Mock them if you must, but when the fine folks of Katy approved a school bond package in 2014, clearing the way for the construction of a $62 million high school stadium (the most expensive in U.S. history, set to open in 2017), they only confirmed the obvious: Houstonians still care a whole lot about prep football. And why shouldn’t they, when three of last year's four large-class state champs hailed from the Houston area? (Don't answer that.)
So what's in store for 2016? What teams and players deserve our attention? Can we expect the Metroplex—entirely shut out in 5A and 6A, for the first time since 2010—to bounce back, or is more Houston hardware in store? With August two-a-days mercifully behind us, here's a handy high school viewing guide.
Let’s start with Katy, the most dominant program in East Texas, and the defending 6A Division 2 champs. Under new Hall of Fame inductee Gary Joseph, the Tigers have claimed four state titles in 12 seasons. They finished the 2016 campaign undefeated, outscoring opponents by a shocking margin (778-62). Joseph has dropped just 15 games in 183 contests at Katy, crediting “tradition” and hard work, as coaches so often do. Unfortunately, one of those Ls came last weekend, in a Week One showdown with Austin powerhouse Westlake. Still ranked seventh in Texas, Katy “must develop weapons around the running game to beat the best teams in the state,” according to Mike Craven of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. Don’t bet against them.
Up the road in Galena Park, the North Shore Mustangs are hoping to hang onto their own trophy. Last December, they knocked off Westlake in overtime to win the Class 6A Division I crown. K'Lavon Chaisson is back for more; the defensive end was the title game Defensive MVP, and is virtually unblockable coming off the line. He’ll be tested tomorrow tonight against 5A power Manvel. Keep an eye on dual-threat quarterback Bryant Badie, who netted nearly 300 scrimmage yards in North Shore’s opener last weekend.
George Ranch, out in Richmond, is among five area schools jumping classes this fall, from 5A to 6A. Once the largest in its district, the 2015 5A champ is now the smallest campus in 23-6A, which includes Pearland. No matter. “We’re preparing the same way we always have,” head coach Ricky Tullos told the Chronicle. “What classification or who you play, we don’t buy into that.” Currently ranked 12th in the state, two key members of their backfield—quarterback Antonio Jackson and running back Alex Fontenot—are returning for their senior seasons.
Teammates at Episcopal, in Bellaire, Marvin Wilson and Walker Little make for an intimidating tandem. The former is the highest-rated prospect in Texas, a 330-pound defensive lineman who describes himself as a “real-life goon.” The latter, one of the most skilled offensive linemen in the country, takes his practice responsibilities seriously: “It bugged me a little bit seeing [Wilson] was getting all the praise especially around school, but it gave me something to strive for and someone to work with and gave me motivation I was working with the best every day and I can go against anyone in the country.” Both are unsigned, and the premiere college programs are circling fiercely.
Cy-Fair teammates Austin Deculus and Brock Wright already know where they’ll suit up next fall. Deculus, a sturdy offensive tackle (and the third-highest Texas recruit, via ESPN), committed to LSU in May, while the tight end Wright (ranked sixth in Texas) pledged himself to Notre Dame a month later. Their coach characterizes Wright as “a physical kid who can handle the line of scrimmage at the edge and … can get down the field vertically and catch the deep balls.” Meanwhile, if you want to see a teenager squat 585 pounds, Deculus has a video for you.
In true Boobie Miles fashion, senior JK Dobbins—an Ohio State-bound running back from La Grange—badly twisted his ankle on the first play of the season. (The severity of his injury is still unknown.) That means the title of Texas’ best running back falls to Toneil Carter, from Langham Creek. A New Orleans native, Carter’s family resettled here after Hurricane Katrina. Nowadays, Carter is known for two things: his quickness—he ran the 100 meters in 10.87 seconds last spring—and his distinctive first name, easily confused (even by his coaches) with a protective body part.