If you’re looking for another team to follow this Saturday in addition
to Ohio State, try Klein Forest High School of Houston, Texas. One
hundred and twenty-eight miles north of where the Buckeyes open their
season, the Golden Eagles do the same against Warren Howland
in the Herbstreit Classic at Canton’s Fawcett
Stadium. KF kicks off an hour earlier at 11 a.m. Their eyes will be
wide open far before then, though.
If you’re looking for another team to follow this Saturday in addition to Ohio State, try Klein Forest High School of Houston, Texas. One hundred and twenty-eight miles north of where the Buckeyes open their season, the Golden Eagles will be doing the same against Warren Howland in the first game of the Herbstreit Classic at Canton’s Fawcett Stadium. KF kicks off an hour earlier at 11 a.m. Their eyes will be wide open far before then, though.
For a conservative estimate, 95-percent of the 55 players flying into the Canton/Akron Airport at 3:45 p.m. Friday have never been to Ohio – or on a plane. The farthest standout defensive lineman Simon Morgan has been is Shreveport, La., which is 242 miles from Houston. Cincinnati and Cleveland are separated by 244 miles.
The team will visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame Friday night, after a walk-through at Fawcett Stadium, and stay at the McKinley Grand Hotel.
Regardless of the awe, Morgan said he and his Golden Eagle teammates are coming here for one reason: to give people “a little taste of what Texas football is all about.”
Klein Forest is by no means the roughest high school in Houston. It’s not the nicest either.
The one high school in the Klein School District that pulls from Houston, Klein Forest has a diverse student body, unlike the other three high schools, which are predominantly white. Klein’s students are 45-percent Hispanic, 35-percent African-American, 10-percent Asian/other and 10-percent Caucasian.
Klein kids have some struggles a lot don’t. Over 50-percent of the team is from a single-parent family. Starting quarterback Vernell Caldwell lost his brother last spring to murder. He was beaten to death in their neighborhood.
There are plenty of positive reasons to pull for Klein Forest as well, though.
For one, they’re good. The Golden Eagles have made the Texas Class 5A playoffs (biggest division) four straight years and last season became the first Houston-area school in nine years to beat state power Lufkin.
In recent years KF players have gone against current college standouts Mark Ortman OL (Michigan), Chris Stewart OL (Notre Dame), Dez Bryant WR (Okla. State), Michael Goodson RB (Texas A&M), Javorksie Lane RB (Texas A&M) and J.B. Shugarts OL (Ohio State).
The Golden Eagles have also sent 10 kids to Division I colleges in the last two years.
Then there’s senior running back Dominic (pronounced Dominique) Wilkins, whose middle name is Isaiah Thomas. That’s right, Dominic Isaiah Thomas Wilkins.
Wilkins started fourth on the depth chart last year but made his way onto the field in Week 2 due to injuries. The first time he touched the ball he went 40 yards. The next time he held it he went 45 yards and scored. His third carry ended in the end zone as well.
Since that game, Wilkins has used his 4.5 speed in the 40 to remain a fixture in KF’s backfield. He’s considering Texas, Texas A&M, Miami, LSU and Kansas.
Speed is something the Eagles have in excess. In addition to Wilkins, Caldwell and WR/KR Vernon Rogers have also been clocked at 4.5 in the 40. Linebacker Cameron Nwosu and defensive end Jairo Garcia run 4.7, while Morgan hauls at 4.8.
“It’s a fast, high-tempo game and everything is in one move,” said Morgan of Lone Star Friday nights. “You try not to blink, you just try to survive.”
Morgan, a junior, has survived and excelled.
The youngest of six siblings, and the only boy, Morgan has his own fan club with five older sisters. He also has a solid football set.
Standing 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, Morgan is a little undersized for his defensive line position, but his heart and motor never stop. Neither does his wanting to improve.
“Simon always wants to get better,” KF defensive line coach A.J. Blum, a native Ohioan, said. “He’s very coachable and about the closest thing to a coach on the field that you can get. I had to miss the first day of practice and Simon led the defensive line drills because he was out with an injury that day. That’s the kind of kid he is.”
During his eighth-grade year Morgan was so dominant – and unintentionally hurt too many teammates during practice – that he was moved up to the freshmen team.
As a freshman he started reserve – and saw varsity action, playing in the Eagles playoff game that year. That’s pretty much unheard of.
Said Blum, whose Buckeye roots trace back to Bryan High School and Ashland University: “He’s a player.”
And a firefighter.
In the offseason, Morgan is part of a volunteer program at a local fire department where his father recently retired. Morgan has been in the program since he was 14-years old.
Although he says he hasn’t been on one fire run that’s really stuck out – no four alarms – the same can’t be said for a football game.
This weekend will be remembered forever.
“I’ve told the guys that this is something they’re never going to forget,” Blum said. “They’re bringing disposable cameras and their picture phones. They’re really embracing it. We’ve read on JJhuddle how (Howland) is playing for their school, their community and for their state. These kids are playing for a lot too.
“For a lot of them, this is the Super Bowl. This is as big as it gets.”