This weekend, the Texas high school football playoffs began with a bang as teams across the state embarked on their dreams of eventually reaching AT&T Stadium for the final game of the season. On Thursday, I chose to cover DeSoto's bi-district matchup against Killeen Harker Heights. On the following day, I elected to watch the Temple Wildcats host the Waxahachie Indians. Both matchups were enticing due to an abundance of talent, featuring a handful of Texas targets.
Playoffs Round 1:
Our first matchup of the weekend was stacked with Division 1 talent. For example, on the DeSoto sideline, I was keeping an eye on 2023 four-star wide receiver Johntay Cook and 2024 four-star defensive lineman Caleb Mitchell. Both Cook and Mitchell possess offers from the Longhorns and are among the top recruits in the state. For Harker Heights, I was looking forward to seeing 2023 three-star offensive lineman Jaydon Chatman and 2023 running back Re'Shaun Sanford.
Starting off the scoring action, Eagles senior quarterback Matthew Allen found Johntay Cook in the back of the end zone with a first quarter touchdown pass. On this play, Cook was facing single-man coverage and made the Harker Heights defense pay mightily. In the second quarter, the Eagles duo struck again when Allen found Cook for another touchdown pass on a slant pattern.
On the defensive side of the ball, Caleb Mitchell helped create pressure up front, forcing Knights sophomore quarterback Dylan Plake to get rid of the football early. However, Harker Heights offensive lineman Jaydon Chatman held his own when Mitchell was lined up across from him. Overall, the Mitchell versus Chatman matchup was a pretty entertaining subset of the game. The Harker Heights coaching staff did a decent job of game planning for Mitchell, particularly by avoiding his side of the field with their play calls.
For the Knights on offense, Re'Shaun Sanford showcased a good mixture of speed and strength, even though he is listed at 5'9" and 170 pounds. The junior running back rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Currently, Sanford holds scholarship offers from North Texas, Central Arkansas, Illinois State and Louisiana-Monroe. But, Sanford might very well end up being a recruit to watch as his stock rises, especially when you consider the fact that he rushed for 2,330 yards and 27 touchdowns this season.
Despite Sanford's impressive night, the Eagles were simply too dominant for Harker Heights, running away with a 65-28 victory.
Now, we will switch gears and look at the Waxahachie versus Temple matchup. I was very excited to see both teams play at Wildcat Stadium in Temple, in large part due to the fact that I had never seen either of these programs.
Sparking Temple's offense, junior athlete Mikal Harrison-Pilot provided a different look against Waxahachie when he was inserted at quarterback. In fact, Mikal was able to give the Wildcats a 14-7 lead just before halftime after scoring a touchdown on a 30-yard quarterback draw. Additionally, Harrison-Pilot was able to make a couple of plays on the ground and through the air, both passing and receiving, illustrating his versatile nature.
Along with a decent offensive performance, the Wildcats defense was even more impressive. One player that caught my eye was senior defensive end Tommy Torres, who stands in at 6'5" and 255 pounds. Torres was making plays at, or near, the line of scrimmage all night and created a tremendous amount of havoc for Indians junior quarterback Roderick Hartsfield Jr.
Unfortunately, Hartsfield was getting banged up left and right and needed multiple injury timeouts throughout the game. However, the junior quarterback showed a lot of heart and left it all on the field. One bright spot for the Indians was Hartfield's rapport with senior tight end Joseph Lankford, who had a handful of catches, including one for a touchdown late in the third quarter.
Despite the effort from Waxahachie, Temple senior running back Samari Howard helped to propel the Wildcats to a 28-14 win thanks to a monstrous game in which he rushed for 193 yards and 2 touchdowns.
To begin, the state of Texas is filled with playmaking talent in the 2023 recruiting cycle. One of these playmakers, DeSoto's Johntay Cook, is definitely someone who would be fun to envision under Steve Sarkisian's offense at Texas. The talented wide receiver currently has 34 offers from schools such as Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma - so the Longhorns have their work cut out for them.
Like I said earlier, I was also looking forward to watching 2024 four-star defensive lineman Caleb Mitchell. As of today, Mitchell holds 11 scholarship offers from schools such as Baylor and Texas A&M. Who was the last defensive lineman that the Longhorns landed from DeSoto? That would be Longhorns freshman defensive lineman Byron Murphy, who was in attendance on the DeSoto sideline. If Mitchell can prove to be as productive of a player as Murphy, he will be a tremendous haul for any college coach.
For Harker Heights, both Jaydon Chatman and Re'Shaun Sanford will be two recruits to monitor over time. Against DeSoto, Chatman welcomed the challenge of lining up across from Mitchell and used his 6'4" and 286 pound frame to his advantage at left tackle. In September, the Longhorns became the first school to offer Chatman. Now, schools such as Baylor and Oklahoma have also jumped into the race for the junior offensive lineman. Chatman's teammate, Re'Shaun Sanford has looked good all season and is certainly deserving of more offers before he graduates in 2023 as well.
Lastly, looking at Temple's athletes, Mikal Harrison-Pilot is the name to know for Longhorns fans. In my opinion, Mikal has the ability to play on either side of the ball, however he predominantly contributes to his team on offense. Moreover, Harrison-Pilot holds 36 college offers and will have no shortage of schools to consider.
The Temple defense has a number of athletes that are worth looking at for college recruiters, however, as I mentioned earlier, the one that stood out on Friday was senior defensive end Tommy Torres. To the best of my knowledge, I do not believe that Torres has received any scholarship offers to this date. As a result, Torres could truly become a diamond in the rough for a college football program in need of some size and athleticism on the defensive line.