HOUSTON -- New Houston Texans defensive tackle Ross Blacklock grew up with a basketball in his hand. His father, Jimmy, played at the University of Texas before performing with the Harlem Globetrotters from 1974 to 1987. Jimmy coached the team for more than 10 years as well.
Even though Blacklock first dunked a basketball when he was 13 years old, he couldn’t resist the call to football. He joked that “basketball was just too soft” for him, and said he used to always foul out when he was playing in AAU games.
“I’d come off football season and go straight to basketball,” Blacklock said at the NFL combine. “Sometimes I’d be too aggressive, and I was like, 'Dang, this is just too soft for me sometimes.' But it’s a good sport. I’m glad I got into it. But I just like the physicality of [football]. You’ve got to be tough.”
It’s no shock that Blacklock, now 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, eventually found his way onto the gridiron instead of the hardwood. He did grow up in Texas, perhaps the country’s foremost high school football hotbed, where 33 of the players picked in the draft last week grew up, by far the most of any state. It was the first time Texas led all states in players drafted since 2016.
Blacklock, who went to Elkins High School in Missouri City, was one of 13 players from a Houston-area high school who was drafted last week.
“The feeling is so surreal, being from the city, representing and playing for my favorite team growing up as a child,” Blacklock tweeted after he was drafted. “The love I have for this city and the love it gives back is unreal!”
“We have a lot of talent in this area,” Elkins football coach Dennis Brantley said. “Even a lot of college coaches when they come by say, ‘Man, this is probably the only place that I can come in … and I can fill up almost my whole team, just in this area.'”
In the past three years, there have been 27 players from the Houston area selected in the NFL draft, and many more have signed with teams as undrafted free agents. Part of the reason for the talent level in Houston, several area high school coaches believe, is how quickly the area is growing.
“If you look at when I got started in coaching and just all the new schools that continue to pop up because of the growth of Houston,” Brantley said. “You got so many schools and so many neighborhoods, so many areas that you just have so much talent.
Because of that, North Shore High School coach Jon Kay said, the talent has been spread out as school districts have expanded and begin to open new schools.
“I think sometimes people get the impression that the talent is watering down, but in reality, it's just spreading out,” Kay said. “So you see kids like CeeDee Lamb coming out of schools like Richmond Foster that probably didn't even exist 15 years ago.”
The success of Houston-area schools has shown up not only in the draft, but in representation in the Texas state championship games. In 2018 and 2019, Thurgood Marshall High School in Missouri City played in the 5A division II state championship title game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. North Shore has won back-to-back 6A Division I state championships. Cy-Fair High School won the 6A Division II title in 2017.
“It's not just the kids, obviously, that are represented going to the NFL," Kay said, "but just the depth of talent in the city, from top to bottom, I think is turning out some great prospects.”
The 2021 offers another chance for the Houston area to shine in the draft. Episcopal High School alone could have three first-round prospects: Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, Stanford offensive tackle Walker Little and Florida State defensive tackle Marvin Wilson.
“I don't see [the success] going away anytime soon,” Kay said. “I think there's another crop of Houston-area kids that are in college that are champing at the bit to be the next one to have their names called. So I think that's going to be a trend that will be around for a couple of years. And it’s cyclical, like everything else.
“But I think right now, this is just the beginning of a couple of very fruitful years for the Houston area.”