ROSENBERG—Late last season, looking every each way to inject life into his team’s running game, Richmond Foster coach Shaun McDowell turned to his star safety, Ashton Ojiaku. He needed someone, anyone, to complement prolific quarterback JT Fayard and a wealth of receiving talent.
Ojiaku did not disappoint, rushing for 141 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in the season’s final two games.
“I’m not that good of a coach but I can see talent when it’s there,” McDowell said, laughing. “I finally became a smart coach and handed him the ball every time.
“Really, I just got lucky.”
McDowell has watched Ojiaku since he was in middle school playing quarterback and running back.
“To win football games, you have to be dominant in the run game,” McDowell said. “We needed a guy that could hit it and be physical. Ashton is a great kid, super smart. Just a natural talent at running back. He could play anywhere on the field.”
Ojiaku has picked up this year right where he left off last November, and then some, proving that his name deserves to be mentioned among the best of the best in Greater Houston area running backs.
Ojiaku led Foster, VYPE’s No. 1-ranked team in Class 5A, to a demonstrative 41-0 win over Rosenberg Terry on Friday night at Traylor Stadium in the inaugural Lamar Consolidated ISD “Rose-Rich Rumble” rivalry series. Foster improved to 3-0, 1-0 in District 10-5A, Division I. Terry dropped to 2-1, 0-1.
Foster has outscored its opponents this season 140-14. Against Terry, all 41 of Foster's points came in the first three quarters.
“This year we know what we want, and we’re going to get it,” Ojiaku said.
\u201c.@FosterFootball 2023 RB/FS @aojiaku6 discusses tonight\u2019s 41-0 win over Terry. Ojiaku had 290 yards and four TDs on 25 carries tonight. The Falcons are 3-0. #txhsfb @lcisdathletics @FosterSportsMed @FHSStudentNews @KPRC2RandyMc\u201d— VYPE Houston (@VYPE Houston) 1662778528
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Ojiaku ripped through yet another overwhelmed defense, compiling 290 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries against the Rangers. Overall, Ojiaku, in his first full varsity season as a lead back, has 621 yards and 12 touchdowns on 58 carries, with six tackles and a pick-6 on defense.
“I’m trusting my O-line and we’ve done real good,” said Ojiaku, who holds eight collegiate offers, including Houston, Air Force and Army. “My O-line has been doing a great job, and we’ve been playing as a team. That’s all that matters.”
Ojiaku is averaging 10.7 yards per carry. Friday, he scored on runs of 12, 2, 42 and 65 yards, respectively, against a Terry defense that had allowed just 20 points per game coming in.
Of Foster’s 19 offensive touchdowns this season, Ojiaku has 12 of them.
\u201cThere\u2019s that man again! @aojiaku6 with his 3rd TD tonight, 11th of the season. 42-yard spree. He\u2019s got 218 yards on 22 carries. 35-0 @FosterFootball, 5:40, 3Q. #txhsfb @lcisdathletics @FosterSportsMed\u201d— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1662775380
The Falcons averaged 3.9 yards per carry and scored 20 touchdowns on the ground last season. This year, they are averaging 8.2 yards per carry and already have 13 rushing touchdowns.
“We were one-dimensional last year, but since we have a solid run game now, defenses will come up and that will get the pass open,” said Fayard, who has completed 38 of 56 passes for 523 yards and six touchdowns this season. “Ashton is bringing it. Not only is he a smart runner, so he doesn’t force things, but he finds the hole easily and he’s also a great receiver.”
Ojiaku, primarily playing offense this year and only spot snaps in the secondary, had 28 touches against Terry as Foster is using him more in the passing game as well.
“Since I played defense last year, I understand defenses,” Ojiaku said. “I respect defenses. Offense, defense … I love them both.”
Ojiaku said he “kept working and working” in the offseason. The Falcons took last year’s 5-5 record personally, perhaps no one more so than Ojiaku.
“I just have to stay healthy,” he said. “I want to win. This is my last year so I’m giving it my all.”
This year’s Falcons are a completely different unit than last year, when a young team went through growing pains and missed the playoffs in doing so.
Now those youngsters are vets, and it’s showing on the scoreboard.
It’s not just the power prowess of Ojiaku, the impressive arm and poise of Fayard or the athletic playmaking of senior receiver Dylan Apponey, who has six touchdown catches this year. It’s also a defense that has surrendered 14 total points in three games and has six takeaways.
\u201c.@FosterFootball 2023 LB @ChrisGore2023 discusses tonight\u2019s 41-0 win over Terry. Gore is a leader on a Falcons defense that has allowed 14 total points through three games. He had an interception tonight. #txhsfb @FosterSportsMed @lcisdathletics @KPRC2RandyMc\u201d— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1662779801
“A lot of it for us is familiarity and experience,” McDowell said. “We don’t have to do a whole lot of things we had to do last year, because these guys came in with a business-like attitude and expectations every day. I don’t have to teach a whole bunch of stuff. They already know what we’re about and what we’re doing. It’s refreshing to watch these guys execute at a very high level in practice and then to see that in the games.”