[Editor’s Note: Big thanks to 6 Blvd. for helping facilitate this story]
When their last semester of high school begins, and football season is over, many players begin to reminisce about the relationships they have forged, the wins, the losses, and, ultimately, what the sport has meant to them since their days in Pop Warner. Football is oftentimes the only consistent thing in the life of an athlete, the driving force that provides structure and purpose. But football isn’t just played for football’s sake. While the goal is to win a state championship, perhaps more importantly, this pursuit provides its participants with bonds that transcend the game. And in Katy, a suburb of Houston, Texas, these bonds grow into lush gardens, because their football fields are watered so faithfully.
It was Katy High School football that helped forge one such bond between three defensive backs, who had to depend on each other in coverage during every snap, and off the field, holding one another to the high standard instilled into them by their coaches, their parents, and their community. This brotherhood consists of JR Blades, DC Blades, and Collin Wilder. Two of these high school seniors are actual twins, heading to Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, and the other, a friend transformed into a brother on the field and in life, going to the home town University of Houston. With a 6A Division II state title won in their last year as high school athletes, they are savoring their last semester together before they go their separate ways, in pursuit of their football dreams.
Although these young men hoisted a state championship trophy in Katy red and white, their paths to this triumphant moment were disparate before they converged. The Blades twins came from a single parent home. They were raised by their mother, who made significant sacrifices for her five children. Sometimes she wouldn’t eat so they could. Living in a tough neighborhood in Southwest Houston, she put the twins into sports when they were four. And when they moved to Katy a few years later, it was football that acclimated them to their new surroundings.
When JR was eight, he was introduced to Collin Wilder. Their relationship began as a rivalry. He noticed that Collin was the best player on whatever team he was on, no matter the sport, earning him the nickname of “Big 23”. His team always beat JR’s, and usually handily. The closest margin of victory was in a football game, with a final score of 7-0. But “Big 23” scored the lone touchdown.
Noticing his proficiency on the field, JR wanted to beat him more than anything. But their rivalry became a brotherhood when the Blades family moved a few miles over, so that JR and DC could attend Katy High School and be a part of its storied football program that has won a record tying eight state championships.
But the three defensive backs weren’t all on the same team for a few years, because Collin made varsity as a freshman, and subsequently played in an incredible 64 games for Katy. JR earned a full time spot on the varsity team during his junior year, and DC as a senior. So, it was 2015 where the three could prove themselves on the field together and finally render their rivalry into an alliance.
During the final season of their high school football careers, the three defensive backs became close. JR calls Collin a brother, blood who was his biggest supporter and advocate, after his mother, in him reaching his dream of playing college football.
Faith, too, brought them together. Collin was the leader of Bible study for the football players interested in Christianity. JR began going to Collin’s house, as often as four times a week, and got to know his parent’s, whom he now considers family. During a sleepover, Collin led devotions. Off the field, he became a spiritual confidant. They strengthened each other’s faith and honed it into every aspect of their lives, including football.
This growing bond translated to success on the field. But, so too, did a fierce commitment to their craft. Katy breeds a certain kind of football player, one who calls their teammates to join them in supplemental workouts. JR said that on many occasions, he, his brother, Collin, the other DBs, wide receivers, and quarterbacks met on Sundays to work on their routes. And during the summer, defensive backs met at the school at 7:00 to work on their footwork.
This sort of commitment led to a state championship. But JR is not one to brag, or even revel too long in this success. When asked about how it felt to hoist this trophy over his head in victory, he claimed that it mostly made him think about the 2013 and 2014 campaigns and how they fell one game short of the state title. He couldn’t help but wonder what they did wrong then.
JR, DC, and Collin reached the pinnacle of high school football together. But they also helped each other achieve their dreams of playing college football. Collin committed to Texas Tech early in his high school career, and held that sole offer for quite a while. But JR said that he and other teammates thought he would eventually make the decision to play for the University of Houston. Perhaps they planted the seeds, but they look like soothsayers now, as the recently named the Texas Sports Writers Association Class 6A Defensive Player of the Year has signed his letter of intent to play at UH. His recruitment was a whirlwind, with many twists and turns. But he had his teammates, the Blades twins, and his loving family there to help him along, even when he decomitted from Texas Tech and piles of offers began to inundate his mailbox.
The Blades twins, on the other hand, were not as highly recruited. Both cornerbacks, they are a bit undersized. JR stands at about 5’9, and believes that his height accounts for his limited recruitment. But he knows he can play with anyone, and has leadership skills and heart, not to mention speed and strength, that rivals any high school defensive back. And Collin reminded him of this every moment he could.
JR drew interest from the coaching staff at Midwestern State University while at a camp there. The coaches were drawn to his leadership. When a linebacker jumped a flat during a scrimmage, JR used the opportunity to teach the player the coverage that, he too, had just learned. This resonated with MSU, and the mutual interest manifested in an offer to play football in Wichita Falls. The Division II school became even more appealing when DC was offered, too. The twins would be playing football together, bringing their Katy commitment to excellence to Wichita Falls.
While JR didn’t have many offers, he takes advantage of every opportunity he is presented with. So he is all in on MSU, and can seen wearing a gray Midwestern State t-shirt around Katy. It means a lot to him to be able to play with his twin brother. They will be the first in their family to attend university.
While JR’s goal is to become a professional football player, he also dreams of becoming a pharmacist. He views MSU as the place that can provide the opportunity to achieve both. He has his life planned out and is excited to execute every aspect of it to the best of his ability, so that his dreams can come true and he can give back to his mom, who sacrificed so much for he and his siblings.
When asked about Collin staying home and being a part of the H-Town Takeover, by playing for UH, JR beamed. He thinks it’s a great decision for his teammate, who gets to represent the city he is from. He is happy for the friend, the bother, he met through the game they both love so much. But while football brought them together, it’s now also separating them. Katy’s success in molding kids into college athletes results in an annual exodus of its graduates, who go on to populate football programs across the nation.
JR’s biggest concern is losing communication with Collin and the rest of the team. He thinks their bond, forged through spirituality and football, is special, so much so that he believes an ESPN 30 for 30 could be made about it. He aims to call Collin at least twice a week and watch his games when he can. He acknowledges that the relationship can be maintained, that it is in their power to keep in touch, to work out together in the summers, and remain fierce advocates of one another. So JR will do all he can to ensure that nothing will break this bond, including the separation of time and space.
Texas high school football is otherworldly in many ways. Those outside of the state’s borders may never understand it. But it breeds brotherhood and connects young men that may have never interacted in any other circumstance. When a program is run in the right way, and has the right kids in it, special things can happen. Katy High School has executed this as well as an institution can. But what really matters is how the players grow and learn to be leaders, propping each other up when things get difficult, and helping one another fulfill their dreams. What matters is this network of support. This connection between the Blades twins and Collin Wilder exemplifies the best of football.
JR’s dream is in the process of coming true. He has an opportunity and is going to make the most out of it, like he does in every endeavor he pursues. But his mom reminds him that this is just the beginning, that he must focus and see things through if he wants to achieve the goals he has set for himself. But he will have the support of his family, both biological and the one formed through football.
Although he may be reminiscing now about the memories he has made through sports, when the time comes for him to go to Wichita Falls, JR will be focused on the present and future, on football and pharmacy. And he’ll have a smile on his face through every step of the way, because that’s just the way he is.