ARLINGTON — One of the Katy football program’s most recognizable products gave the team a speech to remember before Saturday’s Class 6A Division II championship game against Cedar Hill.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton, a Class of 2006 graduate, met with players the morning before kickoff. He shared his story of perseverance, which led to a memorable run to a 5A-II championship game when Dalton was a senior.
“He came from B team, freshman team, and he didn’t start until his senior year,” said Katy senior defensive back Dalton Johnson, sharing a few notes from the conversation. “He mentioned that, and that just let everybody know it’s all worth it to go through this, what we put in.”
Maybe for those outside the program, Katy’s nine state titles — the latest coming from Saturday’s 51-14 win — cover up the workmanlike mentality that spurs the Tigers. Those inside the program know it very well, though.
Katy is the high point for Houston-area high school football after a challenging but rewarding 2020 season for all. The Tigers’ nine state championships are second most in 11-man UIL history. This year’s championship is Katy’s first since 2015.
This marks the fourth consecutive year that a Greater Houston team was crowned a state champion in one of the 6A divisions, following Cy-Fair (2017) and North Shore (2018, 2019). It’s happened five out of the last six years, counting Katy and North Shore’s 2015 triumphs.
Katy won five playoff games by an average of 42 points and outscored its opponents 274-66. Among a litany of all-time great teams within the program, the 2020 version has its own place in Katy lore.
Crosby also deserves a tip of the cap with state championship weekend at a close.
The Cougars played in a state championship game for the first time since 1960. They couldn’t overcome an Aledo team chasing its own bit of history — a state-best 10th title. But Crosby left Arlington with new-found supporters.
A few shades of purple could be seen among the Crosby crowd at AT&T Stadium on Friday. That came from Liberty Hill players and supporters who were invited to make the trip. Members of the Crosby community paid for many of the tickets for guests from Liberty Hill.
Crosby, which defeated Liberty Hill in a 62-61 overtime thriller in the state semifinals, brought the hat and jersey of Liberty Hill coach Jeff Walker with it to Arlington. Walker died in December after a battle with cancer, and his brother, Kent, took over for him. The Crosby Education Foundation also donated money to the team.
“We talk to these kids about how so many more things are more important than football,” Crosby coach Jerry Prieto said. “But we also talk to them about how sports has always been a healer. It’s always been a healer in our community and our country. It will always continue to be as long as we have kids like this.”
Sports are used as a platform, too, and it was evidenced as the socially conscious high school athlete took center stage in 2020. During the national anthem in the football season opener between Shadow Creek and North Shore, a few Shadow Creek players could be seen taking a knee in protest of racial injustice and police brutality. Those types of demonstrations are common from high school athletes these days.
There will be plenty of time to put North Shore quarterback Dematrius Davis’ high school career in the proper perspective. The Auburn signee leaves the east side with 10,536 passing yards, 3,047 rushing yards, 171 touchdowns, 51 wins and two state titles.
North Shore narrowly missed on a three-peat this year, falling to eventual 6A Division I state champion Austin Westlake in the state semifinals. But Davis didn’t need another crown to be mentioned among the greats.
“Dematrius’ legacy already is written,” North Shore coach Jon Kay said after the state semifinals. “It’s the leadership he’s provided us, the work ethic he’s brought, and the hope that he’s delivered to this community and the young kids. If you continue to work and do your thing, you can write your own future. We’re nothing but proud of him.”
It isn’t too early to start thinking about Houston’s next star quarterback. Perhaps it’s Conner Weigman, who helped Bridgeland kick down the door in 2020. Maybe Spring’s Bishop Davenport fills those shoes after dazzling for the Lions this year.
A few story lines for 2021 are already set, such as Heights shifting the power structure in inner-city Houston football. The Bulldogs won 18-6A and ended Lamar’s 72-game win streak in district play. Does Lamar take it back in 2021, or is it truly a new day in Houston ISD?
Even teams that played just one game in 2020 deserve praise. Forty-one states had no high school athletic events within the last year, while teams in the University Interscholastic League powered through a 21-week football season.
Houston wasn’t without its struggles because of the coronavirus. Harris County is still at a red threat level.
Playoff teams George Ranch and Elkins did not get a chance to compete in the postseason because of COVID-19 complications.
Coaches like Hightower’s Joseph Sam missed playoff games over COVID-19 protocols, forced to cheer from afar.
Schedules were torn to pieces. Rivalries were hurt. Attendance suffered everywhere — it was 8,838 for Katy-Cedar Hill, with a capacity of 17,000 at AT&T Stadium.
Teams could be dealing with issues all over again in 2021, but gladly will as long as it means a season can be played.