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Fulshear senior Ava Underwood
Fulshear senior libero/setter Ava Underwood verbally committed to Texas A&M in December of her sophomore year.
That's when the real work began.
"I knew I wanted to be prepared when I get (to A&M) and be in my best shape and do my best to make a really big impact," Underwood said. "So, in a way, it did take off some weight, knowing that was secure for me, but it also pushed me even more because I knew how much of an impact I want to have on the program."
Underwood officially signed to become an Aggie on Wednesday morning, one step closer to wrapping up an illustrious high school career that so far includes a state championship and state runner-up finish. Another state tournament appearance is not out of the picture as Underwood and the Chargers are in the regional semifinals this weekend.
"It's been a rollercoaster, but it's been extremely successful," said Underwood, a two-time all-state selection. "I'm just hoping to continue that run, continue that dream of getting to state again. It's been a really great experience, and I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Underwood's recruiting process began when she was in eighth grade at Seven Lakes Junior High. In 2018, she started at libero for Seven Lakes High and helped the team to the regional quarterfinals. In 2019, she transferred to Fulshear and helped the Chargers capture the Class 5A state title.
Last season, Fulshear finished as a state finalist.
Underwood loved the tradition and family aspect of Texas A&M. Though she committed early in her high school career, she'd already been a veteran of the recruiting world by the time she made her decision.
"I really had a lot of time to think about my decision," she said. "I grew up an Aggie. My dad went to A&M. In my heart, I knew that's where I wanted to go, but I explored my options and even that made it more evident to me that that's where I needed to be."
.@FULSHEARVB senior libero/setter @AvaUnderwood16 talks about signing with @AggieVolleyball and stepping up as a setter out of team need for the Chargers. Ava has 1100 assists, 107 kills, 53 aces and 30 blocks this season. #txhsvb @lcisdathletics @Fulshear_HS @FulshearABCpic.twitter.com/nbvJLU353a — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
Underwood is the prototypical team player, a fiery leader who demands the most out of herself and her teammates. Though she was recruited to A&M as a libero, Underwood moved to setter before the Chargers' first playoff game last season despite never having set before.
This year, she has played there permanently, totaling 1,100 assists with 107 kills, 53 aces and 30 blocks.
"Me and coach (Sydney Zimmerman) had multiple conversations, just trying to figure out the best thing for our team," Underwood said. "We both came to a conclusion that we needed a setter and that I was the best candidate. Of course, I'm willing to do whatever I need for my team. I've learned so much as a player from that switch. It's been cool learning more about the game, and I think my volleyball IQ has extended a lot since then."
Now Underwood has one final goal as a Charger remaining: help Fulshear through the upcoming regional tournament this weekend and get back to state for a third straight year.
"We have this fight to where we're kind of an underdog, even having gone to state last year and winning it the year before," said Underwood, who calls this year's Chargers "gritty." "We've had a lot of change on our team, but it's made us stronger than ever. We've overcome a lot, and I feel like we're finally hitting our stride."
Seth Small poses for a photo in 2017 taking a look at the Katy High football championship trophies inside the school's athletic fieldhouse.
Texas A&M senior Seth Small is used to big-time moments. He had more than a few kicking for the Katy Tigers in high school.
Saturday's kick, however, is one Small will never forget. Small's 28-yard field goal as time expired earned the unranked Aggies a shocking 41-38 upset over No. 1 Alabama at Kyle Field.
The A&M win snapped a 19-game Alabama win streak and was Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban's first loss in 25 tries against a former assistant.
"It was probably the third best moment of my life, right after I accepted Jesus into my heart as my true Lord and savior and after getting married to my wife this summer," Small said. "I rank this three."
Small graduated in 2018 from Katy, where he was a three-star prospect rated as the top kicker in the country by 247sports.com. He made 12 field goals and was 68-for-70 on extra points as a senior. He had a career-long field goal make of 50 yards as a junior.
In the season-opener of the 2017 season, Small drilled a 39-yard field goal as time expired to beat The Woodlands, 24-21, at Legacy Stadium.
Seth Small delivers a kick for the Katy Tigers during the 2017 high school football season.Dennis Silva II | VYPE Media
With two seconds left against Alabama, Small, who had connected on a 38-yard field goal earlier in the game, took a quick drink from a water bottle, trotted up to the 18-yard line, lined up his sights accordingly, stepped backward to the left, and booted a shot that looked like it was heading far left before drifting back in toward the inside of the left upright and sailing off into the night.
"It was not just me," Small said. "It was the defense getting a stop, the offense moving the ball down the field. Connor Choate snapping the ball. Nik Constantinou, my holder. All the guys blocking on the line. It's not just me. I just get to do a little fraction of it."
That fraction set off frenzied glee within Kyle Field, as the second-largest crowd to ever watch an Aggies football game flooded the field.
"It felt like 100,000 were on the field with us the whole night," Small said. "The 12th man, the stands, those students … they don't sit down. It was packed the whole entire game. Nobody left. We have the best fans in the nation, and that's what makes it so special to play at Kyle Field."
Seth Small. Could not have happened for a better man. One of @FootballKaty’s finest. Still remember fondly when he… https://t.co/Lrwgmz8Ici — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
Not surprisingly, considering how admired and respected he was at Katy, Small has emerged as a leader for the Aggies.
He lockers next to starting quarterback Zach Calzada. The last two games, Small said he has prayed with Calzada before taking the field.
Small was like a proud big brother when discussing the standout performance of the much-maligned Calzada, who completed 21 of 31 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns to one interception, showing grit and heart while fighting through a leg injury late in the game.
"Zach's first day on campus looks much different than how he looks now," Small said. "To see how he's matured as a person, as a football player, as a leader on this team has been incredible. I hope he says that I played a role in that, as an older guy trying to influence him a little bit, but that's all Zach. He's worked his tail off. He showed what he was capable of tonight."
Small also predicted former Fort Bend Marshall star Devon Achane's 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second half.
Small is the kicker on returns during practices each week. Every time this week, when Achane would finish a return run, Small would tell Achane, "They're soft on kickoff. If you want to break one loose, it's going to happen."
"I'm glad he took my advice," Small said. "Alabama had just scored, (and) we took the momentum right back. It was a shift in momentum to give us that spark."
Small also praised the coaches for putting players in position to make plays. As a team, he said, "it clicked this week." He has been amazed by Fisher's ability to gauge where the team is at and deliver the appropriate message necessary.
Small's message all throughout the Alabama game? Psalm 23:1. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want."
"That's a moment I live for," Small said of his kick heard 'round college football, "so I can deliver on my part like they've been delivering on their part all night long."
Small has made 11 of 12 field goals this season, and 60 of 76 (78.95 percent) in his Aggies career.
With the win, A&M (4-2, 1-2 SEC) moved from unranked to No. 21 in the country, while Alabama (5-1, 2-1) dropped to fifth.