There have been thousands of snaps and 12 games. There has been success and disappointment.
When a football season reaches this point, sophomores are no longer sophomores. They are veterans.
Southlake Carroll’s sophomore contingent — defensive back/wide receiver R.J. Mickens, safety Jake Fex, left guard Andrej Karic, nose tackle Quinten Bunten, linebacker Graham Faloona and H-back Preston Forney — are among the 20 who are pushing this program through its deepest playoff run since 2014.
The longer this has season has lasted, their value has become essential. In fact, it’s noticeable when one of them isn’t on the field.
“This has always been a good class,” Carroll head coach Hal Wasson said. “There’s depth. They play with confidence. We thought we would be able to use a few of those guys. But it’s more than we thought.”
When I looked at us in seventh grade, I thought we could be really good up here.
Preston Forney on his fellow class of 2020
Carroll (9-3) meets Arlington (10-2) in the Class 6A Division II Region I semifinals at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Ford Center (The Star) in Frisco. The winner advances to meet the winner of Mansfield-Waco Midway in the state quarterfinals next week.
The Dragons roster of 68 has a different configuration. Seniors dominate but not like they normally do. There’s 40. The junior class is thin. When it came time to determine who could contribute from the 2020 group, depth and need ruled the coaching staff’s thinking.
Bunten, who didn’t play as a freshman, has become an anchor along the defensive front. Mickens is a playmaker on both sides of the field and a national college recruit with 16 offers, led by Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas A&M, Georgia and UCLA.
Karic became the starting left guard when District 5-6A play began. Faloona blended in as a go-to linebacker. Forney moved from linebacker to halfback. Fex is a move-in from Coppell who joined the secondary after playing mostly offense as a freshman.
Piling up the stats isn’t a measure of their worth. Each has contributed. That’s all this team cares about.
“At the lower level, you can get away with not having great technique and you can still make plays,” Forney said. “Now, it’s all about knowing your assignment and being sound with your technique. That’s how you’re going to execute. All of us had to realize that fast. When I looked at us in seventh grade, I thought we could be really good up here.”
Mickens is the veteran as he played with the varsity as a freshman. He’s the Dragons’ third-leading tackler (91) and created five turnovers. Carroll offensive coordinator Mark Humble has picked his spots when using Mickens on offense as seven of 10 receptions are scores.
The others have shown their versatility. Forney competed for inside linebacker. When he didn’t win the job, coaches approached him about playing the H-back and tight end. The offense needed someone on the edge to help seal perimeter plays and pick up blitzes.
Wasson lives by the creed, “you don’t know what you don’t know until you know.” All of them experienced that moment questioning whether they could handle this level of football. When they mentally and physically cleared that obstacle, their performance changed.
“Coaches expect more from you than ever,” Fex said. “They expect us to do our job. It was coming at the start of the season when they set the expectations. Throughout, I can feel myself improving. Against Broken Arrow, I made the first two tackles of the game and realized I could hang with this and play here.”
Note: Carroll-Arlington can be heard on KWRD 100.7 FM with the pregame show starting at 6 p.m.