Sophomores maturing quickly for Willowridge
Willowridge is a workmanlike 3-1 this season, 3-0 in District 11-5A, Division II, and it is so largely because of admirable play from a trio of sophomores.
Receivers Travis Willis and Marxquise Hayes, and quarterback Blaize Covington are prominent figures for coach Ramon Chinyoung's Eagles. But, like the program they represent, they are in unique circumstances. They are not typical sophomores.
Because Willowridge's football program does not field sub-varsity teams, Hayes and Willis were varsity players as freshmen last year. Thrown into the fire, they were forced to adapt and learn on the fly. Fortunately, their growing pains were not void of success, as the Eagles finished 7-3 and made the playoffs.
This year, Hayes and Willis are leaders. Willis has caught 15 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns while also playing free safety. Hayes has caught eight passes for 187 yards and four touchdowns while collecting two interceptions at cornerback.
"Just striving for greatness and working hard," Willis said. "That's what this team is about."
The Eagles are young and resilient. Raw, but tough. Of the 33 active roster players, Chinyoung said about 26 are sophomores. Of the 22 starters, 19 play offense and defense.
Chinyoung said two things have been essential for the rapid maturity of Willis and Hayes.
One is conditioning.
"The first thing that happens when the body gets tired is the mind goes," Chinyoung said. "So, because of offseason, track, summer conditioning, their stamina is so much stronger to where their mind is able to stay focused on the goal and the task. That's the biggest piece."
The second is attitude.
Like any youngster, Hayes and Willis had preconceived notions of what they would be as a varsity player and where they would be playing. Once they relieved themselves of those ideals and accepted whatever was best for the team, each took a considerable step forward in the right direction, both for themselves and the Eagles.
"Last year, Marxquise was, 'Coach, I just play receiver.' This year, it's, 'Coach, I'll play whatever you need,'" Chinyoung said. "Travis Willis last year said, 'Coach, I want to play running back.' This year, 'Coach, where do you need me? I'll get it done.' That comes from the time and relationships being built."
Chinyoung praises Hayes for terrific ball skills and diligent work transitioning to cornerback in a short amount of time. Hayes attacks the football in the air and has great breakaway speed.
Fort Bend Willowridge || Week 4 Highlights || 3 REC , 105 YDS || 1 INT @MiltonJavid @RChinyoung @WillowridgeFB… https://t.co/jXN16j3pBw— 𝑀𝐴𝑅𝑋𝑄𝑈𝐼𝑆𝐸 𝐻𝐴𝑌𝐸𝑆 ✞ (@𝑀𝐴𝑅𝑋𝑄𝑈𝐼𝑆𝐸 𝐻𝐴𝑌𝐸𝑆 ✞) 1632794895.0
"Once he sticks his foot and gets vertical, you look up and he's beat you over the top," Chinyoung said.
Hayes said he's better this season firing off the ball, creating separation, and catching and securing the ball.
"I know way more now that I wish I knew (as a freshman)," Hayes said. "That's showing on the field."
Willis is a different type of dynamic, Chinyoung said. In his first year playing receiver, Willis leads the team in catches and yards.
"Mentally and physically, I'm better. Stronger," Willis said. "My execution and work ethic are way better than last year. I'm learning every day. Whether it's catching the ball, working, and running routes, I'm getting better with each game."
Fort bend Willowridge high school WR/FS co 24’ #stayhumble ✝️ @WillowridgeFB https://t.co/m3LQmZJdNm— Travis willis ✝️ (@Travis willis ✝️) 1632587473.0
Covington is new to Willowridge, but because of his impressive leadership skills, he has quickly assumed ownership of the offense and is an extension of Chinyoung on the field.
Covington, who also brings physicality to the position at 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, has completed 31 of 60 passes for 450 yards and six touchdowns to four interceptions. He has quickly earned the respect of teammates and coaches for his work ethic and positive nature.
"The first day he stepped foot at Willowridge High School, all he did was clap, motivate and hustle with a sense of urgency," Chinyoung said. "Over time, his teammates were able to see that he means business. He has the composure needed for a football team to be successful."
@WillowridgeFB @RChinyoung @Willowridge_HS Check out my highlight - https://t.co/A0VFPuETgi— Blaize X Covington (@Blaize X Covington) 1632710928.0
The Eagles are ahead of schedule in Chinyoung's second year at the helm. They have a long way to go—the 2020 season was essentially a wash because of a lack of spring ball and preseason due to COVID-19—but the process is being worked off the field as the team wins on it.
Willowridge's only loss so far is to Class 6A Fort Bend Dulles in the season-opener. Since then, the Eagles shut out Northside 57-0, beat Waltrip 22-10 and nudged Sharpstown, 21-20, in overtime.
"We're all young," Hayes said. "The more we play together, the better we'll become. Time will tell."