Katy High School, Tigers, Taylor High School, Mustangs, SMU, NCAA, Texas high school football, Katy ISD

SMU’s Clemons, Howerton excited for homecoming

By DENNIS SILVA II, Times Sports Editor
Posted 10/23/19

Every now and then, SMU junior offensive lineman Hayden Howerton and senior defensive back Rodney Clemons will bring up the good ol’ days, when Howerton was sporting the red of Katy High and Clemons was donning the blue of Taylor High.

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Katy High School, Tigers, Taylor High School, Mustangs, SMU, NCAA, Texas high school football, Katy ISD

SMU’s Clemons, Howerton excited for homecoming

Posted

Every now and then, SMU junior offensive lineman Hayden Howerton and senior defensive back Rodney Clemons will bring up the good ol’ days, when Howerton was sporting the red of Katy High and Clemons was donning the blue of Taylor High.

They’ve come a long way since.

Howerton is a starting left guard for 7-0 and No. 16 SMU, which plays the University of Houston at TDECU Stadium at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24, on ESPN. Clemons is arguably the Mustangs’ defensive leader, boasting the potential to be selected in next spring’s NFL Draft.

Both are eager to come back home and show off a rejuvenated Mustangs program that is thriving under second-year head coach Sonny Dykes.

“We both know how special it is to be able to go back and play where you’re from,” said Howerton, a 2017 graduate of Katy High. “Rodney and I talk about the Katy ISD days, playing in a really good district, and just all the fun stories that come out of high school. I feel like everybody in college holds on to high school as far as it being a part of their identity. It’s what makes you different from everybody else.

“A lot of times, me and the guys talk about who had the best high school team, and being from Katy … that’s a pretty fun conversation. I win those all the time.”

Clemons said this year feels like his senior year of high school.

It was then, under then-head coach Trey Herrmann, that Clemons decided to play football again after not playing his sophomore and junior seasons. That senior season at Taylor in 2014, the Mustangs made the playoffs to snap a three-year drought, establishing a tradition of winning that continues to this day as Taylor is in line to make its fifth playoff appearance in six years.

“My senior year at Katy Taylor, we really got things going and helped turn it into what it is today,” said Clemons, a 2015 graduate of Taylor High. “It’s kind of like I’m a senior again in high school with how we’re turning things around here at SMU. Everybody is bought in. Everybody takes it one step at a time, one week at a time. You see fans coming out. The stadium is fuller than it’s ever been. There’s a buzz about SMU around Dallas. It’s great being a part of this. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Clemons is a unique story. He played football in little league, junior high and his freshman year at Cinco Ranch. He was primarily a running back and receiver. But he tore his patella tendon his freshman year and, for reasons he can’t explain today, decided not to play football after transferring to Taylor High. Herrmann encouraged him his senior year to come out for the team and play safety.

Until then, Clemons had never played on the defensive side of the ball. But Herrmann, a former safety himself, saw an explosiveness about Clemons that he knew he had to have on his team.

That senior year, Clemons had 115 tackles, six pass breakups and five interceptions.

“I went out there my senior year, got a few awards, accolades, and ended up getting a scholarship to SMU,” Clemons said. “I give a lot of credit to coach Trey Herrmann. I was skeptical at first about playing defense; I considered myself an offensive player. I like to score touchdowns. But he showed me I could have a future in the game playing defense.”

The 6-foot, 205-pound Clemons has excelled at SMU. This season, he has 31 total tackles, three interceptions and a fumble recovery. He credits his good instincts and hard work in the film room for getting him up to speed on the position during a relatively late stage of his career.

“Instead of just working with coverage drills and tackling drills, I try and get into the film room as much as I can to understand what offenses want to do,” Clemons said. “If you understand what you do, you play 100 times faster. I can see formations and alignments and what will take place. The spacing between receivers and running backs, I can tell if it’s run or pass. It just clicks for me.”

Howerton (6-3, 290) is playing left guard after starting all 12 games last season at center. He also played left guard the six games he started late during his freshman year in 2017, which is the last time SMU visited Houston to play the Cougars.

“The first time, I was still getting adjusted,” Howerton said. “I wasn’t a full-time starter yet at that point. It was more about just helping the team in any way that I could. Now, being a starter and being a leader, it’s personal. Being able to lead these guys to go back to Houston, where I’m from, is awesome. To be able to put on a show on national television on Thursday night, and be in front of friends and family, and compete at a high level … this is the most excited I’ve been to play these guys.”

Howerton said this is a more developed, more mature SMU team than it was then.

“What makes Katy special is you expect to win every single game,” he said. “At SMU, now that we’re winning, that expectation is starting to carry over. We expect to win; you expect to figure out the game plan and how you’re going to execute it. The carryover of being on a winning high school team and being able to handle success that way has helped me handle the success we’ve had this year.”

Howerton describes himself the same way, developed and matured, particularly in his progress as a leader, where he said he has more of a “player-player” relationship with teammates opposed to “player-coach.” At Katy, Howerton admits he was too “hard-stoned” and did not know how to separate his presence on the field from off the field. Now he has learned to hold teammates accountable while still being personable with them.

Howerton has helped anchor a front that paves way for a running game that averages 205.7 yards per game, at 4.2 yards per carry. Twenty-two of SMU’s 40 offensive touchdowns have come on the ground.

SMU has quietly established a pipeline to Katy. Aside from Howerton and Clemons, freshman linebacker Garrett Madison (Katy High) and freshman defensive lineman Alex Sickafoose (St. John XXIII) are on the team.

It is very much a grand homecoming.

“It’s going to be real fun,” Clemons said. “Houston and SMU has always been a nice little rivalry. Houston has never won here and we’ve never won down there, so this will be a good test again. It’s a toss-up every year between us two. Two great teams. It’s exciting to come back home.”

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