Gage White and Haynes King were just playing catch at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, Louisiana.
“Coach (John) King, I’ll never forget this, he walks up and says, ‘Man, I drove a long way just to come watch y’all boys play catch,’” White said with a laugh. “He’s like ‘y’all can sit at the house and do this.’ We were throwing the ball and he was ripping us a little bit. It was hilarious.”
That’s been a few years ago in the history between the two quarterbacks, which dates back to youth basketball at Broughton Recreation Center.
On Friday, White and King will start their 35th and 37th games for Spring Hill and Longview, respectively.
They’ll be joined Friday by Pine Tree junior D.J. Freeman, who is gearing up for his 21st start for a trifecta of city quarterbacks that have helped guide their respective teams to the postseason. It’s the first time all three city schools have been in the postseason at the same time since 2001.
“It’s a great thing, all three schools have a great fan base with a lot of support,” Haynes King said. “We’ve played well at times and we’ve got good players around us too.
“Everyone is trying to better themselves, keep grinding, working hard and it shows with all three of us in the playoffs this year.”
There are few similarities between the three quarterbacks, starting with gaudy numbers. Combined, the three have 7,979 yards and 85 touchdowns this season.
White was thrown into the fire as a freshman for the Panthers and got his first start with Gladewater across the line in a district opener. Since then, he’s passed for over 6,200 yards with 60 touchdowns while rushing for over 1,300 yards and 15 scores.
“I remember people talking all week about how good Gladewater was and I was 14 years old and wondering what is about to happen,” White recalled. “They were good — really good. It was nerve-racking heading into that first snap but after that, I realized it’s was just like freshman ball, that it’s the game of football.
“Sure, they were bigger, a lot, and faster but football is football.”
King enters his 37th start with 8,716 total yards and 101 touchdowns in his career. This season, King has passed for 1,592 yards with 16 touchdowns and rushed for eight more scores.
Freeman, the lone underclassman of the group, is getting it done in both ways with 2,069 passing yards and 1,160 on the ground with 35 total touchdowns. He’s hit the 5,000-yard career mark with 61 total scores.
Entering the season, all three had to work to find their offenses’ identity.
White began his senior season with a new coach and, in turn, a new offense, one that has transitioned to an air-it-out attack.
“At the start of the year, it was about finding out who we are on offense,” White said. “We ran the Power-I at times and were just trying to find things.
“We’ve found that and it’s been a great season for our team, not just me. We’ve broken some school records and it’s just been great all around.”
First-year Panther head coach Jonny Louvier was welcomed with a four-year starter under center, or as it turned out, in the gun. The Panthers snapped a 12-year playoff drought this season.
“He’s obviously a really good quarterback but the biggest thing that sticks out about him is his leadership off the field, in the weight room and class room,” Louvier said of White. “He’s a great kid, great grades. It’s the little things that you don’t see on Friday night that is most impressive about him.
“He’s pretty impressive on Friday night, too. We wouldn’t be here without him.”
King took the reigns in Week 4 of his sophomore season, which ended in a run to the state semifinals. The Lobos upped that in 2018 with a 16-0 season and the Class 6A, Division II state championship.
This season, it was about finding who the Lobos, a new team, were all about.
“Going into the season, we weren’t the same team and we had to realize that,” King said. “We knew we were going to have to work, and we have, and find different ways to win a football game.
“We had to keep working through it, keep pounding it until we found what works. As the season progressed, our offense progressed.”
John King told his son that early on.
“He had a ton of pressure on him coming into the year, a lot of eyes,” John King said. “A lot of the attention he got because he played on a good football team as a good football player and put up a lot of big numbers.
“Early on this year, we were all probably trying to do too much, all of us. He felt like the whole weight of this team was on his shoulders and it didn’t need to be. We had to scale it back a bit. I told him it was going to be difficult early in the offseason. It’s a new team, different identity and we just had to find it.”
Freeman got the call as a sophomore as well, splitting time and making things happen with his legs. He rushed for 834 yards and had 1,171 passing yards on 129 attempts. This season, his progression has shifted to the air attack, where he was 230 attempts.
“I’m a lot more comfortable this year,” he said. “I’ve progressed a lot, I think. Last year, I was more of a running back and this year, we’re throwing the ball around.”
Added Pine Tree head coach Kerry Lane: “I think anytime with a quarterback it’s about game experience and reps and he got a lot of it last year. He’s gotten better and better. He’s always been a kid that is dynamic with his feet and he’s worked tremendously hard at the passing game.”
All three have benefited from a strong support cast around them and that helps make the job a little easier.
“They’ve made me look good on several occasions,” White said of his receiving corps of Zach Henry, Tyrese Jones, Jay Rockwell and Eric Morrow. “Jay, there aren’t many that are going to go up and get a jump ball with him. Eric, his speed and hands, he can catch anything. Last week, we ran a go route and he came back and got it. It made it look like a good throw on my part but it was an underthrown ball and he made a play.
“Zach is a three-year starter, so tough and fast, and Tyrese is a two-year starter. They’re hard to guard over the middle. They’re fast and, if it’s a linebacker, it’s a mismatch and we’re going to take care of those.”
King has targeted 12 different receivers this season, hitting eight different Lobos for touchdowns. Freeman’s progression has also been aided by the Pirate receiver corps of JJ Sparkman, Gabe Adams and Nikema Williams.
Any quarterback would be in trouble without giving credit to their offensive line. All three were quick to do so.
“That was a question mark coming into the season and they have done such a great job,” White said. “It’s been the same five throughout the offseason and they’re such a tight group.
“They get here at 7 a.m. to watch film every day. No other position group does that. They’ve really just gelled together and it’s showing. All credit to them.”
All three share traits on the field and have benefited from the team around them. Above all, it takes a different mindset at quarterback.
“You’ve got to be tough at quarterback,” Lane said. “You’re going to get hit in the mouth, you’re going to turn the ball over, you’re going to face adversity.
“Things aren’t going to go your way and you have to be that guy in the huddle to look everyone in the eye. One way you get respect is being tough. Throwing and being accurate are important as far as physical ability, obviously. There are a lot of kids that can throw a football, a lot of kids that can run but there aren’t a lot of kids that can’t play quarterback.”
Longview (10-0) opens the playoffs against Temple (8-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lobo Stadium. Pine Tree (5-5) travels to A&M Consolidated (10-0) at 7 p.m. Friday in College Station while Spring Hill (5-5) collides with Caddo Mills (8-2) at 7 p.m. Friday in Van.