GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas — Grand Prairie High running back Matthew Lechuga has become accustomed to hearing virtually the same question in recent years: What will college miss out on of they elect to pass up on you because of your small frame?
As usual, Lechuga fields the question as if he expects it.
“They’ll be missing out on the one quality attribute coaches cannot teach,” Lechuga said on Sunday. “And that’s a massive heart. Plus, I’m very hungry.”
To get a thorough understanding of why the 5’7”, 150-pound Lechuga is clinging to lofty expectations of making a favorable impression among college scouts as his senior campaign looms, look no further than the immense work ethic he exhibited in the offseason.
Aside from the countless hours of conditioning, working a full-time job and conducting routine individual workouts, the 17-year-old Lubbock, Texas, native managed to put his skills and fundamentals on display among the finest athletes throughout the Southwest region.
Take, for instance, how devoted Lechuga was to upgrading his mechanics during the recent camp and combine at the University of Texas at San Antonio. As if that wasn’t enough to raise his stock, he made a lasting impression during an appearance at the NFL Prep 100 Camp, an invitation-only event that was held at AT&T Stadium.
Not bad for a player whom Grand Prairie coach Gary Bartel contends deserves a fair chance to play at the collegiate level.
“Matt is a great athlete and a natural leader,” Bartel said. “I’ve coached Division 1 college football for 28 years…at seven universities, and he is a D-1 player. He is an academic qualifier, and he has the talent to play at that level.”
Named to the Texas District 1 Region 5A All-Academic Team for two consecutives seasons, Lechuga demonstrated why Bartel and his staff christened him one of the team captains as a junior.
To his credit, the speedy, dual-position athlete also showed time and again just why he’s worthy of seizing the golden opportunity to play college football, considering he turned in remarkable numbers for a Gopher team that limped to a 1-9 finish last year.
Grand Prairie opens the season August 29 at Haltom in Haltom City, Texas.
Arguably the Gopher's most durable and versatile player, Lechuga manufactured 1,350 all-purpose yards last year. On offense, he amassed 284 yards on 49 carries, one rushing touchdown and 430 receiving yards, hauling in 37 receptions and two scores.
However, he was just as efficient on special teams, where he generated 636 return yards and one touchdown.
Despite his size, which Bartel believes has prompted scouts to turn a blind eye to his prized athlete, the Gopher coaching staff contend Lechuga has auditioned masterfully with regards to earning a full-ride scholarship.
So where does he go from here?
Every D-1 school in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana already know about him,” Bartel said of Lechuga. “D-1 coaches will not pull the trigger on him because of his size. But I would recruit him as a slot receiver and (kick) returner.”
And then are those recruiters who seemingly don’t appear to be fazed by Lechuga’s size. According to Lechuga, Yale, Southeast Louisiana, Holy Cross, Texas El-Paso, Texas Christian and Texas Tech have sent letters to express interest.
Lechuga, however, remains optimistic that it is only a matter of time that his dream of playing college football will come to fruition.
“I’ve overcome so much adversity in the past that I don’t look back now,” he said. “I have my eyes set on (playing college football) and that’s the lifestyle I want to live moving forward.”
Saandra Esquivel, Lechuga’s mother and arguably his grandest supporter, believes her son has proved he’s worthy of signing a National Letter of Intent to play at the collegiate level.
“I have watched my son play football since he was five years old,” Esquivel said. “I’ve been to every practice and every game…rain, heat or freezing temperatures. He excels in everything he does. He’s a leader. People look up to Matt.”
Among the reasons is because of something he says is unteachable.
That is, his massive heart.
Andre Johnson is a regular contributor for Bleacher Report. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.