Spiegelman's Takeaways: Talent on display in Louisiana
It was the third week in a row of statewide high school football in Louisiana and, now more than ever, it is clear that quarterbacking in The Boot is at its highest level.
This week’s slate included a nationally-televised showdown Uptown featuring Booker T. Washing and Newman as well as a game pinning Division II state champion St. Thomas More against Division I runner-up Baton Rouge Catholic.
Newman vs. Booker T. Washington
We recently featured Arch Manning in a regional notebook as "the next big thing" in the 2023 class. Three games into his sophomore campaign, Manning has thrown for 712 yards while completing 78-percent of his passes. He has seven touchdowns compared to three interceptions and another five scores rushing.
Under the lights of Newman’s first nationally televised contest in decades, Manning overcame two interceptions with some phenomenal throws downfield, dissecting defenses and going through his progressions while flashing the ability to move to both his right and left and make accurate throws. Manning managed a pair of 1-yard touchdowns via quarterback sneaks at the goal line.
More than his arm talent, his mechanics or athleticism, the sophomore is aggressive at the line of scrimmage. Manning drew the Booker T. Washington defense offsides twice to change field position and throughout the game, tweaked plays based on his pre-snap reads, which speaks volumes about the young quarterback.
Manning’s No. 1 receiver is AJ Johnson, a Rivals250 prospect who returned to the field this season for the first time in two years. Johnson boasts great size and found a hole in the defense for a 16-yard touchdown. He also managed to get open along the sideline as Manning roamed to his right and caught a slant over the middle.
Johnson has a rhythm with his quarterback early on this fall and the two are only going to get better as the season progresses. Johnson’s game has evolved quickly since his arrival at Newman and with intensified offseason work.
On the other side of the field, Tyrese Johnson is a difference-maker. The Arizona commitment saw action at safety, wide receiver and in the backfield at quarterback and continually found ways to make plays and keep his team in the game. Johnson has good, not great speed, but excellent hands and is twitchy enough to turn shorter receptions into bigger gains.
Johnson, who is also a basketball standout, thrives at jump-balls and contested catches. He offers playmaking ability vertically and in the open field. He’s a big get from New Orleans for Kevin Sumlin.
St. Thomas More vs. Baton Rouge Catholic
Walker Howard is three games into his tenure as a varsity starter, you’d hardly tell from seeing him in action. Howard helped defending state champion St. Thomas More improve to 3-0 with a 39-38 victory over Baton Rouge Catholic, which had won the previous four meetings.
Howard threw five touchdowns and passed for almost 400 yards on Friday night. Through three games — and more specifically, about eight total quarters — Howard has 995 yards passing, 13 touchdowns through the air and 14 overall.
More importantly, after lopsided affairs Weeks 1 and 2, Howard was forced to play under adverse circumstances and stepped up the challenge. St. Thomas More gave up a lead late and Howard engineered an eight-play, 67-yard drive capped by a second touchdown to four-star tight end Jack Bech to take it back.
Howard is calm and confident. His athleticism goes unnoticed with his ability to evade pressure and move in and outside the pocket. He has immense arm talent to make throws outside the numbers, down the seams and cover a ton of real estate.
Howard leads an aggressive offense and throws with authority downfield and touch at other times. So far, there has not been a challenge too tall for the LSU commitment.
Howard’s go-to target in the passing game, Bech, piled up nine receptions for 196 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score on a fade route in the back corner of the end zone. Bech’s other score came early in the first half on a 63-yard catch-and-run, where the projected tight end outmuscled defenders and broke loose down the left sideline.
In his career, Bech is now St. Thomas More's all-time leading receiver with 118 receptions, 2,206 yards and 26 touchdowns. He's averaging better than 18 yards per catch and continues to re-write school record books each and every Friday.
Bech is a 6-foot-2, 215-pound mismatch in the passing game. He’s running in the 4.5 or 4.6 range with superb jump-ball ability and playmaking skills after the catch. Vanderbilt is set to add a vertical weapon that’s continued to impress against good talent.
A first look at 2022 Baton Rough Catholic offensive lineman Emery Jones was necessary. Jones, who has a basketball background and pulled in a bevy of SEC offers during the spring, played the majority of snaps at left tackle and slid over the right on occasion, too. Jones was excellent in pass protection with a couple of knockdowns and a reliable blocker in the running game. He was consistent with good effort for four quarters.
… Class of 2022 offensive tackle Bo Bordelon is new to Newman and kept Manning’s jersey clean all night and made a few key blocks in the run game. He plays offensive line and some snaps on the defensive line at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds with intent to tack on 20 pounds in the offseason.
… We created a Rivals profile for 2023 receiver Makai Donaldson as a freshman and we’re beginning to see him carve out a role in Year 2 Uptown. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound sophomore came up with two big grabs — a contested catch down the seam and an outstretched catch along the sideline. Donaldson seems primed to command more targets down the line.
… Joseph Pleasant provided a spark for Newman on the ground. At 5-foot-8 and 210 pounds, the senior running back packs a ton of power and a low center of gravity. He runs downhill and he’s hard to tackle.
… In terms of sleepers, put 2021 Booker T. Washington defensive back Keith Hampton on the list. Hampton corralled two picks of Manning in Thursday’s game and has five against Newman in the previous two meetings. Hampton, who plays primarily safety, has a knack for putting himself in good positions on the field consistently.
… Shelton Sampton turned heads this summer when he clocked multiple sub-4.4 40s during a virtual combine. That speed translated to the field as the 2023 wideout came up with a big catch downfield for Catholic.
New names surface
… While the volume wasn’t there, whenever 2023 Booker T. Washington running back Arnold Barnes touched the rock, big plays occurred. Barnes, a big-framed back at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, ran with authority and changed direction well. Expect to hear more buzz around Barnes as the season goes on.
… Another weapon for Manning is his 2023 tight end, William Randle, who made plays in the passing game and defensively for Newman. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder ate up yardage after the catch and consistently made plays with the ball in his hands. Defensively, he managed multiple sacks as well.
… Class of 2022 Catholic running back Corey Singleton piled up 133 yards and averaged 14.1 yards per carry. At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, the junior runs downfield and possesses breakaway speed. He ran through tackles and consistently powers forward.