Perhaps no one in Texas high school football is more ahead of his time than freshman Ken Seals.
Seals is Class 5A Azle’s starting quarterback, which he earned primarily by possessing a rare ability and maturity more characteristic of a later age.
“I think what sets him apart is his desire to be good and his maturity level. He takes it very seriously,” Hornets coach Devon Dorris said. “In the classroom, he’s an excellent student. He’s a very focused individual for a young man.
“He’s just very driven.”
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It’s not as if Seals just appeared at freshman orientation. He was a phenom of sorts and was on the radar after becoming the first back-to-back national champion of the National Football Academies Invitational Quarterback Competition in Canton, Ohio, as a seventh- and eighth-grader. He has also stood out in state competitions and earned recognition as an eighth-grader at the Nike/Dallas Cowboys Elite 11 quarterback challenge, part of a nationwide competition for high school players.
With the expectations have come few burdens for him even as some have cast him as The Next Great One.
“I don’t get the big head. I try to keep myself down to earth,” Seals said. “I knew what I could do going into those competitions. Even after I won, I had some doubts, thinking, ‘Well, this kid wasn’t there … .’ My confidence went up but never through the roof. I thought it showed me where I was at. I’m ahead of the game right now and need to keep it there.”
He can take a little razzing from his older teammates, who, Seals joked, keep him in line.
But it’s that humility that has made him a popular figure at the school northwest of Fort Worth and what has endeared him to his older teammates, Dorris said.
“There’s not anybody in that school, in his class, who says they don’t like Ken Seals,” Dorris said. “That’s the truth. He’s a humble, hard-working young man who treats everybody with a lot of respect.”
As a player, Seals is one of those kids, “the pressure doesn’t get to him,” said Ryan Roberts, a former Keller High School and Baylor quarterback who has been Seals’ private coach for five years. “He just expects to compete with the best.”
“He came to me as a fifth-grade kid who had a big dream,” Roberts said. “He wanted to be the best. And that’s what we say here ‘We’re not training to get better, we’re training to be the best.’ He took that to heart.
“In six years of doing this, he’s the only guy I’ve had who after the first session he went home and journaled every drill that we did and implemented his own training regime on his own.”
Ken Seals has completed 42 percent of his passes for 503 yards and five touchdowns and five interceptions.
Roberts raves about Seals’ arm strength and accuracy, recalling how “I can get on my knees and he can drop it to me on my lap from 50 yards throwing on one knee.”
Seals, who is still growing into his 6-foot-1 frame, has attended a senior camp at TCU, he said, though recruiting hasn’t yet begun.
He still has much to prove, and he knows it.
He hasn’t been flawless on the field this season — not unexpected for taking on such a task at such a young age. He’s completed 42 percent of his passes for 503 yards and five touchdowns and five interceptions, including four in his first game. He split reps in the first two games before taking over full time in Game 3.
The Hornets are 0-3 entering the District 6-5A opener with rival Saginaw Boswell on Friday. Azle had no one on the roster who had thrown or received a pass or run the ball at the varsity level. So the quarterback is leading a youth movement that includes two sophomore receivers and two sophomore offensive linemen.
“The first game, it was everything I thought it would be,” Seals said, reflecting on the season opener at home against Grapevine, which featured QB Alan Bowman, another freshman starter two years ago. “There was a big crowd there, it was loud. There had been a lot of talk going around [about him]. Going into the game, my only thought was everyone was expecting to see someone who can throw the ball around. So there were definitely some butterflies.”
The speed of the game, too, was different. “I’d heard a lot of people talk about it, and it is everything people make it out to be,” Seals said.
He threw four interceptions in the 29-21 loss to Grapevine, a game the Hornets led throughout before three fourth-quarter Mustangs touchdowns. Dorris, though, said he and the play-callers were responsible for three of those picks because they tried to program Seals that first game and limit his options and potential first-game mistakes.
Since then, coaches have loosened the reins slightly, allowing Seals more full-field reads and full-field options. He has thrown only one interception since.
“It’s definitely been a process getting to know” the receivers, Seals said. “But I’m getting a better understanding of how they work and what they do in games and tight situations. I think we’re starting to get on the same page.”
If success is indeed goals defined and achieved, then Seals is again ahead of his time.
As a fifth-grader, he charted out things he wanted to accomplish in high school. The first was starting as a freshman.
He wants winning seasons, a district title, and, finally, a state championship, something that seems practical with him as the leader of a good, young nucleus.