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MURRELL COLUMN: Former Cowboys take interest in area, local football

BEAUMONT — Winding down his day at Brentwood Country Club, Everson Walls met the reporter who covered Friday night’s Port Arthur Memorial at Port Neches-Groves football game.

He had one burning question as he approached the 18th tee: “How many yards did that Port Neches quarterback throw for?”

Roschon Johnson had 164 yards on 12-of-24 passing. But the reporter couldn’t quite recall the exact numbers, immediately. So much happened in that 44-36 PNG victory.

“I don’t think he quite got 200 yards,” the reporter mustered out. “But he was 13 for 26.”

Close. Preston Riggs went 2 for 2 to make it a 14-for-26 team total.

“Where’s that kid going, UT?” Walls asked of Johnson, who also rushed 21 times for 124 yards.

“Yes, sir,” was the response.

“He’s a senior, right?”

“Nope, just a junior.”

Walls also noted the play of Memorial’s Keitha Jones and Elijah Hines, asking about their stats. Like Johnson’s numbers, they bear repeating: 13-of-17 passing for 231 yards and 21 carries for 78 yards for Jones, and 210 yards and four touchdowns on 26 totes for Hines.

“I tell you, that running back sure is tough,” Walls said.

That’s the type of interest Walls takes in high school football.

Nearly a half-century since his last snap in the NFL, the soon-to-be 58-year-old who was a cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1980s identifies college talent when he sees it.

And he puts Johnson up there with the local legends of his home North Texas.

“I’ve seen those quarterbacks, and that’s how you recognize greatness. You recognize potential. I put him up there with those guys, but even those guys, when they got to college, they had to make an adjustment.”

Walls and three other former Cowboys, Mel Renfro, Preston Pearson and Doug Donley, took the same interest in helping citizens of Southeast Texans recover from Harvey by playing in a tournament at Brentwood Country Club on Saturday. The tournament, hosted by Brent Coon & Associates, included 18 four-person teams and raised money for Coon’s Tropical Storm Harvey relief program.

(Four other ex-Cowboys scheduled to appear, Drew Pearson, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Kevin Smith and Tony Casillas, were absent.)

The four that did show up appeared in the ceremonial coin toss of Friday’s game. Like Walls, Donley was impressed with the level of play.

“It was exciting Friday night football in Texas for sure,” said Donley, a Cowboys wideout in the 1980s who prepped in Ohio, another high school football hotbed. “Those were some good boys flying around, hitting.”

Renfro stayed for only the first quarter, but heard how the game went down.

“Seeing all the fans and the excitement, it took me back,” the Houston-born Renfro said, recalling the dynasty he and Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker helped build at Portland (Oregon) Jefferson in the late 1950s. “The game hasn’t changed much as far as high schools.”

Ask Donley, and he’ll tell you Ohio football is on par with Texas football. Walls, a Richardson Berkner product, gives North Texas and edge over Southeast Texas.

“When you look at the history of Allen High School and DeSoto High School, when you look at the history of Southlake [Carroll], you can’t find many teams down south that have had the runs they’ve had,” Walls said.

Too bad Smith wasn’t there to make a plug for West Orange-Stark.

“Of course, you got great players down south, ain’t no doubt about it,” Walls continued. “The Golden Triangle is well-known [for], all around, the best athletes in the world. But when it comes to football, I think North Texas is the king.”

No matter whether Ohio or North Texas football outshines Southeast Texas’, the interest the former Cowboys took in an important Jefferson County game was genuine.

It’s a sign of the area’s high echelon of play that no storm has washed away. While Donley said he wouldn’t mind coming back this way more often to help in recovery efforts from Harvey, the Titans and Indians offered him a slice of normalcy that is Friday night greatness.

Not to mention that “Madness” that comes with it once every year.

Next Sunday: Donley and Walls talk 2017 Cowboys football.

I.C. Murrell can be reached at 549-8541 or at ic.murrell@panews.com. On Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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