Monday, March 29, 2010

Tarleton State Football News


STEPHENVILLE – Zach Shaver, 18, a football player at Tarleton State University, passed away Monday morning at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital-Fort Worth after a head injury suffered Saturday during a spring practice.

Shaver, a redshirt freshman from Wichita Falls (Rider High School) who joined the football team last fall as a defensive lineman, was airlifted to the metroplex hospital from Tarleton’s Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

Shaver was involved in a routine football play when the freshman fell to the ground.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of this young student-athlete, “ said Tarleton athletics director Lonn Reisman. “This is a tragic loss for the Shaver family, and our thoughts and prayers are with them through this difficult time. I am thankful for our athletic training staff, the emergency medical teams and the hospital staff for their professional response.”

“It is always difficult to lose one of our Tarleton family members, especially when they are so young,” said Tarleton President F. Dominic Dottavio. “Counselors will be on hand to respond to any needs. Lisette and I will keep his family in our thoughts and prayers.”

When Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler was the defensive coordinator at Midwestern State, the Shaver family lived close to the Fowlers.

“Zach was a great young man, and I enjoyed watching him grow up over the years,” Fowler said. “This is a very difficult time for the Shaver family and the Texan football family. Zach was a great person and teammate, and he was a pleasure to coach. We ask that everyone keep his friends and family in their prayers during this difficult situation.”

Shaver is survived by his parents, Robbie and Jennifer, and a sister, Emily.

Services are still pending.
Tarleton football player dies from head injury

Sports Editor

After suffering a head injury during a spring football scrimmage at Tarleton State University Saturday, redshirt freshman Zach Shaver, 18, passed away at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth Monday morning.

Shaver, a 2009 graduate of Rider High School in Wichita Falls, was playing defensive tackle on what appeared to be an ordinary play until he went down and then lied motionless right on the 50 yard line.

CareFlite was called to the scene to transport Shaver to Fort Worth after athletic trainers and local emergency personnel were unable to get a response from him.

Shaver remained in a coma fighting for his life until increased swelling cut off oxygen to his brain early Monday morning.

Tarleton head football coach Cary Fowler says he lived on the same street as the Shaver family during his time as defensive coordinator at Midwestern State.

"Zach was a great young man, and I enjoyed watching him grow up over the years," Fowler said. "This is a very difficult time for the Shaver family and the Texan football family. We ask that everyone pray for his friends and family to help them through this difficult situation."

Kert Turner is a graduate assistant who coaches defensive linemen at Tarleton.

"He was one of the best kids I ever met," Turner said. "He was the kind of kid you want to coach and want to be around."

Turner said the mood was somber as players filtered into the Tarleton football field house Monday afternoon.

"As the guys come in I'm just hugging them," Turner said. "I'm trying to encourage them and be there for them."

Turner said coaches and players are leaning on each other as they cope with the loss of their teammate and friend.

"There's 100 of us and everybody is going through the same thing," Turner said. "At least we don't have to go through it alone."

Shaver earned first-team all-district and Class 4A honorable-mention all-state honors as a senior at Rider. He played against Stephenville in the area round of the state playoffs in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Scott Ponder, head football coach at Rider High School, has fond memories of Shaver as both a player and a person.

"Zach was a wonderful kid. We love him and we'll miss him," Ponder said. "He was beloved to his family, to our program and to the Rider community."

"He was our nose tackle and did a great job along the defensive line for us," he continued. "He was a tremendous worker, a kid of character. He was well respected in our locker room - admired and well liked."

Former Rider player dies as result of practice accident
By Nick Gholson

Monday, March 29, 2010

WICHITA FALLS — Zach Shaver, a 2009 graduate of Rider High School, died today in a Fort Worth hospital after suffering a head injury in a football practice at Tarleton State University on Saturday.

"He was a winner on and off the field," Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler said. "He had a big smile on his face all the time, but when he was on the football field, there was no give-up station in him. He played his guts out on every play."

Fowler said Shaver got tangled up with an offensive lineman on a play and the two fell over with the offensive lineman on top of him. He said Shaver hit his head on the turf and never recovered.

"It looked like an ordinary football play," said Brad Keith, sports editor of the Stephenville Empire-Tribune, who was at the practice.

Keith said one assistant coach told him that the offensive lineman said Shaver "fell limp in his arms."

The 18-year-old Wichitan was air-lifted by helicopter to Harris Memorial Hospital in Fort Worth.

"He was a great kid, and I loved him dearly," said Rider football head coach Scott Ponder. "He was so positive and so well-liked. He loved people and had a lot of friends. This is a tragic blow to everyone."


Scrimmage ends as player collapses

Sports Editor

An otherwise upbeat spring football scrimmage at Tarleton State was marred by the collapse of a player directly in the middle of the Memorial Stadium turf Saturday morning.

Zach Shaver, a redshirt freshman defensive lineman from Rider High School in Wichita Falls, went down near the end of the controlled scrimmage. A local ambulance was immediately called to the scene, but Shaver remained unresponsive.

A CareFlite helicopter transported Shaver from the stadium to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth, according to Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler.

"Our prayers are with him and his family, and with our football family at Tarleton," Fowler said.

Fowler says he lived on the same street as the Shaver family during his stint as defensive coordinator at Midwestern State in Wichita Falls.

"I've known him for several years and watched him grow up," Fowler said. "He's a great kid who I'm excited to have at Tarleton. I ask that everyone keep him in their prayers."

The Texans were in their final series of the scrimmage when Shaver went down.

"Everything was upbeat until that happened," Fowler said. "We got in 36 plays of controlled scrimmage action, and we accomplished what we wanted."

Fowler was pleased with a number of things, including the play of Casey Page at quarterback.

Page, a junior-to-be from Hereford, was especially impressive during a span of four plays when he completed three straight passes and broke free for a long run. He directed the first-team offense on a scoring drive that ended with a 13-yard touchdown sprint by running back Evan Robertson, who rushed for 897 yards and seven scores as a sophomore last fall.

"I really thought Page played well," Fowler said. "He takes command of the huddle and makes good decisions."

There was a downside for Page, who tossed a pair of interceptions against the first-team defense late in the scrimmage, including one that was returned for a touchdown by standout linebacker Matt Knicky.

"Knicky is a big-time player," Fowler said of the linebacker who led the team with 98 tackles last fall. "He's the heart and soul of our defense."

The other interception was by Dashaun Phillips, a redshirt freshman cornerback from Duncanville who leaped and snagged the ball in the end zone to prevent a touchdown.

"Dashaun, that's a big-time football play!" exclaimed Fowler, who also coaches defensive backs.

Following the scrimmage, Fowler said he hopes to see more plays like that from Phillips as he continues to develop.

"Dashaun is going to be a big-play guy for us the next few years," Fowler said. "He's a leaper with great ball skills, and he can do good things once he has the ball in his hands. As soon as I saw the pass go up I knew he was going to get it."

In addition to Page's long run during scrimmage play, redshirt freshman Aaron Doyle, a quarterback from Evant, ran for a touchdown during the "sudden change" drill that focuses on scoring touchdowns after opponents turn the ball over.

Jackson Crawley, a redshirt freshman signal caller from Dallas, also had a long run when directing the offense through practice plays before the scrimmage-phase of the busy morning began.

"That's something we want out of our quarterbacks is for them to be able to run," Fowler said. "Scott (Grantham) always had the ability to run, but we weren't as deep at that position as we are now and we couldn't afford to lose him so we never really gave him the freedom we're giving these guys."

The morning began with what Fowler termed the "Houston Nutt" drill. Fowler played for Nutt at Murray State before the now hugely successful coach moved on to Arkansas and then to his current post at Mississippi.

Players get in their stances directly across from each other just as if they are lined up on the line of scrimmage. Offensive players try to drive defenders back, while the defensive players strive to physically pound their way to penetration.

"I love that drill. It forces guys to compete and it establishes a good, physical tempo right at the start of practice," Fowler said.

Spring ball at Tarleton continues with a no-contact practice Monday before the Texans put full pads on again Tuesday. Another scrimmage will be held Wednesday. They will hit the weights and watch film Thursday morning before having Friday-Sunday off for Easter weekend.

Gray ready for his turn to shine at Tarleton

Sports Editor

Devon Gray was born for this - literally.

Gray, who will be a junior next fall, is a 5-9, 180-pound junior wide receiver at Tarleton State. He is also the son of former NFL player Mel Gray, who played for Detroit, Houston, New Orleans and Philadelphia from 1984-98.

"I want to make it to the NFL and be like my dad," Gray says of his goals.

He's had to patiently wait for his chance as an injury forced him to use his redshirt season at Coffeyville Community College before playing his freshman year of eligibility at Dodge City CC. He transferred to Tarleton for his sophomore campaign only to watch teammates Devin Guinn and Jahmeel Hobson - both 1,000 yard receivers - make headlines last fall.

Guinn and Hobson are now gone, and that means Gray, along with teammates such as Arthur Buckingham and Sam Robinson, will be expected to step up and lead the receiving core in 2010.

It also means Gray, who Tarleton coaches say has had a great off-season so far, could be in the spotlight when his father finally gets the opportunity to see him play next fall.

Gray, who was raised in Phoenix, says his parents have been long divorced and his father has rarely seen him play.

That doesn't mean the elder Gray hasn't had an impact on his son's life, or his football prowess.

"My dad has had the biggest impact on me as a player and as a person," Devon says. "I still talk to him on the phone every day and he tells me how to succeed as a player and as a person off the field."

Mel Gray now lives in Houston, and according to Devon, has plans of driving north to watch his son play this fall.

"When that happens I'm going to put on a show," says Devon, flashing a wide smile.

Among receivers returning to the Texans from last season's Lone Star Conference championship team, Gray and Evan Robertson tied for second in receptions with 13. Gray averaged 12.9 yards per catch last fall.

"Devon was in the shadows playing the inside receiver position with Devin and Jahmeel on the outside," Tarleton offensive coordinator Scott Carey says. "He's moving to the outside now, and he should be a big weapon for us."

Gray may be small in stature, but coaches say his 41-inch vertical leap makes him a bigger target than his 5-9 frame suggests. Coaches also praise his ability to get open.

"He's the best route runner we have," Carey says. "He has such a great understanding of how to get open, I can see him turning into a real go-to guy for us in the passing game."

Knowledge of routes is something Gray has studied for as long as he can remember.

"When I was a little kid I would watch practice film and game film with my dad," he says. "He was always studying film so I would watch with him and learn from it."

Gray has another advantage - he is likely to draw favorable match-ups this fall because opponents will have to account for both Robinson, who is an imposing 6-3, 220 with 4.5 speed in the 40, and Buckingham, who fueled the Texans to two big wins with three key catches on a game-tying drive against Midwestern State and a diving fourth-down grab late in regulation in a playoff win at Texas A&M-Kingsville.

With those three leading the receiving core through spring drills, Gray is confident the Texans won't miss a beat without Guinn and Hobson around.

"I think we can be even better than last year," Gray says. "Buck always gets open, he's just a play maker, and Sam is big and physical. I think this is going to be a receiving core everyone is going to be talking about."

Carey agrees with the speedy pass catcher.

"If we go into the season with Sam, Devon and Buck (Buckingham) as our starting receivers, I'm happy with that," Carey said.

Gray is just happy to finally have the chance to excel at the college level.

"This is what I've been waiting for," he said. "I can't wait to start the season."

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