It always seemed like Darrell Harris just knew.
In the offseason, gauging the impact he’d have on the Waco High offense as a senior, he worked for months with a 20-pound weight jacket to juice up his speed and strength.
During games, he had an innate ability to emulate a Venus flytrap by slyly burying his eyes into the sideline to invite in defenders before flicking his eyes upfield and darting into open space for big gainers.
No running back in Central Texas did it better or more often than Harris in 2011, allowing the senior to run away, both literally and figuratively, with the Super Centex Offensive Player of the Year award after a record-setting season.
“He was good with taking it on his shoulders,” Waco High coach Danny Ramsey said. “You just see his big smile when he’s being asked questions about football or his teammates. His work ethic is great. You almost never have to get on him about running hard. That’s never the case.”
After Harris’ astonishing year, no running back in the history of Waco High can match his numbers. In 11 games, Harris rushed for 2,567 yards to clear Louis Fite’s 21-year-old single-season school record by 35 yards. He had four games of more than 300 yards rushing, and his average of 8.2 yards per carry was a boon for a Waco High offense that averaged 35 points per game.
And yet the numbers barely register in his own mind. All that floods back is Waco High’s early playoff exit. The Lions lost to Mansfield Summit, 46-31, in the bi-district round of the playoffs. After sharing the District 8-4A title with Stephenville and Midway, failing to win a playoff game was a bitter pill to swallow.
“I felt like we had the team to go to state,” Harris said. “We didn’t make it, but if we could go back we would definitely make it, no doubt. We should have beaten Mansfield.”
In the fourth game of Harris’ junior season against Abilene Wylie, he unknowingly tore the meniscus in his knee. He played through it the next three games, all of them losses, before taking a knock low against San Angelo Lake View that forced him to the sidelines.
He gritted through the pain in a gutsy win over University the next week, but the injury eventually forced him to have surgery in the offseason. After two months of rehab, Harris came out the other end bigger, stronger and faster.
“I wanted to get better so I just looked at it like a job, something I had to do,” Harris said.
In football terms, perhaps the only thing Harris has wavered on is his choice of schools at the next level. Harris hasn’t received much interest from major Division I schools, and he’s mulling offers from UT-San Antonio and Sam Houston State. For a player who shared Associated Press first-team all-state honors with the likes of Johnathan Gray, it’s a puzzling situation.
“I’m kind of baffled,” Ramsey said. “Looking at his numbers, and just if you looked at numbers knowing the league we play in, this kid is legitimate. All the folks we played against would tell you that he is, so I don’t know where the drop-off is.”
Without a doubt, the highlight of Harris’ year was notching a victory over city rival Midway on the opening week of district. The night before the game, Harris and a group of Waco High players watched the Waco High-Midway freshman game at Midway. They took some verbal jabs that night and repaid the favor on the field the next day.
“I still go back and watch that game now,” Harris said. “I get chills.”
Defensive Player of the Year
Jakob Coker Lorena
Midway through the season, Lorena was dealing with some injury issues.
While speaking about the Leopards’ situation, coach Ray Biles pointed in Jakob Coker’s direction. His sentiment was, I don’t know what we’ll do if he ever goes down.
Luckily for Biles, Lorena never had to find out.
The senior linebacker did more than stay healthy. He combined his steady performance on the field — nearly 16 tackles per game and 207 for the season — with the added bonus of being the Leopards’ undisputed defensive leader.
In short, nobody meant more to his team on the defensive side of the ball than Coker, and that’s why he’s the Super Centex Defensive Player of the Year.
“We struggled with a lot of things early in the year,” Lorena coach Ray Biles said. “He stabilized a lot of things. He was encouraging to a lot of the kids, letting them know it was going to be all right. That’s what leaders are all about. You have to get guys to make plays or stay positive when things aren’t going well.”
There were plenty of times things could have gone south for Lorena.
Seemingly feeling the weight of lofty expectations, the Leopards stumbled out of the gate with a 1-3 record and never really put everything together during the regular season. In fact, they needed a win over Connally in Week 10 just to get in.
Lorena got the job done there, then bumped off undefeated Fairfield in bi-district and completely dominated Rusk in an area-round shutout before finally meeting its match in a six-point loss to No. 3 Coldspring-Oakhurst.
“Our season had a lot of adversity in it,” Coker said. “At times the team struggled, but we expected to make the playoffs and we did. We expected to go deep, and we did. I’m satisfied with the season, but I felt like we always could’ve done more.”
Most of Lorena’s excitement coming into the season centered on a potentially explosive offense rife with experienced playmakers. The defense was a question mark with only three returning starters, but the thought was the Leopards would be fine on that side of the ball. One of the main reasons was Coker, who started as a sophomore on Lorena’s state quarterfinal team en route to Super Centex Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors and was an anchor on a district title-winning team a year later.
In his three years, Coker helped change the perception of Lorena from perennial underdog in the rugged District 19-3A to a respected program that has won at least one playoff game in four straight seasons.
“I truly felt when I was a sophomore, the expectations in the community and the outside was that Lorena was the underdog of (District 19-3A) and wasn’t expected to make the playoffs,” Coker said. “All of the other people outside of the football team expect Lorena to make the playoffs. It’s very satisfying to me to have contributed to that, and so have so many of the other players.”
Coker edged out Midway’s own tackling machine in senior linebacker Justin Richter, who helped the Panthers to the 4A Division I state championship game, for the award.
Coach of the Year
Craig Horn Hubbard
Craig Horn could barely believe his ears.
“I’m shocked,” the Hubbard coach said. “That’s a total surprise.”
But the fact that Horn had just been told he was the Super Centex Coach of the Year wasn’t nearly as surprising as the turnaround he and the Jaguars performed on the field in his first season as the coach in his hometown.
After an 0-10 mark the year before, Hubbard went 9-3, claimed the District 10-1A Division II championship and lasted until the third round of the playoffs before running head-on into eventual state champion Tenaha.
It wasn’t just that the Jaguars were winless in 2010, however. They weren’t even competitive, being outscored 405-88.
This year’s opener proved this Hubbard team was at least a little different, when the Jaguars held off Bosqueville, 22-15. It was a significant moment since Hubbard had fallen to the same Bosqueville squad 54-0 the year before.
Of course, Horn, a straight-shooter who isn’t shy about telling people how he feels, didn’t believe a turnaround was coming. He knew it was.
“I told the kids in September, I was preaching to them, that it was going to come down to us and Tenaha,” Horn said. “I knew they were No. 1, and I kept telling our kids that I wasn’t so sure we weren’t No. 1. Clearly we weren’t, but I wouldn’t have been afraid to line it up against any other team.”
Horn was selected over some worthy candidates like Terry Gambill, who led Midway to its first-ever state title game, and Tommy Allison, who took a Robinson program that had missed the playoffs three straight years to a second-place finish in 19-3A and a playoff win.
Offensive Newcomer of the Year
D'Nerian Thomas Mart
Before he ever played a varsity snap, the name D’Nerian Thomas was well-known.
Of course, when a coach like Rusty Nail is calling a freshman the best athlete he’s ever coached, it’s easy to take notice.
Thomas lived up to his coach’s billing in his first game against Chilton, running for 49 yards and a touchdown on just three carries, catching four passes for 53 yards and returning the second-half kickoff 82 yards for a score.
“He makes you want a four-year contract right there,” Nail said after that game. “He’s a special player.”
Thomas continued his tear throughout the season and became a standout in all three phases of the game, but it was his electrifying ability with the ball in his hands that made him the Super Centex Offensive Newcomer of the Year.
He finished with 573 yards and eight touchdowns rushing, 516 yards and eight more scores receiving, 78 tackles and four interceptions, one of which he returned for a score, to go with the kickoff return to paydirt.
Defensive Newcomer of the Year
Jimmie Gamble La Vega
With the key cornerstones it had coming back, La Vega’s defense looked plenty salty coming into the season. Adding linebacker Jimmie Gamble to the mix just made it even better.
The junior ended up leading the squad with 140 tackles and four fumble recoveries, playing a key role in the Pirates’ 10-0 regular season, District 19-3A championship and top-10 ranking.
That production earned Gamble the district’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year, and now he can add Super Centex Defensive Newcomer of the Year to his list of accomplishments.
“I just had to come in my first year and show what I was made of so I could have my name out there,” Gamble said.
Offensive Player of the Year: Darrell Harris, Waco High
Defensive Player of the Year: Jakob Coker, Lorena
Offensive Newcomer of the Year: D’Nerian Thomas, Mart
Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Jimmie Gamble, La Vega
Coach of the Year: Craig Horn, Hubbard
|RB||Darrell Harris||Sr||5-11||200||Waco High|
|OL||Andrew Billings||Jr||6-1||300||Waco High|
|OL||Michael Starts||Sr||6-5||290||La Vega|
|K||Ben Diaz||Jr||5-7||150||Waco High|
|DL||Edgar Luna||Jr||6-3||270||Cameron Yoe|
|DB||Brandon Cheezum||Sr||5-10||170||La Vega|
|DB||Adrian Norwood||Jr||5-11||185||Waco High|
|RB||Randy Gober||Jr||5-10||190||La Vega|
|LB||Kenneth Collins||Jr||6-0||185||Valley Mills|
|LB||Somari Wright||So||6-2||193||Cameron Yoe|
|Quarterbacks: J.T. Antis, Bosqueville; Jason Kopriva, Cameron Yoe; Cole Hill, Hubbard; Kramer Robertson and Jordan Darling, Midway; Blake Waggoner, Reicher; Daryl Brooks, Teague; Zach Allen, Temple; and Adonis Haven, University|
|Running backs: Donovan Williams, Belton; Michael Carpenter, Bosqueville; Keaton Denio, Cameron Yoe; Hunter Hancock, China Spring; Hunter Fritscher, Crawford; Anthony Price, Fairfield; Matthew Barnes, Groesbeck; Andre Lowe, Marlin; Marcus Irons, McGregor; Jordan Wright, Meridian; DeChaar Greer, Midway; Brandon Dwyer, Reicher; Ethan Holloway, Riesel; Gaylon Sanders, Temple; Bodazypha Farmer, Troy; Derrious Burns, University; and Jake Beebe and Andrew McFarlane, Valley Mills|
|Receivers/tight ends: Decrick Westbrook and Elmo Haynes, Cameron Yoe; Talon Clift, Clifton; Tanner Harrell, Crawford; Donam Johnson, Hubbard; Courtney Washington, Midway; J.D. Perkins and Jordan Smith, Reicher; Zac Law and Hunter Abbe, Robinson; Keith Buhl, Temple; and Zach Green, University|
|Offensive linemen: Josh Smitherman, Cameron Yoe; Chris Olsen, Crawford; Dane Blackwood, Fairfield; Austin McClinton, Hubbard; Scott Tucker, McGregor; Luis Ramirez, Reicher; Andy McNew, Robinson; Adrian Barragan, University; Kaegan Dillard and Valentin Mendoza, Valley Mills; and Hayden Haupt, Whitney|
|Kickers/punters: Martin Rodriguez, Cameron Yoe; and Drew Owen, Midway|
|Defensive linemen: Trent Andrews, Bosqueville; Zecharia Roberson, Cameron Yoe; Anthony Barraza, Groesbeck; Hudson Alderman, Hubbard; and Trevell Harden and Marquis Johnson, Midway|
|Linebackers: Ryan Stinson, Belton; Michael Gelner, Cameron Yoe; Trent Munden and Logan Thomas, China Spring; Dakota Thomas, Clifton; Terrence Ratliff, Connally; Alex Ward, Fairfield; Collin Nail, Mart; Taylor Fox, McGregor; Chad Crawford, Meridian; Chrishard Buhl, Midway; Shane Leggott, Reicher; Randall Kadlacek and Justin Watson, Riesel; Chance Collins and Zach Sullivan, Robinson; Kelton Henderson and Dustin Hunt, Teague; Seth Culp, Temple; Lester Walker, Waco High; and Ben Freeman, Whitney|
|Defensive backs: Jalen White, Cameron Yoe; Damuan Tucker, McGregor; Gerron Dewberry, Orion Stewart, Robert Lewis and Chase Wommack, Midway; Antwane Nichols, University; Sam Callison, Valley Mills; and Jim Scott, Whitney|
Strong-armed triggerman picked up District 19-3A accolades by throwing for 3,570 yards, 36 scores.
Sr, Waco High
Player of Year and 8-4A MVP piled up big game after big game on his way to 2,576 yards, 24 TDs on ground.
Offensive centerpiece of team that surged to state title game ended up with 1,669 yards, 22 TDs.
Explosive playmaker proved lethal on receptions and returns — 2,036 yards, 19 scores.
Threat to go the distance at any time earned 8-4A co-offensive MVP honors with 1,220 yards, 15 TDs.
Dual-treat QB beat defenses in variety of ways to end year with more than 3,400 yards, 30 TDs.
Jr, Waco High
Top blocker for Lions’ devastating rushing attack recorded 110 pancakes, graded out at 90 percent.
Lead member of Bulldogs’ ‘Fatty Express’ didn’t allow a sack, had 46 knockdowns, 31 pancakes
Overmatched opponents with his size to the tune of a 96 percent grade-out, didn’t give up a sack.
Held his own with best of the best in Panthers’ playoff run, recorded 45 knockdowns, 51 pancakes.
Sr, La Vega
All-American, Texas Tech commit combined size, athletic ability to help Pirates to 10-0 regular season.
Diminutive spark plug earned 8-1A Division I MVP honors, found end zone 5 times on punt, kickoff returns.
Sr, Waco High
Drilled 13 of 15 FG tries, including all 4 in 8-4A win over Midway, missed only 1 XP in 49 attempts.
Proved he could do it all in 1st varsity season with 1,476 yards of total offense, scored in 4 different ways.
Returned to hometown, oversaw total turnaround from 0-10 to district title, 3-round run in postseason.