The idea, five years ago, was for the two junior high school boys to play a simple game of catch.
Meet up after school or in the summer, toss the football around a little bit when they could.
On one end, there was eighth grader Chase Allison, the son of Robinson football coach Tommy Allison, throwing the ball.
On the other, there was Braxton Ashcraft, one year younger, catching it.
What’s that thing people say about humble beginnings?
“They have a great connection,” Tommy Allison said. “They do surprise you … sometimes you just have to sit back and it’s like ‘Wow, how did that happen?’
“You can call a play expecting one thing to happen and something different happens that ends up in a touchdown. The quarterback knows the offense. The receiver is a great route runner who sees where the grass is. Put those two things together and there you go.”
Put those things together and you have one of the state’s — and the nation’s — elite duos on a high school football field, as Robinson (8-2) prepares to open the Class 4A Division II playoffs against Caldwell (5-5) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in College Station.
Allison, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior, has thrown for 3,933 yards and 51 touchdowns this season — third in the state and sixth in the nation according to the MaxPreps statistical index.
Both players started last season as Robinson went 1-9.
“It all started in the offseason, with the extra work and extra hours,” said Chase Allison, who signed to play golf for Abilene Christian on Wednesday. “That ties directly into how good we’re doing right now. The most powerful thing was putting in the work.”
Work is one thing, the importance of which can’t be understated, but another thing has been the emergence of Ashcraft as a once-in-a-generation type of athlete.
The 6-foot-5, 195-pound junior is second in the nation in receiving with 92 catches for 1,937 yards and 34 touchdowns, trailing only Tyler Bishop Gorman’s Judah Bell.
He is a unique blend of size and speed — he runs the 40-yard dash around 4.6 seconds — and pass-catching ability that has proven almost impossible to defend this season, despite dealing with an injured left hand for most of the year.
Last week, doctors said the hand was fully healed.
“It’s pretty humbling, honestly, to look at all the other great players and their stats and to see my name with them,” Ashcraft said. “The thing I think about the most is that I’m lucky to get to play with Chase, because he’s one heck of a quarterback.”
According to Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, Ashcraft’s seven touchdowns in a season-opening win over Taylor were the second-highest single-game total in state history.
His 34 touchdowns — double Bell’s 17 — are the second-highest single-season total in state history, trailing Tren’Davian Dickson’s 39 touchdowns for Navasota in 2014. Ashcraft’s 1,937 receiving yards are sixth on the state’s single-season list and just 54 yards behind Austin Westlake’s Ryan Read, who had 1,993 yards in 1996.
He’s only 11 catches away from tying Copperas Cove’s Phillip Baptiste and Datyon’s AJ Dugat for 10th on the single-season list for receptions.
“There are specific things we’ve worked on, like knowing where the ball needs to go,” Chase Allison said. “But there are other things he does that you can’t plan for, like last game I put one out there I didn’t think he was going to get to and he laid out and grabbed it with one hand. Or if I throw a bad pass, he’ll come back and break it up even if he doesn’t catch it … he’s saved me from a couple of interceptions, that’s for sure.”
All qualities that would seem to make Ashcraft a can’t-miss college prospect, maybe 30 to 40 pounds away from being the type of wide receiver/tight end hybrid that the nation’s best teams covet.
But that’s the thing — Ashcraft’s future seems to point away from football altogether. Maybe even away from college.
That’s because Ashcraft, is an even more unique baseball prospect. Last season, he was named to the Super Centex baseball team as a sophomore after hitting .419 and going 6-0 as a pitcher. He has made an oral commitment to play baseball for Baylor.
This summer, he was clocked throwing the ball 95 miles per hour and can continually hit between 92-94 during games. Pro scouts have started to take notice and have already begun to contact Ashcraft and his parents. It’s not hard to imagine his name being called in the 2018 Major League Baseball draft.
“In my living room, as a little kid, my dream was to be like Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw,” Ashcraft said. “Those were the guys I looked up to. To see that dream in front of me is great, but to a degree it’s kind of overwhelming when you think your dreams could actually come true.”
That’s not to say coaches haven’t still tried to gauge Ashcraft’s interest in playing college football.
“It’s funny, because some of them come in and they see him as an outside wide receiver who causes matchup problems,” Tommy Allison said. “And we had another coach that came in and wanted to see if they could put 60 pounds on him and have him play tight end.
“What I want is for him to have the opportunity to do whatever he wants to do, whatever the case may be, that’s what I want for Braxton or Chase or anybody else.”