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HOUSTON - After Crosby made its historic run to the UIL Class 5A Division II State Championship game last year, the biggest question was could they do it again?
Could they replace the offensive output by Deniquez Dunn and Reggie Branch - who accounted for 6,051 yards of total offense?
The questions around Crosby - which had just made its first state title game appearance since 1960 - heading into the offseason were a lot. And the returning Cougars took that personally.
“These kids took some of that to heart,” Crosby coach Jerry Prieto said. “They went into the offseason with a chip on their shoulder and went into this season with a chip on their shoulder. There were some people out there that didn’t even pick us to win our district and we were coming off playing in the state championship. Those kids took that personally.
"They had a great offseason and a great summer and they’re seeing the fruits of their labor right now.”
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As Crosby heads into its second-straight UIL State Semifinal game on Friday night here are three things to take note of about these Cougars.
Tested Early & Often
Crosby's schedule is no cakewalk.
The Cougars opened the 2021 season facing off against the defending Class 4A Division II State Champion Carthage Bulldogs. Then it was the 2017 Class 5A Division I State Runner-Up Manvel Mavericks in Week 2, followed by a pre-season state favorite Port Arthur Memorial in Week 3.
“We want to be tested, we want to play some of the best in the state,” Prieto said. “We want to figure out where we need to improve on early on so we can use the rest of the season to improve in those areas. We also want to get better with the games.
“I don’t think you can ever schedule through fear. You really have to look at what’s going to make your team better and make you a championship program. For me, it was scheduling these tough games early on.”
Crosby lost the opener to Carthage 27-24, then dropped their game against Manvel 35-21.
Even though the Cougars entered Week 3 of the season at 0-2, the "game experience" that his squad got from those two showdowns with perennial power programs was invaluable.
“We lost those two games, but we learned a lot about ourselves, and we had a lot of confidence coming out of those games because we were right there and had chances to win both those football games," Prieto said. "It gave these kids that confidence that they could play with anybody in the state.”
That confidence carried over to the Port Arthur Memorial game where Crosby beat the Titans 41-26.
Going 1-2 in the non-district portion of their schedule could have easily been 3-0 with weaker opponents but since that PA Memorial win, Crosby has won 11-straight.
“One thing that’s great about this team is our best players are our best workers,” “Our best players are our best leaders. When you have that you have the ingredients to have a special season. We’re having one so far.”
QB1 Finding His Groove
Cyrin Myles saw limited playing time his sophomore year.
The now-junior quarterback as a sophomore on the 2020 state runner-up team played in 15 games, attempted just 37 passes, completing 20 of them, for 266 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Myles also ran 47 times for 188 yards and three scores.
The highlight of his sophomore season came against Kingwood Park on November 5 when he rushed for 111 yards on 11 carries and two scores - a glimpse of what was to come.
So, at the beginning of the 2021 season, Myles needed game experience and every week he has gotten more and more. Fourteen games in now, this is his offense and he's showing it.
Myles has gone 134 of 228 for 2,332 yards, 31 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He's posted a QB rating of 127.8 for the season. He has also rushed for 1,215 yards and 20 scores on 217 carries.
“The game has really been slowing down for him each week,” Prieto said. “He’s just an extremely competitive kid. Wants to be coached and wants to be coached hard and you don’t get that with a lot of kids. He’s been taking care of the football, making big plays and he’s been leading our team. Not just our offense.
"He’s been getting better every week and I think he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the state. I think the stats back me up on that.”
TOUCHDOWN COUGARS!! Stay for the end of this video Crosby fans! QB @CyrinMyles and 2 point conversion to follow. Cougars 14, Tigers 7. Q4 10:59 #thisisnow #cougarpride #txhsfbplayoffs #txhsfb pic.twitter.com/AWhzg3eo85— Crosby ISD (@CrosbyISD) December 4, 2021
But it's not just his electrifying, running straight to the camera touchdown runs that make Myles great.
A few weeks ago, Prieto had some coaching friends come watch their game at Cy-Fair FCU Stadium. They lauded about Myles, not just because of his on-field performance but how he commanded the sideline and led.
It's his on and off the field performance, Prieto remarked, that makes him great.
“He’s a great leader, great competitor,” he said. “He’s a student of the game. Watches a ton of film, asks a bunch of questions and just wants to make sure he’s doing everything right.”
Mr. Swiss Amry Knife
At the Class 5A level there are very few people that do what Kameren Kirkwood does.
The Crosby senior plays on the offensive, defensive and special teams side of the ball. If Kirkwood had a football business card he could list running back, receiver, kick returner and cornerback on it.
“That kid’s just a warrior,” Prieto said.
In some of their tough games, Prieto admits that Kirkwood sees probably 80 to 90 percent of the team's total snaps. That's offense and defense.
On offense he leads the team in receiving with 1,035 yards and 17 scores. He averages 19.2 yards per grab entering the state semifinal. Flip over to defense he leads the team with seven interceptions, 14 pass deflections and 55 tackles. Kirkwood has also racked up 351 yards on kick returns as well.
“He’s just one of the toughest kids I’ve ever been around," Prieto said. "He’s just one of the most explosive kids in the State of Texas.”
And with all that work on Friday nights, you would think maybe during practice he takes some plays off to recoup. Not a chance.
"He just shows up every day ready to work," Prieto said. "Doesn’t ever ask to take reps off in practice or anything like that and he’s going both ways in practice."
SOUND UP! 🔊 🔊 Great conversation about the toughness of the Crosby Cougars. Thank you @vypehouston and @densilva02 for the discussion on @TwitterSpaces today. #thisisnow #cougarpride pic.twitter.com/P1ChRaet4O— Crosby ISD (@CrosbyISD) November 30, 2021
Crosby faces Liberty Hill tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the State Semi-Finals at Bryan's Merrill Green Stadium. Follow VYPE Houston for LIVE updates all night long.
HOUSTON - The greatest defensive units and players that have ever touched the gridiron have had their accomplishments immortalized through time with a nickname.
In the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line was known as the "Steel Curtain". In the 1980s, Texas A&M's defense was termed the "Wrecking Crew". And most recently, the Seattle Seahawks unit was dubbed the "Legion of Boom".
Now, it's time to meet, as dubbed by VYPE, the "M.C. Hammers".
Crosby's McCoy Casey (the "M") and Tyler Cooper (the "C") have been an absolutely dominating combo for the Cougars' defense up front all season long, amassing 240 tackles (76 tackles for loss) and 29 sacks.
"It's ridiculous," Crosby coach Jerry Prieto said. "They just refuse to be blocked."
Start with McCoy.
A three-year starter for Crosby, McCoy was one of the players to watch on the defensive side of the ball. So far, he's lived up to the preseason hype. Casey has tallied 123 tackles (9.5 tackles/game), 37 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and 34 quarterback hurries.
On the other end is Cooper, who is a starter for the first time in his career.
"Tyler has matured a lot from his junior to his senior year," Prieto said. "The work ethic improved, the discipline improved, everything improved and he's starting to see why we've been so hard on him in the past because we saw so much potential with him. Thankfully, he's playing up to that potential and then some.
"It's been a huge help with replacing so many starters on defense to have someone like Tyler Cooper to step up and perform like McCoy Casey."
Cooper is right there with Casey on the stat line. Through 13 games he has racked up 117 tackles, 39 tackles for loss and a team-leading 16 sacks and 35 quarterback hurries.
So, if you're an opposing offensive line coach, who do you try to stop?
"It's difficult because you have two of them on the d-line, you can't just go double-team one of them and leave the other single blocked," Prieto said. "They're both going to make plays, they're both going to be in the backfield."
The final question for Prieto was the obvious one - does the dynamic duo have a nickname?
"No, no nicknames yet," Prieto said with a laugh.
Well, don't worry coach - the "M.C. Hammers" is our choice.