• Greg Wille

COMPLETING HIS ASSIGNMENTS: Imposing end, top student Torres an emerging force for Wildcats' defense


GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME: Temple junior defensive end Tommy Torres has performed well in his first season as a varsity starter, helping the 3-1 Wildcats record second-half shutouts in all three wins. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Torres has recorded 12 tackles and one sack for Temple, which won 55-21 at Copperas Cove in last week's District 12-6A opener. Torres also is an excellent student, carrying a 5.3 grade-point average on a 6.0 scale and ranking third in his junior class. The Wildcats' homecoming game is against the Bryan Vikings (2-0, 1-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)



By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com


An uninformed visitor to the Temple Wildcats' football facilities might take one look at Tommy Torres and assume that he's not only a senior but also old for his grade. At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, the defensive end certainly cuts a physically mature, imposing figure.

However, it turns out that Torres is only a junior and won't turn 17 until next June 15, so how much more the hulking young man will grow between now and the end of his senior season is anyone's guess.

Being large for his age and competing against older players is nothing new for Torres, who began playing tackle football at age 6.

“I played with a bunch of 8-year-olds, so I kind of got destroyed,” said Torres, whose given first name is Tomas. “But it was good experience.”

The experience Torres gained last season as a backup defensive end on Temple's varsity team is part of the equation that's paying off for him now as a first-year starter on a difference-making line for the Wildcats, who are 3-1 overall and 1-0 in District 12-6A entering their homecoming game against Bryan (2-0, 1-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium.

Torres has made 12 tackles in four starts this season, including two stops for losses and one sack. Beyond his personal statistics, Torres' ability to take on double-team blocks at the point of attack has helped linebackers such as sophomore Taurean York and junior Marshall Grays roam freely to make dozens of tackles.

Torres realizes that he's made huge strides in his game since last year, but he remains hungry to keep improving.

“Well, obviously I'm not perfect. I still have to work on some stuff, like getting more violent and some stuff technique-wise. But I think I'm doing pretty good,” said Torres, an outstanding student who carries a 5.3 grade-point average on a 6.0 scale and ranks third academically in his junior class.

Temple head coach Scott Stewart compared Torres to former Wildcats quarterback/tight end Jared Wiley – now a sophomore tight end at Texas – in terms of a player who has a large frame but has needed some time to learn how to use it effectively. As that process has developed, Torres has become an effective performer because he executes whatever his coaches want him to do.

“Like Jared and like a lot of kids who grow really quickly, sometimes it takes them a while to catch up with their body. If nothing else, it's just coordination,” Stewart said. “Tommy busts his tail in the weight room, he's an assignment football player and he's going to do what he's told to do.”

Temple's other defensive end is junior and second-year starter Eric Shorter (21 tackles, four for losses), who plays with such a high motor that occasional missed assignments are the price to pay for that full-speed effort. With the disciplined Torres, the Wildcats' coaches wouldn't mind if he took a page out of Shorter's book by going off-script every once in a while.

“He's almost one of those (players) where you say, 'OK, man. Just turn it loose right here. You did your job; now let's put an exclamation point on it,'” Stewart said of Torres, who wants to remain at an end position next season even though his current and projected size suggests he could move to an inside spot.

Temple defensive coordinator Dexter Knox is seeing signs that Torres is beginning to come into his own as a varsity starter, even if the coaches still have to push him to fully assert himself. One play by Torres in last Friday's district-opening 55-21 win at Copperas Cove especially stood out to Knox.

“He's a great kid, very even-keeled. Tommy's one that you've got to work on a little bit. Last week, we saw him do some things where it was like, 'Oh, wow.' The light bulb's going on a little bit, like, 'Hey man, you can wear these O-linemen out,'” Knox said. “He had a tackle come at him and Tommy punched him in the lips, and then the fullback came and Tommy threw him out of the way and made the play. He got off two blocks and made a play. I was like, 'Oh my word, there it is!' You obviously can't coach being 6-5, 255.”

One reason Torres has the potential to become a star player is good genes. His father is Clemente Torres Jr., who started three seasons at tight end for Rice from 1992-94 and helped the '94 Owls share the Southwest Conference championship, highlighted by a 19-17 home win over Texas that was Rice's first victory against the Longhorns since 1965.

The elder Torres stands 6-4 and has passed along not only his size to his son but also some knowledge about how to play football in the trenches.

“He pushes me, but not to the point where it's like wrong or anything. If I want to do it, he pushes me,” said Tommy Torres, who wants to study engineering at a college in Texas while continuing his football career. “I go to his house on Sundays to work out with him and do stuff to get me faster, like agility work and jumping rope.”

Torres lives with his mother, Monica, who makes sure her son keeps his priorities straight.

“She's strict on grades. It's academics first. She likes me playing football and loves watching me play,” said Tommy Torres, whose sister played volleyball for Temple and now attends Texas A&M.

Knox believes that growing up as the son of a former NCAA Division I football player has helped Torres adapt to the rigors of playing well at the Class 6A level. Temple's defensive coordinator has seen the same thing from players whose fathers played football beyond high school.

“I feel like they study the game a little more and their football IQ is probably a little higher than some,” Knox said. “They've been around the game more, so that comes with the territory. You see them being able to make adjustments quicker than most. They understand it.”

Said Stewart: “You can tell it's more than just, 'Hey, here's seventh grade. Go learn some football.' Tommy's coming in with some foundation. He's got some foundational information.”

Clem Torres enlisted in the U.S. Army from 2003-09 and ended his military career as an E-5 sergeant after completing deployments to Iraq in 2005 and 2008. After serving, he went back to college on the G.I. Bill and now works in the interventional radiology department and the Roney Bone and Joint Institute at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Temple.

Tommy was born at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia in 2004 and lived in Colorado, Temple and then Germany before he returned to Temple to begin kindergarten. Living in Europe gave the young Torres an opportunity to travel and see popular destinations in Italy.

“I remember going to the Colosseum (in Rome) and the (Leaning) Tower of Pisa,” he said. “That was fun.”

Asked how a student achieves a 5.3 GPA, Torres had a matter-of-fact answer: “You just have to make straight 100s in every class.”

His current roster of courses includes advanced-placement calculus, English and Spanish along with math in the International Baccalaureate program.

“I should've been taking AP physics, but it didn't fit my schedule, so I just got put into IB math,” Torres explained. “I'm pretty smart, so it's good to be in those classes. I want to be an engineer or something like that when I grow up.”

Temple generally has its most physically grueling practices early each week, which isn't all that conducive to hitting the books when he gets home.

“Mondays and Tuesdays, since I'm really tired after practice, I usually do maybe 30 minutes' worth of (schoolwork),” said Torres, who also takes a class in building construction. “Wednesdays and Thursdays are when I get it all done.”

Said Stewart: “His grades are off the charts. He's phenomenal. He's sharp.”

After playing defensive end and tight end for Temple's top freshman team in 2018, Torres made the varsity squad last year. His playing opportunities were sporadic, though he did start the district game against Killeen Ellison and got some on-field action in the 41-10 first-round playoff loss at Longview, finishing the season with six tackles (one for loss).

This year's COVID-19-delayed season opener gave Torres and Temple another shot at Longview, and the Wildcats got their revenge by beating the state-ranked Lobos 40-13 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. In all three Temple victories this season, the Wildcats have shut out their opponents in the second half.

“That was awesome. (Longview) lost some players (from last year), but our defense is great this year,” Torres said. “I feel like it's really good.”

“Tommy did a really great job against Longview that first week, because we put him up to a tall task. They had the same tight end as last year and (Torres) was on the tight end side for most of the night,” Knox said. “He had a little confidence. He prepared well. He saw the film, he knew the game plan and he went and executed it. Just by him growing in size, I think he was like, 'I can handle it.'

“Where he's been most of the season, it hasn't allowed him to get a lot of one-on-one blocks, so he's had a lot of double-teams. (It's been) let the linebackers go play. There's value (in that). To his credit, his stats may not look great but he's doing his job. You can change (strategy) during the game on the sideline or at halftime. If you tell Tommy, 'Hey, go do this,' he's going to make it happen.”

Torres said his best performance was when he made five tackles – including two for losses and a sack – two weeks ago in Temple's 43-25 home loss to Arlington Martin. That score was deceiving in that the Wildcats' defense played well on a night when Temple's special teams allowed three touchdowns and the Warriors used a long interception return to set up another TD.

Stewart laughed as he described Temple's defensive line as a “motley crew.” The aggression of senior nose tackle Jayven Taylor is complemented by the cerebral execution of senior tackle Cody Little, while Shorter's all-out style at one end is countered by Torres' by-the-book, get-it-done fashion.

“They are such a motley crew, and they get along swimmingly,” Stewart said. “You've got one (Shorter) who's borderline kind of out there, off the reservation, and you've got one (Torres) who's as straight-laced as they come.

“I've talked to Tommy's dad about that. He said, 'Coach, when Tommy gets hacked off, he turns into a different guy.' I'm like, 'Well, tell me how to get him hacked off.' (But) he does his job a huge majority of the time and does it exactly how you ask him to do it.”

Said Torres: “Jayven, he's very aggressive and I try to be as fast as him. I know I'm not as fast as him to the ball, but I try to be as violent as him. Eric, he's a fast D-end, so I'm trying to work to be faster. Cody, sometimes we get off the topic of football and start talking about math work.”

That's something Knox gets a kick out of.

“It's fun. Just being real honest, I'm kind of a nerd, too, so I enjoy it,” Knox said. “The other day, Cody was working on some calculus and I told him I'd help him out. They're great kids. It makes the dynamic in the (meeting) room very interesting. We've got some big-time characters, and then those two (Torres and Little) two are mild-mannered and to themselves. It's a diverse group and we enjoy that.”

Torres says he's gotten not only bigger during the past year but also significantly stronger. He now bench-presses 265 to 270 pounds and squats near 350.

“Getting those up, I have a better punch to work (offensive linemen) better,” said Torres, whose best friend since sixth grade has been fellow Wildcats junior lineman Da'Kyron Williams, a defensive reserve.

With Torres now combining his size, strength, genes, knowledge and experience, Temple's coaches believe they have a budding star on the line – even if that potential star is a humble, gentle giant.

“What we're trying to get him to understand now is that he can scratch my head from 15 feet away, to understand that length and hand placement,” Stewart said. “He's a very technical football player. He's just got to understand the tools and the leverage that the good Lord gave him.”

Knox said he's already witnessed rapid improvement from Torres since his sophomore season ended.

“One, he understands the game a lot better. He's starting to figure out that he's 6-5, 255 and can bully people around a little bit now. Last year he was more finesse and trying to figure it out,” Knox said. “Now he understands what he's doing and he's more confident, so he's able to use his size to his advantage.

“He's quicker than he was last year. We always talk about with young kids how sometimes look like a baby deer – just body going everywhere. He can control his body a lot better and he's able to work his technique. His technique has gotten so much better. Our two defensive line coaches (Robert Havens and John Matthews) have done a phenomenal job with those guys.”

Torres said he's grateful to have a defensive-minded head coach in Stewart, who won't let his players settle for less than their best.

“Coach Stewart's great. He's always on us for slacking. He's usually paying attention to us and gets us right,” Torres said. “He teaches us life lessons.”

Knox said he called Torres “Baby Deer” last year because he still was growing into his large frame. This year has brought a more mature and polished Torres, with more growth and strong play still to come.

“He's gained 30 pounds, and it's good weight. It's unreal. He's a big old kid and it's not slowing down,” Knox said. “Now it's like, 'Dude, you can just go wreck a game now.' The offense will be thinking, 'What are we going to do? We can't block this guy.'”

True to form, Torres won't buy the hype or get ahead of himself. Just like his blue-collar playing style, his goals are simple to understand.

“I just want to get faster and better,” he said, “work on my craft and try to help my team the best that I can.”

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