Golden: LBJ Jaguars are a throwback to the glory years of city football
The LBJ Jaguars can strike a mighty blow for city football with two more wins.
A Class 4A state football title would carry much more weight than any of these teenagers could ever realize, reason being, inner city schools just don’t win championships they way they used to.
Three years after district rival McCallum made it to the Class 5A Division II semifinals, its fellow Austin ISD member is knocking on history's sturdy door.
And wouldn’t that be something if they just decided to kick it in with two more wins?
If the 9-2 Jaguars can take out 12-2 Lindale in Friday’s UIL Class 4A Division I semifinals in Humble, they will turn back the clock and reintroduce Austin ISD to the winner's circle in our football crazy state.
The Jaguars are close to breaking through and should be celebrated, regardless of the outcome this weekend. They're defying the odds and having fun in the process, 50 years after AISD's last football champion.
"This generation is not as connected to the history of Northeast Austin and the success of programs like Reagan and LBJ,” said coach Jahmal Fenner, now in his third season. “They see it every day in the hallways, with pictures of the all-time greats like Ray Jackson and Shon Mitchell, but you can see that this generation is doing something special. I don’t I don’t think they realize how special it but it’s like we’re recreating the success of the past."
Fenner played on the 2000 Reagan team — coached by the late Andrew Jackson — that laid the groundwork for a magical 12-3 campaign the following season that ended with a semifinal loss to eventual Class 4A state champion Bay City at the Houston Astrodome.
That team was led by star running back Coron Arterberry, who rushed for over 2,400 yards and 36 touchdowns and the charismatic Jackson, a fun-loving pied piper disguised as a high school football coach. Two days before the game, I visited with him and the team at the Reagan Gym at an indoor workout.
“We have nothing to lose, Ced,” Jackson said. “These kids are having the time of their lives.They never thought they would get this far."
Before they even boarded the bus to Houston, Coach Jack had already realized Northeast Austin and the entire city would never forget what his team had accomplished, regardless of what happened against the Black Cats.
It would be another 16 years before an AISD school made another run of such magnitude. The 2017 McCallum Knights, and then coach Charles Taylor, went 10-0 in the regular season and made it all the way to the state semifinals before losing to College Station.
“During that run, I told our kids that it was pretty big for a city school in Austin to do what we were doing,” said Taylor, now the head coach at Pflugerville. “I told them about Coach Jackson’s team at Reagan and how special that season was. Our kids didn’t understand how big our accomplishment was until it was over.”
For his part, Fenner has a firm grasp of local history — having played for Jackson at Reagan and coached for him at LBJ. After Jackson passed away from cancer in 2017 at age 50, Fenner took over as interim coach in the playoff game and was then promoted to head coach in 2018.
It turned out to be a spectacular hire. The Jaguars just captured the school’s first regional title in the school’s 47 years and now have an opportunity to bring AISD its first state football championship in a half-century.
There was a time when city schools were always at or near the front of the line when it was time to hand out state championship hardware.
The Civil Rights movement brought integration to Texas schools and the decade of the 1960s concluded with Reagan High sitting atop the state’s football landscape.
The 1970s saw a shift in high school football. Running backs still dominated the offensive landscape, but the position became more diverse as young Blacks like Brenham’s Roosevelt Leaks, Tyler’s Earl Campbell, Hooks’ Billy Sims and Sealy’s Eric Dickerson got the attention of college football scouts in Texas and schools beyond our borders.
By the 1980s, small towns were still holding their own in the larger high school classifications but suburban schools began to rise in stature at a scary pace.
With that happening, Dallas Carter remained the most high profile big-city football power in the state, supplanting Houston Yates.
Carter, under coach Freddie James, captured the Class 5A trophy in 1988 but had to forfeit due to eligibility issues followed by even more eye-opening news made by some players off the field. The school was banned from the football playoffs in 1989 but made the state semis upon its return in 1990.
In the three decades since — Dallas city schools have won a state football title but the suburbs have blown up with over 60 championships. Wilmer-Hutchins did win a 4A title in 1990 but wasn’t a member of Dallas ISD at the time.
Elsewhere in the state, San Antonio hasn’t had an inner city school win a state title since Roosevelt took the Class 5A crown over Flower Mound Marcus in 1996.
No team from Fort Worth ISD has won a state football title since the integration.
Nowadays, the Texas schools getting the most national acclaim come from the more affluent suburban areas: Allen, Katy, Lake Travis, Westlake, Highland Park, Southlake Carroll and Euless Trinity to name a few.
Most of the players at these suburban schools grow up in middle to upper-middle class neighborhoods and attend fancy football camps in the offseason. By the time high school rolls around, they often have a leg up on a majority of inner city players.
With that said, most of those same suburban kids aren’t playing this weekend.
The Jaguars are.
LBJ will roll into Humble's stadium loaded with confidence. The Jags are averaging 55.2 points per game and needed most of that number in last week’s 59-54 quarterfinal win over Corpus Christi Miller, a game that wasn’t decided until the Jaguars secured an onside kick at the end.
It won’t get any easier against Lindale, an East Texas squad that boasts a real game breaker in running back Jordan Jenkins, a Baylor commit who ran for 269 yards and seven touchdowns in last week’s 56-42 win over district rival Kilgore.
A win is very much needed for reasons bigger than football, according to defensive back Andrew Mukuba, a Clemson commit who Zoom-chatted over lunch on Monday with coach Dabo Swinney.
“It would be very special because it’s what we need in our community,” he said. “There is so much negativity out there with COVID and all of that. We need to this to lighten up the community and the school to bring everybody together like a family.”
Mukuba’s words strike a chord. A playoff run in a place like Allen, Highland Park or closer to home in a place like Westlake or Lake Travis is to be expected year in and year out. But when a group like the wildly talented and scrappy Jaguars puts a great run together, it’s an ode to the old days.
Back when the city schools were calling the shots.