It was during her freshman year that Cinco Ranch senior Sophie Atkinson was dealt an awakening of sorts.
A metatarsal fracture limited Atkinson to two cross country meets during that year. Then she suffered a stress fracture to another metatarsal on the same foot that wiped out her track season.
But after eventually coming to terms with the devastation of two setbacks within months of each other, Atkinson found a wat to move forward. She leaned on her faith. Her focus turned to becoming a better teammate. And, most importantly, she realized there was a lot more to her life than running.
On the first day of what promises to be a different and adaptive school year for Katy ISD because of drastic accommodations due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19, Katy High slugger Olivia McFadden showed she’s got no problem with change.
McFadden, the Tigers’ Class of 2021 hard-hitting third baseman and 2019 state champion, decommitted from UTSA and verbally committed to Purdue on Wednesday. On Oct. 12 of last year, McFadden verbally committed to the Roadrunners, noting the coaching staff’s genuine interest in her personal development, on and off the field, as well as the program’s commitment to improving athletic performance through sport science and technology.
But McFadden started entertaining the prospect of playing at Purdue when the coaching staff reached out to her travel ball coach to express interest a couple of weeks ago.
The first four plays on Taylor senior safety Trevor Woods’ recruiting highlight tape are interceptions. All returned for touchdowns. All from one season.
“And a couple at key points, too,” Taylor coach Chad Simmons gushed over Woods’ heroics last season. “Real key points. Three in the playoffs. Like, what? Say what? You look at that tape and they’re the first four plays and you’re like, ‘Dang!’”
The 6-foot-2, 202-pound Woods plays the “rover” in the Mustangs’ 4-2-5 defensive scheme. It’s basically the strong safety. For some other teams, it’s the nickelback. For Taylor, it’s its best tackler.
Simmons schemes his defense to “bounce the ball” toward Woods, allowing him to do what he does best—make plays and get it back for the offense. Last season, Woods did just that, compiling 165 total tackles with eight sacks, five interceptions, five fumbles caused and a fumble recovery for the Class 6A Division II state semifinalist Mustangs.
Colby Huerter is a two-time Class 6A all-state selection. A bruising, athletic 6-foot-1, 190-pound safety, he is a prolific stat-stuffer for Tompkins’ defense, averaging 6.2 tackles per game with 10 interceptions, a fumble recovery and a fumble caused in 26 games over the last two seasons.
Even more impressive than his physical ability, however, is his guile. One of my favorite plays—of any high school athlete I’ve covered in my 15 years in sportswriting—is this heads-up save during a game against Cinco Ranch two years ago.
“My approach to being a safety is to know your opponents better than they know themselves,” the incoming senior said. “So, when it comes to game time, there is not a lot of thinking on my part, just reacting. My mindset is to give maximum effort 100 percent of the time.”
As the country is engulfed in a pandemic threatening the fall sports season, Katy High senior defensive back Dalton Johnson considers himself fortunate.
Though on-campus and in-person recruiting visits were not permitted during the spring because of COVID-19, Johnson verbally committed to continue his career and play for the University of Arizona a little more than a month ago. His future will not be dependent upon a senior campaign that is in jeopardy.
“It’s such a relief off my shoulders,” Johnson said. “Definitely with the pandemic, it kind of sped things up for me a bit. I was originally going to wait (to commit) until I go on a visit or something, but COVID kind of messed that up. It wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t rushed or anything. I knew it was the right time.
“I wanted to make sure I secured a spot, and looking at Arizona it was a perfect fit.”
Tompkins coach Todd McVey remembers it well to this day.
Then-sophomore Marquis Shoulders, a transfer from Cypress Springs, misread the ball on a kick return in his first junior varsity home game in 2018. Shoulders was clearly frustrated, and McVey approached him to have a quick chat.
“It was his first time out there and he kind of fumbled it a bit,” McVey said. “He got frustrated and I had to give him a talk on the sideline. It was that year of learning for him. That JV year was really good for him. He was our MVP and he got to key in on his craft and it paid off for him.”
Cinco Ranch junior offensive lineman Ethan Onianwa recently verbally committed to Rice. It was somewhat of a surprise, considering Onianwa only has 10 games of varsity football under his belt and his recruiting process was stunted by restrictions due to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
“The current coronavirus outbreak affected my recruiting experience a lot,” Onianwa said. “Due to the current epidemic, I wasn’t able to visit colleges and have coaches come to our spring practices. It most definitely made it harder to learn about programs from the players and coaches there.”
COVID-19 prevented college coaches from going on the road to recruit and closed campuses, which disallowed visits by recruits. It also canceled spring football, a time of the year when college coaches can visit high school campuses to watch practices and talk to high school coaches about players.
Still, Onianwa was able to secure his future in a sport he only started taking seriously in middle school, in large part because he’s a tantalizing physical prospect. Onianwa stands 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds. He’s also only 16 years old.
More nerve-wracking than any pressure shot was the recruiting obstacles a global pandemic presented to Tompkins senior golfer Zach Asaro this spring.
When the high school golf season was postponed in mid-March and then eventually canceled less than a month later, it stunted an impressive season for Asaro, an all-district performer. He was hoping to strut his swing at the district and, hopefully, regional and state meets, searching for a scholarship offer from a bigger school after receiving interest from NAIA and NCAA Division III programs.
Those meets never took place. But Asaro, through persistent mobile and virtual contact with University of New Orleans men’s golf coach Jeff Lorio and leaning upon the faith and trust of sights and a program unseen, earned that shot at a better school, committing May 1 to play for the Privateers, a NCAA Division I program in the Southland Conference.