For the first time since 2005, there is not a NCAA Division I Power 5 prospect roaming Katy High’s backfield.
Graduated and now at Oklahoma State is Deondrick Glass, the last in a rich reign of elite running backs for the Tigers that includes Rodney Anderson, Kyle Porter, Donovonn Young and Aundre Dean.
That’s not necessarily an issue for concern, however. This season, Katy boasts a passing attack that could be quite memorable when it’s all said and done.
“A lot of people I’ve talked to think it’s a top two or three receiving corps that Katy’s ever had. That’s a big deal,” said junior quarterback Bronson McClelland, who threw for 1,993 yards and 27 touchdowns last year. “We’re really firing on all cylinders right now. The line is working every day on pass-blocking. Receivers are working their routes, their reads.
“I have six guys, for sure, I trust to get the ball to, plus my two tight ends. When you have eight guys like that, it’s a great thing for me to have, especially when they work as hard as they do.”
Katy ran the ball almost three times for every pass attempt last season. The Tigers averaged 38.5 carries per game and 14.2 pass attempts per game. That is typical of the Tigers, who are renowned for their dominant running game.
This year, however, it’s the passing game that is the identity of the offense, at least early on. It starts with McClelland, a pure pocket passer keen on directing a pro-style offense, and continues with receivers Jordan Patrick, Steven Stiles and Matthew Stanley, and tight ends Fernando Garza and Samuel Dunn. All are returning starters.
“We’ve always thrown the ball more than what people give us credit for,” coach Gary Joseph said. “When we’ve had good quarterbacks and receivers, we’ve thrown it more. If a good quarterback and receivers are coming back, we’ll throw it. When we had (Andy) Dalton, he threw for 4,000 yards. Bo Levi Mitchell threw for a lot of yards.
“Being able to throw the ball, though, you have to play-action pass. Help the linemen protect. You have to run the ball effective to get people open. It’s all a marriage. But there’s no question it’s going to be a big part of what we do.”
McClelland (6-foot-1, 205 pounds), Garza (6-5, 245) and Dunn (6-0, 205) are physical talents. Patrick, Stiles, Stanley and even Matt Heichel, who has moved to receiver from safety and runs a 4.3 40-yard dash, are speedsters.
It’s a perfect, ideal blend.
“Top-end speed, getting away from people,” Stiles said. “That’s what makes us strong.”
McClelland and Co. are in for a big year, largely because of work done off the field.
McClelland has improved his study of game film, learning to watch a cornerback’s leverage on a receiver. Patrick, who caught 44 balls for 1,102 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, is better at recognizing defenses. No longer is he just outjumping and outrunning defensive backs. He’s outsmarting them, too.
“He’s grown a lot, being able to read man or zone (defenses) and how that will affect your route,” McClelland said. “He’s always had the raw talent. Now he knows and sees the game. If it’s zone, you sit down in a hole. If it’s man, you’re going to have to carry that route through. Him seeing that stuff is a really good thing.”
While there is no Deondrick Glass toting the ball anymore, the Tigers have three capable running backs in junior Sherman Smith, senior Ron Hoff and junior Jalen Davis. While all bring something different to the table, they are unproven.
“We’re waiting to see which one is going to be our home run hitter,” Joseph said. “But the most important thing that I’ve told them they have to do is make sure they gain four yards at a time. If it’s not going to be one, we’re going to have running back by committee.”
The Tigers are also searching for a fullback, a prominent piece of the running attack. Setting a foundation in games, Joseph said, involves having a fullback and tight end on the field, though he said it is possible the Tigers boast more one-back sets this season than they typically have in the past.
Either way, this much is known. While Katy does have a dynamic passing game, running the ball is still very much essential, particularly when looking up to the titan in southeast Houston that stands in its way.
“Against North Shore, you’re going to have to be able to run the football,” Joseph said. “You can’t be one-dimensional. We had success throwing the ball against them because they play us differently than they play everybody else. They play us to stop the run. When they played Lake Travis, and Lake Travis had no running game, it was 51-10. It allowed them to just sit there and play with their athleticism and put pressure on them, do what they do best. You have to make them be honest and play the run game. We have to do that to be successful.”
Joseph wants to see more movement from his offense. He wants to see more creases created for his backs; there is not a Glass or Rodney Anderson that can create those creases on their own. He desperately wants more physicality, and a belief from players that they can win any matchup.
But Joseph also likes seeing his receivers running better routes. He likes the chemistry between McClelland and his pass-catchers. And he likes the timing and rhythm with which the passing game flows.
“Last year, we had a big asset with Deondrick,” Patrick said. “Without Deondrick, I’m not saying we don’t have good running backs, but Deondrick was Deondrick. Without him, it will fall on us (receivers) a lot more. It’s not pressure, but there’s faith and trust in us. I’m ready.”