OFF THE CUFF

As the Houston High School football team submitted visiting Cuba to a good ol’ fashioned whoopin’ last Friday night in Tiger Stadium, the relatively small size of the crowd made it clear to me that people are hesitant to believe.

I get it.

But I also get that the 2018 version of the Gridiron Tigers may well be worth believing in. Heck, they’re at least an entertaining bunch, as is evidenced by the 60-plus points and 600-plus yards of offense they racked up against Cuba.

But after watching them closely for two games, I’m ready to believe that Houston is well equipped at pretty much every position, and downright loaded at many.

As I took in last Friday’s game in person in the first half and by way of the Houston Herald Live broadcast in the second half, I loved seeing so much of what took place.

Gosh, Houston has such a great offensive backfield! As head coach Eric Sloan so aptly said the previous week, these are some “bad dudes” who come in many shapes and sizes.

As has already been well documented, the Tigers’ running game is highlighted by the presence of sophomore Daniel Hutcheson, a young man whose size (6-2, 215), speed and raw talent gives him the ability to at worst be a singular force to be reckoned and at best a complete difference-maker in the course of a 48-minute football game. As Herald sports guru Jeff McNiell and I were saying during the game, he never really seems to be “trying” very hard, but suddenly he’s three steps ahead of several would-be tacklers and then, he’s just gone.

On the other end of the spectrum is senior fullback Aiden Sawyer, who at 5-11, 225 pounds more of a battering ram of a ball carrier. Between him and Hutcheson, I’m not really sure how an opposing defense is supposed to get an upper hand; you just can’t tackle these guys when you want to.

I also love watching Houston linebacker and offensive lineman Devin Wallander. This guy is not only as good a blocker and tackler as has donned a Tiger uniform in a long time, he also brings a rare leadership quality to his team – especially on defense.

On several occasions, I enjoyed how he barked out instructions and reminders as the Tiger D lined up for a play. And when the officiating crew took far too long to discuss a call (something pretty common these days, unfortunately), Wallander was the guy who yelled, “huddle up – now!” and helped get the Tigers to refocus on football rather than the goofy stuff the zebras were up to.

And I’m a big fan of the play in the defensive secondary of senior Paydon Dixon and junior Dakota Burchett. They seem to take turns being “everywhere,” and have a nose for a thrown ball like nobody’s business that fairly frequently results in interceptions.

Of course, those two guys were also big parts of that 600-yard offensive outburst, with Burchett at quarterback and Dixon as yet another dangerous option in the backfield.

Trust me, there are plenty of other players on the Houston roster who play roles worthy of having their names mentioned. Like linemen Chris Cichon and Trevor Mitchell, both of whom are only sophomores but play like seasoned upperclassmen, and seniors Brecken Adey and Dawson Koch who play like, well, seasoned upperclassmen. 

There’s junior wide receiver and defensive back Connor Wilson, who – along with Burchett – is competing for a spot on the conference’s “all lanky team” but – like Burchett – is also making a significant impact on the field on both sides of the ball.

And then there’s C.J. Lee, who at 6-foot, 201 pounds (of rock-solid muscle) is simply a beast at linebacker (who led Houston in tackling last year) and never seems to fall for a juke made by a guy carrying the ball who’s trying to get around him. But in addition to being a virtual lock as an area all-defensive team member, Lee is also about the only high school kicker I can recall watching boom the ball into the end zone on a kickoff and actually convert extra points with some regularity (not exactly common at this level).

It’s kind of amazing, really; Houston appears to have good things going on offense, defense and special teams to the point you have to search hard to find weaknesses. As a friend of mine said the other day, the Tigers are “an exciting team and are a lot of fun to watch this year.” Roger that.

And speaking of Sloan, I’m going to say he’s been successful in building a more viable “culture” within the realm of Houston football since he took on the task a few short years ago. You don’t have to be a football “expert” to tell that whole program is now built around everything necessary for success, whether it’s proper execution of big plays or attention to little details that go unnoticed in the box score.

Anyway, with all that said, if Houston has a big season, I won’t exactly be surprised.

And you know what? It’s not often that a good high school football team has a chance to beat an opponent they haven’t beaten in 37 years. But this week, the Tigers face a road game at Salem, a team they haven’t defeated since 1980.

I honestly have a feeling they might be up to the task and finally shed that monkey that has been on their collective back for so long. Then, the Tigers would be left with nothing but chips on their shoulders. And that probably doesn’t bode well for opponents.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.

Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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