Friday Night HeroesAug 01, 2022 ● By Stephen Hunt
by Stephen Hunt
Across Texas, Friday nights during late summer and throughout fall mean one thing: high school football. In Frisco, family members and fans can watch student athletes from any of the 11 Frisco ISD high school teams play at area venues including Kuykendall Stadium, the Ford Center at The Star and Toyota Stadium.
Several high-profile football players — who went on to accomplish much in the at the collegiate or professional levels — have come out of Frisco. Jack Anderson, a former offensive line standout at Frisco High School, is now with for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Local fans may remember star running back Jay Ajayi from his days at Liberty High School, before he starred at Boise State University and, later, also with Philadelphia, where he was part of its first-ever Super Bowl-winning team in 2018.
Another familiar name is current Oklahoma Sooner wide receiver Marvin Mims, who tormented opposing defenses while at Lone Star High School. Mims initially committed to play college ball at Stanford University, but eventually landed at OU. Fellow Lone Star alum Nick Bolton, the Kansas City Chiefs' linebacker, started in two of the team’s three 2021 playoff games.
There is certainly no shortage of high-quality, local talent in Sports City USA. Frisco STYLE caught up with five standout Frisco ISD high school senior football players (as selected by staffers at Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, a magazine and website that is considered the bible of high school football in the Lone Star State) to learn what they enjoy most about the game and get a glimpse of their plans for the future. (Stats provided by MaxPreps.)
Lone Star High School
Wide Receiver | Cornerback | Kick Returner
6'0" / 170 lbs.
College: University of Arkansas
3 carries for 22 yards
38 receptions for 467 yards, 2TDs
Not only does Jaylon Braxton excel on offense and defense, he also stars on special teams as a kick returner. He began playing football when he was in kindergarten and instantly fell in love with the game. “I like being able to (as a cornerback) take on their best receiver and take over the game. Corner, I love playing. It’s something I fell in love with when I was younger and stuck with it,” he said.
His father, Ronnie, calls Jaylon a “mind-made-up kid,” a trait he remembers first seeing when his son was a toddler and was steadfast in refusing to eat corn on the cob. “He told me a long time ago, `I don’t want a girlfriend until I get a Division I offer.’ He held up his end of the bargain,” Ronnie Braxton said.
The teen had originally committed to Michigan State but de-committed from the Spartans in June and announced his new school, the University of Arkansas, the following month. He is considering majoring in business because of how many doors he feels having a business degree can open.
Jaylon’s coaches, parents and teammates agree that his leadership on and off the field helps define him as a great player and young man. A Sunday school leader at his church, he is quick to credit others for his success. “I love Coach Rayburn — the best coach I’ve ever had,” he said. “He’s always looking out for me, giving me good advice. I always listen to anything he tells me.”
“His leadership and his competitiveness — those two things are off the charts. He’s right there at the top in terms of leadership and competitiveness with how he works and prepares every single day.” Jeff Rayburn - Lone Star High School Head Coach
Memorial High School
6'5" / 205 lbs.
College: Colorado State University
1 Sack, 2 TFL
Kennedy “Mayhem” McDowell remembers first entering Memorial High School in January of his sophomore year not knowing what to expect. “It was a new environment,” he said. “I missed my old school, but growing to be a Warrior, it’s become more natural for me, something I really care about.”
In the ensuing years, he has played football, run track, and played on an Esports team (video gaming) for the Warriors. His senior year will be short as he will play his final season this fall, graduate and make his way to Fort Collins, Colorado, to begin his collegiate career at Colorado State University. “My senior year, I just want to finish it off strong,” McDowell said. “I’m just going to show out.”
“What I love most about the game is the discipline and the physicality,” he said. “There’s really not any other sport that can compare … that is so physical. The discipline, the mental aspect is tough. Once you get it down, it becomes fun. You can see the discipline shining through in everyday life. It helps me as a person.”
That mental toughness and discipline has proven invaluable for McDowell, who is openly gay. “Growing up as a gay football player is not easy. Life is not easy, but once you hit a certain point where you can be truly who you are, it’s going to be a lot easier,” he said.
“It’s been a challenge for me, my mom, my dad and even my twin brother. We’ve cried, laughed and everything. They’re my biggest supporters. I just want to say to anybody that’s not as fortunate as I am to have a nice, supporting family to just be who you are and things will get easier.”
“Kennedy is a phenomenal kid, outgoing and has an infectious personality. People really want to be around him. He takes pride in knowing his craft. He works extremely hard. I want the younger players to see how he works. His athleticism is something you can’t coach. He’s going to make plays you wouldn’t think a high school kid is supposed to make.” Derick Roberson - Memorial High School Head Coach
Wakeland High School
6'7" / 345 lbs.
College: University of Texas at Austin
Connor Stroh has dabbled in track and field — throwing both discus and shot put, and powerlifting — but football is his primary sport. However, that wasn’t always the case for this talented offensive lineman from Wakeland High School. “The first time I played was in 10th grade. I already was bigger than all my friends, so I knew I had to play football,” he said. “Once I finally started playing, I realized I liked it a lot. I started liking it more through high school and love it now.”
Football, he said, is “something I can do. Obviously, it’s opened a lot of doors for me. I also love hitting people and moving people. That’s also why I love the O-line. It’s also given me a lot of friends and people I can relate with.”
The recruiting process — in which players can receive numerous letters from schools, phone calls from coaches and make official college-campus visits — can be daunting for many prospects. But Stroh, who made his commitment to the University of Texas at Austin official in late June, enjoyed it. “It’s been pretty surreal. It’s been my dream for a while to be doing this, so it’s really cool to get to know all these programs,” he said.
Regardless of which school he chose, he knows that his parents, Rosie and Nick, and sister, Sydney, a former volleyball player at Texas Woman’s University, will support him on and off the field. “They’ve made it clear that wherever I choose to go to school, they’re OK with as long as it’s the right choice for me,” Stroh said. “They made sure to keep me informed with what they think, but they never tried to sway me. They’re great about just being there for me for when I need anything.”
"He’s been a great leader on and off the field. He’s been a huge part of the success we’ve had not just with the team but specifically with the offensive line. He’s the kind of kid that you really love having be a big part of your program. … We’re very excited and very proud of him.” Chandler Isom - Wakeland High School Head Coach
Frisco High School
Wide Receiver | Cornerback | Kick Returner
6'1" / 204 lbs.
College: Southern Methodist University
Passing: 12 for 25, 230 yards
Rushing: 87 carries for 908 yards, 12 TDs
Receiving: 9 for 122 yards, 2 TDs
Defense: 69 tackles, 8 TFL, 1 sack, 2 QB hurries
Calling someone a highly versatile team player is one the highest compliments coaches and teammates can issue in any sport. This is exactly how Brandon Miyazono’s coaches and teammates at Frisco High School characterize him.
This versatile Raccoon has played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and linebacker — the position which SMU recruited him to play on the Hilltop come fall 2023.
Miyazono has excelled no matter where he has lined up. A fearless competitor, he wants to play more special teams by returning kicks, but despite the teen’s insistence, thus far his coach has refused. “We held him out of special teams because that was our only chance to converse with him and to get a break,” Coach Jeff Harbert said. “He wants to be out there, but we keep him out to give him a breather.”
Miyazono especially enjoys the mental side of being a linebacker — a spot considered the quarterback or leader on the defensive side of the ball. “I’ve probably been playing since first or second grade. What I really love about the sport is it’s more of a mental game than a physical game,” he said. “The strategizing part of it, I like the mental side of it.” During his senior year, he wants to "win as many games as we can and try to win district. That’s my goal.”
“He’s the kind of kid you want in your program — dedicated to getting better, dedicated to his teammates. Leadership’s important to him. He’s always looking for ways to make his teammates better. He’s a fierce competitor. He wants to win. … however best he can help our team win, That’s my favorite thing about him.” Jeff Harbert - Frisco High School Head Coach
Reedy High School
Wide Receiver | Cornerback
6'1" / 170 lbs.
College: Texas Tech University
Rushing: 9 carries for 112 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: 35 catches for 475 yards, 6 TDs
Maybe Kaleb Smith was destined to be a Red Raider. After all, while playing in the Frisco Football League, his team was the Red Raiders. The Reedy High School wide receiver and cornerback is now committed to play at Texas Tech University for the Red Raiders.
“He’s been a Red Raider his entire life and we have a lot of Red Raider stuff. He’s the first one (in our family) to go to Tech,” Taura Smith, Kaleb’s mother, said.
However, football wasn’t the first sport that Kaleb Smith tried. That was soccer. After a soccer coach introduced him to football, the rest was history — although the teen has also played baseball and basketball at Reedy. “I love the team aspect of (football) — just being able to play with my friends,” he said.
Family is important to Smith, so staying close to home and playing in a collegiate program with a family vibe is the perfect fit for the teen and his family. Joey McGuire, the former Cedar Hill High School coach, who led the team to three state titles, is in his first year as Tech’s head coach.
“It was just the whole environment that he had built around Lubbock,” Kaleb said. “Whenever our family came in, he just showed us love instantly. He knew almost everything about me. He was trying to get to know my brother. That meant something to me. I could tell that he really cared.”
“He’s a quiet leader with a tremendous work ethic and competitive spirit. He’s got that inner confidence that you know that when it’s time to go, he’s going to give you his best. He’s just a top-notch young man. We could call him an underdog. He’s our go-to guy. … He’s a dynamic playmaker on both sides of the ball and on special teams.” Chad Cole - Reedy High School Head Coach