The 2023 Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL) football state championship games began on Wednesday morning at AT&T Stadium in Arlington with the Class 1A Division I state final, and the last of those games — the Class 6A Division II championship — will take place on Saturday evening. The state championship weekend in Arlington will serve as the conclusion of the 2023 high school football season in the Lone Star State.
There is almost always a future Texas Longhorn still playing when the Texas high school playoffs reach their ultimate round, and this year is no exception, as three UT commits will take the field this weekend seeking to end their high school careers with a state championship.
2024 wide receiver Freddie Dubose and his Smithson Valley teammates will face perennial state finalist Aledo tonight in the Class 5A Division I state final. On Saturday afternoon, 2024 linebacker/edge defender Colin Simmons and 2024 defensive tackle Alex January will attempt to lead their Duncanville team to a second consecutive Class 6A Division I state title in a championship game rematch with Galena Park North Shore.
A year ago at the close of the 2022 season, five recruits then committed to the Longhorns were members of teams that won Texas state championships, and three others played for champion teams from other states. Seven of those eight state champions are now freshmen on the Longhorn football roster (Johntay Cook, Tre Wisner, Malik Muhammad, Billy Walton, Tausili Akana, Liona Lefau, and Sydir Mitchell), while the other, then-junior Jaden Allen, later de-committed and has been an Arkansas pledge since April.
Two of the Longhorns’ out-of-state commits in the 2024 class were part of teams that won state titles last week. Five-star offensive tackle prospect Brandon Baker and his Santa Ana (California) Mater Dei teammates won California’s Open Division state championship last Saturday, and Michael Kern, a punter from Fort Lauderdale (Florida) St. Thomas Aquinas, finished his career that same day with his team winning Florida’s Class 3M state championship.
Below, I’ll give a breakdown on the three Longhorn commits who will be in action this weekend, and the teams they’ll be facing. The games throughout state championship weekend will be broadcast on Bally Sports Southwest and on the Bally Sports app. Full information on the games for fans and potential spectators can be found on the UIL’s website here.
2024 wide receiver Freddie Dubose (Smithson Valley)
Friday, December 15 at 7:00 pm vs. Aledo in the Class 5A Division I state championship
Dubose first established himself as a legitimate football prospect while attending Schertz Clemens near San Antonio. After finishing his sophomore year at Clemens, his family moved and he transferred to Smithson Valley High School, which is about 25 miles north of downtown San Antonio. The 2022 Smithson Valley Rangers would reach the Class 5A Division I state quarterfinals and finish with a 12-2 record in Dubose’s first year on campus, but he was merely a spectator for most of that campaign after tearing his left ACL in the season opener.
He had sufficiently recovered by the spring of 2023 that he was able to not only participate in track & field but he finished 3rd in the 400-meter dash at the Class 5A State Track & Field Meet on May 12. A four-star wide receiver prospect according to the 247Sports composite, Dubose committed to Texas on June 18 of this year, and this fall he finally got to put his skills to work on the gridiron for his new school. According to the (incomplete) 2023 season stats from the San Antonio Express-News, Dubose has caught at least 51 passes for 723 yards during his senior year.
Smithson Valley opened the 2023 season with a 17-16 loss on August 25 to San Antonio 6A power Reagan, which would finish the season 11-1, but the Rangers have not tasted defeat since. Smithson Valley won the rest of its regular season games all by margins of 17 points or more, and went into the 5A Division I playoffs with a 9-1 record and ranking fourth in their classification. After a 41-25 win over Georgetown in the first round, the Rangers advanced through the next three rounds by a combined winning margin of 15 points. They held on for a 20-17 win over Magnolia West in the second round after leading 20-3 midway through the 4th quarter.
In the third round, the Rangers took a 19-0 first half lead over ninth-ranked College Station, before a CS comeback cut Smithson Valley’s lead to 26-21 late in the 3rd quarter. The Ranger defense held up for the 4th quarter to preserve the lead and the game ended with that same 26-21 score. In the regional final round, they faced a 10-3 A&M Consolidated team that had upset third-ranked Lamar Fulshear two weeks earlier. The “Consol” Tigers had another upset on their mind as they took a 17-0 lead over Smithson Valley just over three minutes into the 2nd quarter, but the Rangers went on a 31-7 run to finish the game, with the winning points coming on a 9-yard touchdown run with 3:19 left in regulation. The 31-24 win over A&M Consolidated advanced Smithson Valley to the state semifinals for the seventh time in school history, and the first time since 2008.
After three weeks of dramatic second halves and tense 4th quarters, Smithson Valley didn’t mess around in the semifinals, taking a 49-0 3rd quarter lead over Brownsville Veterans Memorial before ultimately winning by a 49-21 score and punching their ticket to the 5A Division I state final.
Smithson Valley has reached a state championship game on three previous occasions, all between 2001 and 2004, but the Rangers came up short each time. The school has had one of the most consistently solid teams in the greater San Antonio area in particular over the past three decades. The Rangers have missed out on the postseason just twice since making their first playoff appearance in 1994.
Larry Hill has been Smithson Valley’s head football coach since 1993, and he has led the program to 17 outright or shared district titles in that time. Earlier this season he became the 15th Texas high school football coach to reach the 300-win mark, and the state semifinal win over Veterans Memorial last week was the 311th win of Hill’s career, which moved him past longtime Arlington Lamar coach Eddy Peach and into 12th place on the list of the state’s all-time winningest football coaches. Hill is currently the winningest active head coach never to have won a state championship.
Standing in the way of the first state title for Hill and the Smithson Valley program are the Aledo Bearcats, the defending 5A Division I state champions and winners of 29 consecutive games dating back to the third week of the 2022 season. Aledo has won a UIL record 11 state championships in football, with ten of them coming in just the past 14 seasons (2009-2022). The Bearcats have been favored since the start of the season to claim their 12th title in 2023, having been ranked atop Class 5A Division I all year. Aledo is 11-2 in all-time state championship appearances, with its two losses (in 1974 and 2017) both coming by a single point.
Aledo will have a decided advantage over Smithson Valley both in terms of their program’s state championship pedigree and its current talent level. The Bearcats have five seniors committed to FBS programs, and at least two others bound for the FCS level. Senior quarterback Hauss Hejny, a TCU commit, has produced over 3,500 offensive yards and had a hand in 37 touchdowns this season. Running back Keiran Patrick-Daniels, an Incarnate Word commit, doesn’t have astounding full-season stats, but he has gained over 100 yards from scrimmage three times in Aledo’s current playoff run, including a 27-carry, 185-yard performance in last week’s semifinals. Linebacker Davhon Keys, a four-star LSU commit, is Aledo’s leading tackler and has been credited with 157 total tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 3 fumble recoveries.
Defending against Freddie Dubose and Smithson Valley’s wide receiver corps will be senior defensive backs Jaden Allen, Chris Johnson Jr., and Jake Gillespie, a trio of players committed to Arkansas, Arizona State, and Stephen F. Austin State, respectively.
Aside from those highly-touted seniors, Aledo has two sophomores who already boast several FBS offers: running back Raycine Guillory and wide receiver Kaydon Finley, the latter of whom is the son of former Texas Longhorn tight end Jermichael Finley. Guillory is the team’s leading rusher with just over 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns in 11 games played, and he has gone over the century mark in rushing yardage seven times.
Freddie Dubose is the only skill position player on Smithson Valley’s roster with so much as one reported FBS roster, and the only other Division I commit on the team is senior kicker Clayton Amaya, an Arkansas State pledge.
Aledo opened its season with a 50-35 win over private school powerhouse Dallas Parish Episcopal, the eventual TAPPS Division I state champion. After a 48-45 win over Class 6A talent factory Denton Guyer in Week Two, the Bearcats beat their next 13 opponents all by margins of 17 points or more except for district foe Denton Ryan, who they beat 25-19 on October 20. Aledo’s five playoff wins have come by an average margin of 26.6 points, and along the way they defeated fifth-ranked Red Oak 59-35 in the third round, and eighth-ranked Forney 43-7 in last week’s semifinal round.
2024 edge defender/linebacker Colin Simmons and 2024 defensive tackle Alex January (Duncanville)
Saturday, December 16 at 3:00 pm vs. Galena Park North Shore in the Class 6A Division I state championship
Duncanville and North Shore will face off in the Class 6A Division I state final, as they are wont to do. That classification’s state championship has featured these two teams in what is now five out of the last six seasons. North Shore famously beat Duncanville 36-35 on a last-second “Hail Mary” touchdown pass in the 2018 state final. A 2019 re-match again resulted in a 31-17 North Shore victory, this time over a Duncanville team that had lost its starting quarterback to injury one week earlier and had a freshman starting in his place. The series took a brief hiatus in 2020, as both teams lost in the state semifinal round, then resumed in 2021 with North Shore winning over Duncanville once again by a 17-10 score.
In 2022, Duncanville met North Shore in the state championship once again and finally conquered their now-familiar foe by a score of 28-21. The 2023 6A Division I state final will be the third consecutive one that features those two teams, and the fifth in the span of six seasons. In the long history of the UIL’s football state championships, there have been only two previous times in which the same two teams faced off in a championship game in three consecutive years; LaMarque and Denison played for a 4A state championship for three straight years in 1995-97, and Cedar Hill and Katy met in the 5A/6A Division II state final in every season from 2012 to 2014.
There’s plenty of talent in the pipeline at both schools (Duncanville has four juniors already committed to FBS programs), so there’s no telling how long this streak might get.
Cameron Williams became just the third Duncanville Panther to win a letter with the Longhorn football program in 2022, and his former teammates Alex January and Colin Simmons will look to join him in the next few years. Viewers of Saturday’s clash between Duncanville and North Shore will get a look at the obvious headliner of UT’s 2024 recruiting class. Colin Simmons is currently the tenth-highest rated prospect in the nation for the 2024 class, according to the 247Sports Composite. With his 0.9953 composite rating, he is the highest-rated Longhorn defensive commit since the 2010 class, which featured five-star defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (0.9976) and five-star linebacker Jordan Hicks (0.9961).
Simmons has been credited with a seemingly pedestrian 45 tackles in the ten games for which his stats have been reported to MaxPreps, but he has also amassed 18 tackles for loss and 29 quarterback hurries, and it’s worth noting that he likely didn’t have to play much more than two quarters of a substantial number of Duncanville’s games. In the ten games for which there are stats for Simmons, seven were won by the Panthers by 34 points or more.
Alex January, a three-star defensive tackle commit, is not rated nearly as high as a prospect, but he’s certainly no slouch as a player himself. Listed at 6’4 and 325 pounds, he has been credited with 45 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks in 12 games. His father, Mike January, signed with Texas in its 1982 recruiting class out of Lake Charles (Louisiana) Westlake, and after beginning his college career at running back he was moved to linebacker and was a four-year letterman with the program (1983-86), then made a brief NFL appearance with the Chicago Bears as a replacement player during the 1987 NFL Players Association strike.
Simmons and January have been key cogs in a Duncanville Panther defense that has allowed opponents to score just 12 points per game. For the season they have outscored opponents by an average margin of 39.4 points, and during the postseason their average margin of victory is 41.2 points. They suffered but one loss in the regular season, a 49-35 defeat on October 28 at the hands of DeSoto, the defending 6A Division II state champion which will attempt to defend its crown on Saturday night. The loss to DeSoto was Duncanville’s first regular season loss since 2021, and its first loss to a district opponent since 2016.
At the conclusion of the regular season, the state rankings for Class 6A had North Shore at the top, with DeSoto second and Duncanville fifth. After the playoffs commenced, the Panthers dispatched with Hutto 63-7 in the first round, eliminated a 9-2 Rockwall-Heath team by a score of 62-24, dismissed a 9-3 team from The Woodlands by a 49-21 count, had their second-highest scoring game of the season in a 70-28 quarterfinals win over Spring Westfield, and in last week’s semifinal round they made quick work of sixth-ranked and previously unbeaten North Crowley by a score of 52-10.
A win would give Duncanville its third state championship overall, following those won in 1998 and 2022, and it would give head coach Reginald Samples his second career state title. Samples, now in his 34th season as a head coach, is also one win away from tying Dennis Alexander for seventh place on the state’s all-time coaching wins list with 340.
Dave Campbell’s Texas Football managing editor Greg Tepper reports that the Duncanville and North Shore game will be historic in another way.
3pm Saturday, Duncanville-North Shore game will be the first UIL Texas high school football state championship game with two Black head coaches (Reginald Samples, Willie Gaston).— Greg Tepper (@Tepper) December 10, 2023
At 7pm, DeSoto-Humble Summer Creek will be the second (Claude Mathis, Kenny Harrison). #TXHSFB
Samples, who turned 69 last month, also has 69 career playoff wins, the eighth-most all-time among Texas head coaches. If he coaches for as little as one more season he’ll finish his career no lower than sixth on the all-time head coaching wins list. He’s got a team that would win the championship of Texas and almost any other state in most seasons, and as of this week Duncanville is ranked 10th in the nation according to the USA Today Super 25 rankings. But the Panthers will have to go through USA Today’s sixth-ranked team to claim their third state title.
Since being defeated by Duncanville in last year’s 6A Division I title game, North Shore has won every subsequent game they’ve played, most of them decisively. Between their 38-17 win over then 12th-ranked The Woodlands in Week One and their 55-7 win over Humble Kingwood to end the regular season, the Mustangs won eight of their first ten games by 21 points or more, with their smallest margin of victory coming by a 31-21 score over tenth-ranked Humble Summer Creek (which will play DeSoto in Saturday night’s Class 6A Division II state championship).
After winning their first three playoff games by an average score of 45-15, the Mustangs won a hard-fought 34-28 game in the regional finals over 20th-ranked Humble Atascocita, a district rival they had beaten 61-35 five weeks earlier. In the state semifinals last week, North Shore bested third-ranked Austin Westlake 23-14 to advance to the state championship for a seventh time in the span of 21 seasons.
Though the campuses of North Shore and Duncanville are 250 miles apart, they actually had two mutual opponents this season. During non-district play early in the season, North Shore beat The Woodlands 38-17 and Spring Westfield 45-9. Duncanville beat those same two teams in the third and fourth rounds of the playoffs, topping The Woodlands 49-21 and running roughshod over Westfield 70-28.
When Colin Simmons and Alex January are on the field they’ll be attempting to disrupt a North Shore offense led by junior quarterback Kaleb Bailey, who has amassed over 3,600 offensive yards and 47 total touchdowns this season while throwing just three interceptions on 259 pass attempts. Junior running back D’Andre Hardeman Jr. has averaged 127 rushing yards and scored seven total touchdowns during the playoffs. Bailey’s top receiving targets are undersized but fast senior wideouts Christopher Barnes (a three-star recruit) and Terrence Guillory (an Air Force commit), a duo that has combined for 95 receptions for just shy of 1,700 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.
There are many more players of note on both teams; On3’s senior national recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton says that the two schools have a combined 30 future FBS players between their sophomore and senior classes. Some of those are already Texas targets, most notably North Shore cornerback Devin Sanchez and Duncanville receiver Dakorien Moore (an LSU commit), both of whom are ranked by 247Sports among the top ten national prospects in the 2025 class. But for now we’ll limit this post’s discussion largely to the players who UT’s current commits are most likely to tangle with this week.
Good luck to those three future Longhorns as they seek to bring home some state championship hardware to their school’s trophy case.
I took a break this fall from covering the week-to-week fortunes of UT’s commits, as I did at BON for seven of the previous eight seasons. But keep an eye on the homepage in the coming weeks for a full-season overview on how UT’s football signees and their teams performed in 2023.