All-East Texas Football: Superlatives quick to recognize teammates around them
Jan. 28, 2018 at 12:50 a.m.
One of the common themes among the All-East Texas Football Team superlatives was the obvious one: their standout and breakout seasons on the field.
Another characteristic between the four: their quick recognition and praise for their teammates around them.
From a quarterback that helped set a new program standard in Offensive MVP Jackson Sampson of New Diana, to a linebacker that spearheaded one half of a dominant team in Defensive MVP Mykel Gates of Carthage, to a sophomore quarterback destined to help lead a program that he's been around his entire life in Offensive Newcomer Haynes King of Longview, to a key player in a young team that's hungry for more in Defensive Newcomer Eric Gipson of Jefferson, these four superlative honors were boosted by those around them and they're quick to share the recognition.
New Diana quarterback Jackson Sampson simply put in gaudy, video-game-like numbers this season for the Eagles in a run to the state quarterfinals, the deepest in program history since the 70s.
What he hopes the 2017 team accomplished is more than that.
"We had a total change of mentality coming in from the past couple of seasons," Sampson said. "It started early and the culture really shifted.
"We all really believed we could make something happen this year, step up and do big things. We set a new standard, I really believe. The younger guys are going to believe just like we did that they can win and perform on the big stage. I'm excited for the future of New Diana football and I hope we laid the foundation to keep it going."
Sampson, who will be a preferred walk-on at SMU, played maestro to an Eagle offense that scored quickly and often, using a number of weapons in the process.
"Everyone stepped up when they needed to make a play," Sampson said. "Our coaches did a great job to put us in the position to make a play when we needed to, the line blocked great for me all year, the receivers stepped up and our defense made timely plays.
"It was every single person, and the community behind us, that helped every snap."
Having a guy like All-East Texas First Team receiver TJ Rogers and second-team honoree Cody Payton makes it a little easier as well.
"It helps, for sure," Sampson, who also plays golf at New Diana, laughed. "It took everyone."
Mykel Gates and the Bulldogs knew how they wanted to finish this season and it was the exact way Carthage went about it from the start.
"It was our last year and we've known all along we wanted to go out with a bang," Gates said. "We grinded day-in and day-out to make that happen."
The stage was set early for the Bulldogs, who took a wild ride to the 2016 state championship, pulling our close game after close game. In 2017, it was pure dominance en route to an undefeated season and back-to-back rings.
"Last year, we heard a lot of flack saying that we won by a fluke," Gates said. "We knew that this year, we wanted to dominate.
"Not only did we want to beat you, we wanted to dominate every single snap. From the time that it started to the end of the year, we wanted them to know we were going to win."
Win they did in commanding fashion.
Gates was part of a linebacker corps that solidified the Dawg defense, along with first-team honoree Ahmad Brown and second-team linebacker Jose DeJulian.
"It started out with us in the seventh grade just knowing how we all played an gelled together," Gates, who runs and throws on the Carthage track team, said. "It was a true unit -- we knew each other's strengths and weaknesses and played off of those together."
Opposite the shutdown and physical defense was the potent Bulldog offense, which includes first-team honorees Keaontay Ingram (RB), Gunner Capps (QB), Dee Bowens (WR), Dewaylon Ingram (WR) and Jesse Wayne Pierce (OL).
"We've grown up since were all kids playing every sport together," Gates, whose college plans are still undetermined, said. "We dreamed about it and to accomplish it was tremendous.
"It wasn't easy by any stretch but we wouldn't have it any other way."
TAKING THE REINS
Haynes King has grown up on the sidelines and in the Longview Lobo fieldhouse.
When it was time for the sophomore to take the reins as the Lobo quarterback, it was his teammates that helped him grow up as a player on the field.
"I had some senior friends that helped me along the way and were a big part of this," King said. "They helped me be a better teammate and helped me learn how to lead.
"They helped me tremendously and it was a big part of my game. It was a family."
Longview's run to the state semifinals was a total-team approach, led by a Lobo defense that featured first-team selections Jadarrion Blakemore (DL), Jalen Carr (DB) and Jephaniah Lister (DB).
"They had heart and they had grit," King said of the defense. "They led us most of the way. They made plays time and time again and helped us get back on the field.
"You could feel the atmosphere and the togetherness that we had on this team in the locker room, on the field, on the sideline, everywhere. Everyone had a positive attitude and just kept playing."
King's best memory was a last-minute, game-winning touchdown pass to Kamden Perry against Lufkin in the state quarterfinals. His first varsity touchdown pass also went to Perry in the regular season against the same Panthers.
"That one was a pretty good memory too," King, who plays on the varsity basketball team and runs track, said.
He was helped along the way by first-team offensive honorees Keilyn Williams (RB), Jaylin Brown (TE), who hauled in a touchdown pass from King to set a new single-season and career Longview record, and A'Darius carter (Utility).
"I think staying even keel had a huge impact for us this season," King said. "You have to have that mentality or you won't make it far.
"You have to have that togetherness."
MAKING THE MOVE
Jefferson's Eric Gipson made the move to the defensive side of the ball to start the season and it was a switch that paid dividends quickly for the Bulldogs.
"It was fun getting out there with contact on every play," Gipson, a second-year varsity player, said. "I remember hitting a guy that weighed about 320 and I got a good lick on him."
Gipson hit 136 more players along the way for the Bulldogs, who finished the season 10-2.
"We came together as a family this past summer," Gipson, who plays basketball and runs track, said. "We had fun every chance we were together and had some big and crucial wins."
The Bulldogs, as a whole, were young as well and return key players on both sides of the ball, including honorable mention wide receiver TQ Jackson, who has seen his recruiting stock rise rapidly as of late.
"We'll have a good group coming back and our class is strong and ready to go," Gipson said. "We went straight back to work after the season ended.
"We know it's a long trip so we've just got to keep working. It's a process for all of us."
Follow Hayden Henry on Twitter: @hayden_h