Selflessness Leads Henderson Stars To Different Sides Of Baylor-TCU Rivalry
HENDERSON -- LaKendrick VanZandt and Trestan Ebner were willing to sacrifice their dream schools to keep the dynamic duo intact for another four to five years.
Fortunately, neither of the universal athletes asked the other to follow through. What a twist to the often times heated rivalry between TCU and Baylor.
VanZandt could have stolen a recruit from the Bears on his own if he really wanted to do such a thing. The same goes for Ebner at a second expense to the Horned Frogs.
Both players were committed to TCU through December, but Ebner had always wanted to go to Baylor and finally got the opportunity once new head coach Matt Rhule arrived in Waco. VanZandt, similarly, was always a Horned Frog.
Ebner revealed Wednesday at Henderson's National Signing Day ceremony that he was hesitant to flip because of VanZandt. VanZandt, who had received an offer from Bears a few days before Ebner, admitted the friendship made him second-guess his own commitment.
"He talked to me first," VanZandt said while recalling the day Ebner decommitted from TCU to seriously consider his new Baylor offer. "I was thinking about it at the same time. We were thinking we were going to play together no matter what. Him thinking Baylor and me thinking Baylor.
"I sat down and thought about it for a while, but TCU was like my home. It was just my dream and where I had to go. But he's like my brother. No matter where he goes, I'm going to love him the same. We're going to keep supporting each other. We're going to play each other. We're going to support each other before the games and afterwards."
At TCU, Ebner and VanZandt might have one day made up two-fifths of the starting backfield in a 4-2-5 scheme. Baylor envisioned Ebner as a receiver, which is his preferred position.
Everybody won. Even if it hasn't always felt that way.
"It was hard," Ebner said. "He made it easier, knowing I had this blessing. It made it way easier, but it was still hard because that is my brother. I grew up with him and I wanted to play with him. But, at the end of the day, I had to do what was best for me."
Combined, Ebner and VanZandt plus three other collegiate signees on the offensive side of the ball helped guide Henderson to a share of the District 9-4A Division I championship alongside Kilgore and a third-round playoff appearance in the state playoffs.
Carthage, the third-place finisher in the district, avenged a regular season loss at that point en route to its fifth state championship since 2008. Henderson's season ended with an overall record of 11-2.
VanZandt finished his senior season with 1,372 rushing yards and 18 scores. Ebner caught for more than 1,000 yards.
"These seniors and all those seniors, not just the ones signing today, are such a special group," Henderson head coach Phil Castles said. "They really are. I've talked earlier about the leadership that they have. Not just verbal leadership, but working hard and being dependable. The right kind of young men. Having character and class even through defeats versus Kilgore and Carthage."
Baylor and TCU were two of the winners in Henderson.
Texas A&M-Commerce gained signatures from offensive lineman Raini Dorman and receiver Matthew Childers. Howard Payne earned a Letter of Intent from all-around skill player Tariq Gray.
There's a lot of travel in Castles' future.
"It's awfully nice for us as coaches to say we've got two kids at the same school," Castles said. "It makes it nice for us to go visit and all those things. But Ebner has had his heart set on Baylor since the time he was a little kid. In Ebner's time of growing up, Baylor has been very, very good. He wanted to be a Baylor Bear, got that opportunity, went up and visited, and decided this was really what he wanted.
"VanZandt has been committed to TCU and loved TCU. As hard as it is for them not be on the same team, they're both going to do great things at those universities. They're going to get to see each other a little bit here and there anyway. It'll be a good thing for both of them."
Dorman, Childers Look Ahead To A&M-Commerce
Henderson's signing day ceremony wasn't entirely a bittersweet ordeal.
Offensive lineman Raini Dorman and receiver Matthew Childers will soon be heading 116 miles northwest to begin careers at Texas A&M-Commerce.
"Matthew and I, just like all of us who have signed today, have been playing ball together since we were seven," Dorman said. "Matthew was actually one of the first friends I ever made. We went to preschool together. Going to school with someone who has been my friend the longest is really a blessing. I couldn't be happier with my decision and the opportunity to play ball with him."
Commerce won the Lone Star Conference this past season and advanced two rounds into the playoffs. Head coach Colby Carthel pitched the Henderson duo with larger aspirations.
"It's going to be outstanding," Dorman said. "From what I've seen, we've got an outstanding recruiting class coming in. They've set the foundation with an 11-2 record and a second-round appearance in the playoffs. I think here in these next few years, my class going in and the next classes, we have an opportunity to take this thing to the next level. We could win it all, hopefully."
Dorman won first-team district honors and was named Henderson's co-MVP with Ebner and LaKendrick VanZandt.
Childers, fighting for touches against Trestan Ebner and Tariq Gray, managed to surpass 600 yards last season. He also served as the team's wildcat back.
"I think we both think that the coaches made it feel like home," Childers said. "I feel like it's going to be the perfect place for me. Raini and I have been playing since we were really little, all of us have, but it's just going to be a little more special knowing someone will be by my side when we get there."
Howard Payne Gets Gray
Tariq Gray signed with Howard Payne and went down as one of Coby Gipson's first recruiting victories at the NCAA Division III program.
Gipson served as Tyler Bishop Gorman's head coach from 2012 through this past season and was invited to join Howard Payne on the heels of head coach Braxton Harris' hiring in December.
"Coach Gipson was my recruiting coach," the Henderson receiver said. "Coach Gipson and Coach Harris are godly men. They remind me a lot of Coach Castles here. That played huge in my recruiting process and then I just loved it when I went out there on my official visit."
Howard Payne went winless in 2016, but Harris has been in this position before as an offensive coordinator. He helped turn around a Texas Lutheran program that went 0-10 prior to his arrival and left with a 25-5 record.
"They've told me I can help change the program," Gray said. "They're in a rebuilding process and have a new coaching staff. We talked about how we can rebuild together. That's what really brought me in."