As Katy High made its dominant postseason run to a ninth state championship last year, the Tigers did so with a pair of precocious sophomores as catalysts of a prolific offense.
Quarterback Caleb Koger persevered through a weeks-long competition for QB1 early in the season, won the job, and made significant strides throughout the year, playing his best by the time the state final against Cedar Hill rolled around in mid-January. Seth Davis emerged as a stellar, if not electrifying, No. 2 running back alongside big bro Jalen, capping off his inaugural varsity year as Offensive MVP of the state championship game.
Katy coach Gary Joseph has had to rely on sophomores for substantial roles on offense before—quarterback Garrett Doiron in 2013 comes to mind—but two in the same season? And for a state championship team?
"It's just so hard," Joseph said. "But I'm very pleased with the composure Koger had. Hopefully he's grown from it. Seth is a great kid. He doesn't complain about anything. They both just do their jobs."
One of the primary storylines as the Tigers hunt a third state title in seven years is the growth and development of Koger and Davis.
The leap from sophomore to junior year is generally a considerable one for varsity players.
"As a person, I'm more confident," Koger said. "I'm more of a leader. I'm not scared anymore to speak out or talk to someone and get everyone in line. As a player, I'm just confident in all ways."
"Right now, I'm more experienced, more ready," added Davis. "That first game is here and I'm excited for it. I feel like I'm getting everything down right, The plays, the footwork. Leading my team."
Joseph said the next step for the 5-foot-10, 155-pound Koger, who threw for 1,552 yards and 24 touchdowns to two interceptions last season, will come from maturity, leadership, and commanding and demanding in the huddle.
"Having a presence," Joseph said.
Last season, offensive linemen Bill Katsigiannis, CJ Marsh and Omar Aigbedion took control of the huddle most of the time. Joseph said he looks forward to Koger taking command.
"I was nervous when I got my first start last year," Koger said. "But my linemen and Coach (Scott) Rich (quarterbacks coach) were the main people who helped me stay calm, stay ready. I had nerves, but I figured things out pretty soon into the season. And then I got comfortable with all my guys."
Davis looks bigger and stronger now than he did last season, when he was listed at 5-foot-6, 150 pounds. He is the surefire No. 1 RB, but Joseph is intent on ensuring Davis is fresh for the playoffs.
Joseph said the non-district season is used for making sure the No. 2 RB is established. Sophomore Chase Johnsey, who was called up to varsity late last season, has earned that role, though junior Dallas Glass, brother of former Tigers star Deondrick, is expected to also have an impact.
Davis is ready for whatever comes his way.
"It was scary at first last season," he said. "But eventually, I got the plays down. I stopped being scared. I just went. I almost had to be confident. I didn't have any other choice."
Koger and Davis benefitted from the other going through the same growing pains last season. They talked before games, making sure the other was right. They leaned on each other.
"We both thought we were going to be on JV," Davis said. "Then we got pulled up together, and that was big. We were able to relate. We talked through things, helped each other. He basically told me to do what I've been doing since freshman year. And I told him to stay calm and be himself."
>> FAST START: Joseph is anticipating Friday's season-opener against Clear Springs and will pay close attention to the team's execution. "I know it's not the end and just the beginning, but I want our kids to come out and play well in the first game," Joseph said. "We haven't done that a lot of times after winning a state championship. There's been times we haven't played well; the last time was 2015 and we opened up '16 with Westlake (32-29 loss). I want to see us execute and look like we have poise. We want to find out where we're at. I don't want to have to wait until the first week of district." The Tigers are 3-2 in season-openers following a state championship in their last five opportunities.
>> IMPRESSIVE QUARTET: Joseph has been impressed with the receivers, especially the position's depth in seniors Nic Anderson, Antonio Silva, Ronnie Schneider, and JR Ceyanes. Joseph particularly noted the strong spring and summer Schneider had. "We have four kids that can catch the football," he said. "If we can protect the quarterback long enough for him to get rid of it and throw it, we'll be OK. They can get open. They run good enough routes to do so."
>> WANTED: EXPERIENCE: Two pivotal aspects of the Tigers' offense are the offensive line and tight end. On the O-line, only two starters return (Caleb Webb and Dylan Erickson), and both played the same position last year. "It'll be a work in progress," Joseph said. "It took a while before our group last year started gelling. The blocking schemes we do are indicative of that." Junior Isaiah Ybarra, whom Joseph commended as one of the most unselfish players on the team, has been moved to the O-line because of his physicality and size. At tight end, senior Michael Dante, the projected starter, broke his collarbone over the summer. Sophomore Luke Carter is expected to step in, and senior Carson Hord, an offensive lineman last year who was moved to the D-line and is now the No. 2 tight end, is in. "It's a position that needs experience," Joseph said.