Houston Rolling with May at QB
Entering week eight of the high school football season, it would appear that head coach Ty Hardin’s Houston Hilltoppers are an unstoppable force.
Sure, down the road in 3A a few seemingly immovable objects await, but so far their previous five opponents have had little chance taking hold and stopping the Toppers.
As always Houston(5-1, 1-0) has a roster chocked full of athleticism, and this year they have the size in the trenches to match their speed with strength. But many questioned the vitality of their offense coming into the season with the graduation of accomplished signal caller Urriah Shephard.
Enter all-purpose playmaker Jalen May, who had contributed all over the field entering this season. In fact, he played quarterback in the spring but bowed out of the offseason quarterback competition. May started this season at his usual spots - running back, receiver and defensive back.
“I feel comfortable throwing the ball,” May told SES Mississippi. “My arm strength comes from playing baseball a lot. People don’t expect that, so I catch them off guard with my arm talent.”
In the first three games of the season - which included wins over Calhoun City and New Hope following the loss to Pontotoc - May carried it just 16 times for 166 yards and added seven catches for a total of three scores.
In game four, however, the Toppers found themselves in a battle with 4A foe Itawamba AHS, and the situation called for something more. Hard, and offensive coordinator Zane Thomas, knew exactly what their offense needed.
“He’s fast and very explosive,” Hardin said of May, “We’re fortunate enough to have a good offensive line and skill guys around him. So you can’t just focus on him. You have to focus on everybody and the big picture. When you have to focus on everybody, it leaves him a lot of room to make plays. And when you just focus on him, other folks can make plays. He works hard and he knows he has his teammates best interests.”
Since taking over at quarterback in game four, all May has done is rush for 705 yards on 55 carries plus 14 scores. Additionally, he’s completed over half his passes for another two touchdowns.
“It allows me to create more space. I’ve got more open field to run,” May said of his increased production at his new spot. “I’ve got options, I can throw it, give it off to the running back or I can run it myself.”
“We’ve got a couple backs back there and it’s just opening things up for me. It helps a lot when you’ve got Bobby Townsend, LaJarvis Ewing and even Red Parker.”
Not only has the production for May taken a jump, but for the entire offense. After taking over during the game against Itawamba, the May effect has really show in his two full games at quarterback since. The Toppers have rushed for over 500 yards in each of the last two games.
Their last game out - a 54-21 win over Choctaw County - had a bit of extra juice behind it. In 2017, Houston finished runner-up in region 4-3A behind the Chargers, thanks to a 13-12 loss to them to start division play. Fast forward back to this season, and the Toppers have now avenged that loss.
“I think it’s a big edge,” May noted. “Last year when we lost to them, we were mad about it after the game. So we marked this game since last year. We wanted to make a statement to 3A and get our revenge.”
But that isn’t the only statement Houston plans to make in 3A this season. They want to take home the trophy. And besides their talent and spectacular play as of late, they have a couple things that have added extra fuel to those flames.
The first is a lesson they learned in the season-opening loss to 4A contender Pontotoc.
“As long as we play hard the whole game, we’re probably going to win. Our coaches always tell us the tougher team is going to win. So if we play tough the whole game, we’ll get the job done,” May explained.
The other was losing one of their most beloved teammates in freshman offensive lineman William Anderson.
“It hurt us bad, we were all down about it. He kind of was a leader of the team. He was the first one out there every day. Every game we play we try to do it for him,” May stated.
““Our guys are just hungry. Everybody wants to make it to the state championship, but we really want it this year. I think we have the talent and the depth to get it. Everybody is just buying into what the coach is talking about.”
This week Houston puts their unblemished division record on the line as they travel to face Hatley(5-2, 1-0).