Texas High vs Pine Tree

JJ Sparkman runs the ball for Pine Tree, on Friday November 10, 2017, during their game with Texas High at Pirate Stadium. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)

Searching for the right fit, JJ Sparkman fell in love with Lubbock.

The senior wide receiver for the Pine Tree Pirates wanted to put the recruiting circus to rest once and for all. He held more than a half dozen offers from colleges throughout the southwest. But it came down to Missouri and Texas Tech.

Being a part of something special under the direction of first-year Red Raider head coach Matt Wells, Sparkman thoroughly enjoyed his weekend visit to the birthplace of Buddy Holly. He had visited Columbia, Missouri the week prior, but felt a definite connection to Wells and his plan to rebuild the Tech program.

“This is a very stressful time,” Sparkman said. “You want to make sure the choice you make is best for you. Coach (Kerry) Lane and my family helped walk me through the process.”

“Tech was closer to my family and that’s one of the reasons. It’s a place where I can focus and work on myself to be a better man. I think it’s a place where I can get stuff done and get ready for the NFL or anything else I want to do.”

Sparkman flew under the radar as a sophomore after suffering a labrum tear as a freshman. He strongly considered not playing football and concentrating focus on basketball.

Lane, however, saw something special in the 6-4, 210 pound Sparkman and encouraged him to reconsider playing football.

“First thing that impressed me about him was his size. He’s got a big frame and is really strong. Those measurables, along with his ability to go get the ball, I knew he could be pretty special,” said Lane. “Definitely his football IQ is incredibly high. He’s a kid that doesn’t like a lot of attention and is not much into social media. I helped him whenever he asked. But this was a decision he made on his own.”

As sophomore in 2017, Sparkman finished with 19 receptions for 374 yards and two touchdowns. He had a long reception of 54 yards and seem to flourish late in the season as the Pirates made the postseason for the first time in 15 years.

Sparkman would not sneak up on opponents in 2018. The word was out and college recruiters started sniffing around more and more. In addition in Texas Tech and Missouri, Sparkman drew strong interest from Arkansas and Iowa State.

Proving near-impossible to stop in man-to-man coverage, Sparkman became a touchdown machine last season. His ability to stretch the field and win the 50-50 balls at a 90-10 clip, Sparkman finished his junior year with 29 catches for 659 yards and 10 touchdowns. The 24.41 average per reception was tops in District 9-5A and earned him first team all district accolades.

“I’m really glad to have all this behind me so I can concentrate on my senior season. This is a big stress reliever for me. I guess it’s just part of it. But I’m glad it’s over with,” Sparkman said. “Our goal this year is to get past third round. We know we were close last year, but we’ve got to take care of the little things. It’s the little things that separate 5-5 from the third round.”

Follow George Whitley on Twitter: @GPigskinprof