Experienced Shadow Creek squad set for State Semis
HOUSTON - A year ago as Shadow Creek was making its historic run to a state championship game in the inaugural year of the program playing UIL football, Brad Butler was posed with this question.
Do these guys even understand the historic run they are on?
Butler at the time laughed and jokingly said he hoped they didn't figure that out until after the season was over. The Sharks finished 2018 at 15-1, with its lone loss coming to Highland Park in the 5A Division I State Championship game.
Fast forward to today, Shadow Creek is doing it again. The Sharks are 14-0 heading into Friday's state semifinal rematch with San Antonio Wagner, hoping for a second-straight trip to AT&T Stadium with a win.
But there's a difference between this year's team and lasts but it doesn't all show up in the box score.
"We had so many guys returning off last year's team that there's definitely a different maturity among our team," Butler, the 2019 Touchdown Club of Houston Coach of the Year, said. "They've been pretty focused and you know they set some goals and is really one of the more mature teams that I've coached, to be honest with you."
The maturity comes from the senior class, which is the first group that has walked the halls of Shadow Creek High School all four years.
This current seniors went through the first two years of the program, during which they weren't in a UIL district at that time having to travel all over the state just to build a 10-game schedule.
From those experiences, the group became tight, which has carried them to this moment.
"I just think the relationships that were built and the chemistry that was built, I think is paying off for us now," Butler said.
If Shadow Creek wants to return to Arlington in a week, it will have to beat San Antonio Wagner, again.
Last season the road to their first state title game appearance went through the Thunderbirds inside NRG Stadium, which the Sharks won 41-24.
This time, Shadow Creek travels to the Alamo City to face them and their triple-option offense anchored by LJ Butler, who has rushed for more than 2,200 yards this season.
"We've got a lot of respect for them," Butler said. "That game we had last year here in NRG was a good game. Last week, I don't know how many yards they rushed for but it was a bunch. They put 74 points on the board, so we know they are tough ball-control offense, they are a challenge to get off the field.
"We've got a real challenge, they've been playing extremely well."
The defensive unit heading into this rematch is almost the exact same as last year, minus a couple of seniors that graduated. But the Division I filled talent core is still wearing the black and blue, led by Alec Bryant and company.
What San Antonio Wagner didn't have to defend against in 2018 was the rising talent of Kyron Drones.
The junior quarterback, who took over for the speedster Jamarian George, has really shown his ability to sling the pigskin down field, as well as run, just in a different style, when need be.
Drones has passed for 2,998 yards and 43 scores, while rushing for another 705 yards and 15 touchdowns in 14 wins this season for the Sharks.
"[He's grown] a bunch, even feeling more comfortable and stepping into a leadership role for us," Butler said about Drones' growth. "It's been exciting just to watch him get more comfortable and improve all year. We're a little bit different looking offensively than we were last year just because of the different skill sets between what Jamarian brought and what Kyron brings. Not that one is better than the other but it is different. We feel like we're fairly efficient now."
What can't be argued is the success of Butler's Sharks since arriving on the scene in 2018.
Heading into this state semifinal showdown, the Sharks are looking with a win to improve to an incredible 30-1 overall and advance to the program's second-straight title game.
"I know they do," Butler said about them realizing what they've accomplished. "It's not something we talk about too much. The last two years we've mapped out a playoff plan at the beginning of the playoffs each year. I think that's helped keep us focused on the next step.
"They've done a great job of not getting too far ahead of themselves and taking care of each week at a time."