The state of Texas will kick off its 2018 high school football season this weekend, and among those taking the field for their first game will be ten of the Texas Longhorns’ 16 current commits (15 seniors and one junior). Six of UT’s seven out-of-state commits have already played their first game.
When the 2017 season ended, Roschon Johnson was still the lone committed member of what came to be marketed as Texas’s #fUTure19 class, so most of the other members of that group will be playing their first games as Longhorn commits tomorrow. Junior quarterback Hudson Card is, for now, the only member of what the UT recruiting apparatus has dubbed the #cloUT2020 class. Time will tell if he’s still the Longhorns’ only junior commit by the end of the season.
For many fans and observers this week comes after several months of discussion and anticipation, and 16 weeks from now the Texas state champions will all be crowned, and anticipation for the 2019 season will begin.
I’ll make the not-so-bold prediction right now that at least one of those teams that takes home UIL football state championship trophies in December will have a future Longhorn on its roster. The most likely current contenders have to be Lake Travis in Class 6A and Cuero in 4A Division II, homes of Hudson Card and Jordan Whittington, respectively. But there are other possibilities. An as-yet-unknown prospect or two will make his name known as the season goes along. Perhaps Texas lands a top recruit from a perennial power like Allen or Aledo, or gains a commitment from one of the several D1-caliber athletes from Newton, which will be the heaviest of favorites to repeat as 3A Division II champions.
I make my prediction not because there’s a plethora of obvious candidates, but because it’s been over two decades since there was not a future Longhorn playing on a Texas state championship team. From the list I have compiled below, every season since 1996 has ended with at least one future Longhorn hoisting a Texas state championship trophy. We’ll see if that list gets longer this year.
2017: Carthage (Keaontay Ingram)
2016: Lake Travis (Cade Brewer and Cameron Dicker) and Carthage (Keaontay Ingram)
2015: Katy (Kyle Porter)
2014: Aledo (Ryan Newsome) and Gilmer (Kris Boyd and Demarco Boyd)
2013: Denton Guyer (Jerrod Heard) and Aledo (Ryan Newsome)
2012: Katy (Kyle Porter) and Denton Guyer (Jerrod Heard)
2011: Aledo (Johnathan Gray)
2010: Cibolo Steele (Malcolm Brown and Erik Huhn), Aledo (Johnathan Gray), Carthage (Kendall Thompson), and Daingerfield (Steve Edmond)
2009: Aledo (Johnathan Gray), Carthage (Kendall Thompson), Daingerfield (Steve Edmond and Chris Jones), and Cayuga (Traylon Shead)
2008: Lake Travis (Garrett Gilbert and Paden Kelly), Sulphur Springs (Bryant Jackson), Carthage (Kendall Thompson), and Daingerfield (Steve Edmond and Chris Jones)
2007: Euless Trinity (Eryon Barnett) and Lake Travis (Garrett Gilbert and Paden Kelly)
2006: Southlake Carroll (Tre Newton), Cedar Hill (Thomas Ashcraft and Jarvis Humphrey), and La Marque (Aundre McGaskey)
2005: Southlake Carroll (Tre Newton) and Wimberley (Buck Burnette)
2004: Southlake Carroll (Tre Newton) and Kilgore (Michael Huey, Eddie Jones, and Britt Mitchell)
2003: Galena Park North Shore (Chykie Brown) and La Marque (Rashad Bobino)
2002: Southlake Carroll (Adam Ulatoski), Texarkana Texas (Nathan Jones and Chris Brown), Denton Ryan (Derek Lokey), and Corrigan-Camden (Eric Foreman)
2001: Mesquite (Marco Martin)
2000: Midland Lee (Cedric Benson)
1999: Midland Lee (Cedric Benson), Stephenville (Kendall Briles), and Mart (Quan Cosby)
1998: Midland Lee (Cedric Benson) and Stephenville (Kendall Briles)
1997: Texas City (Jermaine Anderson, Ervis Hill, Tyrone Jones, and Everick Rawls)
1996: Austin Westlake (Adam Hall and Brett Robin)
Demariyon Houston and Brayden Liebrock were both part of state championship teams last year in Oklahoma and Arizona, respectively, and their schools plus the teams of Kenyatta Watson, Marcus Tillman, and Jake Smith are all highly rated in their states and classifications, but that’s a different list.
The journey to the Texas state championships at AT&T Stadium in Arlington begins this week. Here are my notes on each of UT’s 16 commits and where they will play this week. All game times listed are for their respective time zones.
2020 QB Hudson Card (Lake Travis)
This week: Friday, August 31 at 7:30, at Arlington Martin (at UT-Arlington’s Maverick Stadium)
Notes: High school football fans in the 817 area code will have two rare opportunities to see Lake Travis in a non-state championship game setting, as the Cavaliers open their season on Friday in Arlington against Martin, and will travel to Mansfield the following week to take on Mansfield Summit.
Hudson Card primarily played wide receiver as a sophomore in 2017 but also backed up senior Matthew Baldwin (now at Ohio State) at quarterback. Lake Travis reached the 6A Division I state championship game last season, and when Baldwin left that game very early on due to an injury, Card took over QB duties and accounted for 305 total yards and a pair of touchdowns, but he was also intercepted three times in a hard-fought 35-33 loss to Allen. He finished the 2017 season with 597 yards, 6 TDs and 3 interceptions passing; 64 carries for 491 yards and 6 TDs rushing; and 69 receptions for 1,137 yards and 13 TDs.
He’ll take on QB duties full-time this season as a junior and expectations are - as always - high for Lake Travis, which has won six state titles in the previous 11 seasons behind a ceaseless stream of future D1 quarterbacks, and has failed to reach the fifth round of the playoffs only twice since 2007. TexasFootball.com and the AP both rank Lake Travis #2 in Class 6A, behind defending 6A Division I champion Allen. They’ll open their season on the road against preseason #17 Arlington Martin, which has spent most of the past decade as Arlington ISD’s dominant football program, winning or sharing five district titles since 2010 and advancing to at least the third round of the playoffs in seven of the past nine seasons.
Martin doesn’t have any senior prospects who are anywhere near the caliber of 2014 graduate Myles Garrett, or 2018 grad and Oklahoma freshman tight end Brayden Willis, but they still should be a tough out for most teams they’ll face. Its secondary includes Nevada commit Jayce Godley.
QB Roschon Johnson (Port Neches-Groves)
This week: Friday, August 31 at 7:00, vs. Silsbee
Notes: Johnson has won his district’s MVP award in consecutive seasons and goes into his senior year with over 5,200 passing yards, nearly 3,300 rushing yards, and 120 total touchdowns for his career. After a delayed start to the 2017 season due to Hurricane Harvey, Johnson led the Port Neches-Groves Indians to a 10-2 overall record and into the third round of the 5A Division II playoffs, where they fell 66-40 to eventual state champion College Station.
In the newly split-division Class 5A, PN-G is in 5A Division II and begins the 2018 campaign as that classification’s fifth-ranked team, according to Texas Football. The Indians will begin their season by hosting Silsbee (alma mater of Longhorns offensive lineman Patrick Hudson), a team that went 7-5 and reached the third round of the 4A Division I playoffs a year ago before losing 64-36 to eventual state champion Carthage. In the UIL’s February realignment, Silsbee was dropped to 4A Division II, and they will be at a pretty significant numbers disadvantage, as PN-G has about 700 more students. Silsbee’s defense includes senior defensive back Aaron Sells, who reportedly holds an offer from Louisiana Tech.
WR Demariyon Houston (Millwood - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)
This week: Thursday, August 30 at 7:00, vs. Oklahoma City Heritage Hall
Notes: Demariyon Houston’s Millwood Falcons are Oklahoma’s two-time defending Class 2A state champions, and they’ll start off their 2018 season with an opponent that’s anything but a cupcake: defending Oklahoma 4A state champions Heritage Hall.
Millwood ran roughshod over its competition in 2017, going 14-0 and outscoring its opponents by an average of 46 points. Its non-district wins included a lopsided 52-15 win over eventual 4A playoff team Cascia Hall, and the Falcons barely broke a sweat in the postseason, defeating their four playoff opponents by a combined score of 165-7. Millwood likewise went undefeated in its 2016 state championship run, and the team’s last loss before its current 28-game winning streak was in the second round of the 2015 Class 2A playoffs.
Injuries limited Houston (whose nickname is “Peanut” according to local media) to playing in nine of Millwood’s 14 games last season, and in those games he caught 20 passes for 534 yards and 7 TDs. As a sophomore he won the 100 and 200 meter dashes at the OSSAA 2A state track meet, and when healthy he has put that speed to deadly use on the football field. Last fall he had 5 catches for 109 yards in Millwood’s 42-7 state championship victory over Washington, and he had three TD receptions that covered 154 yards in a 37-0 semifinal victory over Alva.
To continue its two-year unbeaten streak on Thursday night, Millwood will have to defeat fellow Oklahoma City power Heritage Hall, which has dropped down to 3A after winning the 2017 state championship in 4A. Aside from Houston, Millwood also returns 2019 Oklahoma running back commit Marcus Major and senior QB Daniel Howard, who has offers from Texas State and Utah State.
WR Jake Smith (Notre Dame Prep - Scottsdale, Arizona)
Last week: Had 16 carries for 237 yards and 2 TDs, caught 8 passes for 117 yards and 3 TDs, returned a kickoff for a 79-yard TD, and averaged 36.5 yards on four punts in a 41-27 win over Phoenix Sunnyslope.
This week: Friday, August 31 at 7:00, at Gilbert
Notes: Jake Smith scored 28 total touchdowns in his junior season. Two games into his senior year he is on pace for 55! Last Friday he scored all six of his team’s TDs in a come-from-behind win over Sunnyslope.
Smith got Notre Dame on the board with a 79-yard kickoff return TD at the end of the 1st quarter. With seconds remaining in the half, Smith scored on an 8-yard TD catch to give Notre Dame a 13-7 lead, but Sunnyslope returned the ensuing kickoff for a TD to tie the game at 13 going into halftime. Sunnyslope built a 27-13 lead in the 3rd quarter before Smith scored the game’s last four TDs on a 67-yard run, an 11-yard reception, a 56-yard reception that put Notre Dame ahead 33-27, and a 93-yard run that put the game away for good.
Notre Dame is 5A’s fifth-ranked team and will next play a Gilbert team that is likewise off to a 2-0 start. Gilbert won a few state championships in the 70s and 80s but has not finished a season above .500 since 2008, the last season it started 2-0.
WR Jordan Whittington (Cuero)
This week: Friday, August 31 at 7:30, vs. Bay City
Notes: As a junior, Whittington caught 73 passes for 1,457 yards and 16 TDs, gained nearly 1,700 yards from scrimmage and scored 23 total TDs, averaged 19 yards on punt returns, and intercepted three passes. His efforts helped Cuero to wins in its first 12 games, as the Gobblers outscored those dozen opponents by an average of nearly 46 points, before their season finally ended in the quarterfinals of the 4A Division II playoffs.
Texas Football ranks Cuero 2nd in Class 4A Division II going into this season. Its week one opponent is Bay City (the Blackcats, not the Rollers), which finished 7-4 last season and reached the second round of the 4A Division I playoffs.
TE Brayden Liebrock (Chandler, Arizona)
Last week: Caught 5 passes for 31 yards in a 49-21 win over Queen Creek
This week: Friday, August 31 at 7:00, vs. Mesa
Notes: Chandler evened its record at 1-1 with a dominating win over previously state-ranked Queen Creek. While Liebrock had his second straight game without accumulating a lot of receiving yardage, Chandler mainly relied on senior RB DeCarlos Brooks, who finished with 212 rushing yards on 26 carries, and junior two-way player Gunner Maldonado, who intercepted a pass on defense and caught scoring receptions that covered 71 and 42 yards.
Chandler is ranked 2nd in this week’s Arizona Republic rankings for 6A. The Wolves will seek to go over .500 when they face 0-2 Mesa on Friday. Mesa has not reached the playoffs since 2015.
TE Jared Wiley (Temple)
This week: Friday, August 31 at 7:30, vs. Round Rock Cedar Ridge
Notes: After earning all-district first team honors at tight end as a junior, Jared Wiley will spend his senior season at quarterback, a position he played earlier in his career and at which he served as the varsity backup as a sophomore. He and his Temple Wildcats teammates will face a tougher slate of opponents this season, as the school moved from 5A to 6A and its new district includes last year’s 6A Division II state runner-up Waco Midway.
Wiley connected with his receivers for some long TD passes last week in a preseason scrimmage with defending 5A Division II state champion College Station, which bodes well for him in his first season as a varsity QB starter. Temple’s first opponent of the 2018 season is Round Rock Cedar Ridge, which finished 13-2 in 2017 and advanced all the way to the state semifinal round of the 6A Division I playoffs. Temple and Cedar Ridge faced each other in nondistrict play in each of the past two seasons, with Cedar Ridge winning 21-14 in 2017 and 28-14 in 2016.
Fans who attend the Temple-Cedar Ridge game on Friday night will see not only future Longhorn Jared Wiley but also Cedar Ridge wide receiver Jaylen Ellis, a Baylor commit who was offered by Texas in May.
OL Tyler Johnson (Conroe Oak Ridge)
This week: Friday, August 31 at 7:00, vs. Pearland Dawson
Notes: Oak Ridge finished 6-4 in 2017, making the playoffs for the first time since 2014, and finishing with a record above .500 for just the fifth time in the span of 14 seasons. Tyler Johnson and current Longhorn freshman Joseph Ossai are historically the two top-rated Oak Ridge recruits in the Rivals database. Johnson will try to help return Oak Ridge to the playoffs this year, and maybe get the War Eagles their first postseason win since 2002. Also starring for Oak Ridge is fellow senior Philip Ossai, Joseph’s younger brother and a three-star linebacker recruit in his own right.
Oak Ridge will open their 2018 season against a somewhat familiar foe in Pearland Dawson. The teams last faced each other in their 2016 season-opener, a game Dawson won 31-21. They were scheduled to play again in 2017 but the game was cancelled due to Hurricane Harvey. Dawson finished 6-4 in 2017 and has reached the playoffs in nine straight seasons.
OL Javonne Shepherd (Houston North Forest)
This week: Friday, August 31, at 7:00, vs. Houston Austin
Notes: The North Forest-Austin game would have presented the opportunity to watch both four-star OL recruit Shepherd and highly-rated 2020 QB prospect Malik Hornsby, had not the latter player transferred from Austin to Fort Bend Marshall four weeks ago.
After Hurricane Harvey wiped out their first two games in 2017, the North Forest Bulldogs got off to a 2-0 start with close wins over La Marque and Houston Westbury, then ran the table on their District 11-4A Division I opponents, against whom they averaged 40 points per game. But after that 8-0 start their season came to an end with a 42-28 loss to Sealy in the first round of the playoffs.
North Forest is again in 4A Division I this season and will play its first two games against 5A Division I opponents that boast an enrollment nearly double what North Forest has. The first of those two is Houston Austin, which went 7-2 last season and lost 22-17 to Galveston Ball in the first round of the 5A Division I playoffs.
DE Peter Mpagi (Richmond George Ranch)
This week: Friday, August 31 at 7:00, vs. Dickinson
Notes: George Ranch played its first varsity season in 2012 and experienced a remarkable amount of success in its early years, reaching at least the fourth round of the 5A playoffs in three straight seasons (2013-2015) and winning the 5A Division I state title in 2015. They were a far less dominant team in the two years that followed after a move up to Class 6A, with a combined record of 11-9 in those seasons and two straight first round playoff exits.
Dickinson was the first team George Ranch faced after moving to 6A, and in that 2016 debut the George Ranch Longhorns fell 28-14. A 2017 rematch was among the many Houston-area games wiped out by Hurricane Harvey. Dickinson finished 8-3 last season and reached the second round of the 6A Division I playoffs, and it has won 8 or more games in four consecutive seasons, something the school had only previously done in the early 80s.
Aside from Peter Mpagi (who is currently rated as the state’s #87 prospect in the 2019 class), George Ranch returns six other players who were named to their all-district first team last season. Dickinson graduated almost all of its top offensive contributors from 2017 but it returns three defensive starters who received all-district first team honors a year ago, as well as one of the nation’s top tight end prospects in senior Jalen Wydermyer, who holds nearly two dozen offers.
DE T’Vondre Sweat (Huntsville)
This week: Friday, August 31 at 7:30, at Willis
Notes: Huntsville will open its 2018 season against a very familiar opponent in Willis. The two schools have played each other in each of the past 12 seasons, with Huntsville winning eight of those twelve matchups, including the last two. Huntsville beat Willis 49-7 when the teams played last year, and Willis went on to finish just 2-7. Huntsville had a 8-2 overall record and won the championship of District 20-5A, but lost to Georgetown 29-7 in the first round of the 5A Division II playoffs.
T’Vondre Sweat is one of four returning Huntsville Hornets defensive starters who received all-district honors in 2017. Among the Willis linemen who will attempt to keep Sweat out of the backfield will be senior King McGowen, a composite three-star prospect who is committed to SMU.
LB De’Gabriel Floyd (Westlake - Westlake Village, California)
Last week: Made 5 tackles and returned a kickoff for a 75-yard TD (according to EJ Holland) in a 28-13 win over San Marcos (California) Mission Hills.
This week: Friday, August 31 at 7:00, vs. Oxnard
Notes: Last week, De’Gabriel Floyd, who was measured at 6’2” and 226 pounds in March at The Opening Los Angeles, returned a kickoff for a touchdown in an actual football game.
Floyd’s career ledger already included a 69-yard punt return score he had in the playoffs a year ago while playing for Golden Valley.
His Westlake team is 2-0 on the young season and will face 2-0 Oxnard this Friday. Oxnard’s offense features a future Pac-12 weapon in senior wide receiver JR Waters, an Oregon commit who has 277 receiving yards and 4 TDs through his first two games. Oxnard defeated Westlake 47-34 when the teams played last September, but that game was among seven wins that Oxnard later had to forfeit due to having an ineligible player.
LB Marcus Tillman (Jones - Orlando, Florida)
Last week: Team lost 17-3 to Apopka (Florida) Wekiva.
This week: Friday, August 31 at 7:00, vs. Orlando Oak Ridge
Notes: Facing a Wekiva team that was Florida’s preseason #1 team in Class 8A, Marcus Tillman and his Jones teammates kept the score low but managed only a 4th quarter field goal themselves. The 17-3 loss dropped Jones from #6 to #8 in the AP’s Class 5A rankings.
Jones will play the second of four straight 8A opponents this week when they host fellow Orlando school Oak Ridge, a team Jones beat in each of the previous two seasons by a combined score of 92-6.
Like Jones, Oak Ridge will be seeking its first win of the season on Friday. The Pioneers lost 32-14 in their season opener last week in an inter-state matchup with Colorado’s defending 5A state champions Arvada Pomona (which sounds almost like a spell out of Harry Potter). Oak Ridge’s roster includes senior wide receiver CJ Young, who is committed to Florida International.
DB Chris Adimora (Mayfair - Lakewood, California)
Last week: Had a TD catch and made four tackles in a 39-21 win over Whittier California.
This week: Friday, August 31 at 7:00, at Lakewood
Notes: For the second time in as many games, Adimora had a touchdown reception, last Thursday’s being a 23-yard catch on the first play of the 2nd quarter. After having both a punt return and interception return TD nullified by penalties in his team’s first game, Adimora had a 38-yard TD reception called back in the 1st quarter of his second game against California High.
His TD that did count last week put his team ahead 14-7. California later tied the game at 14 but Mayfair scored the game’s next four TDs to take a lead that got as big as 39-14 in the 4th quarter.
Mayfair is 2-0 and will next face local rival Lakewood, whose campus is only two miles away. A season ago Mayfair beat Lakewood 21-18 to end an eight-game losing streak against that school. Lakewood lost its season-opener last week 28-2 to Florida program Windermere Prep.
DB Marques Caldwell (Alvin)
This week: Friday, August 31 at 7:00, vs. Houston Stratford
Notes: Caldwell’s Alvin team finished at the bottom of the District 24-6A standings last season and had an overall record of 3-6. The Alvin Yellowjackets have not reached the playoffs since 2005, have not won a playoff game since 1996, and have finished with a record better than .500 only once in the past 13 seasons.
Caldwell is one of just two returning Alvin players who earned all-district honors a year ago, and he’d no doubt love nothing more than to help get his school into the postseason for just the second time in his lifetime.
The Yellowjackets will open against the Stratford Spartans, who finished 6-4 a year ago and have reached the playoffs in 12 consecutive seasons.
DB Kenyatta Watson (Grayson - Loganville, Georgia)
Last week: Team defeated Tucker 48-7.
This week: Friday, August 31 at 5:30, vs. Oradell (New Jersey) Bergen Catholic
Notes: Facing a state-ranked 6A squad in Tucker to begin its season last week, Kenyatta Watson’s Grayson team showed why USA Today ranks it among the top 5 teams in the nation, recording a resounding 48-7 win. Grayson’s prospect-laden defense limited Tucker to 58 total yards and just 3 first downs.
Grayson will face a tougher foe this week when they host Bergen Catholic, a New Jersey school currently rated as the nation’s #12 team. In 2017 Bergen finished 10-2 overall and won the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 state championship. Its only two losses for that season were to eventual Pennsylvania 5A state champion Archbishop Wood and 2017 USA Today national champion Mater Dei of Santa Ana, California.
Though not as ridiculously loaded as Grayson (whose roster has 13 FBS commits), Bergen Catholic has its share of talent, including five players with composite three-star grades and one four-star prospect in junior safety Jordan Morant. Bergen’s highest-rated seniors are Nebraska running back commit Rahmir Johnson and defensive end Aeneas DiCosmo, who has offers from schools in every major conference except the Big 12, and for whose services Stanford is believed to lead.