No Fly Zone: Duncanville High School’s Ennis Rakestraw Jr. brings confidence, grit to the Tigers’ 2020 roster
After not allowing a single touchdown his senior year in high school, cornerback Ennis Rakestraw Jr. comes to Columbia looking to bolster the Tigers’ secondary.
Sep. 09, 2020
By now, you’ve probably seen –– or at least heard about –– the video.
Watching with bated breath, Mizzou head football coach Eli Drinkwitz and his staff huddled around a small iPhone screen in a conference room at the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex. In just a few moments, three-star cornerback Ennis Rakestraw Jr. would officially announce his college commitment and Drinkwitz desperately hoped that he put on the hat with the black and gold tiger.
Rakestraw picked up a Texas Longhorns hat, but he set it aside. Next was the crimson hat of Alabama –– he tossed that astray, too. After a brief pause, he stood up, put on the Tigers hat and yelled “Mizzou!” causing Drinkwitz to jump to his feet, pump his fists and run around the football offices.
Sitting in the Duncanville High School auditorium, many of Rakestraw’s teammates felt the same way.
“We all went crazy when we saw that he was going to Mizzou. We were happy for him,” teammate Pierre Goree Jr. said.
In his four seasons at Duncanville, the Panthers amassed a 51-6 record, won its league for three consecutive years, and played in the past two Texas 6A state championship games.
Rakestraw anchored a defense that dominated opponents and in 2019 he made headlines for not allowing a single touchdown all season. 247Sports’ composite data ranked him as the 70th-best cornerback in the country. By signing day, Rakestraw held offers from Alabama, Texas and Arkansas. Ultimately he chose MU. So, what exactly are the Tigers getting from the lockdown corner who played for one of Texas’ top high school football programs?
According to teammates and coaches, MU signed a physical player who likes to press at the line of scrimmage, holds teammates accountable, leads by example and isn’t afraid to chirp with anyone who lines up against him.
In other words, a Southeastern Conference-caliber cornerback.
A beast on the gridiron
Duncanville’s bi-weekly practice scrimmages are often the most anticipated events of each week among players. During one scrimmage, Rakestraw lined up opposite teammate Zeriah Beason and awaited the snap.
Beason –– now a freshman at Oregon State –– ran an out route, and as he came off the fade Rakestraw put the 6-foot receiver on his back and started jawing at him. The sudden, unexpected play riled the entire offense up and sent the defensive unit into hysterics.
Rakestraw is a player who loves to talk. Listen closely during a practice or game and you will often hear him chirping at the line of scrimmage. The 6-foot cornerback’s aggression and willingness to press every receiver encourages the heated interactions you’d expect on the gridiron.
“It could be a chill day, but as soon as somebody on the offense talked smack or talked trash it would make Ennis mad,” teammate Awtavius Griffin said. “It would make him go super hard like he had people on the offense scared to go against him ... He was a whole different player, he turns into a demon out there.”
Rakestraw’s confidence and tough attitude helped mold him into the player that he is today, but for all the natural talent he possesses, the first thing that coaches point out is his determination.
“I think the thing that made Ennis tough was that he knows where he wants to go in life,” Duncanville defensive coordinator Judd Thrash said. “He knew that he was blessed to play the game of football and he embraced that opportunity. Ennis wanted to be the best cornerback in the state, so when he took the field he had a presence about himself that he is the best cornerback on the field and in the state. I bet that attitude carried over a lot.”
A matchup nightmare
Duncanville finished 15-1 last season with its narrowest win coming against Southlake Carroll High School in the state playoffs. A talented offense which included five-star quarterback and Texas 2021 commit Quinn Ewers, and Minnesota 2021 commit Brady Boyd gave the Panthers’ defense its best test of the season, but Duncanville still won the game by two touchdowns.
“The biggest compliment you can give [Rakestraw] is that we had to make sure that in certain formations we were moving guys around where they weren’t one-on-one or he wasn’t the matchup,” Southlake head coach Riley Dodge said.
Dodge called Rakestraw the “first player to jump off the page in the scouting report” due to his instincts, ability to break on the ball and fluid hips, which helped him cover even the most athletic receivers.
“I know at the high school level that everyone has something to work on, but at this level, he was a very complete corner,” Dodge said.
At the beginning of the second quarter, Southlake drew up a play that had Boyd starting on the near side of the field before motioning over to Rakestraw’s side pre-snap. The three-star receiver faked an out before running a post and hauling in the ball from Ewers. While the play –– one specifically drawn up for the Duncanville secondary –– worked, Rakestraw was still on Boyd’s back and quickly made the tackle.
“He’s patient, he doesn’t really bite on anything, and once he gets his hands on you it’s pretty hard to get them off because he is pretty physical,” Boyd said. “Once he comes down and presses, you’re going to have to be patient on your release and really get around him, or else he is just going to shoot his hands and get them on you.”
Boyd is accustomed to moving around from time to time, but against the Panthers, he said that movement was pivotal to success. He would line up in an empty set for one play and line up in the slot for another. However, no matter what Boyd tried, not much worked against Rakestraw and the Duncanville secondary.
While Southlake avoided Rakestraw’s side of the field for most of the game, they did try to test him on a few occasions. One third-down, Dodge had Boyd run a post route over the top and while both guys went for the ball, Rakestraw made an athletic play to break the play up. Later, Dodge sent Boyd on a wheel route, but that yielded a similar result. The Southlake head coach admitted that Rakestraw’s presence lingered at the back of his mind when he attempted to call a play over the top.
”If anyone beats him once, he’s not going to let them beat him again,” Goree said.
Boyd knew going into the playoff game against Duncanville that Rakestraw would be his toughest matchup of the season. And while the Southlake offense scored the most points on the Panthers all season, they had to earn each and every one.
“He would always get real physical and then he would always take pride in getting off your blocks and not letting you block him,” Boyd said. “Then he would let you know.”
An SEC-caliber corner
According to his teammates, Rakestraw always stood out on the practice field, but it wasn’t until Duncanville’s first 6A state championship run when they knew he would be able to thrive at the next level.
Griffin remembered when Rakestraw drew the assignment of guarding Arlington Lamar High School’s best receiver, Isaiah Neyor in the divisional playoff game. Throughout the week coaches and teammates told him that he better lock him up. That weekend, the Panthers won 45-6 as Rakestraw completely shut the 6-foot-3 receiver down.
In the state quarterfinals against Southlake, Rakestraw had a pick-six and the Panthers won 51-7. A week later, Rakestraw went up against five-star receiver and Oklahoma Sooner commit Theo Wease at AT&T Stadium, and shut him down, too.
“I think they only completed one pass on him, and [Wease] was a top-five receiver in the nation,” Griffin said.
But for all of his dominant performances at Duncanville, one game stood above the rest: 2019’s state semifinal game against Rockwall High School. The Panthers were a game away from a second-consecutive state championship berth but first had to figure out how to neutralize five-star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
“All week long I asked, ‘Are you ready for this challenge?’” Thrash said. “‘You do know that if you shut [Smith] down, then you will be the best corner in the state of Texas, and maybe one of the best corners in the nation.’ and Ennis was like ‘I got this.’ He was ready for the challenge, he could not wait until he took the field because he knew that he was going to excel because of his confidence.”
It turned out that Rockwall barely targeted their talented wide receiver. As the game went on, Smith couldn’t dominate the game like he was used to in part because of the press coverage that Rakestraw applied. The Yellowjackets attempted a pass to Smith in the end zone once, but Rakestraw comfortably broke the play up.
“There’s no doubt about it, at the line of scrimmage he beat [Smith] all day long,” Thrash said. “On the line of scrimmage is where Ennis is really good. If he gets his hands on you then it’s over with. Jaxon is a great player, but towards the end of the game I could see him get frustrated because he couldn’t get off the line of scrimmage due to Ennis’ physicality.”
From a scheme perspective, being able to lock up an entire side by himself –– like he did against Smith–– changes a game.
“It makes it really easy because I do not have to worry about the other side,” Griffin said. “I can worry about me and what’s going on on my side because I know that nothing’s going on over there. [Opponents] are scared to go to the other side. [Rakestraw] makes it easier on the defense in general because you know that side is all locked down and that any offense is scared to throw at him.”
247Sports rated Rakestraw as a three-star prospect, but stars aren’t the only thing that matters in recruiting. Before committing to MU, he received offers from Alabama, Texas, and Arkansas.
“I think it’s a blessing and a curse at Duncanville,” Dodge said. “They have so many great players and during his junior year, they had so many guys on the back end that were really, really highly recruited. He just got underrecruited as a junior, put great tape on film as a senior, and popped late his senior year.”
So when Thrash finally watched the video of Drinkwitz running around the football offices and high-fiving anyone in sight, he couldn’t help but smile.
“It was great to see how much [Drinkwitz] wanted Ennis to be a part of their program,” Thrash said. “As Ennis’ former coach, I was excited to see that a head coach wanted him and his family and that they were so excited to get him to be a part of their program.”
Rakestraw went his entire senior season without allowing a touchdown, and teammates said that it was never particularly close. In the 6A state semifinal game, he shut down 247Sports’ 5th-ranked wideout. Football is a team sport, but it was Rakestraw’s individual talent that helped him stand out at Duncanville.
Now, Rakestraw will test himself against some of the best receiving corps in the nation. While he may just be a freshman, it sounds like he is off to a good start at MU.
“I’ll say Ennis Rakestraw and Jaylon Carlies both have been exactly what we were hoping and had really competed well,” Drinkwitz told reporters via Zoom last Friday. “Ennis had a really nice interception in the red area today.”
His first regular-season test? The Alabama Crimson Tide’s star-studded receiving unit.
Such is life in the SEC.
Edited by Maia Bond | firstname.lastname@example.org