Cardinal Sports Report recently spoke with Columbia High School (Idaho) head coach Derek Mertz about his star tight end and recent Stanford commit Eric Cotton.
Cardinal Sports Report: What can you tell me about Eric as a football player?
Derek Mertz: I think really to evaluate Eric, first of all, I think he's a great student. And he has a great head on his shoulders. One of his first offers was from Harvard. And another one was from Yale. And Boise State is obviously in our neck of the woods and they play some big-time football and they were very interested in Eric, so we had that talk of 'Hey, you have an opportunity at a school like Harvard that could change your life. It's not Division-One football, but obviously it's a fantastic education. I want you to maybe consider passing on a D-1 school for that education.' One of the things that really impressed me is he's really given that a hard, hard look. And I think a lot of young men, especially if they're here in Idaho would think, 'Oh my goodness, Boise State, ESPN. I've never play Harvard play in my life, why would I go to Harvard?' But I think he values the right things. He really values the academic side.
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And anyway, we talked more, and I asked him, what would be your dream schools. And this is just as our season ended up, and he said, 'You know coach, I'd love to play at Stanford.' Stanford was his dream school and I'm tickled that he has an opportunity to go play there.
CSR: What does Eric do well as a tight end?
DM: I think he's an exceptional route runner. I think he's very, very athletic. Missouri offered him as well and he was MVP of the Missouri camp a couple of weeks ago, and I think there were 600 athlete there, and very athletic kids obviously in the SEC conference. But for a guy who's legitimately, I think 6-foot-5,1/2 without shoes on and weighs 237 pounds, he's a big man. He's very young and exceptionally athletic.
I was around Dallas Sartz, I coached six years at Granite Bay High School down in Sacramento. Dallas Sartz went to USC, went to the NFL. Eric is like [a bigger] Dallas Sartz. He's tall, he's athletic, he's just another 20 pounds heavier. He's big, he's muscly. It's just so rare to see that athletic and that big and be so young. You talk about numbers, he ran an electronic 4.69 40 and that was in the spring. And that was after he worked out. He's pretty fast. And I think that there are a lot of guys at Stanford right now that don't have the numbers that he has. I'm not saying that Eric is a better player right now than the juniors and seniors, I'm just saying athletically he's probably more gifted than many of them.
CSR: What areas in Eric's game aren't as well-developed?
DM: I would say that in our offense, we split them out wide. We use him as a receiver and I know Stanford puts them on the end of the line of scrimmage and has them block. It's not that I don't think Eric can do that or Eric's bad at that, it's that Eric doesn't have a lot of experience doing that. So if there's an area of weakness, I wouldn't say it's a weakness, it's just a lack of experience. So he's strong enough to get it done, he's one of the strongest players on our football team. Actually when he was a sophomore for us, because we didn't have many big guys and we had a bunch of receivers, he played offensive tackle for us when he was a sophomore and started every game as a varsity player.
CSR: From a high school tight end's perspective, how big is the draw to an offense like Stanford's where the tight end is featured so prominently?
DM: I think for him one of the things he recognized that was a little bit different than Washington State or Missouri is that he was going to learn how to play in that three-point stance, quite honestly. I think he felt that it would prepare him very well to be a pro football player and that's something he's dreamt of doing. Being in the Stanford offense, not only will he have opportunities to catch the football, and they plan on possibly if his athleticism proves to be genuine, which I think it will be, they might move him out wide and create mismatches kind of like the Patriots do with Rob Gronkowski on linebackers and whatnot, but they'll also put him down tight and that will be an opportunity for him to learn the position as an NFL player would play it and make him more marketable in four years.
CSR: What in your mind distinguishes Eric from some of the other high school prospects?
DM: He's a real gentleman. He's a 3.95 [GPA] kid. I think you're getting a young man that wants to excel in the classroom. Again, I go back to the before Stanford was an opportunity - he was really taking a hard look at Harvard because of the future academically for him and what it meant for his family as he moved beyond football. I think you have a guy that's going to want to excel in the classroom, and there's of course a negative stereotype to football players that they're loud, they're obnoxious, they don't know when to turn off the testosterone. I think Eric's going to go there, he's going to play football the way it's meant to be played, and when he steps off the field, I think he's going to be a great student. So I think he's someone that Coach Shaw wisely recruited. I think he'll represent the university well and I think the Stanford alum will be proud to point to Eric Cotton as one of their own. Nowadays, that's hard to do. Because a lot of times you'll find those guys that have a great motor, they have the tenacity, but they don't have the kind of character off the field that you want on your campus. And Stanford's a place where they don't compromise that and I think they made a good pick with Eric.