By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Less than three months ago, Lamar senior T.W. Ayers and the Lamar Tigers capped one of the most thrilling feats in state history, earning the program’s seventh consecutive MSHSAA Class 2 State Championship.
Ayers more than played his role, finishing the game with nine tackles and four tackles for loss – three of which were quarterback sacks – in Lamar’s 37-20 win over Lafayette County.
“It was definitely the best way to end my high school career,” said Ayers. “It was great to be able to show that our class could make it happen just like all of the ones before us.”
And, just like Tigers before him, Ayers’ 99-tackle, eight-sack season earned him Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year and Class 2 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
His HUDL tape is five and a half minutes of him blowing people up, with Ayers’ physical brand of football forcing colleges to take note.
But, unlike many of his peers, the 6-foot-2, 250lb defensive end/tight end didn’t make his college decision official on National Signing Day. In fact, much the way Lamar became a Missouri football power, Ayers is doing his recruitment his own way; waiting for what he feels like is the perfect situation.
Really, his recruitment has been unusual.
He currently holds offers from FCS program Mississippi Valley State, D-2 Pitt State and NAIAs Evangel and Benedictine. FBS programs Iowa State, Arkansas State and Texas State have offered Ayers the opportunity as a preferred walk-on.
Missouri Southern has also shown interest but the fact that Ayers – as well as teammate Cooper Lucas – haven’t received more attention collegiately has been a surprise to legendary Lamar head coach Scott Bailey.
“As far as student-athletes here at Lamar goes, TW and Coop are a couple of the best we have had in our time here,” said Bailey. “They have invested the time and effort necessary to be successful at the next level based on the kids we have had in the past that earned that same opportunity. You ask if they have been under recruited? The answer to that question depends on which side of the coach’s desk you are sitting on…”
On one hand, it seems easy to justify colleges overlooking Lamar athletes, right?
Blame it on the size of the school, it’s unique system or the slight issue of being undersized for certain positions. However, it seems like Ayers’ resume has answered each of those concerns.
For starters, he’s a 250lb versatile lineman that runs a 4.8 40 and still carries a 30-inch vertical with a ridiculous 19 reps recorded at 225lbs. Just for reference, former Mizzou defensive end Aldon Smith completed 20 bench reps at the 2011 combine, record a 4.82 40 and weighing it at 263lbs.
I’m not saying Ayers is going to the NFL, but I am saying his measurables and resume speak for itself.
Bailey has produced several Division One football players, including Mizzou offensive lineman Sam Bailey and Missouri State defensive back Jared Beshore, just some of the numerous Lamar products playing college football.
His system clearly breeds success, but that hasn’t stopped people from picking at it for perceived weaknesses.
“Obviously the size of our school and the level of competition we play is brought up at times, but our kids try to eliminate that concern by attending camps in the summer and competing against all the prospects at the camp and hopefully getting deep into the playoffs and competing against the best in Class 2,” said Bailey. “As far as our scheme, we run what our kids do best and what gives our team the best chance of being successful and don’t spend much time focusing on trying to highlight one individual athlete in our program. I don’t know if that hurts the recruitment of our players or not, but I do know it helps us to be successful here.”
Ayers success has come against a range of teams, most notably Lamar’s wins over Trinity Catholic and Lutheran North in each of the last two seasons. Both programs have no less than a half-dozen future Division One athletes.
He understands why schools may be hesitant to offer him based on Lamar’s size, but he’s also unwilling to let those opinions become an indictment on his future.
No program will receive a National Letter of Intent from him until he’s a peace with his decision.
“I don’t have a timeline,” said Ayers. “It’ll happen when the right opportunity comes up. I don’t want to decide too quick and settle for somewhere I don’t want to go.”
Bailey stated that he feels like both Ayers and Cooper will be successful because of their work ethic, regardless if they fit a program’s physical profile for a particular position; comparing both players to former Lamar and Pitt State standout Colby Hall.
For Ayers, he believes what he can bring to a college football program is simple.
“I will be bringing leadership and a winning mentality to wherever I go,” said Ayers. “Not very many people have been as successful as we have at Lamar, so I will go in knowing how to win.