High School Football

Resilient Tigers ready for ‘actual season’

By Dennis Silva II | Sports Editor
Posted 12/10/20

Because of COVID-19, Katy High has had a handful of football games rescheduled this season. There have been considerably fewer practices as well, and those practices have been, well, different; during a recent two-week period, the Tigers did not tackle.

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High School Football

Resilient Tigers ready for ‘actual season’

Posted

Because of COVID-19, Katy High has had a handful of football games rescheduled this season. There have been considerably fewer practices as well, and those practices have been, well, different; during a recent two-week period, the Tigers did not tackle.

So when Tigers coach Gary Joseph said his team’s greatest stride this season has been its resiliency, it’s not merely coachspeak.

“You get rescheduled five or six times during a season, and it’s easy to throw up your hands and use it as an excuse,” Joseph said. “They’ve had to learn adversity and change is part of growing up. Hopefully, they can take that with them when they go on. But it’s an up and down rollercoaster and being resilient is the biggest thing for them.”

No. 9 state-ranked Katy is 8-1 heading into the Class 6A, Division II playoffs, beginning with its bi-district game Friday, Dec. 11, against 2-5 Elkins at 7 p.m. at Rhodes Stadium. The Tigers were placed in the DII bracket when Seven Lakes beat Cinco Ranch, 30-22, on Dec. 4, putting the Spartans in DI with Tompkins and sending Katy to DII with Taylor.

After his team’s win, Seven Lakes coach Jimmy Hamon joked about expecting a thank-you card from Joseph. The DII bracket is generally considered the lighter road to state, opposed to the big-school titans that consume the DI side. Had Cinco Ranch beaten Seven Lakes, Katy would have been in the Division I bracket.

Division II consists of the smaller enrollment playoff schools from each district. It means Katy will avoid defending state champ North Shore, which has eliminated the Tigers from the playoffs each of the last two seasons, and three of the last four years. Duncanville, the state runner-up in Division I the last two seasons, is also out of the way.

The last time Katy won a state championship was in 2015, which was also the last time it went Division II.

“We don’t really look at that stuff,” senior running back Jalen Davis said. “Say if Cinco would have won, we would’ve gone DI. Regardless, we’re going to focus on ourselves. Whatever is in front of us, we won’t back down.”

That much is certain, and it goes back to Joseph’s satisfaction in his team’s mental toughness. Katy players and coaches have been affected by the coronavirus.

The diligence in protecting the spread has been noteworthy. Joseph said balancing the “necessary evil” of attending to coronavirus protocols with the need/want to work his football team as necessary in order to improve is a delicate measure.

“It’s very hard,” he said. “Everything is new. It’s a day-by-day thing. We’ve had our share (of cases), and we’ve just got to continue working. The great thing about having a good program is you have some depth, so if some get sick you can have others step up. That’s a good thing.”

Indeed, it’s not as if Katy is working with its back against the wall. The Tigers are considered a heavy favorite to come out of the Class 6A Division II playoffs with their ninth state title.

That’s largely because of a potent running attack anchored by Davis and his sophomore younger brother, Seth. Joseph has been able to strategically limit Davis’s carries this season so that he is fresh for the playoffs.

In eight games, Davis has carried the ball 108 times, an average of 13.5 per game. No. 1 backs at Katy have typically averaged around 20-plus carries per game in the past. Last season, Ron Hoff averaged 20.8 carries per game. The year before, Deondrick Glass averaged 20.4.

Davis still compiled 966 yards and 16 touchdowns, and Seth earned invaluable reps and experience as the No. 2 back. Seth had 123 carries for 991 yards and 11 touchdowns. For the first time since 2017, when Katy had Glass and Josh Oglesby sharing duties in the backfield, Katy has a true 1-2 punch at running back.

“We have to have depth at that position,” Joseph said. “When you’re an I-formation and one-back football team like we are, you have to have two backs to be successful. Jalen will be fresh going into the playoffs. Seth is a great complement. We’re looking forward to that part of it.”

As impressive as the running game and offensive line have been, however, the rock of this year’s Tigers is the defense, particularly the line of seniors Cal Varner III and Cohen Dearman, and junior Malick Sylla.

“They’re showing out every game,” senior defensive back Hunter Washington said. “Overall, I think our defense is becoming more of a brotherhood each game, knowing we have to play together if we’re going to win together.”

The Tigers have always had dominant defensive linemen. This year’s, however, look to be on another level. New defensive line coach A.J. Blum, a former D-line coach at the University of Houston who coached current Buffalo Bill Ed Oliver, has been an essential addition because of his demanding style and attention to detail.

“He’s about more intensity, more power,” said Sylla, a five-star prospect. “Putting your hands in the right place, outside shoulder to inside shoulder. Ripping, power stuff. It’s all the little things that can make a difference.”

A prolific running game and a stingy defense. Throw in stout special teams, led by senior punter Fuller Shurtz, senior kicker Nemanja Lazic and junior returner Bobby Taylor. It all sounds familiar.

Battle-tested recipes for success at Katy, and elements that have been backbones for a trying season.

But it will only get more difficult. There will not be rescheduling of games during the playoffs. If a team finds itself affected by COVID-19 and cannot play, it will have to forfeit, and its opponent will get a bye that round.

Just one more drastic hurdle in a season plagued with them.

“It’s been a confusing season, but we never let it get to us,” Davis said. “The virus affects everybody. We hate to see it. We’re going to just keep doing what we can. We’re ready to start the actual season. Everybody is 0-0. We’ve already got our minds ready for what’s ahead of us.”

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