Manny Harris is receiving the recognition, but his team earned the award.
In just his first year on varsity, the junior quarterback served as the catalyst for Copperas Cove’s unrelenting aerial assault, guiding the Bulldawgs to a 10th consecutive postseason appearance, rewriting the program’s record books along the way.
His efforts did not go unnoticed as he was named District 8-5A Co-MVP earlier this week. While considering the individual accolade a “blessing,” Harris is equally elated to see 10 teammates on the all-district lists, including three fellow first-team selections.
“It’s very amazing because all of us worked hard,” Harris said. “That’s what we do here. We give it our all and play for our whole team.”
Harris, who completed 62 percent of his passes en route to a single-season school record of 3,775 yards, while also leading the Bulldawgs with 503 rushing yards, shares the award with Midway receiver Xavier Hailey.
Copperas Cove Head Coach Jack Welch feels Harris is worthy of the title, but views it as an all-encompassing team honor as well.
“Our offense was a stellar offense,” he said. “It’s been one of the best in the state all year. … Manny receives the award and very deservingly so, but there’s a lot of people that go behind something like that. That’s a tribute to our offense as well as Manny.”
With Harris at the helm, the Bulldawgs, who went 6-4 overall and finished fourth in district with a 4-3 record before losing to No. 2 DeSoto in the opening round of the playoffs, led the district in points (467) and passing yards (3,463) during the regular season, while finishing second in total offense, averaging 517.5 yards per game.
Joining Harris on the first team is teammate Phillip Baptiste, who served as the quarterback’s top target, hauling in 113 passes for 1,556 yards and 17 touchdowns. Like Harris, Baptiste carved his place in school history, becoming the first receiver to top the 1,000-yard plateau while more than doubling the previous single-season record for receptions set at 50 by Rashad Hawk in 2006.
Now, the pair will forever be linked, and Harris is proud to share the legacy with Baptiste.
“When we leave, people will know our names,” Harris said, “and they’ll remember what we did here in our playing days. It’s just an honor.
The Bulldawgs’ two other first-team selections were on defense as junior outside linebacker Jalen Waters and senior cornerback J.D. Post worked their way onto the 15-player list.
After starting the season as an inside linebacker, Waters was relocated by defensive coordinator Reb Brock to the outside position, where he excelled, finishing second on the team in solo tackles with 60, assisting on 29 more, and produced a team-high 13 tackles for a loss, including four sacks.
“It made him be more of a standout football player,” said Welch of Waters’ reassignment. “He was more of an impact player (after the change) because being in that position really highlighted his skills.”
Despite being undersized at his position, Post finished the season with 55 tackles and had three interceptions, a fumble recovery and a pair of touchdowns.
“Sometimes he’d have a height disadvantage playing against some of those tall receivers, but he was on them like a Bulldawg,” Welch said. “He played very well and very consistent.”
Other superlatives were awarded to Temple junior running back Jeff Carr, who was named offensive player of the year, and Shoemaker cornerback Dwayne Williams, who was named defensive player of the year.
Grey Wolves sophomore defensive tackle Kendell Jones earned the title as defensive newcomer of the year, and Midway running back Eric Clayburn was named offensive newcomer of the year.
Like the MVP award, the coach of the year honors were split as Temple’s Mike Spradlin and Midway’s Terry Gambill shared the accolade.
Four Copperas Cove seniors landed on the second team offense, including tight end Chris Ash, offensive lineman Remington Weis, fullback Shaq Fluelen and receiver Hunter McVeigh.
Finishing with 53 catches for 748 yards and 10 touchdowns, McVeigh was Harris’ second-most targeted receiver behind Baptiste, but his numbers do not begin to encompass his importance to the team this season, according to Welch.
“(McVeigh) would make a great catch over the middle, turn it up, and it would be like a spark of energy,” he said. “A lot of times, it was after a catch or big play that Hunter made made the whole offense go.”
Baptiste also earned a spot on the second team special teams as a returner, while teammate Jayson Stanley was the second team kicker.
Junior defensive tackle Shakanah Herrera and senior safety Spencer Malchow were defensive second-team selections.
In the end, Welch was satisfied with the list.
“You may think that somebody should have got a little higher in your opinion or a little lower,” he said, “(but) overall, I thought it was representative of the district, and I thought we were represented pretty well.”