PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Bob West

September 7, 2013

West column; Michael, Jefferson swell area ranks on NFL rosters

PORT ARTHUR — Thanks to rookies Christine Michael from West Brook and Willie Jefferson from Ozen surviving the final cut, there will be more players from the Golden Triangle in the NFL this year than in several seasons. Seven players who have worked their way to the top from the area schoolboy ranks will be in uniform Sunday, including four who are starters. That group includes Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles (Memorial), Atlanta defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (Lincoln), Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant (Bridge City) and Seattle safety Earl Thomas (WO-Stark). The backups are Cincinnati offensive tackle Anthony Collins (Central), Michael, a running back with Seattle,  and Jefferson, an outside linebacker with Houston. It’s possible the number will swell to eight at midseason when Memorial ex Danny Gorrer is eligible to come off Tampa Bay’s injured reserve list . . .  Missing from the area NFL lineup for the first time in 10 years is Lincoln ex Jordan Babineaux. Babineaux, who overcame long odds as a free agent out of Southern Arkansas, spent seven years as a safety with Seattle and two with Tennessee. There was reason to believe somebody in need of a veteran safety would pick him up, but it still hasn’t happened. If nobody signs him, Jordan’s bottom line will be 600 tackles, 12 interceptions, eight forced fumbles and one fourth down, game-saving tackle from behind on Tony Romo in a 2006 playoff game. Babineaux has been doing some commentary for the NFL Network and even popped up for a playing lesson on the Golf Channel in July. The lesson ended with him booming a 346-yard drive.

    Michael and Jefferson, by the way, swell the all-time list of NFL players from Southeast Texas to 91. And Southeast Texas contributions to the NFL jump to 97 when you add on the four coaches  — Jimmy Johnson, Bum Phillips Wade Phillips and Lance Van Zandt — and two trainers — Bubba Tyer and Charlie Henry — who worked in the league. The complete list of area players who made it in the NFL can be found elsewhere in this section. Please let me know if somebody was left off. But bear in mind that the player had to be on an NFL roster during the regular season to be included . . . Most Houston fans had to be surprised that undrafted free agent Willie Jefferson will open the season as a backup to second-year outside linebacker Whitney Mercillus. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips wasn’t surprised. When he came over for the annual golf fundraiser for the Babe Zaharias Foundation in June, I asked Wade what rookie had really caught his attention in OTAs. Without hesitation, he said Jefferson. What’s amazing about the Ozen ex is that he made the Port Arthur News Super Team five years ago as a stringbean wide receiver. Now he’s a beefed up linebacker who came out of nowhere as a free agent from Stephen F. Austin. Since Mercillus, the guy he’s behind on the depth chart, missed all of the preseason with a hamstring injury, look for Jefferson to get playing time in the Texans’ Monday night opener at San Diego . . . Jamaal Charles enters his sixth NFL season needing only 361 rushing yards to move past Christian Okoye into third place on Kansas City’s all-time rushing list. He’s 1,479 yards back of No. 2 Larry Johnson and 1,534 behind No. 1 Priest Holmes. Given the emphasis on the pass in Andy Reid’s offense, Charles’ prolific rushing pace figures to drop significantly. He probably won’t become KC’s all-time No. 1 until next year.

    The contemporary opera on the life of Bum Phillips continued to pick up steam with a workshop showing of Act 1 this past Tuesday night at Dixon Place in New York City. Two thumbs up to Luke Leonard’s Monk Parrots, a New York-based nonprofit performing arts organization doing the opera. On its website, MP is pushing a month-long campaign called $90/90 geared to raising money for Bum’s retreat for deaf children and their families. They are asking for $90 donations in honor of the fact Bum turns 90 on Sept. 29. You can donate by going to www.bumphillipscharities.com. World premiere for the opera is March 13 at the renowned La MaMa theatre in lower Manhattan. A strong push is also being made for a Texas premiere at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin . . . Dallas  Cowboy fans now have something else to blame on Jerry Jones for his ineptitude as a general manger. A study titled “From Fan to Fat”  conducted by Pierre Chandon of the INSEAD business school found fans of NFL teams tend to go on eating binges the day after a defeat. According to the study, losses lead to consumption of 16 percent more saturated fat and 10 percent more calories for those in despair over their team getting beat. If Jethro had a conscience about his football blunders, he’d surely have to feel bad over all the overweight fans for whom he is responsible after 15 years of the Cowboys losing as many games as they win . . . Sounds like ESPN’s opening for Monday Night Football will be worth watching. It’s going to be a 90-second mini documentary chronicling the 44-year history of MNF, mixing famous moments of past games mixed with major cultural events during that time frame. I can’t wait to see if Joe Washington’s 1978 game-winning kickoff return touchdown against New England makes it in.

    Could Texas’ Mack Brown be headed for a trifecta on rejecting Heisman Trophy winners? By now, everyone knows Mack and the UT brain trust didn’t think 2011 Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, nor 2012 winner Johnny Manziel were QB material for the Longhorns. Now along comes Florida State redshirt freshman sensation Jameis Winston, who completed 25-of-27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns Monday night against Pittsburgh. Winston was quoted as saying he grew up an OU fan but wanted to play for Texas. His high school coach in Alabama backed that up and said he tried four or five times to make Texas aware of Winston’s interest and got no response. Brown’s lame explanation is that “people we trust told us we had no chance to sign him.” To which the high school coach said, “It’s hard to believe one of the nation’s top program’s is gonna concede.” And that led ESPN’s Darren Rovell to tweet, “How do you know if you’re a Heisman Trophy candidate? Get misrecruited by Texas.” . . . Lamar University is playing what is termed by FCS schools as a “money game” next Saturday against an Oklahoma State team always looking to run up the score and get the attention of pollsters. It can’t be comforting to LU coach Ray Woodard that OSU’s point-loving boss Mike Gundy was recently quoted as saying that the 78 plays a game the Cowboys ran last year wasn’t enough, that he wants more. If they can get off more than 78 next week against the Cardinals, the school record for most points allowed (71) and largest margin of defeat (68) are probably both in jeopardy. For the record, Lamar’s athletic department will collect $350,000 for playing in Stillwater.

    Hard to understand why the parent Kansas City Royals have not called Nederland and Lamar ex Brian Sanches up from their AAA farm team in Omaha. Sanches had an outstanding regular reason, compiling a 10-3 record with a 3.20 ERA, while starting 13 games and pitching out of the bullpen in 14 others. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 61-21. But his finest moment may have come Thursday night against Oklahoma City in the Pacific Coast League semifinals. Asked to start at the last minute, when planned starter Yordano Ventura had to be scratched, Sanches threw 5 1/3 shutout innings in a 3-1 Omaha victory . . .  Sorry to report that the Port Arthur News sports staff is losing a terrific asset in David Coleman. David, whose last assignment was covering the Memorial-Ozen game Friday night, is headed to the Cleveland (Ohio) Plain Dealer. It’s a well-deserved promotion for one of the best young writers I’ve hired in 41 years as sports editor of the PA News. David and Anthony Andro, both A&M grads, are head and shoulders the cream of the crop of guys who came here right out of college. Anthony, of course, left for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and is now with Fox Sports Southwest. David was a tireless worker, conscientious about what he put his name on and extremely creative. The day I hired him I knew he was too talented to be here for an extended period. Best wishes to him and his family.

    Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net

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Bob West