The 2022 Texas high school football season will come to a close this week, as the UIL state championship games will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The state finals for Class 1A (six-man) through Class 3A were played on Wednesday and Thursday, while those for Class 4A through 6A are set for Friday and Saturday. A handful of Texas Longhorn commits will be among the many student-athletes suiting up in Arlington this weekend.
This will be the 103rd season for which the University Interscholastic League (UIL) has officially recognized one or more state champions in football, and in the vast majority of seasons past there has been a future Longhorn playing for at least one championship-winning team. Texas has a pretty remarkable active streak when it comes to drawing players from championship teams; one would have to go back to 1995 to find the last high school football season in which no future Longhorns could be found on the rosters of any of the Texas state champions. Five current commits will aim to extend that streak for another season, three of whom have already been members of championship-winning teams in prior seasons.
2023 commits Malik Muhammad and Billy Walton, both of South Oak Cliff High School in Dallas, will be playing tonight to bring home the Class 5A Division II championship trophy for a second consecutive year. 2024 commit Jaden Allen will play in the 5A Division I state final on Saturday morning and will also be chasing a second state championship medal. DeSoto teammates and 2023 commits Johntay Cook and Tre Wisner have not previously played for teams that made it this far into the postseason, but they have helped bring their school to within one win of its second state title and first since 2016. In addition to them, two out-of-state commits — Hawaii linebacker Liona Lefau and New Jersey defensive tackle Sydir Mitchell — ended their senior seasons earlier this month by winning state championships.
With this being championship weekend, this post will focus only on the five Longhorn commits who are still playing, and all commits whose seasons have already ended will get one last rundown in a “2022 season in review” post in the coming weeks, which may include some names not previously mentioned in this column (Hello, Anthony Hill!) if the Longhorns add new members to their 2023 class during the early signing period.
After you’ve read about this week’s championship matchups involving UT commits, you can read further for a history lesson on the state’s first high school football state championship game, and the future Longhorn who played in it. That will be this column’s way of wrapping up the “Historic Longhorn Notable of the Week” feature for the 2022 season.
The previews below for this week’s games are presented in the order in which those games will take place.
2023 EDGE Billy Walton (Dallas South Oak Cliff)
2023 DB Malik Muhammad (Dallas South Oak Cliff)
Friday, December 16 at 7:00 p.m. vs. Port Neches-Groves in the Class 5A Division II state championship game
The 8th-ranked South Oak Cliff Golden Bears rode a dominant defensive performance last Friday to upset top-ranked Argyle 14-6 in the Class 5A Division II state semifinals and advance to the state championship game for a second consecutive year. The win was SOC’s 12th straight victory after starting the 2022 season with losses in its first three games, which came against eventual 6A Division I state finalist Duncanville, a Lancaster team that was ranked 4th in Class 5A Division I at the end of the regular season, and 6A Division II state finalist DeSoto. They very narrowly escaped starting this season 0-4, as they trailed Dallas Parish Episcopal (the eventual TAPPS Division I state champion) 28-14 going into the 4th quarter of their fourth game, before coming back to win 31-28.
The Argyle Eagles, despite playing in their first season above the Class 4A level, had been their new classification’s top-ranked team for the last several weeks of the regular season and averaged over 37 points in their first four playoff wins, including a 44-27 win over 4th-ranked Grapevine in the third round. South Oak Cliff not only limited the Eagles to a season-low six points, they were the first opponent to keep them out of the end zone entirely since Melissa shut out Argyle 21-0 during the 2021 regular season.
After forcing a punt on Argyle’s first possession, SOC took over at its own 26-yard line. Ten plays later, Texas A&M commit Jayvon Thomas (who has been huge for SOC in their last few playoff games after missing much of the season due to injury) scored on a 29-yard run to give the Golden Bears a 7-0 lead that would hold up for the rest of the game. Argyle got inside the SOC 30-yard line only once in its first six possessions, and those resulted in five punts and a turnover on downs.
The score remained 7-0 at halftime. Argyle’s defense recorded an interception mid-way through the 3rd quarter that gave it the ball at the SOC 26-yard line. The Eagles got as close as the 10-yard line before settling for a field goal. SOC was intercepted again on its next offensive series to give Argyle another short field, but after advancing as far as the 2-yard line, Argyle ended up kicking another field goal to make the score 7-6 with 11:52 left in regulation. SOC responded with a long drive that ate up nearly nine minutes of game clock and included a pair of 3rd down conversions and a 4th down conversion. That drive ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Danny Green that expanded SOC’s lead to 14-6 with 2:53 left in the game.
Argyle began its final drive at its own 15-yard line, and after three completed passes the Eagles had advanced to the SOC 25-yard line, but a pair of sacks (one of them by Billy Walton) pushed them back to the 35, and they turned the ball over on downs after an incomplete pass on 4th down with 1:23 left on the clock. SOC kneeled out the rest of the clock.
Billy Walton finished the game with five tackles and two sacks, while Malik Muhammad was credited with seven total tackles and three passes defensed. The win over Argyle allowed the South Oak Cliff Golden Bears to advance to the 5A Division II state championship for a second consecutive year, and brought them to the cusp of becoming the first Dallas ISD team ever to win consecutive state titles in football.
When SOC won its state title in 2021 it was the first time a Dallas ISD team had won a state championship in football since Dallas Booker T. Washington won the 3A state final of the Prairie View Interscholastic League in 1958. (The PVIL was the governing body over athletic competitions for the schools for black students during much of the state’s long period of racial segregation in education, and it was in operation from 1920 until 1970.) SOC’s state title was the first UIL state championship in football for a Dallas ISD school since Dallas Sunset won the championship of the short-lived City Conference in 1950. (The City Conference existed along with Classes 1A and 2A for just three seasons between 1948 and 1950, then was scrapped when the UIL re-organized its classifications from 1A to 4A starting in 1951.)
Awaiting SOC in Friday night’s 5A Division II state championship is Port Neches-Groves, which knocked off last year’s state runner-up Liberty Hill in the semifinal round by a score of 42-14. Port Neches-Groves is 13-2 for the season and will be making its seventh appearance in a state championship game, and its first since losing in the 1999 4A Division II state final to Stephenville in that school’s last season under future Baylor head coach Art Briles. The PN-G Indians have won three state titles in their history, the first two at the Class 3A level in 1953 and 1955, and the third in Class 4A in 1975.
PN-G’s 2022 season began inauspiciously with a 50-15 loss to Port Arthur Memorial, a 5A Division I team that would later knock Connor Stroh’s Frisco Wakeland team out of the playoffs before being blown out by top-ranked Longview. The Indians lost 35-14 to Fort Bend Marshall in their first district game, and had three other district games decided by seven points or less, but they finished the regular season 8-2.
After entering the playoffs, PN-G defeated Montgomery 38-17, overcame 10th-ranked Austin LBJ (2021’s Class 4A Division I state runner-up) 24-19, topped Brenham 38-28, avenged its regular-season loss to 2nd ranked Fort Bend Marshall by a 29-21 score in the regional final, then blew out 3rd-ranked Liberty Hill 42-14 in last week’s semifinals.
PN-G’s senior offensive tackle Jansen Ware has offers from Air Force, a pair of Ivy League schools, and at least a handful of other FCS programs, and sophomore offensive lineman Jackson Christian may also have some college football in his future, but this is not a roster that’s teeming with Division I talent. By contrast, SOC has 11 seniors currently committed to FBS schools.
By any measure, the Golden Bears will have the more talented group of players between the two squads, and on Friday night they’ll get to show whether or not they have 5A Division II’s best team once again.
2024 DB Jaden Allen (Aledo)
Saturday, December 17, at 11:00 a.m. vs. College Station in the Class 5A Division I state championship game
Last week’s 5A Division I state semifinal game between top-ranked Longview and 3rd-ranked Aledo was a matchup of two teams that had both averaged over 44 points per game through their first 14 games. So naturally, their game was a defensive struggle with just 31 total points scored.
Aledo trailed 14-3 at one point, but scored a pair of touchdowns in the second half to go ahead 17-14. The game was played in rainy conditions, and when lightning was spotted nearby it resulted in a delay that lasted 90 minutes. At the time of the lighting delay, 56 seconds remained in regulation, Longview had the ball and had just been sacked to bring up a 2nd-and-16 from the 50-yard line. After play finally resumed, Aledo’s defense forced Longview into three straight incomplete passes to take over on downs and clinch their school’s 13th state championship game appearance, and its 12th in the span of 25 seasons.
The Aledo Bearcats have won a state-record 10 football state championships, and they have a chance to both add to that total and avenge one of their rare championship game defeats when they play College Station on Saturday morning in the 5A Division I state final. Aledo is 10-2 all-time in state championship appearances, with its two losses both coming by just one point. The Bearcats lost 19-18 to Grapeland in the 1974 Class 1A championship, and fell to College Station 20-19 in the 2017 Class 5A Division II final.
Aledo began this season by losing badly (44-14) to 6A power Denton Guyer and closely (24-17) to eventual TAPPS Division I state champion Dallas Parish Episcopal. It was the first time since 2007 that the Bearcats had lost more than one regular season game. But they rebounded to win their next 13 straight games, including playoff victories over 5th-ranked Midlothian and top-ranked Longview. Aledo’s current seniors were in 7th grade when the Bearcats last met College Station in a state championship, one in which they went down in defeat by a 20-19 score in a game that featured two missed PAT attempts by Aledo.
The College Station Cougars are playing just their ninth varsity football season, but in those nine seasons they have yet to miss the playoffs and have recorded 25 playoff wins, won a state championship in 2017, lost in overtime in the 2021 5A Division I state championship game, reached the state semifinals in 2016, and had an eight-point loss to eventual state champion Highland Park in the second round of the 2018 5A Division I playoffs. Fellow College Station ISD school A&M Consolidated had one of the state’s top football programs in the early 1990s and has not missed the playoffs since 2004, but College Station High has won as many playoff games in its brief nine-season existence as A&M Consolidated has since the start of the 1994 season.
College Station won its first 15 games a year ago and advanced to the 5A Division I state championship, but lost 27-24 in overtime to Katy Paetow, a young fourth-year program that was likely playing with 6A-sized numbers, as it had an enrollment of over 3,100 at the time of the UIL’s 2022-2024 realignment back in February after reporting an enrollment of 2,179 just two years earlier.
The Cougars were ranked 4th in Class 5A Division I to start the 2022 season, but fell to 10th after a season-opening 52-27 loss to Lovejoy, which at that time was ranked 2nd in 5A Division II. They rose back to the 3rd spot in the rankings after winning six straight games, but dropped out of the top ten entirely after a 49-38 loss in district play to Georgetown. They rejoined the rankings at #10 a week later, and retained that spot at the end of the regular season. In the playoffs, College Station beat San Antonio Wagner 37-19, knocked off the champion of District 10-5A Division I Angleton 27-20, avenged their district loss to Georgetown by winning their playoff rematch 52-28, and beat 9th-ranked Smithson Valley in the Region III final 26-21. They scored their most lopsided playoff victory of the current season in last week’s state semifinals when they beat Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial 33-7.
The Cougars lost their top two returning offensive weapons from their 2021 state runner-up team when senior running back Marquise Collins — a Duke commit who rushed for over 2,800 yards in 2021 and was named the Class 5A Offensive Player of the Year — suffered a season-ending injury shortly before the start of this season, and incoming junior running back Nate Palmer — a four-star prospect who currently has 27 offers according to 247Sports — transferred to Decatur. Enter sophomore running back Aydan Martinez-Brown, who has filled in more than capably while compiling just under 2,400 yards from scrimmage and scoring 26 total touchdowns this season. College Station runs the ball a lot more often than it passes, but junior QB Arrington Maiden has thrown for 2,100 yards and 16 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions, and five different players have recorded at least 27 receptions.
A win by Aledo would add to the Bearcats’ state-record total of state titles and bring them up to eleven, while a win by College Station would give the Cougars their second state crown in just their ninth season of varsity football, and would bring College Station ISD its third state championship overall (A&M Consolidated won the 1991 Class 4A championship game).
Jaden Allen was a member of Aledo’s 2020 Class 5A Division II championship team as a freshman, and three current or former Longhorns have won state titles in an Aledo jersey: Johnathan Gray (a superstar running back on three consecutive 4A Division II championship teams from 2009 to 2011), Ryan Newsome (2013-14), and Jaden Allen’s older brother B.J. Allen (2019-20).
2023 RB Tre Wisner (DeSoto)
2023 WR Johntay Cook (DeSoto)
Saturday, December 17 at 3:00 p.m. vs. Austin Vandegrift in the Class 6A Division II state championship game
The DeSoto Eagles qualified for their second-ever state championship game after upsetting unbeaten Denton Guyer 47-28 in last week’s semifinal round. The Guyer Wildcats had run roughshod over every opponent they had faced before that, winning each of their first 14 games by margins of 17 or more points and beating seven teams that had been ranked in their classification at the close of the regular season. The 6th-ranked Wildcats were the overwhelming favorite among both local and statewide “experts”, especially after winning playoff games by comfortable margins in successive weeks against 16th-ranked Highland Park, 23rd-ranked Trophy Club Byron Nelson, and 4th-ranked Southlake Carroll.
While 13th-ranked DeSoto had won each of its first four playoff games handily as well, it had not played any ranked teams, and the Eagles lost by large margins against the two best teams it faced in the regular season, 3rd-ranked Duncanville and a nationally-ranked team from St. Frances Academy in Baltimore. In last week’s post I noted that DeSoto had been penalized 13 times in its fourth round win over Killeen Harker Heights, and made what I thought was a rather common-sense observation that the Eagles “will certainly have to play cleaner football than they have of late if they hope to upset Guyer”. Rather than minimizing their penalties last week against Guyer, DeSoto instead was penalized 15 times and still won by 19 points!
Neither team gained much ground on their first two possessions and the 1st quarter was a scoreless affair, though it ended with Guyer facing a 4th-and-goal at the DeSoto 1-yard line. On the first play of the 2nd quarter, DeSoto’s defense got a 4th-down stop and their offense took over at their own 2-yard line. The Eagles went on a 98-yard scoring drive and finished it with the first of three touchdowns they would score in just under nine minutes of game time while holding Guyer to a pair of three-and-out possessions. DeSoto led 19-0 after scoring its third touchdown with 3:03 left in the 2nd quarter. Guyer finally got on the scoreboard just over a minute later, and the game would go into halftime with DeSoto leading 19-7.
An 83-yard touchdown-scoring drive on the opening possession of the second half made the score 26-7 in favor of DeSoto. The teams traded scoreless possessions for a while before Guyer scored touchdowns on consecutive drives to get as close as 26-21 with 9:56 left in the 4th quarter. But DeSoto went on another scoring run, finishing each of its last three possessions with touchdowns to extend its lead to 47-21 with 3:05 left in regulation. A Guyer touchdown scored with 2:00 left made the score a more respectable 47-28, but DeSoto was able to burn the rest of the clock.
DeSoto outgained the high-flying Guyer Wildcats 560-361, and the Eagles rushed for 437 yards as a team. The team had just ten completed passes on the day, and Johntay Cook caught 7 of them for 58 yards. Sophomore running back Deondrae Riden led the team with 30 carries for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Tre Wisner carried the ball 7 times for 78 yards. Wisner’s biggest play came on DeSoto’s 4th quarter drive after Guyer had just scored to cut the lead to 26-21. On 3rd-and-1 from DeSoto’s 46-yard line, Wisner got the carry and gained 47 yards to set the Eagles up for a 1st down at the Guyer 7. Three plays later, a Jaden Trawick touchdown made the score 33-21 with 8:07 remaining, and DeSoto’s defense forced a turnover on downs and a lost fumble on Guyer’s next two possessions to further secure that lead.
DeSoto’s defense harassed Guyer’s five-star quarterback Jackson Arnold (an Oklahoma commit) throughout the game and limited him to 39 rushing yards on 20 carries, and when throwing he completed 15 of 29 pass attempts for 221 yards and no touchdowns after coming into the game with over 4,100 total offensive yards for the season.
Having upended Guyer in the state semifinals, DeSoto will play for the 6A Division II state championship on Saturday afternoon against another team that very few expected to make it that far when the playoffs began, Austin Vandegrift. The Vandegrift Vipers lost 23-20 in their season-opener against Dripping Springs, but have won 14 straight games since then. Vandegrift was ranked 17th in Class 6A at the end of the regular season, and after beating Austin Bowie, Converse Judson, and San Antonio Harlan in their first three playoff games, the Vipers got a 27-24 win over 10th-ranked Dripping Springs in a re-match of their season-opener to avenge their only loss of the season. Then in last week’s state semifinals they upset 5th-ranked Katy 38-35, with the winning points coming on a 37-yard field goal in the game’s final seconds.
Vandegrift played its first varsity football season in 2010, and has reached the playoffs in ten straight years. Because of the school’s location its name is commonly styled as “Austin Vandegrift”, but it is actually part of the Leander ISD. Coming into the 2022 season, the Vipers had gone four rounds deep into the playoffs on four occasions, and advanced as far as the fifth round (the state semifinals) of the 5A Division I playoffs in 2014 before losing to eventual state runner-up Temple.
Leander ISD has seen its share of extended playoff runs in recent memory; four of the district’s six high schools have advanced to the state semifinals or further at least once in the past decade. The most successful of those four schools, Cedar Park, played in four state championship games between 2012 and 2020, winning in 2012 and 2015. Vandegrift more than signaled that it was Leander ISD’s top dog when it shut out Cedar Park 45-0 in a non-district game early in the 2022 season, and with a win on Saturday the Vipers would bring the district its third state championship in football.
A win by DeSoto would give the Eagles their second state championship. DeSoto has been one of the state’s pre-eminent producers of college football talent for well over a decade. That they only have one state title to show for it is primarily because in some of their best seasons they ran into the juggernaut that was the Kyler Murray-led Allen teams of the early 2010s. DeSoto lost to Allen in the playoffs in four consecutive seasons between 2012 and 2015, and Allen’s combined margin of victory in their latter three meetings was just 11 points. Allen won three state consecutive state titles from 2012 to 2014 (Murray’s three years as the team’s starting QB), and lost in the state semifinals in 2015. Between 2012 and 2014, DeSoto was 0-3 vs. Allen and 38-1 against all other opponents.
A secondary reason for DeSoto not having more championships was one the Eagles had no control over. Between 2012 and 2015, DeSoto was the third-largest school in its district, but the two largest schools, Duncanville and South Grand Prairie, never qualified for the playoffs in the same season, so the Eagles had to compete in the 5A/6A Division I playoff bracket in each of those years. After DeSoto was realigned into a new district in 2016, it was the third-smallest of the eight schools in the new District 7-6A, which all but assured the Eagles would be in the 6A Division II playoffs. With Allen — the state’s largest high school and DeSoto’s frequent playoff nemesis — safely in Division I, the DeSoto Eagles rolled to a 16-0 record and won the 2016 6A Division II state championship.
DeSoto has four seniors currently committed to FBS programs. Aside from Cook and Wisner, the DeSoto offense has Central Arkansas commit Cedric Harden and Dahlyn Jones (who received a handful of D1 offers last year) at receiver. Five Eagles have recorded at least 29 catches, and three have 119 or more carries, led by the aforementioned Deondrae Riden, who will be a coveted recruit over the next two years. On defense, their secondary includes SMU commit Jaden Milliner-Jones, North Texas commit Caimon Mathis, and Texas Southern commit DeMichael Porter. Junior cornerback Mario Buford has 14 Division I offers, and junior linebacker Brandon Booker is the team’s leading tackler and has reported offers from Auburn and SMU.
Vandegrift’s top-rated prospects are four-star 2023 offensive tackle Ian Reed, a Clemson commit, and four-star 2024 offensive tackle Blake Frazier, who has offers from at least nine P5 programs. Under center is senior Brayden Buchanan, who has passed for nearly 3,300 yards and 29 touchdowns while being intercepted just 5 times. His top target is junior receiver Miles Coleman, who has Tony Jones-like dimensions at a listed 5’6” and 145 pounds, and speed that allowed him to qualify for the 6A Region IV track meet in the 100 and 200 meters last spring. Through 15 games, Coleman has caught 94 passes for 1,604 yards and 13 touchdowns, and he has had three 100-yard games in the playoffs, including a 7-catch, 184-yard performance in last week’s upset over Katy.
Eight players from DeSoto are on the Texas Longhorns’ list of all-time lettermen, but none of them were part of a state championship team. Johntay Cook and Tre Wisner will potentially be the first in that regard. The DeSoto-Vandegrift game will be the penultimate one of the 2022 Texas high school football season and should provide for a great opening act before the weekend’s big attraction: the 6A Division I state championship between 2nd-ranked Galena Park North Shore and 3rd-ranked Duncanville, who will meet in that division’s championship for the fourth time in five seasons.
Historic Longhorn Notable of the Week: Clarence “Blue” Smith (1924)
During the 2022 high school football season, this column included a weekly feature at the bottom of most posts that I called the Historic Longhorn Notable of the Week. My goal was mainly to educate younger UT fans on some Longhorn standouts who played in burnt orange before their time, and I intentionally limited the pool of potential featured players for this section to those who played for UT prior to 1982, the year I was born. But aside from a few stars of the 1970s, I went much further back in time for most of the other players mentioned. Some of the featured athletes had much more notable college careers than others, and a few made for more interesting subjects because of their life stories or the period of UT football history in which they played than for what they themselves accomplished on the gridiron. The ten featured historic Longhorn notables won football letters at Texas as early as 1898 and as late as 1981.
This feature of the column was put on pause during the Texas high school playoffs, but with the UIL state championship games being held this week I wanted to bring it back one last time in 2022 to feature Clarence “Blue” Smith, the very first Texas Longhorn to be part of a state championship team. He’s one of a long list of early Texas high school football stars who are mostly forgotten today because they had minimal, if any, success in college or pro football, but to high school football enthusiasts he was a very well-known player in his time.
Clarence Wagner Smith was born in Missouri in 1901 and spent his early years in that state before his family moved to Cleburne, Texas (a town about 25 miles south of Fort Worth) when he was in his early teens. At Cleburne High School he played on the football team and developed into one of the most acclaimed players in the state. He acquired the nickname “Blue” at some point during his youth, and he was frequently referred to by that name throughout his athletic career.
He stood six feet tall and weighed about 165 pounds, which was a good size for a high school halfback at the time. The men in Cleburne’s starting backfield in 1920 had an average weight of 168 pounds, which was a slightly higher figure than the Texas Longhorn backfield for that same year. Cleburne’s 1920 yearbook extolled the prodigious qualities that Smith showed as an 18-year-old junior in the 1919 season, particularly his ability to catch passes and his elusiveness in the open field with the ball in his hands. “Blue will return next year and if he improves (were such a thing possible), all we fear is that he will get the big-head and leave us to play with Harvard or Yale or some other place where the opponents will be a little more in his class”, read a paragraph on Smith in the 1920 edition of The Santa Fe Trail, Cleburne High’s yearbook.
The 1920 Cleburne team was arguably the most dominant “eleven” in the state, marching through the nine games on its schedule with no losses while outscoring its foes 217-15. While Clarence Smith was the star halfback, the team also had a highly-regarded lineman named Doss Richerson, a junior who was described as a “giant” at 210 pounds. In addition to his football stardom Richerson was also a track & field state champion in the discus and shot put, and later a three-year football letterman at the University of Missouri.
Football had caught on at the high schools of Texas’s largest cities by the late 1890s, and games between high schools became more common as the sport spread to smaller towns throughout the state in the first two decades of the 1900s. In the early years of interscholastic football competition there were some top teams who were informally recognized as “state champion”, but it was not until 1920 that the first state championship was officially recognized by the organization now known as the University Interscholastic League, the governing body for athletic and academic competitions between the state’s public schools. According to a report by the League published in December of 1920, there were 239 high schools in the state playing football in that fall.
The UIL’s football championship archive includes a purported playoff bracket for the 1920 season that led up to the state championship game, but a reading of contemporary articles about the games played that December more than suggests that those games were not part of a well-organized tournament bracket with clearly-defined rounds. Those 1920 “playoff” games could be best described as an ad hoc series of contests that decided the champions of various sections of the state, with the two finalists only playing each other after some weeks of negotiation, and nearly a month after the Interscholastic League had advised against teams scheduling any further games with the calendar being so late in the year and most schools having by then flipped their athletic calendar to basketball.
After the first two weekends of December in 1920, Cleburne and Clarksville were the only teams in the “northeast” section of the state to remain undefeated. Clarksville essentially waived its claim to the Northeast championship in favor of Cleburne when its officials refused to allow the team to travel out of town for any more games, resulting in Clarksville forfeiting a game late in the year between the two. The lack of an organized structure of districts and schedules made the situation murky. Waxahachie also claimed a share of the Northeast championship, as it had suffered a single one-point loss in a game where its star player was out with an injury, and its team was seen has having played a tougher schedule than Cleburne. The Interscholastic League gave some oxygen to Waxahachie’s claim, but Cleburne dismissed it outright, owing to the fact that Waxahachie’s loss had come against Dallas’s Bryan Street High School (formerly Dallas High and later renamed Crozier Tech), and Cleburne had later posted a shutout win against that same Bryan Street team.
Abilene was also unbeaten and was the undisputed champion of Northwest Texas. Abilene and Cleburne agreed on a game to decide the champion of North Texas, and Cleburne paid Abilene $1,500 (roughly equivalent to $22,000 in 2022 dollars) to convince their team to travel to Cleburne for the game. The teams played on Friday, December 17, and in the game’s opening minute Blue Smith received a pass and ran 60 yards for a touchdown. He scored another touchdown a few minutes later to give Cleburne a 14-0 lead. Abilene fought back and tied the score in the same quarter, but Cleburne regained the lead in the 3rd quarter and never lost it. The final score was 28-20, but Cleburne reportedly piled up over 600 yards (a figure that may have included yardage gained on punt returns), more than double what Abilene had.
The Fort Worth Record’s account of the game reported that Cleburne “used every form of offense known to football. Dazzling aerial flights, trick plays, fakes, triple pass end around dashes, straight rushes, tackle over tackle, cross bucks — all followed each other with a bewildering mixing up of plays and precision that made it almost impossible for the spectator to believe that he was watching a high school machine.”
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s report of the game praised Blue Smith as “the most brilliant high school back seen in Texas in several seasons”, and his gridiron exploits drew the attention of college coaches. Among the 4,000 to 5,000 spectators reportedly present at the Abilene-Cleburne game was Berry Whitaker, the head football coach at the University of Texas, whose team had just gone 9-0 and posted what would be its last undefeated and untied season until the Longhorns won their first national championship in 1963. Whitaker was joined in the stands at Cleburne by his coaching counterparts from SMU and TCU, among other schools. There was some thought that Smith might return to his home state of Missouri to attend college, but the Record asserted that “Texas University exes, of which [Cleburne] is full, have a different idea about the matter and will endeavor to keep this star for the Longhorns.”
Shortly after the final whistle sounded on Cleburne’s win over Abilene, Cleburne’s coach had initial talks with officials from Houston’s Heights High School about scheduling a game between their teams for the state championship. Heights was undefeated and had beaten Bryan High School to claim the championship of Southeast Texas. No decision was made on the time or location of the state championship for some time, as both schools desired to host the game. Confident that it would attract a crowd of several thousand, a number of cities offered to host a Cleburne-Heights game on Christmas or New Year’s Day weekend, but the schools objected to a number of the candidates presented. Cleburne didn’t want to play in Dallas or in Houston, Heights didn’t want to play in Fort Worth, and neither warmed to the idea of meeting for a game in Waco. Also delaying a firm date and place being set for the first official state final in football were the unresolved issues of whether Waxahachie had a valid claim to the Northeast Texas title and could schedule its own game with Heights, and whether Heights should first have to play the undefeated team from Corpus Christi High School before being able to claim the South Texas championship. This situation would move the Interscholastic League toward a much more organized structure for deciding state championship contenders in later seasons.
Heights ended up playing and beating Corpus Christi 7-0 in a game played in Houston at Rice’s field on Christmas Day to become the undisputed South Texas champion, and negotiations with Cleburne resumed. Having acceded to Cleburne’s demand that it play Corpus Christi, Heights in turn demanded that Cleburne play and beat Waxahachie so that the North Texas championship would not be in dispute. But Cleburne refused and said it would play only Heights to decide the state’s champion. For a time it appeared there might be no further games played, as the timetable for the 1920 football season had already eclipsed, and New Year’s Day 1921 came and went without an agreement in place for a championship game. Finally, the Interscholastic League stepped in and announced on January 2 that it would recognize Cleburne as the North Texas champion. and the following day it was announced that Cleburne and Heights would belatedly play for the 1920 state championship on January 8, 1921 at Clark Field in Austin, which was the home field for the Texas Longhorns until Memorial Stadium was built in 1924.
Anticipation was high for the game, with some sports reporters speculating that it might have the highest attendance of any high school game ever played in the state. But rain had started to fall by the time the game kicked off, and only about 3,000 fans attended. Newspaper accounts all agreed that rain fell throughout the course of the game, and “muddy” and “sloppy” were commonly-used descriptions for the playing surface at Clark Field. The Austin American said that due to the playing condition “very little good football could be shown by the two teams”. The Houston Post described the field as “a sea of mud that made end runs impossible, kicking precarious and forward passing a matter of accident”.
Offense was hard to come by for Cleburne, and Blue Smith was more or less held in check on offensive plays, but he was able to show his noted elusiveness on several long punt returns that brought the ball from deep in his team’s territory to near midfield. In the first quarter alone he had punt returns of 30, 35, and 40 yards, and early in the 4th quarter he returned a long punt 60 yards, but the play was nullified by an offside penalty on his team.
Cleburne got as close as the Heights 20-yard line on a 3rd quarter drive before turning the ball over on downs, and didn’t seriously threaten on any other possession. Heights got the ball in Cleburne territory multiple times but was never able to put points on the scoreboard. On one 4th quarter drive Heights advanced to within a yard of the goal line, but Cleburne’s defense held them on downs. Three times in the second half Heights attempted field goals, but all were unsuccessful.
Thus did Texas’s first official high school football state championship end in a 0-0 tie. There was no mechanism yet in place that provided for an overtime period, or for tie games being decided based on the number penetrations inside the 20-yard line, which was the deciding factor of many playoff games in the years to come. It was a deeply unsatisfying ending to the season after the years-long wait for an official championship game, and the weeks of negotiations that had preceded its scheduling. Cleburne’s coach immediately approached Heights about staging a re-match for the following week to decide the champion once and for all. University of Texas officials offered the use of Clark Field again should the teams agree to another game, and Cleburne offered to guarantee Heights a payment of $2,500 (equivalent to over $41,000 in 2022 dollars) if they agreed to a game the following week in Austin, Waco, or Fort Worth. But Heights refused all offers for a re-match. The Houston schools had final exams scheduled for the following week, and the coaches and academic officials at Heights believed staging another football game during that week would be unnecessarily disruptive to the entire student body, and they were content to let the scoreless championship game be the last word on the 1920 season. So the two teams would go down in the record books as co-champions for that year.
Cleburne would have a similar result in its only other appearance in a state championship. In 1959 the Cleburne Yellowjackets reached the Class 3A state final and faced Breckenridge, which had won that classification’s state title four times in the previous eight seasons. The game ended in a 20-20 tie, and the two schools were named co-champions. Heights — which was known as John H. Reagan High School from 1926 until 2016, when it reverted back to its original Heights name — played for the City Conference state championship in 1950, but lost to Dallas Sunset. Its football teams have never advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs since then.
Clarence “Blue” Smith enrolled at the University of Texas in September of 1921. He was old for his grade and had turned 20 shortly before graduating high school, and he went to UT with the reputation of being “one of the most sensational high school football stars seen in several years”, as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram put it. He did not live up to that billing during his time in Austin.
He was voted the captain of the UT freshmen team in 1921, and was expected to be a regular at halfback going into the 1922 season, but he withdrew from the varsity squad at some point that year. One report said he withdrew from the team “after a few hot words with the Longhorn grid authorities higher up”, but UT’s athletic director L. Theo Bellmont disputed that report and said there was no bad blood between Smith and the athletic council, and that Smith had voluntarily left the team after he noticed “that old wriggle he used to have in evading tacklers, seemed to be gone”. Bellmont said that he hoped to see Smith return to the team if he desired to do so.
Smith returned to the varsity squad in the fall of 1923. He played in his first varsity game in the season-opening 31-0 win over Austin College. A week later he scored his first college touchdown in UT’s lopsided 51-0 win over Phillips University. He returned a punt for a touchdown in a 44-0 win over Southwestern on October 27. But he spent that entire season as a reserve at halfback, and missed at least two games with a sore hip. He was not recognized as a letterman for the 1923 season. Sports writers who watched him play in 1923 wrote that he was still a dangerous open field runner, but was below average in the other aspects of his game, particularly on the defensive side. Still, he was said to have improved late in the season, and he was expected to finally be a regular in 1924 and perhaps fulfill the promise that greeted his arrival in Austin three years earlier.
But that did not appear likely in the weeks leading up to that season. Smith had a bout with the mumps during the summer that left him 15 pounds under his normal playing weight. Then on September 5, 1924, it was reported that Smith would not be returning to school, and that he had told head coach E.J. Stewart that he would be unable to pay his way through school that semester or to play with the football team because he had not found a job in Austin. But that issue was apparently resolved, as three days later he reported to the team for its preseason training camp.
He had moments of brilliance on the field in 1924, and his defensive play was reported to be noticeably better that in prior years, but he was rarely a starter and most often entered games as a substitute. He also played through a series of knee injuries and a shoulder injury suffered during the season, which likely limited his effectiveness. He finally won his first and only letter with the Longhorns for that 1924 season.
Blue Smith was a popular player with Texas Longhorn fans during his time in Austin, but was only a consistent contributor for one season, in which he was far from 100% physically. Whether the physical gifts he had while in high school were diminished by injuries in college, or if his advantages back then were owed to his being a physically developed 19-year-old playing high school ball in an era when high school seniors were often as young as 16 or 17, the simple fact was that his play in college did not routinely match the hype that he had attained during his high school years, and his Longhorn career was not one for the history books. Indeed, Smith was barely mentioned in Lou Maysel’s 1970 history of the program, Here Come the Texas Longhorns. But the coaches and sports writers who watched him play at Cleburne High had long memories. In 1968, the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame was formed and its inaugural class was comprised of five star players from the 1920s. One of those five was Blue Smith.
After graduating from Texas in 1925 he began what would be a long career as a teacher and coach. He was hired as the football coach at Honey Grove High School in the summer of 1925, and he was later the head coach at Galveston Ball for four seasons from 1928 to 1931. He lived in Galveston for the last 44 years of his life while teaching and coaching at schools there and in Houston. He died in 1973, at the age of 71, and his obituary said he had recently retired from Houston’s public schools.
The list of Texas Longhorn football players who were part of state championship teams in high school is quite long, and the name at the top of it is Clarence “Blue” Smith. For that reason alone he’ll always be a significant figure in Texas high school football history, and a notable one in Texas Longhorn history.
Previously featured 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)
Week eleven: Howard Fest (1967)