Dustin Eskew blazed the trail, and China Spring followed.

Eskew, the Cougars’ poised and prolific passer, was the hunting guide for a team that targeted a state football championship long before anyone outside its locker room believed it was possible.

He was far from the only leader on the 3A state finalist squad, but the player Cougars coach Mark Bell called the “trigger man” shot plenty of defenses full of holes, while at times carrying his own team across his shoulder pads.

Eskew won with his gun, his guts and his guile, and it was that combination that made him the Trib’s choice as Offensive Player of the Year on our 53rd annual Super Centex team.

Before Eskew’s junior season in 2006, Bell decided to alter the offense to suit his quarterback’s strengths.

“With Dustin, we felt he was a terrific pocket passer rather than a perimeter passer,” Bell said. “It wasn’t that he couldn’t pass outside of the pocket or make those sprint-out passes, but we felt like we needed to take advantage of the way he stood so tall in the pocket and threw the ball over the middle.”

“The offense we ran before was more of a power-I, more of a running game,” Eskew said. “Then we went to the spread. It fit in well with me, and I enjoyed it.”

It showed. After a 3,047-yard season in 2006, Eskew passed for 3,344 yards and 32 touchdowns with only seven interceptions this year.

Eskew said that it didn’t hurt that he had plenty of sticky-fingered targets at which to take aim. Those included junior Mike Hicks, an Offensive Player of the Year candidate in his own right who might as well have been cloaked in Velcro.

“I knew there was not one single person who was going to outplay him,” said Eskew of Hicks, who made 89 catches for 1,462 yards and 13 TDs. “He wasn’t going to let them get the ball. If he didn’t catch it, nobody would. I knew he was one of those players who could go get the ball whenever he needed to.”

When Eskew wasn’t firing bullets all over the field, he was using his feet to march through defenses. Though known more for his passing, the senior also amassed 802 rushing yards.

No run lifted the Cougars’ spirits more than Eskew’s final carry in the 3A Region III final against La Vega. With his team trailing 28-24, Eskew laid it all on the line, eluding a pair of blitzing Pirate defenders before scampering for nine yards and the winning score, the final few feet coming on a swan dive over a tackler to the pylon.

“That play was set up to be a shallow crossing route,” Bell said. “To be honest, it was the exact same play Vince Young ran to win the national championship a couple of years ago. It was a shallow crosser that cleared open one side and created a void in the defense, giving Dustin a chance to get to the corner. I think Vince Young would have done the same thing Dustin did, with his whole season laid before him. . . . It was a great football play.”

That soaring score not only vaulted the Cougars over previously unbeaten La Vega, but led by Eskew, they kept on floating all the way to the state title game against perennial power Celina.

Eskew said that while he didn’t consider himself the only leader the Cougars had, he embraced that responsibility when needed.

“I think the team looked up to me as a senior, and also playing quarterback, I think that played a big role,” he said. “I knew the shoes I had to fill, and I knew I had to be there.”

It’s that authority in the huddle, coupled with his athletic gifts, that would seemingly make Eskew a natural fit for some college football program. As of today, he plans to play baseball collegiately instead, though he admitted he could change his mind “depending on the school” that came calling.

Though China Spring fell short against Celina, 21-14, Eskew is pleased with the legacy his team leaves.

“Every day I look back and am proud of it,” he said. “I’m very happy with what we did. I know now they’re talking about, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go back again.’ ”

Defensive Player of the Year Will Henry, La Vega

Will Henry lives his life with emotion, with passion. That includes when life spills over onto the football field.

So if he’s such an emotional guy, why is always the other team that ends up crying?

Henry, a senior linebacker at La Vega, didn’t just tackle people — he punished them. The linchpin of La Vega’s stifling defense, Henry pounded his way to 180 tackles, four sacks, six forced fumbles, three recoveries, six batted passes and 18 quarterback pressures.

And he did so with an all-consuming fire, the only way he knows how to play.

“I play with tons of intensity,” Henry said. “That’s just how the game should be played. You should be fired up every snap, because if you’re not, then you’re going to get run over.”

“Will is the guy everybody feeds off of,” La Vega coach Willie Williams said. “He’s a guy you don’t have to get ready to play. He’s self-motivated.”

That motivation manifested itself in hits that would make a masochist wince. At his inside linebacker spot, Henry was a wrecking ball with a temper.

“Everybody fed off those jarring tackles he made,” Williams said. “People knew that if they didn’t watch out, he was going to hit you.”

“It’s fun (making big hits), because then they’re just going to be scared of me the next play,” Henry said. “They’re going to be juking and when they see me, they’re just going to fold up. That’s how I do it.”

Even off the field, Henry wears his emotions on his sleeve. Henry said he was positive the Pirates were headed for a state title, and he still feels a sense of emptiness knowing that dream was derailed by their 31-28 regional final loss to China Spring.

“We went undefeated until that game,” he said. “Everybody in Waco knows we could have won it, but I guess our hearts weren’t there. Because if we really would have wanted it, we would have won it.”

Henry plans to extend his playing career onto Saturdays, and Williams is confident his defensive leader can be a star at the next level, too. He certainly won’t lack for zeal.

“My goal is to play in college, and I can promise you I’m going to keep playing hard,” Henry said.

Coach of the Year Mark Waggoner, Reicher

It’s not often one gets a second chance to make an impression. But Reicher found itself in that fortunate position 14 weeks into its football season, drawing a rematch against Grapevine Faith, which dealt them a stinging 28-6 loss in Week 10.

And what an impression the Cougars made. Flying to the ball, Reicher knocked Grapevine Faith’s top two quarterbacks out of the game with devastating tackles en route to a 41-7 state title victory.

“We were just hammering them,” said Reicher coach Mark Waggoner, who guided the Cougars to a TAPPS state crown for the second time in four years. “It was like, ‘Oooooo! Oh, gosh!’ You almost felt sorry for them. . . . Our kids wanted it bad.”

Credit Waggoner and his coaching staff for stoking the Cougars’ smoldering fire. Leading up to the state final rematch, the coaches plastered articles and Internet comments about the teams’ first meeting all over the locker room.

Waggoner said he’s a better motivator today than he was back in 1996, his first year as a head coach.

“When I was young, oh lordy, your expectations are out of whack,” he said. “When you’re at a smaller school, you don’t have that abundance of talent. If you’re a coach that starts at a smaller school, you’re going to be successful later on, because you have to learn to coach. You can’t just run ‘Toss’ and be successful.

“You’re going to have to coach technique, you’re going to have to become a psychologist. Luckily, my mother is.”

Reicher’s season was so special, so miraculous at times — the Cougars recovered four onside kicks in a row in a 27-13 win over Franklin in the season-opener — that it almost seemed predestined.

“Sometimes at Reicher, we’re just blessed,” Waggoner said. “Sister Natalie, our nun who sits at the state game, I’m sure she had an extra-special blessing for us. . . . So, divine intervention on our side? I’d like to think so.”

Offensive Newcomer John Hubert, Midway

There may not have been a player more ready to play varsity football in 2007 than Midway junior tailback John Hubert.

Forced into JV duty the previous season following a transfer from Waco High, Hubert proved he was well worth the wait, running for 1,747 yards and 22 touchdowns to propel the Panthers into the playoffs.

While fans raved over Hubert’s talent, the Midway coaches fell in love with his attitude. It became a common sight to see Hubert patting his linemen on the back after a run.

“I always thank those linemen, because without them, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing,” Hubert said. “Whether I get a touchdown or a five-yard loss, I still tell the line, ‘Good job,’ because there’s always another play.”

Defensive Newcomer Hector Rodriguez, McGregor

Like Hubert, McGregor’s Hector Rodriguez was forced to play JV ball as a sophomore following a transfer from Class 5A San Benito, where he played varsity as a freshman.

“Hector on the JV wasn’t fair to other teams,” McGregor coach Tim Seward said.

Finally unleashed on local varsity competition this season, Rodriguez racked up 193 tackles and eight sacks and was named District 21-2A MVP.

“Hector has a great nose for the football,” Seward said. “When the ball is snapped, he seems to be around. He likes playing two yards deep in the backfield.”

757-5714

2007 Super Centex Football Team

FIRST TEAM
Offense
Pos Player Cl Ht Wt School
QB Dustin Eskew Sr 6-2 205 China Spring
RB Chris Parr So 5-10 180 La Vega
RB Troy Vital Sr 6-1 190 Copp. Cove
WR Mike Hicks Jr 5-10 175 China Spring
WR Taylor Higdon Sr 5-10 150 China Spring
TE Andrew Mocio Sr 6-4 200 Reicher
UT Robert Griffin Sr 6-3 190 Copp. Cove
OL Daryl Curl Jr 6-1 300 La Vega
OL Logan Merhinger Sr 6-3 275 Teague
OL Kie Yezak Sr 6-3 250 Bremond
OL Dallas Butts Sr 6-3 275 Salado
OL Taylor Madden Sr 6-1 210 Reicher
K James French Jr 5-9 170 China Spring
RS Tony Allen Sr 5-11 185 Meridian
Defense
Pos Player Cl Ht Wt School
DL Ryan Boutwell Jr 6-3 230 China Spring
DL Andrew Weaver Jr 6-3 210 Waco High
DL Quentin Horn Sr 6-2 255 Waco High
DL James Quebedeaux Sr 6-0 185 Meridian
LB Will Henry Sr 5-10 215 La Vega
LB Michael Bigelow Sr 6-3 185 La Vega
LB Tanner Brock Jr 6-4 210 Copp. Cove
LB Michael Martinez Sr 5-9 180 Bremond
DB Kenneth Cluley Jr 5-11 185 Reicher
DB Victor Johnson Sr 6-1 180 Waco High
DB Austin Cleere Sr 5-10 175 Robinson
DB Aaron Doyle Jr 6-3 210 Evant
P Nick Baker Sr 5-11 205 Fairfield
(click for videos)
Offensive Player of the Year: Dustin Eskew, QB, China Spring
Defensive Player of the Year: Will Henry, LB, La Vega
Offensive Newcomer of the Year: John Hubert, RB, Midway
Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Hector Rodriguez, LB, McGregor
Coach of the Year: Mark Waggoner, Reicher
SECOND TEAM
Offense
Pos Player Cl Ht Wt School
QB Lee McClendon Sr 5-10 192 Mart
RB James Green Jr 5-11 205 Teague
RB Jarred Salubi Sr 5-10 191 Waco High
WR Tralyn Harden Sr 5-9 165 Itasca
WR Travis Petty Sr 6-0 205 Bosqueville
TE Trey Graham Jr 6-5 210 Midway
UT Lache Seastrunk So 5-11 175 Temple
OL Anthony Mackey Jr 6-3 265 Copp. Cove
OL Grant Gonzalez Sr 6-0 195 Crawford
OL Alex Nasseri Sr 5-10 280 Temple
OL Jayson Barney Sr 6-1 285 Troy
OL Quentin Tasby Sr 6-2 215 Marlin
K Ben Baecker Jr 5-7 150 Rogers
RS Dalton Piske Jr 6-1 177 Valley Mills
Defense
Pos Player Cl Ht Wt School
DL Matthew Phillips Sr 5-10 230 Marlin
DL Steven Welch Sr 6-1 275 Copp. Cove
DL Trenton Anderson Jr 6-3 225 Bremond
DL Talon Rigney Sr 6-1 235 West
LB Bradley Hardcastle Jr 6-1 190 Meridian
LB Colt Sanders Sr 5-11 205 Robinson
LB Cameron Blenden Sr 6-3 200 Crawford
LB Rigo Reyes Jr 5-6 160 Hillsboro
DB Korey Moore Sr 6-0 165 La Vega
DB Germaine Gilbert Sr 6-0 175 Midway
DB Taylor Holmes Sr 5-8 160 Crawford
DB Torrence Allen Jr 6-2 165 Meridian
P Corey Holmes So 6-4 175 Midway
HONORABLE MENTION

Quarterbacks: LiDarral Bailey, Bremond; Chris Cobb, Connally; Quinton Davis, Hillsboro; Stephen Chapman, Hubbard; Mikey Marshall, Itasca; Alijawon White, Killeen; Danzel Wilson, La Vega; Joe Seward, McGregor; Todd Glaesmann, Midway; Braden Embry, Riesel; David Rosenau, Salado; Quentin Coleman, Teague; Jacob McMurtry, Troy; Randy Price, University; Jarrod Harris, West

Running backs: Keith Daniels, Belton; Rickie Williams and Todd Crawford, Bremond; Miles Adanandus, Bosqueville; Lathan Andrews, Clifton; Brock Duncan and Jordan Farmer, Crawford; Gavan Bass and Eric Palmer, Fairfield; Jorden Lowe, Hamilton; Wayman Goodley, Hillsboro; Desmond Guy, Itasca; Kourtney Parr, La Vega; Travis Miller and Antonio Moore, Marlin; Qualin Brown, McGregor; Seth Mogavero, Robinson; Jordan Hayes and Jeremy Conrad, Troy; Adrian Reaves-Brown, Temple; Marquise Hughes, University; Bronshae'Keon Dugas, Waco High

Wide receivers: Jeremy Baker, Bremond; Josh Boyce, Copperas Cove; Kyle Reineke, Larry Smith and Marcus Thompson, McGregor; Chase Amick, Mexia; Ben Crenwelge, Reicher; Heston Krumnow, Riesel; Vencent Finley and Demarcus Hicks, University

Tight ends: Luke Mojica, Bosqueville; John Speights, Mexia; Dylan Tanner, Riesel; Blake Heller, Salado; Jacob Smith, Teague

Offensive linemen: John Murphy and Zach Nelson, Bosqueville; Justin Lopez, Bremond; Troy Baker and Jeff Thomas, Connally; Sean Robertson, Copperas Cove; Eli Pratt, Fairfield; Marcus Banks, Harker Heights; David Grant, Killeen; Keith Monroe, Mart; Craig Smith, Meridian; Malcolm Proctor and Jarrod Pollard, Mexia; Ty Horn and Zach Northern, Midway; Joe Flores, Reicher; Chase Stuckey, Salado; Brent Gunn, Temple; Ben Cash, Texas Christian; Demaurea Hughes, University

Kickers: Miguel Hernandez, Clifton; Wesley Rogers, Meridian; Eric Wallace, Riesel; Chris Winkler, Temple

Return specialist: Gage Perkins, Axtell

Defensive linemen: Joe Phillips, Bosqueville; Rickie Williams, Bremond; Bradley Calderon, Clifton; Scott Dent, Crawford; Geoff Neal, Copperas Cove; Seth LeBlanc, Hamilton; Terrance Harris, Harker Heights; Carlos Johnson, Hubbard; Tim Kemp, La Vega; Demetrius Daniels, Killeen; Rustin Thompson, McGregor; Austin Townley, Meridian; Michael Gamble, Mexia; Allen Dixon, Midway; Sean Gallagher and Derreck Maxey, Riesel; Evan Grimes, Texas Christian; Chaisson Holloway, University; Josh Hicks, Waco High

Linebackers: David Johnson, Bosqueville; Justin Williams, Bremond; Toby Williams, China Spring; Logan Poston, Clifton; Dexter Fulbright and T.J. Johnson, Connally; Bobby Cook, Harker Heights; Courtney Robinson, Hillsboro; Jay Lyndell, Hubbard; Bryan Holloway, Killeen; Willie Moore, Marlin; Harvey Lee, McGregor; Ross Rasner, Reicher; Steven Butcher, Riesel; Josh Bush, Salado; Derrick Davis and Cody Monsen, Temple; Tim Weatherly, Texas Christian; Dejarvis Young, Tyrel Dever and Antonio Neal, University; Landon Winn, Valley Mills; Calvin Kettler, West

Defensive backs: Michael Stranacher, Axtell; Chris Miller, Copperas Cove; Amad Dixon and Matt Davis, Midway; John Crawford, Riesel; Matt Fritsch, Salado; Robert Black, Temple; Mitchell Beck, Troy; Rondal Smith and Marcus Young, University

Punters: Cory Tucker, Axtell; Dylan Goforth, Clifton; Dusty Keller, Riesel; Chase Moore, Temple

Newcomers: Cody Feight, Bosqueville; Jerry Johnson and Royce Shell, Connally; Kody Johnson, Crawford; Shawn McKinney, Hubbard; Trae Davis, Mexia; Isaiah Thompson, Texas Christian; Jeff Neese, Whitney

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