Help proved to be right around the corner for John Tyler after an injury-plagued, winless non-district.
With the return of senior cornerback Kamryn Howard, and the rise of junior cornerback Traven Johnson, John Tyler’s secondary poses a primary concern for opposing offenses.
The statistics say John Tyler’s defensive backfield ranks second to none, with the Lions tops among all area Class 5A and 4A schools in passing yards allowed per game (85.5).
Despite battling depth issues — JT started the year with only two full-time cornerbacks — the Lions seem to be picking off where last year’s star-studded unit left off. JT intercepted a school-record 31 passes last year behind a secondary featuring three Division I signees.
After just one interception in three non-district games, JT picked off four passes last week in a 65-6 victory over Hallsville. Johnson joined the party with an interception return for a touchdown.
Howard, playing his first game of the season, added an interception while Terry Ausborne, a sophomore safety, recorded the other two picks. Howard paced the Lions with seven tackles.
More importantly, JT (1-3) notched its first win of the season.
“Stats are cool and all but we had to get that ‘W’,” said Howard, who also recovered a fumble in his JT debut. “Every time it was a huddle I was telling everyone, ‘we have to hit them in the mouth.’”
Howard, the consensus choice as the team’s fastest player on defense, provided a much-needed body, and experience to a secondary which started three juniors and one sophomore during his absence. Terrance Stevens started the first game opposite Johnson, but went down in the fourth quarter and remains sidelined, forcing wideout Darion Flowers into defensive duty.
“The ambition was eating me. I wanted to get out there,” said Howard, who transferred from Robert E. Lee early last year after playing varsity football, forcing him to sit out a full calendar year per UIL rules. “(It was tough) to see my team helpless when Terrance Stevens got hurt. …I’m the only senior DB. They have to look up to somebody. I have to fit the shoes.”
JT held Hallsville to six pass completions for a season-low 49 yards. The contest marked the third time JT kept a team to double digits passing.
“During our bye week we practiced hard, played to the best of our abilities when we played Hallsville,” said Johnson, a 6-1, 175-pound junior. “We kept our foot on the gas.”
Johnson gave JT its first defensive touchdown on the season when he took an interception back 26 yards in the third quarter. JT finished with an impressive 10 turnovers, including six fumble recoveries. Johnson added a safety with a return of a blocked extra point, the second straight game he pulled the feat.
“I saw the quarterback give the receiver a signal,” said Johnson, who started for the Lions in last year’s state quarterfinal loss to Wylie. “I thought if I played the ball I could catch it and go for six. I read it and jumped the route. Next thing I know the ball was in my hands.”
The opposition completed only 23 of 51 passes (45 percent) for two touchdowns against the Lions through four games. The Lions look to continue the trend on homecoming night Friday against Nacogdoches, a team averaging only 94 yards passing per game.
JT, the only team in district outscoring its opponents, figures to be favored the rest of district play while defending its crown.
“We’re taking it one day at a time,” Johnson said. “We’re picking it up, trying to get (another) gold ball.”
Howard hopes the Hallsville contest began a new streak. JT won 12 straight games a year ago and eight consecutive the previous campaign while lasting through the fourth week of the playoffs both seasons.
“I know if we put our heads together and don’t let up, we’re a state contender,” Howard said. “We have the talent. We just have to work for it. And finish.”
LIONS’ TALES: Both John Tyler sub-varsity teams defeated Hallsville last week, with the JV prevailing 14-0 and the freshmen winning 30-8. …Tickets to the JT-Nacogdoches game will be sold through Friday on the high school campus (students, faculty) until noon and at the TISD athletic office until 1:30 p.m., as well as at T&T Lewis and Tyler Athletics. Presale tickets cost $3 for students, $5 for general admission and $6 for reserved. Tickets at the gate cost $6 for general admission and $7 for reserved.