There is a reason for the disparity. Ahmad and Brown have combined for eight receptions on passes that weren’t meant for them — interceptions. Mix them with Caleb Murphy’s never-leave-the field job description and team-leading four pass breakups, and Colleyville Heritage appears to have formed a secondary that it trusts will take it even deeper in the postseason.
“It’s been a pretty easy transition,” Brown said. “I worked a lot on this in the summer with one on one and play the safety and the slot. You get a feel for every position.”
Two-way players are nothing new at the high school level. Two-way players who routinely impact a game on both sides are an advantage.
Already enjoying single-season school record for wins, the Panthers (11-1) are into the Class 6A Division I Region I semifinals. They meet Lubbock Coronado (12-0) in a rematch from 2016 at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Abilene Christian’s Wildcat Stadium.
As the season has deepened, the trio has played a lot together. Murphy has been the No. 1 corner since Marcus Mosley moved to Brownwood in the spring. Ahmad and Brown have rolled into the secondary since Week 2 against Frisco Heritage and the start of District 8-6A play as safeties.
All three have the speed, size and ball skills from the offensive side that make them invaluable.
Heritage coach Joe Willis on his trio of two-way playmakers
Willis has had to balance the time to keep them fresh and let his best players continue to play like his best players.
Murphy’s time off really comes when Colleyville Heritage is on offense. But he’s still a part of the plan, as he has rushed for 616 yards. Ahmad and Brown have 1,440 and 1,080 receiving yards respectively. They’re also savvy about playing the game when they’re on the other side.
“It helps you see that point of view,” Ahmad said. “When you’re studying receivers, you look at the stem of their routes. If they go out, then they’re probably going to come back it. So you can wait for that move.”
The preparation began in the spring. Willis divides the spring into where all players spend one hour on offense and one on defense. All skill players know they must train on both sides. The first week of fall camp is a review.
Willis had an advantage with UCLA-commit Brown because he had played some secondary as freshman and was skilled in the techniques. Ahmad had to ramp up his style quickly. Murphy’s played both sides as long as he has been with the varsity.
“This is the time of year everybody is in shape,” Willis said. “Those guys playing every down without a breather is tough. On Sundays, we look at our opponent and what they do on offense, what they have at receiver and whether or not we’re going to have to use those guys.”
Willis said the key to making sure all three can stay fresh during a game isn’t determined by how many snaps they play, but about getting enough breathers.
It’s important that they’re able to go full speed on a certain number of consecutive snaps followed by a break. It usually takes less than three minutes before they return. Talented and fresh players are stronger mentally.
“I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life,” Murphy said. “But with everything that’s going on, you have to have a strong mindset and adjust to the game management. I feel good about that.”
Coronado will present a sophisticated up-tempo passing game led by quarterback Qua Gray, who has thrown for 3,756 yards and 50 touchdowns, and two 1,000-yard receivers in Blair Conwright and Devin Morrison. It then becomes a strategic point where all three will get a matchup to protect the back line.
Shutting down teams is unrealistic. But a defense must do enough to create separation. Reading a quarterback’s eyes or shoulders can extend a season rather than end it.
“Any time you have athleticism back there, you’re always going to have a chance,” Willis said. “All three have the speed, size and ball skills from the offensive side that make them invaluable.”