It’s an honor to earn the title QB1.
A position bestowed on a different guy every few years, it’s one that comes loaded with responsibility. The offense is theirs — as an extension of the coach on the sidelines — and it’s their job to make the correct reads and sling a perfect pass into an open window away from the defender and into the arms of a waiting receiver.
This isn’t like “Madden” or any other football video game where the open player suddenly has a halo of light around him with the prompt of the correct button to push to get the ball to him. No, countless hours of film go into knowing which reads to make when certain plays are called against specific defensive alignments.
It’s a load of responsibility that accompanies the privilege of becoming a starting quarterback in Texas high school football. And there’s a certain poise each one takes on when they become the new starting quarterback for their respective schools.
That’s what happened over the summer when Mart, La Vega and Midway each named a new QB1 in Kyler Martin, Ara Rauls III and Nick Jimenez. Not only did those guys take over some of the most prestigious high school programs in the state, but they also followed some memorable predecessors.
Martin stepped in for Jace Terry, a Super Centex performer who led Mart to a state title a year ago. Rauls took over for Jamal Williams, who tied the state’s wins record throughout his career. Jimenez followed Tanner Mordecai, who passed for more than 4,000 yards and 50 touchdowns en route to being named the Trib’s Super Centex Player of the Year a season ago.
For each of those guys, the pressure to not try to do what the one before them did was never brought up by their coaches. Instead, they each bring their own unique talents to the role.
And it’s worked. Each of these schools play in the regional finals this weekend, as Mart plays Muenster Thursday night at The Star in Frisco, La Vega gets a rematch with Argyle Friday at Midlothian, and Midway takes on Allen Saturday afternoon at Baylor’s McLane Stadium.
Kyler Martin, Mart
As his team ran the last few plays of practice under the lights Tuesday night in Mart, Kyler Martin walked to the sideline in jeans and his letter jacket. The junior, who had gone down for a moment in last week’s victory over Grapeland, seemed to have merely tweaked his knee as he returned to the game to continue leading the offense beautifully — Mart finished with just shy of 700 yards.
The MRI Martin had Monday morning proved otherwise, as it revealed a torn ACL. Standing on the sidelines a little more than 24 hours later, the news still hadn’t quite sunk in for Martin.
“It’s a big bummer,” he said. “It’s not so much that I have to sit out six months but that I won’t be able to play with the people I’ve gotten so close to.”
The chemistry of this Mart team in undeniable. It’s something that just comes naturally, especially for Martin as he prepared to take over the starting quarterback position this season.
It was the role he expected to play after backing up Terry a year ago. Martin even skipped playing summer baseball in order to prepare to hopefully lead the Panthers to a repeat at AT&T Stadium.
“I worked out every day,” Martin said. “I was on the track a lot and also in the weight room. I also watched a lot of Jace’s film. He was very good. He’s a mentor and a role model for me.”
As Terry’s backup last year, Martin had a front-row seat to what Terry was able to do. Armed with the same rushing attack of Tyrek Horne and Shatydrick Bailey that Martin has been blessed with this year, Terry was able to complement their bruising running with the deep ball that proved gut-wrenching to every Mart opponent last season.
But it wasn’t the stats that Terry put up, not even the 60-plus yard touchdown run he had in the state championship game last year where he juked an opponent so hard that the defender froze in place, that stood out to Martin about his predecessor.
“He really taught me how to be a leader. That’s the biggest thing for me,” Martin said. “He taught me how to lead by example, that it’s not always just vocally.”
His ability to make the correct reads — he threw only one interception on the season — stems from his success as a defensive back. He started at the position last year and scooped up the win-clinching 80-plus yard fumble recovery that punched the Panthers’ ticket to state. He also gets to watch film and learn from his dad, Shane, who is Mart’s defensive coordinator.
“He’s taught me so much about defense,” Kyler said about his dad. “He’s helped me look at the defenses and know what they’re going to do and where they’re going to be.”
With Martin’s season cut short prematurely, he finishes with a completion mark of 98-for-147 for 1,746 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also ran the ball 86 times for 311 yards and six more scores.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Hoffman said. “In 13 games, he’s done everything. He’s ran the team, ran the offense and done really well for us.”
Just because Martin is done on the field doesn’t mean he won’t have his own role on the sidelines for the rest of the season. He’ll be coaching up his Panthers.
“He’s going to visit with the freshman safety that went in for him and took his place,” Hoffman said. “He’ll also coach up the quarterbacks as much as he can. We’re going to do what we’ve got to do.”
Ara Rauls III, La Vega
Don Hyde and the coaching staff at La Vega wanted to find someone who could manage the game in Williams’ departure. Knowing all that goes into playing the position, Hyde wanted someone who could handle it, as well as lead the Pirates to victory.
“We knew coming into the year that we had three kids who can play quarterback,” the La Vega head football coach said. “A lot of times the quarterback position is packed full of stress, and we’ve got to be able to operate calm, cool and collected in certain situations. You’ve got to be able to understand the full schematics of what’s going on.
“We knew coming in that we wanted a kid who could manage the game for us and not have to win the game in certain situations, but manage the game the game for us.”
As Hyde went on to say, Rauls has done a “fabulous” job of doing just that for the Pirates. Keep in mind, the player didn’t even play JV ball for La Vega. Instead, after getting his reps on the freshman squad a year ago, Rauls worked his tail off to become the next starting quarterback at La Vega High School.
“I mean, this year I just expected to come out here and work hard and earn a spot on varsity,” Rauls said. “It was hard. I came out here ready to practice and put my all on the field.”
Rauls looked up to what Williams was able to do for the Pirates, including leading La Vega to a state championship in 2015 when Williams was a sophomore and Rauls was a seventh grader.
“He kept his composure and kept the team together,” Rauls said. “I took from him learned how to keep my team together and how to stay positive.”
That optimism was key for Rauls, as La Vega opened this season 1-2 with a two-point loss at Argyle and a three-point loss at Austin LBJ. The sophomore’s favorite moment from the season came a week after the Pirates’ second straight loss with a 61-14 win over Pflugerville.
“It showed us we still have something special,” Rauls said. “We knew we were still going after something even though we had two losses on the season. … Non-district taught us a lot about our team and how we need to act in tough times and in good times. We took from those games how to stay together as a team.”
Rauls has since led La Vega to 10 straight wins and another district title. So far, he’s thrown for more than 1,100 yards and rushed for 500 to combine for 19 touchdowns on the year.
“The one thing that people don’t realize about him is he’s a super competitor,” Hyde said. “He’s ultra-competitive, he wants to do it right. When he doesn’t do it right he’s upset with himself. He’s just a super competitor and he’s a lot faster than people give him credit for. He’s not a slow kid, and believe it or not he throws the ball pretty well too. We don’t throw it a lot because we don’t have to, but when he’s asked to do it, he does a good job with it.”
Like Martin and Jimenez, Rauls doesn’t feel the pressure to carry the entire load of what the offense is able to accomplish solely on his back. Instead, he’s got a wealth of talent in the backfield ready to take the ball of his hands and rush all over the field in Jar’Quae Walton, Elisha Cummings and John Richards.
“It feels great knowing they can back me and the receivers up and we’re having a tough time,” Rauls said. “We can definitely run the ball. Then I just try not to do too much. When I do that, when I force things, I can get off my reads. When I just focus on making my reads, stuff happens.”
Nick Jimenez, Midway
Jeff Hulme avoided telling Nick Jimenez to not worry about being like Tanner Mordecai. The Midway head football coach learned when he began coaching to never put a negative in his kids’ minds.
“You play with who walks through those doors,” Hulme said. “If you put that in their mind, it’s almost like telling a kid, ‘Don’t fumble.’ You don’t say that. You say, ‘Hold onto the football.’ Nick is Nick, Tanner is Tanner, (Sam) Glaesmann was Glaesmann, Ben Hicks was Ben Hicks and so forth and so on. I think Nick will go on right along as a great quarterback at Midway High School because of where he’s taken the team and the toughness he’s shown. He’s been great for us.”
Probably the most toughness Jimenez has shown all season came a week ago at Kyle Field as the Panthers trailed by 24 at the half. Jimenez had been helped off the field in the first half, only to have his ankle retaped before he walked it off and re-entered the game.
In the third quarter, Jimenez kept the ball and sprinted down the field, shaking a few defenders out of his way. Another defender, however, was waiting for him around the 25-yard line. Instead of sliding to avoid taking the hit, Jimenez lowered his shoulder and ran the dude over.
“Man, I had to,” Jimenez said. “Knowing we were down, I knew I had to give it my all, really, in that game.”
As the Panthers tied the game with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Jimenez went 8-for-10 for 136 yards and a touchdown during the final frame. Or to put it differently, the guy was absolute money down the stretch, as he stepped up to complete pass after pass in an epic Midway victory.
“It was toughness and perseverance,” Hulme said. “He doesn’t get down on himself. He knows it’s a four quarter game. He knows he’s got to make plays when he’s asked to make plays. More times than not, he’s done that.”
Once last season ended, Jimenez expected to be named Midway’s next starting quarterback, especially after backing up Mordecai a season ago. Jimenez said that his brother was even on him to make sure he was working out twice a day and throwing at least once a day over the summer because, as Jimenez put it, as he gets better, the team gets better. He didn’t want to let his teammates down, a mindset that shows a glimpse of the kind of leader Hulme knew Jimenez would be.
“He’s a leader and he’s a competitor,” Hulme said. “In high school football, you’re looking for a competitor. … Midway had a quarterback several years ago by the name of Kramer Robertson. He wasn’t a college quarterback at all, but he was a competitor. You’re not going to have your 6-4 quarterbacks roll through every year, and I’m fine with that as long as the guy running the show is a competitor and making sure he’s making everybody better.”
While Jimenez put in the work over the summer, Hulme and his coaching staff began to make some tweaks to the playbook. As Hulme said before, Jimenez is Jimenez, not Mordecai. He has different strengths than Mordecai, as do his speedy receivers that flank either end in D’Ante Thomas and Demarcus Degrate.
“We have great coaches,” Hulme said. “They sit down and look at each and every week, every day before practice and see what’s best for Nick and the receivers because it’s a combination.
“We’re not a down-the-field, vertical team this year as much as we were (last year) with Tanner and C.J. (Williams). These guys are great about coming across the middle and making tough catches. Nick has done a great job of getting them the ball.”