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February 16, 2012In the weeks leading up to spring practice at Auburn High School, the scholarship offers are rolling in for starting quarterback and punter Cameron Echols-Luper.
As a junior this past fall, Echols-Luper threw 17 touchdown passes and just one interception. With him at the helm on offense, the Tigers went 8-2 and reached the first round of the 6A state playoffs. By the end of the season, the two-year starter racked up more than 2,500 yards of offense.
Echols-Luper already has offers from Southern Miss, Toledo, UTEP, Utah and Vanderbilt to play football.
The local standout is also receiving heavy interest from nearby Auburn University. After all, the Luper family is already ingrained in the Auburn football program.
Echols-Luper's stepfather, Curtis Luper, is the running backs coach for the Tigers. Luper became Echols-Luper's stepdad in 2000 when he married the former Nikki Echols.
"We're extremely close," Echols-Luper said. "It's basically like a normal father-son relationship. There is that line now where he's a coach and I'm a son; I'm a recruiter's son; and now I'm also a recruit. But we find that line between football and family. Our relationship, I would say, is one of the best relationships you could ever ask for."
When the Lupers and Echols joined families, Luper was the assistant head coach, secondary coach and special teams coordinator at Texas A&M-Commerce -- a Division II school about 60 miles northeast of Dallas.
Echols-Luper, who was 4 years old at the time, would tag along with his stepdad to practice everyday. It was then that it was realized that Echols-Luper had innate athletic abilities.
"He started kicking around with the kickers and throwing with the quarterbacks," Luper said. "Everyday he would do it. He turned out to be a kicker and a quarterback. People say, 'You are what you practice,' and that's exactly what he turned out to be."
Although he played soccer and baseball at a young age, it wasn't until Echols-Luper was in third grade that his mother allowed him to start playing football competitively. Echols-Luper joked that she is protective of him.
"Mama loves her baby," Echols-Luper said.
After a two-year stint at New Mexico State and a three-year stay at Oklahoma State, Luper joined Gene Chizik's staff at Auburn in 2009 and Echols-Luper entered the 9th grade at Auburn Junior High that year.
Despite being the new kid in town, Echols-Luper's undeniable talent landed him the starting quarterback, place kicker and punter jobs on the 9th-grade team. The Tigers went 7-1 that year, losing only to Opelika in the season finale.
When the season concluded, Echols-Luper was bumped up to varsity -- a rare honor for a 9th grader -- where he helped the Tigers finish the season 13-1 with a trip to the state semifinals.
Since then, Echols-Luper has been Auburn High's dual-threat starting quarterback and has helped the Tigers maintain their reputation as a 6A threat in east Alabama.
With his knowledge of the game, Luper believes his stepson presents additional threats.
"He's ultra competitive," Luper said. "He has great ball skills, great instincts. He knows how to play the game because he's been around it all his life. He's the epitome of a coach's son on the field. He can play the game with his feet and with his arm and with his brain."
Despite his experience as a quarterback, his future may not be on the offensive side of the ball.
When Echols-Luper underwent knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in the offseaon, esteemed surgeon Dr. James Andrews told Echols-Luper that his growth plate was still open. Echols-Luper is about 6-foot now, but could reach 6-foot-2 or taller.
"Members of both sides of my family are extremely tall," Echols-Luper said. "I think I still have some growing to do."
Luper said should Echols-Luper stay at about 6-foot, he will likely opt to be recruited as a defensive back. However, if he adds at least two inches to his frame, he will pursue being a college quarterback. Echols-Luper said he is also interested in being a wideout.
Until then, Echols-Luper will continue to work as the Tigers' quarterback as spring practice gets underway in March. He hopes to make a definitive decision regarding his future position before his senior season starts this fall.
Echols-Luper also stayed busy in the winter on the Tigers' track team. Auburn High reinstated its indoor track program this season and Echols-Luper recently brought it a state title.
He jumped twice in the state meet, logging an impressive 23-foot, 10.75-inch first jump followed by an official 23-foot, 6.75-inch jump for the state title. Echols-Luper is now listed as the No. 2 long jumper in the nation. He also runs the 100, 200 and is the second leg on the 4x1 team.
His football recruiting is anticipated to pick up soon since coaches can begin calling high school juniors in April. Although he hasn't received any track scholarship offers yet, that could change based on his success at AHS.
Ideally, Echols-Luper wants to attend a college that has strong football and track programs, but is also appealing academically.
"I want a school that is big into Communications," Echols-Luper said. "After my football career I want to coach, but I also want to work for ESPN or be some type of sporting analyst."
Considering Luper has played a key role in helping Auburn assemble three consecutive solid recruiting classes, he gave his stepson invaluable advice about the highly competitive process.
"I told him that he only needs to be serious and consider those that have seriously considered him," Luper said. "Those schools that have offered him, those are the schools that he's selecting from. I try to just interject some realism into the equation."
Echols-Luper said his stepdad also advised him on how to know if the program is the right fit for him.
"(He told me) to make sure they welcome me into the college and also that my (position) coach treats me like his own son, "Echols-Luper said. "That's the same thing my dad tells all of his players. He tells the parents, 'If your son comes to our college, he is now my son and I will take care of him like I take care of my own children.' Basically, that's what I'm also looking for."
To ensure that happens for Echols-Luper, there is hope that he will be able to call Luper 'coach' as well as 'dad' in the future.
"If it comes down to it, I'd like to stay with my dad," Echols-Luper said. "That's 50-50 now. It's either stay with Dad or go somewhere else. I have no problem with staying with Dad. It would be outstanding."