Every morning during the summer, CJ Williams’ cell phone would ring. On the other end was his quarterback Tanner Mordecai, offering a wakeup call before they gathered for workouts.
Six months later, Williams and his receiving colleagues on Midway’s state-bound football team are providing a wakeup call to the state.
Inside the Midway locker room, the Panthers felt a certain assurance that their receiving corps could be one of the most dangerous in all of Texas in 2017. But in their eyes, the outside perception differed vastly. In the parlance of the modern teenager, it’s known as being “slept on” – when people aren’t paying attention to the gifts and talents you possess.
To the Panther receivers, people were oblivious to their ability. But if they’re not awake by now, they might as well be Rip Van Winkle.
“I feel like a lot of teams, based on how we finished last year, kind of underrated us,” senior tight end David Priebe said.
Added Williams: “We’ve proved everybody wrong.”
We talk Tanner Mordecai and the offense, Jaxon Player and the defense, Midway's run to the state title game and more Panthers football.
Mordecai has launched 48 touchdown passes on the season heading into Midway’s Class 6A Division II state title matchup with Cy-Fair on Saturday. Midway doesn’t run an option offense, but in a way the Panthers kind of do.
Because everywhere Mordecai looks when he surveys the field, he has options.
Really special options.
“I couldn’t be more excited about the guys that I have,” Mordecai said. “CJ Williams is a big-time wide receiver that I think deserves a Division I offer. D’Ante Thomas, David Priebe, Cobe Burch, Dart (Smith) and (Demarcus) Degrate. I couldn’t be happier with the guys that I have, and I love playing with those guys.”
Williams has emerged not only as Mordecai’s most prolific target, but one of the top receivers in Midway history. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound senior has snagged 88 catches for 1,535 yards and a school record-tying 20 touchdowns on the year. Yet Williams has been mostly overlooked by college recruiters. He picked up his first offer from Northwestern Oklahoma earlier this week, and has since added offers from UT-Permian Basin and Angelo State.
Mordecai, for one, is more than happy to champion Williams’ services to potential recruits.
“He deserves a Division I offer, he’s a stud,” Mordecai said. “Over 1,300 yards this year, about to break the school record in touchdowns. So he’s a stud.”
Williams isn’t sweating it. He has one more game to impress the scouts, then another six weeks to add to his growing list of potential suitors before the next college football signing period begins on Feb. 7.
“I’ve just got to stay humble, be patient. My mom tells me that every day,” Williams said.
Williams’ highlight film shouldn’t lack for the wow factor. He’s typically good for at least one ridiculously athletic, leaping, one-handed stab a game – if not more.
“There were a few times this week where he’s pulled off catches and everyone just looks at him like, ‘Wow,’” said Priebe, the big 6-foot-6 tight end who plans to sign with SMU in February.
With 88 catches on the year to choose from, determining the best Williams catch on the season could take some time. Every Midway player probably has a different favorite. For Williams himself, the most memorable reception was the time he went flying against the Ellison Eagles.
“The best catch? I want to say against Ellison,” Williams said. “I think there were five seconds left, and I had a little route across the middle, and Tanner just threw it up to me. I jumped up and caught it with three people behind me, and dove into the end zone before the half. I think that was the best one.”
Williams’ playmaking prowess opens up avenues for everyone else. Degrate acknowledged that he benefits when Williams is double-teamed, because it often leaves him one-on-one with a defensive back. And the junior has made plenty of DBs suffer, to the tune of 838 yards and 13 TDs.
When it’s not Degrate, it might be Burch. Or Thomas. Or Priebe or Smith.
“It’s incredible,” Midway head coach Jeff Hulme said. “You’ve got one over 80 (catches), one over 60, one with 50 now. It’s hard for a defense to say, we’re going to take this person away when you’ve got these other two. Then you throw the big tight end in there, and he doesn’t have that many but he’s got enough where you have to pay attention to him. And James (Fullbright) can catch the ball.
“So, I think that was sort of a question mark going into the year, but these have young men have truly stepped up.”
Naturally, having a quarterback like the Oklahoma-bound Mordecai makes a difference, too. He has the ability to put the ball right on the money, and Midway’s receivers cash in on the other end. When those receivers talk about their QB, they sound like Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve professing his admiration for his favorite ace pitcher: “I literally love Justin Verlander.”
It’s no different over in the Midway locker room. “I love Tanner,” Degrate said. “I love having him as a quarterback.”
So, take a nap if you’d like during Midway’s state championship game on Saturday night. But if you do, you’re liable to miss many of the state’s top pass catchers showing off in a dazzling way.
“I think people have been sleeping on us,” Degrate said. “But as the year progressed, I think we’ve been doing good, and I think people are beginning to notice who we are.”