Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Talented crop of Dallas-area HS football underclassmen have avoided growing pains, made major impacts
Bowman Sells is nicknamed “Bambi” by his Lovejoy teammates.
It’s not a particularly flattering nickname for a high school football player, but it was bestowed on the freshman quarterback lovingly.
“He’s like a young deer, all legs and wobbly,” Lovejoy coach Matt Green said. “But his teammates love him, and he’s earned their respect.”
With 1,364 passing yards and 14 touchdown passes, Sells has helped Lovejoy to a 7-0 start in its first season in Class 4A.
Sells is one of several area underclassmen who have made substantial contributions as first-time varsity starters.
“Just a couple months ago, I didn’t think I’d be able to play varsity,” Sells said. “It just happened.”
He came in during the third drive of Lovejoy’s opener against Frisco Heritage and threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to Grant Jarvis.
The 6-3, 185-pound Sells is flanked by several underclassmen on the field. Offensive linemen Dan Cole, Tommy O’Connor and Jake Baumert and running back Hunter Pfaff are all sophomores.
Each has made an impact for Lovejoy, which has clinched a playoff berth. Lovejoy will face its biggest test in District 13-4A against Sherman (6-1, 4-0) on Friday.
Elsewhere in 4A, sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson is leading Mesquite Poteet in tackles (59), tackles for loss (12), forced fumbles (four) and sacks (six). He has also blocked three kicks.
Jefferson (6-2, 210) leads a Poteet defense that ranks first among Class 5A and 4A schools in rushing defense.
“He’s got the size of a defensive lineman and the speed of a defensive back,” Poteet defensive coordinator Kody Groves said. “The first thing you notice is he’s a big kid, but he’s lightning fast.”
Even though he hasn’t experienced the growing pains that are typical of a debut varsity season, Jefferson knows he has plenty of room to grow. And he’ll have time to do it.
“I feel good, but I’m not satisfied yet,” said Jefferson, who started the first game of the season. “Just my mindset and my knowledge of the game can still improve.”
One of the most electrifying athletes in the area is sophomore quarterback Tony James of Arlington Bowie.
James, a converted wide receiver, caught a 95-yard touchdown pass against Mansfield in Bowie’s opener. He then shifted behind center after Keaton Perry suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Bowie coach Kenny Perry switched the team’s offense from a spread attack to a read-option approach to accommodate James’ strength as a dual threat.
In his first start, against then-area-No. 1 Skyline, James threw for 103 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 184 yards and two more touchdowns in a 38-36 upset. Bowie, which faced an uncertain future after a loss to Mesquite and the loss of its quarterback, is 6-0 since James took over.
“He didn’t give us reason to panic,” Perry said. “He’s a tough kid. And when you have a kid that can physically and mentally handle that, it makes all the difference.”
Juwan Washington, a sophomore running back at Kennedale, is the area Class 3A rushing leader with 1,287 yards. He has averaging more than 9 yards per carry and has scored 14 touchdowns.
At 5A power Allen, sophomore Kyler Murray supplanted senior Oliver Pierce at quarterback midway through a loss to Coppell. He’s averaging 13 yards per completion and has thrown for 710 yards and six touchdowns.
Bowie’s Perry said he is protective of young starters, because maintaining their confidence is paramount for long-term success.
“You don’t want to ruin a kid,” Perry said. “I think that happens quite a bit. You put pressure on a kid, with how big high school football is, all it takes is a couple bad games and people can jump off your bandwagon in a hurry.”
Lovejoy’s Sells could have been particularly vulnerable as a freshman starter. Green gradually integrated Sells into the offense, and the young quarterback is now reading defenses better and working through progressions.
“It allowed him to build up some confidence,” Green said. “And he’s starting to benefit from some of the more difficult reads and throws.”
In time, his teammates might even need to find a new nickname for him.
Follow David Just on Twitter at @DavidJustDMN.
Checking the performance of some of the top underclassmen in the area:
Passing: 995 yards, 12 TDs. Rushing: 511 yards, 9 TDs
59 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 6 sacks
Passing: 710 yards, 6 TDs
1,407 rushing yards, 23 TDs
Passing: 1,364 yards, 14 TDs
1,287 rushing yards, 14 TDs