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Tenaha's CJ Horn Among Six Outstanding Student-Athletes Honored as Built Ford Tough Texas High School Football Players of the Year


·         Class 6-A: Tanner Mordecai, Sr., Quarterback, Waco Midway


·         Class 5-A: John Stephen Jones, Sr., Quarterback, Dallas Highland Park


·         Class 4-A: Keaontay Ingram, Sr., Running Back, Carthage


·         Class 3-A: Jackson Sampson, Sr., Quarterback, New Diana


·         Class 2-A: C.J. Horn, Sr., Quarterback, Tenaha


·         Private Schools: Grant Gunnell, Jr., Quarterback, Houston St. Pius X


FRISCO, Texas – January 20, 2018 – Six Texas high school football stars of the 2017 season have been recognized as Built Ford Tough Texas High School Football Players of the Year. For twelve years now, Ford Motor Company has recognized the best of each high school football season. Without fail, many of those players go on to prestigious professional and collegiate careers.


On Saturday, January 20, Ford Motor Company hosted most of the players recognized during the season at The Star in Frisco, Dallas Cowboys World Headquarters. There, the six Texas high school football players of the year were also awarded their trophies. These athletes are among an impressive list of players recognized for outstanding efforts on and off the field. These players are the embodiment of Ford’s Go Further commitment.


Following are capsule summaries on the Player of the Year winners:


Class 6-A: Tanner Mordecai, Sr., Quarterback, Waco Midway:

Even Superman has an alias.  Most of the time, he’s that unassuming, mild-mannered reporter, Clark Kent. Much like Kent, Tanner Mordecai is a humble hero who walks the hallways of Waco Midway daily, just like every other student. “One of our school administrators said he could never tell that Tanner was a star football player. He didn’t walk around with his chest puffed out or seek special treatment,” says Head Coach Jeff Hulme of the Associated Press’ Class 6A Offensive Player of the Year. Yet once Tanner stepped on the field, he flipped the switch, transforming into one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. He could beat you with his arm, legs, and intelligence. Indeed, he’s a rare player. Tanner’s demeanor never changed even when Midway lost to Cy-Fair, 51-35, last month in the Class 6A, Division II final. The Panthers had a long night as Cy-Fair raced to a commanding 44-7 lead after three quarters. With nothing left but to play for pride, Tanner tossed four of his five TDs in the fourth quarter and the Panthers pulled to within 16 points twice, but fell short. For the game, Tanner went 33 of 52 for 406 yards and five scores from 48, 16, 2, 7 and 5 yards, and carried 11 times for 40 yards. Midway wrapped up 2017 with a 15-1 record, capturing a district championship.

Tanner is a winner in the classroom, too, where he maintains a straight-A average and is a member of the National Honor Society. In the spring, he runs a leg on the track team’s 4x100 relay and is involved with FCA, PALS (elementary school peer mentoring) and various community service projects. The first team all-state QB was a finalist for the Mr. Texas Football Award and named the District 8-6A MVP for the second consecutive season. As a junior, Tanner burst onto the scene passing for 1,725 yards and totaled 24 TDs in eight games.

For the season, the Oklahoma recruit hit on 303 of 506 passes for 4,395 yards and 53 TDs and only 10 interceptions. Tanner threw for a season-high 420 yards in a 49-45 win over Copperas Cove on Sept. 29 and struck for seven TDs to defeat Shoemaker, 63-21, on Nov. 3. Tanner is considered the No. 15-ranked dual threat senior quarterback in the nation, according to recruiting website 247Sports.com.

“I was never nervous when Tanner was on the field,” says Coach Hulme. “He was always fun to coach and never seemed like he had a bad day. He never acted entitled, worked hard in the weight room, and had positive influence on each of his teammates. Are we going to miss him going forward?  Wow!  That’s an easy question!”


Class 5-A: John Stephen Jones, Sr., Quarterback, Dallas Highland Park:

In the history of Texas high school football, no team has won more games (816) than Highland Park. Its alumni roster includes some of the game’s all-time greats, including Doak Walker, Bobby Layne, and the Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford.  But until last month, they had never won two straight state titles.  Without quarterback John Stephen Jones’ last-second (okay, 34 seconds) heroism, that wouldn’t have happened either. The Scots overcame a 49-39 deficit on a late Jones run, a successful onside kick, and the winning 16-yard pass to Cade Saustad.  A final game-saving tackle at the Highland Park 1-yard line on the final play of the evening sewed up the 5-A Division 1 title. 

John Stephen finished the night completing 37 passes on 58 attempts for a whopping 564 yards (setting UIL state championship game records for attempts and yardage) and four touchdowns plus the rushing TD, which brought the Scots within striking distance.  Saustad, who caught three of Jones’ TD tosses, also recovered the vital onside kick.  The victory was Highland Park’s 15th straight after an opening night loss to Rockwall.  Oddly, the score of that game was identical to the score of the state title game, 53-49 with Rockwall coming from behind to win late.  Though a bit undersized at 5-10 ½ and 180 pounds, Jones excels in so many ways that he has overcome that.  The grandson of Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones and the son of Dallas’ executive VP Stephen Jones, John Stephen has been around football literally all of his life.  (His #9 uniform number pays tribute to ex-Cowboy veteran QB Tony Romo.)  As a result, his football IQ is off the charts.  Few high schoolers manage a game as well as he does.  He wound up the season completing 297 of 424 passes for 4,911 yards and 61 TDs and rushing 120 times for 377 yards and 10 TDs.

Jones’ 3.626 GPA is enough to attract any college—and several, including Arkansas and Texas Tech, have offered him.  He reads to elementary school students, is active in Bible studies at Highland Park United Methodist Church and in a summer camp program for underprivileged youth. 

“John Stephen excels in so many phases of the game,” says Coach Randy Allen. “He was terrific as a junior and even better as a senior.  He plays with great confidence, turning bad plays into good plays.  It’s always exciting when he’s out there.” 


Class 4-A: Keaontay Ingram, Sr., Running Back, Carthage:

There are moments when high character takes over and for senior Keaontay Ingram it occurred last month on the field of AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Ingram and his Bulldog teammates had just finished off Kennedale, 49-21, to win a second straight Class 4A, Division I title when Keaontay walked up to quarterback Gunner Capps’ father, recalled Head Coach Scott Surratt. “He told him if your son doesn’t get the game Offensive MVP then it’s a joke. That’s the way Keaontay is; he’s selfless and loves his teammates.” Capps did take home the MVP and Carthage’s star running back concluded his brilliant high school career with 15 carries for 163 yards (nearly 11 yards a pop) and scored three touchdowns on runs of 20, 41 and 65 yards. The Bulldogs (16-0) completed an undefeated season, winning the program’s sixth state crown in 10 years and 26th straight game victory.

For the season, Keaontay (6-0, 195 pounds) rushed for 2,327 yards and scored 37 TDs, while averaging 9.9 yards per carry. He also caught 23 balls for 284 yards and two TDs. The two-time All-State performer compiled 5,208 career rushing yards (second in school history) and a school-record 76 TDs. He also had 84 receptions for 965 yards and seven scores. 

Keaontay burst onto the scene as a junior when he was named the MVP of the 4-A Division I final at AT&T Stadium, a 31-17 Carthage win over Abilene Wylie.  He is heavily involved in both FCA and at his local church.  An A/B student, Keaontay is also an all-district selection in basketball and track (sprints, relays, and jumps). He’s opted to sign his national letter-of-intent with the UT Longhorns in February rather than in December as his team was preparing for the state final.

“Keaontay did not want to be a distraction to the team as were getting ready for Kennedale,” says Surratt of his Under Armour All-American Game participant, ranked as the nation’s No. 7-ranked running back by 247Sports.com. “He’s put in so much hard work to get to this point. It’s a tribute to his high character and work ethic. Keaontay is a running back who excels in all phases of the game. He can run it with the best of them, he’s worked hard to become a good blocker and the protector of the quarterback, and he can catch it out of the backfield. You don’t see a lot of complete backs like him at our level.”


Class 3-A: Jackson Sampson, Sr., Quarterback, New Diana:                                             

When New Diana lost its district opener, a heart-breaking 62-61 shootout to DeKalb, they fell to 2-3.  Surely, thought many Eagles fans, “here we go again.”  New Diana, with Jackson Sampson under center, had gone 0-10 in 2015 and 3-7 in 2016.  Would 2017 bring more of the same?  No way.  Better days were already happening.  The Eagles had scored 237 points in those first five games (47 per game), Coach Robbie Coplin was starting his second year at the helm, and quarterback Jackson Sampson was doing some astonishing things on the field.  Better days indeed.  The Eagles bombed Hooks the following week and went off on amazing tear.  Prior to a loss to Gunter in the state regional final, New Diana reeled off a stellar eight-game winning streak that got them to the fourth week of the post-season and 10 wins in all.  The streak included a 24-21 win over perennial power Daingerfield and a Sampson-led come-from-behind 42-39 win over Paul Pewitt in Week 11 (“without Jackson, we simply don’t win that game,” said Coach Coplin) that earned the Eagles their first district title in 15 years

For Sampson, who had thrown for 2,698 yards in nine games as a junior, his senior year was totally off the board.  In the Eagles’ 10th victory, in the state regional semi-final vs Jacksboro, Sampson brought New Diana from behind in the final two minutes.  He completed a fourth-and-nine pass, then threw for the winning TD, finishing with 454 passing yards and six scores.  For the season, he completed 300 of 472 passes for 4,873 yards (that’s 348.1 yards per game) and 63 TDs (4.5 per outing). 

A virtual one-man athletic department at New Diana, Jackson has won all-district honors in football, basketball, and baseball and has qualified for the state tournament in golf.  Though several D-III programs would love to have him, he has opted to continue his education at SMU where he’ll be a preferred walk-on in the fall.  He’s extremely active in New Diana’s PALS leadership program, performing a variety of community service projects.  He has also volunteered in a state special education bowling tournament.

“I’ve coached a lot of D-1 quarterbacks, and Jackson has the same intangibles and the ability to make big plays,“ says Coach Coplin, who left New Diana for the head coaching job at Monticello (AR) this winter.  “It’s great having someone like Jackson leading your team.  He was the driving force behind us winning 10 games this season.  Every time we needed a big play, we knew we could count on him.  His leadership and his poise separate him from the rest.  I think he was the best player in East Texas this season and he was just a great high school player.”

Class 2-A: C. J. Horn, Sr., Quarterback, Tenaha:  

C.J. Horn has left quite a legacy at Tenaha. Operating from a pass-happy offense, C.J. pushed the Tigers to the brink of a state championship, falling just short in a 27-20 loss to undefeated Muenster in the Class 2A, Division II final at AT&T Stadium. “C.J. was always a calming influence on the field,” says Tenaha Head Coach (and his father), Craig Horn. “He made good decisions throughout his career and delivered in the clutch.” After reaching the regional final in the 2016 playoffs, C.J. marched the Tigers into the championship game. In the final, he completed 8 of 15 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns from 16 and 60 yards. He engineered a drive that knotted the score at 20 late in the third quarter, but Muenster scored the game-winning TD with :01 left in the third. The Tigers finished the campaign with a near-perfect 15-1 mark and went 5-0 in the District 11-2A, Division II and finished No. 1 in the Dave Campbell’s Texas Football regular season rankings. In three seasons, the 6-0, 195-pounder went 8-6, 13-1 and 15-1 for a 36-8 record.


As a freshman, C.J., a four-year starter, played wide receiver, coming up with 40 receptions for 440 yards and eight scores. However, under center, he hit on 500 of 698 passes for 8,805 yards and 113 TDs and only 17 interceptions. He also rushed for 1,098 yards and 27 TDs on 190 carries. The all-state signal-caller finished his senior year throwing for 2,931 yards and 40 TDs while rushing for 690 yards and tallying 16 more scores.


C.J. is the three-time district offensive MVP. He sports a solid 3.3 GPA and plays basketball, baseball, and runs a leg on all three sprint relay teams. Additionally, C.J. is a member of a local Baptist church, FFA, and Tenaha’s youth group. He’s also the first of seven boys in the family. Although he does not have a college offer, Coach Horn is optimistic that the schools will come calling by February. 


“C.J. is known for his dedication, hard work and commitment to his teammates,” says Coach Horn. “He was in the weight room everyday over the summer at 6 am and watched countless hours of film each week. As a father, I admire how much he loves his six younger brothers. One day, he’ll be a great dad.”


Private Schools: Grant Gunnell, Jr., Quarterback, Houston St. Pius X:

There probably isn’t an FBS college in America that doesn’t have Grant Gunnell’s name on a whiteboard in its office.  Houston St. Pius X’s junior quarterback, ranked by at least one service as the number one pro-style quarterback in the class of 2019, has prototypical size at 6-6 and 215 pounds and an arm to match.  MaxPreps named him as the quarterback on their junior All-American team.  Only a heart-wrenching 42-41 loss to Plano Prestonwood Christian in the TAPPS Division 1 final spoiled a perfect junior year.  Even so, Grant threw for 503 yards (25-for-36) and five touchdowns (80, 34, 30, 33, and 31) and ran 14 yards for another score in the defeat.  On the ground, he rushed 10 times for 68 yards. 

Overall, Grant threw for 4,936 yards and an astounding 61 TDs.  That included post-season wins over San Antonio Antonian (56-12), Dallas Bishop Dunne (35-28), and Dallas Bishop Lynch (34-15).  Gunnell took over as St. Pius’ full time quarterback when the starter tore his ACL during the middle of his freshman year—and hasn’t looked back.  As a sophomore, he threw for 4,973 yards and 65 TDs.  He came right back in 2017 to complete 361 passes on 507 attempts, a spectacular 71.2% with only six interceptions.  He threw for 4,936 yards and 61 touchdowns.  He also rushed 70 times for 390 yards and eight TDs.

On top of his gridiron skills, he’s pretty decent in the classroom too, with a 3.8 GPA in a challenging program.  With all his credentials, Grant is on everyone’s radar, though he has verbally committed to Texas A&M.  Still, he’ll be pursued by many other potential suitors until his signed national letter of intent arrives in College Station next December or so.

“Watching him grow as a quarterback has been an absolute delight,” says St. Pius X head coach Stephen Hill.  “He’s a tremendous student of the game, watching film with me virtually every day at lunchtime.  We give him full authority to check off on any play.  Grant’s objective is to become the best quarterback.  He works at that every day.  If you were drawing up a model for a quarterback, it would be Grant.”


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