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September 26, 2012
MESQUITE, Texas - Tucked away at the corner of Buckner and Samuel Boulevards on the edge of Dallas lies First Baptist Academy's Saints Athletic Complex.
Each school day, student-athletes make the pilgrimage from the school in the middle of cramped downtown Dallas to the SAC where there are acres of fields and facilities to practice and play.
Only around forty boys are enrolled in the high school, many of which make up the small TAPPS school's football roster. However, three juniors have already displayed enough talent to move on to Division 1 programs after high school.
On the outside, wide receiver Trae Hart is the Saints' vertical threat, accumulating 542 yards and eight touchdowns in the Saints' first four games of the season.
Hart has great speed as an outside receiver and runs tight, precise routes that make timing plays a snap for FBA.
It's not just burning private school defensive backs that has gained Hart interest from schools like Texas, SMU and Oklahoma. Hart proved his skill this summer at the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge in DeSoto and TCU's July camp.
To ensure Hart is working hard to develop his skills, the FBA coaching staff has, in some instances, set stat goals for Hart each game, to not only compete against his opponent but also himself week-to-week.
"It's good because it gives you something to work towards," Hart said. "They have a goal for me to get over 180 yards each game."
Achieving those goals not only motivates Hart, but keeps quarterback Max Partlo on his toes.
Partlo works under the tutelage of FBA head coach Jason Lavvorn, a former backup QB at Baylor just before the Robert Griffin III era and fits the mold of a perfect pro-style, pocket-passing quarterback.
In his four games of work in 2012, Partlo has put up video game numbers in Lavvorn's spread offense, totaling 1048 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Partlo's strength is in his size - 6-foot-4, 200-pounds, with a broad, sturdy frame. However, Partlo believes his most marketable feature lies between his ears.
"I'm a student of the game. I understand the game better than any quarterback in my age group," was the bold claim Partlo issued.
He had the opportunity to demonstrate this over the summer, throwing to some of the region's top wide outs, such as KD Cannon, at the Underclassmen Challenge. Academics and proximity to home are the biggest factors Partlo will weigh in selecting a college, so naturally he placed TCU, Rice and SMU as an early top three in his recruiting process.
"I'm a 4.0 student and No. 2 in my class. I'd like to study engineering and go into a law school degree."
Partlo went on to say that so far TCU headlines the short list.
Most of FBA's starters play both ways because of the lack of numbers, but none might make as much of an impact as Justen Tatum.
Tatum brings the pain as the Saints' starting inside linebacker with a knack for powering through blocks and a nose for the ball. Forget his soft-spoken disposition off of the field, when the ball is handed to a back, Tatum is downhill into the backfield to blow up a play.
On offense, Tatum is used to blow up opposing defenses as a fullback, throwing blocks that are typically only seen on kick returns. He also utilizes 4.5 forty speed to run through the middle and pick up the hard-work yards.
"One guy isn't going to tackle me -period," Tatum said.
Tatum lists his top three desired destinations as Oklahoma, TCU and Oregon after camping at Oklahoma and TCU this summer.
Lavvorn, an FBA alumnus, has these standouts for another season and a half before they presumably follow in his footsteps, representing the Saints at the next level.