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Longhorn football commits in action, Nov. 3-4

The Texas high school football regular season ends this week, and several future Longhorns seem poised for lengthy playoff runs.

2023 offensive lineman Andre Cojoe poses during a visit to UT in the spring of 2022.

The Texas high school football season is now in Week 11, and after this week every team will either be preparing for the playoffs or turning in their equipment. Of the Texas Longhorns’ 24 total commits, only one has been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, and four others will need to win their games tonight or tomorrow to have a chance at reaching the postseason.

All of the other commits have a playoff spot for their team already ensured, and a few already know which team they will face in the first round. Four of the commits have not lost a game in 2022, and two have a chance this week to lead their team to the first undefeated regular season in their school’s history.

The playoffs will begin next week for UT’s commits in Texas, California, Louisiana, Florida, and New Jersey, while Hawai’i linebacker Liona Lefau and his team will have a long break before they play in their state’s Open Division semifinals in two weeks.

Four out-of-state commits play for teams that won state championships a year ago: Lefau, California tight end Spencer Shannon, New Jersey defensive tackle Sydir Mitchell, and Louisiana defensive back Derek Williams. Three of those four have a very good chance of repeating this year, and Arch Manning and Cedric Baxter also have their teams rated at the top of their respective classifications/divisions in Louisiana and Florida.

Among the in-state commits, Jaden Allen, Malik Muhammad and Billy Walton will be aiming for their second state championship rings. Allen was a member of Aledo’s Class 5A Division II state championship team as a freshman in 2020, and Muhammad and Walton helped South Oak Cliff bring home the 5A Division II title a year ago. If this season were to end with no future Longhorns winning a state title, it would be the first such occurrence in nearly 30 years.

But first things first, and most of the commits still have a regular season game left to play before starting the playoffs. For the first time in several weeks, no commits will be taking the field on a Saturday, and this final week of the regular season features almost as many Thursday games (8) as Friday night contests (9). Though with heavy storms forecast for the north Texas area on Friday afternoon and evening, it wouldn’t be surprising if some Friday games end up getting postponed to Saturday.

This post has a detailed analysis of each commit and their team’s playoff standing, followed by another installment in this column’s series on Historic Longhorn Notables, which this week will look at the life and career of a 1960s Longhorn offensive lineman who is maybe the least-heralded UT product ever to play for a decade in the NFL.

The start times listed for each game are according to their local time zone.

2023 QB Arch Manning — New Orleans (Louisiana) Isidore Newman

Last week: Completed 16 of 23 passes for 321 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 41-12 win over New Orleans (Louisiana) King Charter.
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:00, vs. LaPlace (Louisiana) St. Charles Catholic

Arch Manning had another hyper-efficient and effective games, throwing touchdown passes on one-fourth of his completions and committing no turnovers in a 41-12 win.

The Newman Greenies are 7-1 overall and 2-0 in district play. They will conclude their regular season on Friday with a game against St. Charles Catholic that will decide both their district’s champion and also the top seed in the Select Division III playoff bracket. Newman has had that division’s top power rating for a few weeks now, and St. Charles Catholic is right behind at #2. St. Charles is 6-3 for the season, and its losses have come against the teams rated #1 and #3 in Select Division II, as well as the ninth-rated team in Non-Select Division II.

Arch Manning was bound to be an Isidore Newman legend even before breaking all of its passing and touchdown records during his senior year, and that status will be further cemented and encased in amber if he is able to lead the school to its first-ever football state championship.

2023 RB Cedric Baxter Jr. — Orlando (Florida) Edgewater

Last week: Bye
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:00, vs. Orlando (Florida) Boone

Cedric Baxter likely won’t play on Friday in his team’s regular season finale. He has missed most of three games after suffering what has been reported to be a pulled hamstring. Edgewater is 9-0 and has clinched its district championship, so Friday’s game against non-district foe Boone will have no implications on its playoff standing, though a loss might affect its seeding.

The Florida High School Athletic Association’s ratings have Edgewater second overall in the state, and as the top team in the 3M classification. Boone, which has an overall record of 6-3, is ranked 19th out of the 66 teams in 4M.

2023 RB Tre Wisner — DeSoto
2023 WR Johntay Cook II — DeSoto

Last week: Tre Wisner had 9 carries for 27 yards, and 1 reception for 3 yards; and Johntay Cook had 3 catches for 23 yards in a 41-17 loss to Duncanville
This week: Thursday, November 3 at 7:00, vs. Mansfield

DeSoto suffered its first loss in district play, falling to Duncanville in a matchup of south Dallas powerhouses on a rainy Friday night. DeSoto received the opening kickoff, and drove all the way to the Duncanville 8-yard line before turning the ball over on downs. Duncanville’s junior running back Caden Durham (a four-star prospect who picked up offers from LSU and Michigan State last week) ran for a 92-yard touchdown on the next play, giving the Panthers an early 7-0 lead.

Durham finished the first half with four touchdowns and an incredible 265 rushing yards! DeSoto, meanwhile, helped dig itself into a 27-0 hole in the first half against the third-ranked Panthers by punting three times and turning the ball over on downs in Duncanville territory four other times. DeSoto finally got points in its first two possessions of the second half and cut the deficit 27-10 with 2:42 left in the 3rd quarter. But Duncanville answered with Durham’s fifth touchdown of the night to make the score 34-10 with 9:57 left in regulation, and the game got no closer from there.

Durham finished the game with 309 rushing yards, and Duncanville outgained DeSoto 527-238. Duncanville is the third-ranked team in Class 6A, and the USA Today Super 25 rankings have the Panthers ninth in the nation.

Following the loss to Duncanville, DeSoto dropped from 9th to 13th in this week’s Class 6A state rankings. The four playoff spots for District 11-6A have all been claimed, and DeSoto will be one of the district’s two representatives in the 6A Division II bracket.

The Eagles will close out the regular season by hosting Mansfield tonight, and the winner will receive the district’s higher seed in the 6A Division II bracket, while the losing team will play against Jaydon Chatman’s Harker Heights team in the first round.

2024 WR Hunter Moddon — Houston Clear Lake

Last Week: Caught one pass for a 40-yard touchdown, had one carry for 2 yards, and returned an interception 80 yards in a 28-14 loss to League City Clear Falls.
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:00, at Brazoswood

Hunter Moddon had a touchdown reception and a long interception return, but it wasn’t enough to get Clear Lake past playoff-bound Clear Falls. The 28-14 loss to Clear Falls dropped Clear Lake’s overall record to 5-4, and its district record to 2-3. The Falcons are tied with Brazoswood for fourth place in District 24-6A, and those two teams will play on Friday night with the district’s fourth and final playoff spot on the line. If Clear Lake beats Brazoswood it will reach the postseason for the first time since 2018, and it will compete in the Class 6A Division II bracket.

2023 WR Ryan Niblett — Aldine Eisenhower

Last week: Team beat Aldine 60-6.
This week: Thursday, November 3 at 7:00, vs. Spring

Eisenhower blasted district cellar-dweller Aldine last week and improved to 4-5 for the season and 4-2 in district play. The Eagles are tied with Aldine Nimitz (who they beat 46-21 back on September 30) for third place in District 14-6A. Eisenhower and Nimitz are one game ahead of Spring, which is 3-3 in district and will be Eisenhower’s opponent in tonight’s regular season finale.

A win over Spring will clinch a playoff spot for Eisenhower. A loss to Spring coupled with Nimitz beating Spring Dekaney (currently second in the district with a 5-1 district record) would eliminate the Eagles from playoff contention. A loss to Spring coupled with Dekaney beating Nimitz would leave Eisenhower, Nimitz, and Spring in a three-way tie for third place, each with a 4-3 district record and each having a 1-1 record against the other two. If that scenario unfolds and the three-way tie has to be broken by a points-differential tiebreaker, Eisenhower would get one of the two final playoff spots as long as they don’t lose to Spring by 21 or more points, assuming that district uses a common upper limit on scoring margins for point-differential tiebreakers.

Eisenhower would compete in the 6A Division II bracket if it reaches the playoffs.

2023 TE Will Randle — New Orleans (Louisiana) Isidore Newman

Tore ACL during a game on Sept. 16 and will miss the rest of the season.

2023 TE Spencer Shannon — Santa Ana (California) Mater Dei

Last week: Team beat Anaheim (California) Servite 48-17.
This week: Playoff bye

Mater Dei completed an undefeated regular season with an easy win last Friday over Anaheim Servite.

The Monarchs will get a bye this week for the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, and next week they will face the winner of Friday’s first round game between Santa Margarita and JSerra Catholic, two teams they already have a win against this season.

It’s not as long or as deep a tournament as Texas’s Class 6A Division I playoff bracket, but the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section Division 1 playoff is annually one of the toughest playoff brackets in the nation. Mater Dei is the state’s defending Division I-A state champion and the current top-ranked team in the nation, according to both MaxPreps and the USA Today Super 25 rankings. If the Monarchs win their quarterfinal game next week they will potentially face 20th-ranked Long Beach Poly in the semifinal round, and then potentially either 5th-ranked St. John Bosco or 15th-ranked Corona Centennial in the section’s Division 1 championship game on the day after Thanksgiving.

2023 OL Jaydon Chatman — Killeen Harker Heights

Last week: Team beat Copperas Cove 55-0.
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:30, vs. Bryan

The Harker Heights Knights won their fifth straight game last week, blanking Copperas Cove 55-0. They are one win away from running the table on their District 12-6A opponents and are one game ahead of Temple in the district standings. Since Harker Heights has a head-to-head win over Temple, its win last week clinched the program’s first district championship since 2003.

The four playoff spots for District 12-6A have all been claimed, and Friday’s regular season finale between Harker Heights and Bryan (which are both playoff-bound) will not effect either team’s playoff seeding. Harker Heights will be the district’s top representative in the 6A Division II bracket, while Bryan will get its runner-up spot in the 6A Division I bracket.

Harker Heights’s opponent in next week’s bi-district round of the playoffs will be the loser between DeSoto and Mansfield in a game being played tonight.

2023 OL Andre Cojoe — Mansfield Timberview

Last week: Team beat Richland 59-24.
This week: Thursday, November 3 at 7:30, at Dallas Bryan Adams

Timberview clinched its first district championship since 2014 with last week’s win over Richland, which went into the game with a chance to tie Timberview for the district lead had it scored an upset win. The Timberview Wolves are now 9-0 and will advance to the playoffs for a team-record fifth straight season.

But before beginning their postseason run, the Wolves will finish their regular season slate tonight against a Bryan Adams team that has lost by 40+ points to three different teams that TImberview has blowout wins against. With a win, Timberview would complete its first undefeated regular season in program history.

Timberview is the second-ranked team in Class 5A Division I.

2023 OL Trevor Goosby — Melissa

Last week: Team beat Princeton 57-14.
This week: Thursday, November 3 at 7:30, at Lovejoy

Melissa is in its first season as a 5A program. It began the 2022 season with losses against Argyle and China Spring, the teams now ranked #1 in Class 5A Division II and Class 4A Division I, respectively. Since then the Cardinals have reeled off seven straight wins and beaten those opponents by an average of just under 28 points per game.

Their latest victim is Princeton, who they demolished 57-14 last week. That win set up tonight’s regular season finale against Lovejoy as a battle for the championship of District 7-5A Division II. Both teams have 6-0 district records and are 7-2 overall. Like Melissa, Lovejoy also suffered its two losses in consecutive weeks early in the season. It lost 56-49 to Argyle on September 2, one week after Melissa lost to the same team 37-18. Then the following week the Leopards were beaten 28-20 by S’Maje Burrell’s North Crowley team, which is now ranked 21st in Class 6A.

Lovejoy overcame those losses and smashed its district opponents even more soundly than Melissa did; only third place Crandall has played Lovejoy to within 43 points.

2023 OL Payton Kirkland — Orlando (Florida) Dr. Phillips

Last week: Team beat Ocoee 28-25.
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:00, vs. Orlando (Florida) Jones

Dr. Phillips kept its playoff hopes alive last week by upsetting Ocoee, the team that had been rated highest in their region going into the game. In Florida’s current playoff setup, the four district champions in each region and top four at-large teams will receive their region’s playoff bids. Dr. Phillips went into last week’s action as the 11th-rated region 2 team in the 4M classification.

Since the Panthers have no shot at winning their district, they had to win their final two games and improve their power rating enough to get one of their region’s at-large playoff spots. Beating Ocoee should help their cause, and they’ll also need a win on Friday against Orlando Jones, which went into last week as the third-ranked team in Class 3M.

2023 OL Connor Stroh — Frisco Wakeland

Last week: Team lost to Sherman 33-28.
This week: Thursday, November 3 at 7:00, at Frisco

Wakeland’s loss to Sherman last week means it will need to win tonight to have any chance at making the playoffs. The Wolverines have a 4-3 district record, which puts them fifth in District 6-5A Division I and one game behind Frisco, Heritage, and Lone Star, which are in a three-way tie for second place. Frisco and Wakeland will play tonight, and Lone Star and Heritage will play each other on Friday.

A win by Wakeland over Frisco coupled with a Heritage win over Lone Star would leave Wakeland in a three-way tie with Frisco and Lone Star for third place, and it would earn a playoff bid by virtue of having head-to-head wins against both schools. A win over Frisco coupled with a Lone Star win over Heritage would leave Wakeland in a three-way tie with Frisco and Heritage for third place, with each having a 1-1 record against the other two teams. Heritage beat Wakeland 19-13 back on September 8, and lost to Frisco 20-17 on October 13. In a scenario where there is a three-way tie or third place betwen Frisco, Heritage, and Wakeland, the district’s last two playoff spots would likely be decided by a point-differential tiebreaker, in which case I believe Wakeland would need to beat Frisco by 5 points or more.

If Wakeland succeeds in claiming a playoff spot this week, it will begin the Class 5A Division I playoffs next week against either Andre Cojoe’s Mansfield Timberview team, or Birdville.

2023 DL Sydir Mitchell — Oradell (New Jersey) Bergen Catholic

Last week: Made 5 tackles and had 0.5 sacks in a 48-20 win over Paramus (New Jersey) Catholic.
This week: Playoff bye

Bergen Catholic completed their its regular season schedule with a big win last week over Paramus Catholic. The Crusaders allowed 464 total yards, including 307 yards through the air, but also intercepted four passes, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

Sydir Mitchell added five tackles to his season total, and finished the nine-game regular season with 41 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and a touchdown reception on a goal-line play where he lined up as an eligible tight end.

Bergen Catholic received the #2 seed in New Jersey’s Non-Public A playoff bracket. The Crusaders will get a bye in this week’s first round, then will play in next week’s quarterfinal round against the winner of the first round matchup between 7th seed Donovan Catholic and 10th seed Hudson Catholic.

Bergen Catholic was the top seed in the 2021 Non-Public A playoffs and beat Donovan Catholic 35-7 in the quarterfinal round, and two rounds later won the state championship 28-7 over Don Bosco Prep.

2023 DL Dylan Spencer — Houston C.E. King

Last week: Made 5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 sack in a 24-21 loss to Humble Summer Creek.
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:00, at Beaumont West Brook

The King Panthers fell to 5-4 overall and 3-3 in district play following their 24-21 loss to Summer Creek, but they are assured of a spot in the Class 6A Division II playoffs. With a 3-3 district record they can finish no worse than a tie for fourth place with Humble and Kingwood, two teams they have already beaten and would have a head-to-head tiebreaker over.

King will close out the regular season on Friday with a road trip to play 1-8 Beaumont West Brook. West Brook’s only win this season came by a 20-7 score last week against District 21-6A’s last place team, Beaumont United.

As their district’s lower seed in the 6A Division II playoff bracket, the Panthers will face District 22-6A champion Channelview next week in the first round of the playoffs. This will be King’s fifth straight trip to the postseason, the longest such streak its program has had since it made the playoffs nine straight times from 1987 to 1995.

2023 EDGE Derion Gullette — Teague

Injured - out for 2022 season

2023 EDGE Billy Walton — Dallas South Oak Cliff
2023 CB Malik Muhammad — Dallas South Oak Cliff

Last week: Billy Walton had 7 tackles, and Malik Muhammad had 2 tackles and 1 interception in a 55-0 win over Seagoville.
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:30, at. Dallas Woodrow Wilson

South Oak Cliff recorded its sixth straight win a fifth straight shutout last week when it blanked Seagoville 55-0. That game was a zone playoff to determine which teams from the two zones in District 6-5A Division II would meet to play for the district championship. Woodrow Wilson won the other zone playoff against Dallas Kimball by a score of 31-9, and it will play SOC on Friday to determine the district champion.

Woodrow Wilson was the best of a group of sub-par teams in its zone of the district. The Wildcats are 5-4 overall, and have won all five of their district games after beginning the season with losses in their four non-district contests, three of which were played against 6A teams.

The only mutual opponents SOC and Wilson have had are Kimball and Seagoville. SOC beat those two by a combined score of 111-0, while Wilson beat Kimball 31-9 and Seagoville 31-12. This game shouldn’t be close, but Wilson might at least become the first district opponent to score points against SOC this season. If SOC wins then it will open the 5A Division II playoffs next week against the loser of Friday night’s District 5-5A Division II game between Ennis and Mansfield Summit.

2023 LB S’Maje Burrell — North Crowley

Last week: Had 8 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble in a 50-27 win over Saginaw Chisholm Trail.
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:30, vs. Crowley

North Crowley had a tougher than expected game for the first half of its matchup last week against a 2-6 Chisholm Trail team, and the Panthers trailed 24-21 at halftime. But they outscored the Rangers 29-3 in the second half to run away with the game and remain undefeated at 9-0. North Crowley’s senior running back Dejuan Lacy had 19 carries for 266 yards in the win, and sophomore running back Cornelius Warren (who already reports three FBS offers) added another 163 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 12 carries.

North Crowley moved up two spots to 19th in this week’s Class 6A rankings. The Panthers have already clinched the championship of District 3-6A, since every other team in the district has at least two losses, and this is their first district title since 2005. They have never before had an undefeated regular season, and on Friday they will look to accomplish that milestone when they take on cross-town rival Crowley. The two schools have competed in different classifications for many years, and though they’ve faced each other in non-district games a number of times they have not shared a district since 2003.

North Crowley will have the district’s top seed in the Class 6A Division I playoffs, while Crowley will almost assuredly be its lower seed in the 6A Division II playoffs. Crowley is 4-2 in district play, with losses against Hurst L.D. Bell (21-17) and Boswell (38-7). North Crowley beat those same teams by scores of 33-7 and 21-17, respectively.

2023 LB Liona Lefau — Kahuku (Hawaii)

Last week: Team beat Mililani 35-0 in the OIA Open Division championship.
This week: Playoff bye

Kahuku defeated Mililani for the second time in the span of 13 days, shutting out the Trojans 35-0 last Saturday in the Open Division final of the Oahu Interscholastic Association.

In Hawaii, there are a number of athletic associations and conferences made up of schools from particular islands or areas, probably owing to the fact that playing a non-local opponent in that state is not quite as simple as driving from, say, Arlington to Denton. Kahuku is 10-2 for the season and has not lost to an in-state opponent since 2019. The Red Raiders’ two losses this season have come at the hands of California powerhouse St. John Bosco, and Baltimore, Maryland’s St. Frances Academy, teams currently ranked 5th and 2nd in the nation by USA Today.

Having won the OIA Open Division, the Kahuku Red Raiders will get a long break before playing in the semifinals of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association (HHSAA) Division I-Open playoffs on Friday, November 18. In that game they will face Campbell, which lost to Mililani in the other OIA Open Division semifinal two weeks ago. Kahuku beat Campbell 16-6 when the teams played back on September 10.

2024 CB Jaden Allen — Aledo

Last week: Bye
This week: Thursday, November 3 at 7:00, vs. Brewer

Aledo got a bye last week after an impressive two-week run of wins against Burleson Centennial and Denton Ryan, the two toughest opponents in its district. The Bearcats will finish the regular season tonight against 2-7 Brewer, a team that is well out of the playoff hunt and lost to Centennial and Ryan in its two most recent games by a combined score of 82-12.

Aledo is ranked 3rd in Class 5A Division I and has already clinched its 15th consecutive district title. In its first playoff game next week it will play the fourth place team from District 4-5A Division I. Texas Football magazine’s playoff projections for Class 5A portend a matchup between Aledo and Killeen Shoemaker, though depending on how the games of Week 11 unfold, the Bearcats could instead face Lake Belton. This would make for an interesting matchup between Jaden Allen and Lake Belton’s junior receiver Micah Hudson, a five-star prospect according to the 247Sports Composite ratings.

2024 CB Aeryn Hampton — Daingerfield

Last week: Scored two touchdowns in a 32-14 win over Waskom.
This week: Thursday, November 3 at 7:00, at Big Sandy Harmony

According to the Marshall News-Messenger’s recap of the Daingerfield-Waskom game, Aeryn Hampton scored on a 49-yard touchdown catch about midway through the 2nd quarter, and later reached the end zone a second time on a 27-yard run nearly three minutes into the 3rd quarter. The latter score put Daingerfield ahead 25-7 in a game played on a stormy night and with multiple lightning delays.

The win improved Daingerfield’s record to 7-2 overall, with a 5-0 mark in district play. The Tigers will face New Sandy Harmony (which is also undefeated in district play) tonight for the championship of District 11-3A Division II. They can finish no worse than 2nd place in the district, and will open the playoffs next week against the third or fourth-place team from District 10-3A Division II.

2023 S Jamel Johnson — Arlington Seguin

Last week: Completed 4 of 8 passes for 66 yards and 1 interception, had 20 carries for 51 yards, and intercepted a pass in a 52-20 loss to Midlothian Heritage.
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:00, vs. Burleson

Jamel Johnson and the Seguin Cougars were officially eliminated from playoff contention last week after a 52-20 loss to Midlothian Heritage, now the sixth-ranked team in Class 5A Division II.

The game was close for about one and a half quarters. Heritage scored on its third offensive play take a 7-0 lead. Four minutes later, Seguin scored on a pick-six to cut the deficit to 7-6. Trailing 10-6 early in the 2nd quarter, Jamel Johnson temporarily helped prevent further damage by intercepting a pass in the end zone with 10:35 left in the first half, but Seguin couldn’t capitalize on the forced turnover, and it committed turnovers on four of its next five possessions, all four of which were followed by Heritage touchdowns.

Seguin trailed 31-6 at halftime, then Heritage added another score three plays after intercepting Johnson on Seguin’s opening possession of the 3rd quarter, which made the score 38-6 with 10:36 left in the quarter.

Seguin dropped to 3-6 overall and 2-4 in district play following the loss. The Cougars are tied with Burleson for fifth place in District 5-5A Division II, two games behind the teams tied for third place. They will have nothing to play for but pride when they close their 2022 season on Friday night against Burleson in a game that will unofficially decide the district’s fifth-place team.

2023 S Derek Williams — New Iberia (Louisiana) Westgate

Last week: Team lost to Lafayette (Louisiana) St. Thomas More 42-34.
This week: Thursday, November 3 at 7:00, vs. Lafayette (Louisiana) Northside

After beginning the season 5-0, the Westgate Tigers have stumbled in the second half of the season, losing three of their past four games. Their 42-34 loss last week came against St. Thomas More, which is rated 2nd among Select Division II schools. Westgate is a public school sharing a football district with four private schools, and its three losses have come against the teams currently rated 1st, 2nd, and 5th among the 34 schools in Select Division II.

The Tigers themselves were as high as 2nd in the power ratings for Non-Select Division I schools in late September, but they have since fallen to 12th. They shouldn’t be in any danger of missing the playoffs, as Louisiana’s playoff brackets are seeded tournaments with 32 teams. If the playoffs started today, Westgate would have the 12th seed in its bracket and would face a potential second round matchup with the 5th seed.

The Tigers will look to end the regular season on a high note after their recent struggles by beating Lafayette Northside, which is 2-7 overall and has lost all of its district games by margins of 22 points or more. Playoff brackets will be announced on Sunday, and Westgate’s first round game will be next weekend.

Historic Longhorn Notable of the Week: Howard Fest (1967)

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers
Former Texas Longhorn Howard Fest suited up for a December 14, 1974 NFL game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Photo by Clifton Boutelle/Getty Images

The Texas Longhorns have had well-documented issues with player development in the years since the team’s loss to Alabama in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game. Only three Longhorns have been picked in the first round of an NFL Draft since 2010, compared with 13 who were taken in the first round between 2000 and 2009, five during the 1990s, and seven during the 1980s.

In spite of the program not producing a prodigious number of high NFL Draft picks over the past decade, Longhorn fans can point to several players who didn’t exactly light the world on fire during their college careers but have since carved out extended professional careers after entering the NFL as undrafted free agents or late round picks.

Tight end Geoff Swaim caught all of 13 passes in his two seasons with the Longhorns after arriving in 2013 as a California juco transfer, but he is now in his eighth NFL season after entering the league as a 7th round pick in 2015.

Wide receiver Marcus Johnson’s NFL career is already six seasons longer than just about any Longhorn fan would have predicted it would last when he finished his college career in 2015 with less than 800 total receiving yards to his name.

Adrian Phillips has gone from being a multi-year defensive back starter for the Longhorns who never sniffed an All-Big 12 first or second team, to being a ninth-year NFL veteran who has one Pro Bowl appearance and one All-Pro designation on his ledger after entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and being waived several times during his first two seasons.

There are other examples one could point to along a similar vein, players who are regularly mentioned in this site’s Longhorns in the NFL column. One thing those three players all had in common, though, was that they were all multi-year lettermen and multi-year starters with Texas. Johnson and Phillips were four-year lettermen, in fact.

A rough parallel to those UT players and their subsequent NFL careers was Howard Fest, whose years with the Longhorns preceded those of Swaim, Johnson, and Phillips by almost a half-century. Like those three, Fest had a mostly unheralded college football career and was not a high round NFL draft pick, but had an unexpectedly long pro football career. But unlike those three, Fest was a starter for the Longhorns for just one season, and he only won a single letter during his college career.

Fest was born in San Antonio in 1946 and was raised in that city. He was born into a family that was big both numerically and proportionally. His father was 6’6” and well north of 200 pounds, and Howard and his four brothers all grew to be 6’4” or taller, while their sister Betty was 6 feet tall herself. The former Betty Fest, who was older than Howard by nearly 14 years, was the mother of 1970s Longhorn linemen Dave and Les Studdard (who both played in the NFL), and the grandmother of Kasey Studdard, a 2004-06 offensive line stalwart with the Longhorns who likewise had an NFL career.

Fest attended Thomas Edison High School in the early 1960s and played three sports. His regular position in football was tight end, and at 6’4” and over 200 pounds he was well-suited to that spot. He was named the most valuable player on Edison’s football team as a senior in 1963, and in the following spring he signed with the University of Texas along with his teammate Wade Key. Both were members of UT’s freshmen football team in 1964, and in November of that year Fest married his high school sweetheart, who he’d known since 1st grade.

After spending two seasons at tight end, Fest was moved to offensive tackle as a junior in 1966, but he rarely left the bench that season, and he went into his senior year without having won a letter. But his three years of toiling did not go for naught. Fest took over the left tackle position as a 21-year-old senior in 1967 and helped pave the way for a Longhorn rushing attack led by running backs Chris Gilbert and Ted Koy, and quarterback Bill Bradley. That trio combined to run for over 1,800 yards and score 21 touchdowns for a 6-4 Longhorn team that had a six-game winning streak in the middle of its season bookended by a pair of two-game losing streaks (those four losses were by a combined margin of 20 points).

For his efforts in his long year as a varsity regular, Howard Fest was named to the All-Southwest Conference second team, as well as the Associated Press All-America honorable mention team. He was finally awarded a letter after the 1967 season, and is to date the only San Antonio Edison product to win a football letter at Texas.

(Fest’s aforementioned Edison teammate Wade Key spent two years with the Longhorn program but was ruled ineligible due to grades in the spring of 1966, and he subsequently transferred to Southwest Texas State. While at that school, Key was an All-Lone Star Conference tight end and twice won the shot put at the LSC track & field championships. After being picked in the 13th round of the 1969 NFL Draft, he was converted to the offensive line and played for ten seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, for whom he was a starter at left tackle and left guard in different years.)

After being a fairly anonymous presence in the Longhorn football program for three years, Fest’s senior season put him on the radar of pro football scouts. Longhorn offensive line coach Willie Zapalac put in a good word for Fest with the Cincinnati Bengals, an AFL expansion team that was preparing to play its first season in 1968. Cincinnati’s offensive line coach, Bill Johnson, was a Texas A&M alum and had been a teammate of Zapalac’s on the 1946 Aggie football team.

Fest participated in the North-South All-Star Game in Miami the day after Christmas in 1967, which was held a month before the 1968 NFL Draft. That draft lasted 17 rounds and had 462 total picks (the AFL-NFL merger had been agreed upon two years earlier, and starting in 1967 the leagues both participated in the NFL Draft rather than hold separate drafts). The expansion Bengals ended up making 41 total picks in that draft, and they selected Howard Fest with their 19th pick. He was taken in the 6th round with the 139th overall pick.

Fest had been a married man for three and a half years and had two very young sons when he left San Antonio for the Bengals’ inaugural training camp in the summer of 1968. Before that, he had never traveled further north than Arkansas, and the only times he had ever previously left the state of Texas were for UT road football games. He was one of 150 players who opened camp with the Bengals, and even compared with his fellow rookies he was very green after having started less than a dozen games in his college career. He had played his senior season at Texas at 6’5” and around 230 pounds, and after being drafted by Cincinnati he was told by offensive line coach Bill Johnson that he would need to add weight. When his signing with Cincinnati was announced on February 16, his weight was reportedly 240, but he had bulked up to 255 by the time he reported for camp in the summer of that year, and during his NFL career his weight was commonly listed at 265.

Along with moving up to the professional level and getting used to his new body weight, he also was unschooled in pro-style blocking techniques. He had lined up in a four-point stance while blocking for the run-heavy I-formation offense of the 1967 Longhorns who had attempted roughly 17 passes per game, which was the second-highest figure of any 1960s UT squad. But Fest overcame all of those obstacles and not only made the team after its final round of preseason cuts, he was the starting right tackle for the very first Bengals game: a 29-13 loss to the San Diego Chargers on September 2, 1968. Among his teammates on the first Bengals squad was Warren McVea, a fellow San Antonian who had a legendary prep career as a running back at Brackenridge High School before playing at the University of Houston.

Fest was the Bengals’ regular right tackle for the team’s first three seasons, and worked as a substitute teacher in San Antonio during his offseasons in the spring. After two losing seasons the team broke through for an 8-6 record in 1970, which was good enough to win the AFC Central Division. But the Bengals lost 17-0 in the divisional round of the playoffs to the Baltimore Colts, the eventual Super Bowl V champion.

In the 1971 NFL Draft, Cincinnati used its first round pick to select offensive tackle Vernon Holland, a native Texan from Sherman who had played college football at Tennessee State. Holland took over the Bengals’ right tackle position during that year’s preseason and held that spot for the rest of the 1970s. Fest was subsequently moved from right tackle to guard, where it was expected that he would provide quality depth. Instead, he ended up winning the starting left guard job over returning starter Rufus Mayes, a 1969 1st round draft pick who had been an All-American at Ohio State.

Fest was the team’s regular left guard for five seasons, never missing a game and very rarely missing a practice between 1971 and 1975. He briefly moved from left guard to center for the last four games of the 1974 season after veteran center Bob Johnson (the Bengals’ first-ever draft pick in 1968, and the owner of the only jersey number the Bengals have ever retired) suffered a broken ankle.

With 1976 came two expansion franchises to the NFL: the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A week before that year’s NFL Draft, the league held an expansion draft to help fill the rosters of the new teams. Each existing NFL team could protect up to 29 players on its rosters and could lose no more than three players in the expansion draft, and Seattle and Tampa Bay picked from the available players until both had selected 39 players. Howard Fest, who was less than two weeks shy of his 30th birthday and was a veteran starter with eight seasons under his belt, was surprisingly left unprotected by the Bengals, and he was selected in the expansion draft by Tampa Bay. At the time of his departure from Cincinnati he was one of five remaining players who’d been part of the original Bengals team in 1968.

Fest started every game at left guard for a first-year Buccaneers team that finished 0-14 (they were the first NFL franchise to finish a 14-game season with no wins or ties), was shut out five times, reached double-digits in scoring in only half of their games, and never once scored more than 20 points in a game. Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback in that inaugural season: former University of Florida star and future Gators head coach Steve Spurrier. It was the final season of Spurrier’s ten year NFL career, as he was released by the Buccaneers the following spring and retired later that year to begin what would be a very successful coaching career. Sacks did not become an official statistic in the NFL until 1982, but Spurrier’s Pro Football Reference page says he was sacked 34 times in the 1976 season after having taken 53 sacks total in the previous nine seasons (and 26 total starts) of his career.

Though it wasn’t an enjoyable one, the 1976 season made Fest a member of a club in which I suspect he has very little company: players who have been in the Game One starting lineup of two different pro football expansion teams.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were committed to developing their young roster going into the 1977 season, and by the start of that campaign Fest — at 31 years old — was the only player on the team above the age of 28. His experience and positional versatility along the offensive line made him a valuable “old man” to keep around after some other veterans had been cut or traded, and in the preseason he was seen as the team’s likely starter at center. But the job was eventually won by Dan Ryczek, and Fest played in only one game before being placed on injured reserve due to an ailing heel, and he missed the rest of the 1977 season.

He signed with the Detroit Lions in the 1978 offseason, but was again put on injured reserve before that season began, and he never appeared in an NFL game again.

Howard Fest never made a Pro Bowl and was never named to an All-Pro team, and probably would not be one of the first 50 or even 100 names a die-hard Longhorn fan would name if asked to make a list of UT alums who made an impact in the NFL. But he vastly outperformed the expectations that Texas coaches had for him during his time in Austin, and played in the NFL far longer than he thought he would going into his rookie year. Of all the Longhorns to enter pro football during the 1960s, only Tommy Nobis and Diron Talbert — both of whom are in the UT Athletics Hall of Honor — had longer careers than Fest.

He played in a very different era of college football in general and Texas Longhorn football in particular, but in today’s college football world where a lot of young athletes are quick to enter the transfer portal if they’re not starting by their second year of college, Howard Fest’s career can serve as a good reminder that NFL teams — both then and today — will take notice of talented players even if they don’t crack their team’s starting lineup until their senior year. And a player with the skills and work ethic to make it into the league can still have a long career even if they weren’t a three-year or even two-year starter in college.

Previous Historic Longhorn Notables of the Week

Week one: Thomas Milik (1944)
Week two: Raymond Clayborn (1973-76)
Week three: Ox Emerson (1929-30)
Week four: Winston McMahon (1906)
Week five: James Ross “J.R.” Callahan (1943)
Week six: A.J. “Jam” Jones (1978-81)
Week seven: Marshall Morgan “Mark” McMahon (1898-1901)
Week eight: John Robert “J.R.” Swenson (1902)
Week nine: Lawrence Sampleton (1978-81)
Week ten: none (this feature took a bye week)