A preseason position change has paid off in a big way for Roderick Winters.
Danny DeArman, the head coach at Bowie High School in Arlington, Tex., said Winters – a fledgling wide receiver as a sophomore – switched to linebacker before the 2012 season due to a lack of numbers at the position.
Winters, in turn, responded with a strong junior campaign in which he racked up 93 tackles and unofficially led the team in quarterback hits and big hits, DeArman said. His game film landed in front of Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, who eventually offered him a scholarship, and on Sunday, Winters cashed in on that offer, officially becoming MU’s 14th verbal commitment for the Class of 2014.
“He was an average receiver that may have split time his junior year and probably would have helped us as a senior, but there was nothing immediate,” DeArman said. “After his sophomore year, we needed some help on the defensive side so we moved him over to play safety. We ended up needing more help at linebacker, so we moved him to linebacker and he is just knocking people out.”
Winters, a 5-foot-11, 196-pound two-star prospect according to Rivals, also had scholarship offers from Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, North Dakota and Sam Houston State. You can watch his 2012 highlight film
“He came in, took a position from a kid and never gave it back,” said DeArman, whose team went 11-2 last season in Texas 5A, the state’s biggest class. “He didn’t have a whole lot of offers, he didn’t have much publicity. There were several (teams), including Baylor and TCU, who came in late and said they wanted to see more of him.”
In fact, most schools have been to Bowie to recruit Winters’ highly-acclaimed teammate, Edwin Freeman. A four-star 2014 prospect according to Rivals, Freeman – a linebacker at Bowie but a possible safety in college – has scholarship offers from the likes of Texas, Texas A, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ohio State and yes, Missouri.
“They offered,” DeArman said of Missouri, “but he’s not going to leave the state.”
DeArman, however, emphasized that Winters is no consolation prize. He and Steckel, Winters’ main recruiter, go back about ten years, and the two have always been honest with each other about player evaluations.
“When he comes in, it’s like you’ve known him your entire life,” DeArman said of Steckel. “Whenever I’ve got a kid that’s a possible player for him, I know I can talk to him and tell him whatever I want and he can do the same. Whether he tells me he doesn’t think the kid can play or he thinks the kid is great or he’s not big enough, not tall enough or not fast enough, it doesn’t hurt either one of our feelings. There are some coaches that come in and (it’s) not even close to that.
“So I just wanted his opinion on (Rod),” DeArman continued, “and he felt like there were some things about him that were pretty interesting, and he thought that he had a pretty good upside.”
In particular, Winters flashes the kind of athleticism Missouri seeks in its weakside linebackers, who are required to do everything from covering backs and tight ends to blitzing in its Tampa 2 scheme.
Winters, who has experience playing both weakside and middle linebacker in Bowie’s 4-2-5 scheme, ran a 4.52 40-yard dash and posted a 39-inch vertical leap at a Missouri camp in June, and DeArman said he also squats 440 pounds, deadlifts 505 pounds and leads the team in power clean with a one-rep max of 275 pounds.
“He’s probably 200 pounds right now and he’s a kid that can get to 215, 220 and be just as fast as he is right now,” DeArman said. “I think he’s a perfect fit because he can blitz, he can cover, he’s smart and he can make checks. There’s a lot of things you can do with him.”
DeArman said Winters’ best traits, however, are his intelligence and eagerness to learn. Not only does he have a 3.2 GPA and want to major in engineering, he takes the game of football seriously, which helps make up for his relative inexperience at the position.
“He’s got some legit stats, but to be great, he just needs more reps in everything he does on the field,” DeArman said. “He hasn’t done it long enough.”
DeArman is optimistic Winters is on an accelerated learning curve, however. From the moment he switched to linebacker, it wasn’t unusual for DeArman to give Winters an instruction during practice, only to have Winters watch the film of the practice later that night and come back the next day with questions.
“Starting off, he was a little timid on his reads – he didn’t want to be wrong,” DeArman said. “He’s a kid who wants to be right, wants to do right, wants to please you, so he would make reads but he wouldn’t go, and he would come back and say ‘Well, if I do this, then this guy might do this.’ So he’s asking these questions, and you’re thinking, 'Wow.' So you tell him what to do, he goes home and when you come back, he says ‘Alright, I understand now that when they run this play, the reason I do this is to keep this from happening.’”
Even though all of Bowie’s players have access to practice film via Hudl, DeArman said there’s few players that study the game like Winters.
“I can (count) on one hand,” DeArman said. “You’re talking about three or four kids that were like that.”
One of them was Kip Edwards, a two-year starter at cornerback for the Tigers who finished his eligibility last season. Both Edwards and running back Russell Hansbrough, who was the Tigers’ third-leading rusher as a true freshman last season, are Bowie alums.
“He knows about the pipeline we have to Missouri and how those kids are all taken care of,” DeArman said of Winters. “He knows I trust Steck and the coaches at Missouri. It was a no-brainer.”