Joshua Friemel of the Dallas Morning News posed a series of questions to 20 Dallas-Fort Worth area coaches and media members from the past and present recently. He asked each participant to identify the best overall football player, quarterback, defensive player, athlete, and most underrated player they had ever seen.
South Oak Cliff coach Jason Todd and former SOC coach Emmett Jones, who is currently on staff at Kansas, both listed former Oklahoma State basketball standout Byron Eaton as the best overall football player they had ever seen. Eaton starred at quarterback for Dallas Lincoln in high school. Other participants named guys like Allen quarterback Kyler Murray, Martin defensive end Myles Garrett and Sealy running back Eric Dickerson as the best overall player. Murray garnered the majority of votes for best overall player. But was Eaton really that good?
As much as I would love to break down the results of the questionnaire, that’s not what I am here to do. I am simply asking one question. Could Eaton have starred in both football and basketball at OSU? First, we have to ask if Eaton was interested in doing so after choosing to play basketball over multiple offers to play football.
Luckily for us, Tim McMahon of the Dallas Morning News was asking Eaton the same question back in 2007. The following quote from McMahon addresses Eaton’s potential to play on either side of the football in college.
“Many major college football programs wanted Eaton as a tailback, intrigued by his combination of quickness, elusiveness and power. Several others wanted to utilize him as a big-hitting, ball-hawking safety.” - McMahon
McMahon notes Eaton helped recruit Lincoln defensive end Richetti Jones to OSU and promised Jones if he came to Stillwater he would come out of retirement and play football.
“Eaton is waffling on that promise now. He said he plans to discuss the matter with his mother, Latorra, and [coach Sean] Sutton after basketball season.” - McMahon
Obviously that promise did not come to fruition, otherwise I wouldn’t be here writing this. Now that we’ve established Eaton had a desire to play college football, and an insight as to where he might have lined up, let’s take a look at how OSU might have utilized Eaton.
The 2008 Cowboys finished 9-4 with a loss to Oregon in the Holiday Bowl. I remember this season vividly as a Texas fan at the time. The Longhorns lost at Texas Tech in epic fashion and those two teams tied with Oklahoma for first place in the Big 12. As we all know OU went on to lose in the National Championship Game, Texas beat Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, and Texas Tech lost to Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl.
OSU was good in 2008 but the talent at the top was insane. I don’t imagine Eaton would have played much after having been out of the game for a few years, but let’s look at the depth chart for the positions he might have played.
- Kendall Hunter: 1,555 yards and 16 touchdowns
- Keith Toston: 686 yards and nine touchdowns
- Beau Johnson: 357 yards and three touchdowns
It’s also worth mentioning quarterback Zac Robinson rushed for 562 yards and eight touchdowns. The Cowboys got plenty of production from their running backs and it’s safe to say Eaton would have only seen action as a fullback to help block in goal line situations. Maybe he could have handled some of Johnson’s carries, but I’ll let those who actually watched Johnson play decide that one.
- Perrish Cox: 32 tackles and two interceptions
- Jacob Lacey: 61 tackles and two interceptions
- Ricky Price: 81 tackles and one interception
Cox and Lacey both went on to play in the NFL. Once again, I couldn’t say with confidence Eaton would have played much in the secondary. Now, it would be fun to imagine some wildcat scenarios with Eaton at quarterback, seeing as he was a capable runner.
Eaton helped lead Lincoln to the state championship game against Kilgore in 2004. Lincoln would lose that game in overtime, but I will let Jones explain how Eaton’s playmaking ability helped extend the game.
“I remember in the state championship game in 2004. I think it was the first overtime against Kilgore. We had the ball and we were still 25 yards out, but he scored a touchdown to tie the game up. Byron called a simple quarterback sneak play. Told the left side of the O-line to block everything down and he was just going to run right off their hips. Man, 25-yard touchdown off that simple play. He just knew he could do something huge to change the course of a game and did it on that simple play in the state championship game.” - Jones
Eaton was quite the accomplished high school athlete. Although he didn’t win a football state title game, Eaton did play on the top ranked Lincoln basketball team, alongside Chris Bosh. That Lincoln team won state and finished as the top-ranked prep basketball team in America.
It’s fun to wonder what could have been for Eaton and the OSU football team. I am glad he chose OSU to play college basketball. As good as he was at both sports, he had his pick of plenty of good colleges.
Note: I highly recommend reading the article to read all of Jones’ and Todd’s thoughts on Eaton as a football player. There are tons of current and former NFL players mentioned in the article, and Texas high school football fans will enjoy reading the thoughts of some notable #txhsfb members who watched or coached with or against a lot of these players. Thanks to Friemel for the great read and taking OSU fans for a trip down memory lane with one of the better athletes to wear orange!