By: Barry Barnes, Founder/Senior Writer
During the 2008-09 high school season in Baltimore on a rainy, damp night at John Hopkins Stadium, former Dunbar Poets’ running back Tavon Austin was waiting to receive a punt with the rain banging on his visor. He settled under the ball for the catch and dipped to his left, and with no effort, he sprint pass the would-be-tacklers up the middle and headed towards the sideline.
With one man to beat, who attempted to push the speedster out of bounds, Austin’s awareness allowed him to glide and tip-toe the sideline towards the endzone, while defenders and some of his teammates slipped and fell on the wet turf. Austin displayed countless highlights in his high school career, but that was the moment when it registered that Austin was going to be special and he will be destined for stardom.
Austin electrified opposing coaches and high school football fans throughout his career as he finished with Maryland state records in total yards (9,248), rushing yards (7,962), touchdowns (123) and points (790). He also helped led the Poets to three consecutive Class 1A state titles.
Other than his size, as he stands 5-8, 174-pounds, the concern was his ability to hold up against the bigger, faster collegiate players.
7,286 yards and 40 touchdowns later with the West Virginia Volunteers, and a solid combine, Austin has poised himself as being the most versatile playmaker in the upcoming 2013 NFL Draft.
“Tavon, to me, is a guy who you have to think about late in the first round,” said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. “He’s a true playmaker. The only thing that works against him is his size, but this is a football player. I saw that in high school. He was kind of a man among boys there.
“At West Virginia, he didn’t miss a beat there: incredibly fast, incredibly explosive,” he added. “He’s a touchdown waiting to happen. If you need a slot receiver, if you need a guy who’s going to change that scoreboard, he would be the kind of guy to look at.”
Austin’s skill set is based off dipping, cutting and extreme speed. His ability to be just as sharp on the collegiate level, similar to his high school days, has been outstanding as he left defenders in the dust.
Normally, there is a statement game that each standout athlete will have, and Austin’s performance against Oklahoma was breathtaking last November. The first-team All-American registered 344 rushing yards with two touchdowns, caught four passes for 82 yards and recorded 146 yards on eight kick returns. At the end of the day, Austin accumulated 572 all-purpose yards for the second- highest single-game tally in NCAA history.
“He’s a very explosive football player,” said Vikings’ general manager Rick Spielman. “It’s amazing. What he does from a return standpoint, what he did from a receiver standpoint, what he did in that Oklahoma game from a running back standpoint, he’s a pretty unique football player.”
Already, Austin is being compared to NFL playmaker receivers in Percy Harvin of the Vikings and Wes Welker of the New England Patriots. Harvin’s ability to be dangerous in the open field during returns and being a passing threat is every general manager’s dream, and Austin could be the next best thing.
“Tavon Austin is lightning-quick,” said Arizona Cardinals’ general manager Steve Keim. “I watched him on tape again and again. And his ability to create mismatches, especially in the slot, is amazing. You get him isolated against a safety or a linebacker and it’s over.
“Some of the things I saw reminded me of Percy Harvin coming out of Florida,” he continued. “He’s a mismatch player. If you draft a player like that, you put the ball in his hands and let him do things in space because he’s so explosive. He’s fun to watch.”
If comparisons were left up to Austin, Welker would be his choice.
“That’s my No. 1 guy,” said Austin. “I watch a lot of tape of him (Welker). I think I’m a little quicker and faster than him. I figure if he can do it, I can do it, too.”
Austin is a confident player as he believes in himself and his abilities. Clearly, after being successful in college and staying healthy, he knows that he can take his talents to a greater level in the NFL.
“I think I’m the all-around best player in the draft,” said Austin. “A lot of teams are looking for that type of player to do multiple things on the field, and I think I’m that guy…Just my vision and my quickness, that’s one thing that I use. Since I’m not two inches taller, I have to use what I’ve got. I haven’t missed a game in eight years, so I think my durability should be pretty good.”
Named a first-team All-American in his junior year in 2011, Austin won the Paul Hornung award (recognizing the most versatile college football) in his senior year. The annual Hornung award was established in 2010, and the Hall of Famer himself acknowledged the greatness of Austin.
“I like the way Tavon Austin plays the game,” said Hornung in early-January. “He is tough, he generates yardage almost everywhere possible and has a nose for the endzone. Tavon Austin is a deserving winner of the Paul Hornung Award. We look forward to having him with us at our banquet in Louisville in February.”
Austin increased his chances to be a sure first-rounder to get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of getting his name called and walk across the stage to shake NFL commissioner Roger Goddell’s hand after displaying a solid outing at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
He posted a 40-yard dash time setting of 4.34 and produced 14 reps in the 225-pound bench press.
During the final tallying of the dash times, it was not clear as to who had the fastest time. Dash times between Austin and former Texas Longhorns’ receiver Marquise Goodwin were close. It was determined that Goodwin finish with the best time of 4.27. Goodwin is an Olympic long jumper, pretty much a sprinter. Nevertheless, Austin’s time was more impressive because he is a complete football player.
It’s yet to be determined as to how good Austin will be in the NFL, as doubters will continue to judge him due to his size.
Apparently, Austin is destined to be a star, which he always has been. And in doing so, he will continue to prove his naysayers wrong.
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