strength and footwork. Plays with a fast motor.

LS/DL Josiah Kennard 6’2″ 215 lbs., Manvel HS: Quick feet with good technique. Solid tackler who never gives up on a play.

LB Eli Carruthers 6’4″ 210 lbs., Kilgore HS: Big, rangy linebacker with speed and good instincts. Showed promise at tight end as well. The kind of player that coaches find a way to get on the field. Could be a good fit as either an outside linebacker or a defensive end in a 3-4 set.

DB Le’Marion MIller 6’2″ 205 lbs., Mexia HS: Tough, instinctive player, who, along with great size and speed, also has good technique. Saw time at quarterback, and is a tough runner. Could fit in as either a defensive back, or as a quarterback in a short yardage/goal line situation.

FINAL ANALYSIS: There is a lot to be excited about with this class, which can be defined with three words: Size. Speed, Agressive. Players like Hayes, Malin, James, and Williams, who can come in and play right away. Players like Nellor, Samaha, Hicks, Ray,, Lacy, and Carruthers, who are very impressive. Overall, there is a huge upside for this class, some who just need time to grow and develop.

This article wouldn’t be complete without a hat tip and a hearty “Well Done” to head Coach David Bailiff and his staff, along with AD Tim McMurray and his staff. The Lions are continuing to make inroads in the state, and have been able to pull off a talent haul of players who they have not always been able to get. When you look closer, you’ll see why. David Bailff and assistant Jaylon Finner have deep roots in the Houston area and Southeast Texas. Assistant Jack Welch is a legend in the Hill Country and Central Texas, as well as having spent plenty of time in the Texas Panhandle and West Texas. Joey Caldwell, having played at Auburn, provides the Lions with a reach into the talent rich Georgia/Florida/ Alabama area.

The future is indeed bright Lion fans. It’s only getting better from here.

Roar Back Here.....

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