Tarleton State has landed a pair of NCAA Division I football transfers.
Joining the Texans are Oklahoma State safety Lyndell Johnson and Memphis quarterback Eric Mathews, both former Texas high school standouts.
"Both these guys bring a lot to the table and will make us a better football team," said Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler. "We always want to build our base by signing kids out of high school, but these are guys with college experience who we believe can step in and help right away at some positions where we would otherwise be pretty lean on experience next season."
Johnson has one season of eligibility remaining and Mathews has two. Neither will participate when the Texans begin spring ball next week.
"(Mathews) is finishing up school at Memphis. He will graduate this semester and be working on his master's degree when he's here," said Fowler of the interdisciplinary studies major. "Lyndell is 15 hours from finishing his degree in criminal justice."
And both have quite the on-field resumes.
Johnson started three games and was fifth on the team with 54 tackles at OSU last fall. He recorded 4.5 tackles for loss, had three pass breakups, two quarterback hurries and two fumble recoveries. He didn't start any games but played in nine in 2012, making 28 tackles including 6.5 for loss. He also made 11 tackles in nine games as a freshman in 2011, primarily on special teams.
"He's just a phenomenal athlete," Fowler said of the Plano East product. "He can play just about any position on the field at this level, I have no doubt. He could play corner, walk down to a linebacker spot, help on special teams, he could even play offense if we needed him to. You can never have too many versatile athletes."
Following his senior season in high school in 2010, Johnson was rated as the No. 19 defensive back and No. 39 overall prospect in Texas by Scout. Texas Football magazine even listed him on its Texas Super Team. He had offers from Texas A&M, TCU, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Arkansas, Nebraska and Utah, among others.
Johnson chose Tarleton to be closer to his infant son.
"He has a 4-month-old baby boy and wanted to come back to Texas where he can be a father while finishing his degree and his college playing career," Fowler said. "This is a young man who will have every opportunity to continue to play professionally."
Mathews was an east Texas prep star at Brookshire Royal High School, where he passed for 2,112 yards and 30 touchdowns while rushing for 1,092 yards and 20 scores as a senior in 2010. He began his college career at Blinn (Junior) College in Brenham, where he passed for 2,388 yards and 20 scores while rushing for 717 yards and 13 TDs as a freshman.
Mathews waived his second season of eligibility at Blinn, transferring instead to Memphis, where in limited playing time in 2012 he rushed 20 times for 71 yards and was 3-5 passing for 24 yards and a TD. He didn't play at all in 2013.
"He's just looking for playing time," said Fowler. "He's a great kid, and a true dual-threat quarterback. I don't think I've ever seen a kid playing in Division II with his combination of arm strength and speed. We've had guys back there who can throw and run, but this guy is a true thrower and a true runner. He can do both equally well and is very dangerous."
Mathews joins an offense loaded with experience at every position but quarterback.
"We have all our receivers back except for Jeken (Frye), and we have most our offensive line back," Fowler said. "The only position where we needed some experience was at quarterback, so we're hoping that's what Eric will bring to us."
Mathews won't be a stranger to all the Texans when he arrives in Stephenville. His roommate at Blinn was Tarleton offensive lineman Xavier Ruben, who will be a senior next fall.
"It's exciting for those guys to get to reunite and play together again," Fowler said. "Hopefully that will help Eric be comfortable when he gets here."
Fowler said there were many Division II schools trying to land both players.
"The reason I'm in a hurry to get this out there is because both players requested I do something to make their phones stop ringing," Fowler said. "They're getting calls from coaches all over the country who are interested in them, and it's easy to see why. They're great athletes who can make any team better. But all they want to do is focus on school and getting ready for the season."
A season Fowler believes will be better with Johnson and Mathews on board.
"We had a young football team last year and we won a share of the Lone Star Conference title," Fowler said. "We feel like the players we've added, and I don't just mean these two, will help us build on that and continue to be successful."