Lipscomb shining in Shepard's shadow

Hasan Lipscomb misses New Orleans. He was displaced by Hurricane Katrina a few years ago but speaks fondly of the city known as the Big Easy.

Mostly, Lipscomb misses a heaping pot of New Orleans seafood gumbo laced with Tabasco sauce. He was born and reared in the city that relishes Dixieland jazz. But he prefers another music style that originated in New Orleans: bounce music, a high-energy hip-hop sound that features a dual-musician call-and-response pattern.

"New Orleans is about culture, Cajun food and Mardi Gras; it's a unique place," said Lipscomb, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior running back. "You can never forget where you come from."

Lipscomb hopes Thursday night will be a night to remember. His Cypress Ridge (Texas) team will host Cypress Falls (Texas) in the 2008 ESPN Old Spice High School Showcase in a sold-out Berry Center (ESPNU, 8 p.m. ET).

"The whole team, we're anxious for the game," Lipscomb said of the key District 15-5A contest. "We've worked hard for the chance to play on ESPN. It's a big stage and brings publicity to our team."

Lipscomb shares the glare of the spotlight with teammates. He has been overshadowed by star quarterback Russell Shepard, the nation's No. 2 recruit, according to ESPN's Scouts Inc.

"I try not to worry about player ratings," Lipscomb said.

Lipscomb's journey to Cypress Ridge High in suburban Houston began in 2005 when the hurricane wiped out his neighborhood. He wound up in Athens, Texas, a town located about 70 miles southeast of Dallas, for three months before he moved to Cypress.

Cypress coach Gary Thiebaud noticed a strapping freshman shooting baskets in the gymnasium in January 2006.

"I knew he was dang good once I saw the burst of speed," Thiebaud said. "He was a physical specimen packed in a 180-pound body; hips that swiveled and a powerful lower body."

It took a nanosecond for Thiebaud to extend an invitation for Lipscomb to join the team for spring practice.

The nonchalant Lipscomb belies his off-the-field persona with effervescence on the field, evoking the Cajun mantra: Laissez les bon temps rouler. (Let the good times roll.)

Last season was a breakout year for Cypress Ridge and Lipscomb. The Rams went 11-2 and advanced to the Class 5A Division I region semifinals for the first time. An experienced line lifted the nascent program (the school opened in 2002) to the district title as Lipscomb and Shepard charged out of the spread offense, which is predicated on quick reads.

Cypress Ridge's palmary backfield is the backbone of the team. Two-thirds of the offensive plays are divided equally between Lipscomb and Shepard, and the remaining third allow Shepard to improvise.

"Hasan is the work horse," said Shepard, who has committed to LSU and will play in the Under Armour All-American Game. "We take pressure off each other and have become a more balanced team."

The backfield is a yin-and-yang situation. Shepard is the team's statesman, a vocal leader and graceful. Lipscomb is laid-back, tacit and thickly built.

The combination of Shepard's deft moves and strong right arm and Lipscomb's size and speed drive the Rams.

In the Rams' high-octane offense, Lipscomb rushed for 1,625 yards and scored 26 touchdowns as a junior. After a sluggish 3-2 start this season, Cypress Ridge is scrambling to qualify for the 5A playoffs.

Lipscomb will play next year at the University of Minnesota. He had considered schools such as Texas A&M, Baylor, LSU and Nebraska. Lipscomb is excited to be part of a new era in Golden Gophers football.

"The coaches are pretty cool, and my first year is when they open a new stadium," Lipscomb said. "Lately, they've had success sending good running backs to the league [NFL]," he said.

Lipscomb points to the success of Marion Barber of the Dallas Cowboys and Laurence Maroney of the New England Patriots as prominent Gophers who are in the NFL. Lipscomb, who has 63 carries for 343 yards and five touchdowns, hopes to add his name to the list.

Before he heads north to Minneapolis, Lipscomb will focus on the task at hand, Thursday night's game against the Rams' archrivals, Cy Falls, from the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District.

"They put up points on offense and fly to the ball on defense," Lipscomb said. "They have a good quarterback, and we need this one if we're to repeat for the district championship."

The Cy Falls Eagles average 30.2 points and enter the game with a 2-3 overall record. They're tied with four teams for second place in district play at 2-1. The top four teams will advance to the 5A playoffs.
The Eagles are paced by quarterback Kolby Gray but lost Saturday night to Langham Creek, 40-33.

Gray, a late bloomer, is a dangerous, athletic player who can beat the opposition with both his arms and legs. Gray lines up as a dual-threat quarterback and as a wideout in certain sets. In the loss to Langham Creek, Gray caught nine passes for 103 yards and rushed nine times for 25 yards and two scores. So far this season, he has completed 65 of 122 passes for 679 yards and five TDs. He has run for 542 yards and nine TDs and averages more than 6 yards per carry.

Gray has attracted interest from schools such as Boise State, Rice, Vanderbilt, UTEP, Marshall and North Texas.

"He's a system guy," Shepard said of Gray. "Kolby does whatever it takes to win. He's one of the best quarterbacks in Houston."

Lipscomb counters: "Regardless, this is a big rivalry."

A big rivalry that Lipscomb hopes will produce a big offensive night.

Christopher Lawlor is a prep sport writer for ESPN. He has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball.