Wildcats football program sees four seniors commit to colleges on National Signing Day
On Wednesday, four talented Paris Wildcats seniors signed with colleges to take the next step of their respective football-playing journeys. Head coach Steven Hohenberger saw linebackers Lain Atwood and LaDainian Council, defensive back Bubba Gray, and running back Zy’kius Jackson commit to different college programs on National Signing Day.
Paris had a historic season that saw the Wildcats hang in the top-10 State rankings frequently and also reach the Regional Final for the first time since legendary head coach Allen Wilson directed the “Silver Crush” to the 1988 State Championship. With that, each of the players knows the importance of the football program and are eager to share what they learned on the next level. For more sports coverage, click here.
LaDainian Council earns scholarship from Waylan Baptist – (top left in photo)
An energetic and disruptive defender, LaDainian Council had his most impactful season in his last go at it. He made the most of his big opportunity as LaDainian earned a scholarship to play football at Wayland Baptist University, an NAIA Division I school in Plainview. The linebacker made plenty of quality plays to help anchor the Wildcats defense through his coverage skills and his physical yet consistent tackling. LaDanian knows he had humble beginnings but realizes how much
“Since freshman year, I toughened up. Coach (Steven) Hohenberger helped me toughen up, Coach (Brandon) Hampton helped toughen me up,” Council said. “I just feel like I got a lot stronger mentally, and I worked hard the whole time.”
He caused plenty of disruption to opposing offenses throughout the season no matter who Paris was up against. Council put together arguably his strongest performance of the year in the Area Round at home against Midlothian Heritage in a top-10 rematch from the regular season. In that game, which was played at Wildcat Stadium, LaDainian recorded 7 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, and plenty of energy and effort in all four quarters. Earning the opportunity was significant for the senior linebacker, and the end result following his time as a Wildcat is a dream come true.
“It’s a dream. It’s a dream come true and a blessing, too,” Council said. “I went through my whole high school career thinking, ‘I’m not good enough to play football in college.’ Then, senior year came and I knew I wanted to go play college football. I just grinded. I worked every day, I stayed committed, and here I am today.”
LaDainian shined on the Wildcats defense with 64 total tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble.
Trinity Valley Community College hits jackpot by signing RB Zy’kius Jackson – (top right in photo)
When he was a sophomore, his coaches saw him more as someone who could dominate defensively as a linebacker. However, star running back Zy’kius Jackson made the staff change their course as he put together an incredible, 1,000-yard season in just seven games. Again, he was only a sophomore. With that, Zy’kius helped lead his team to the third round, where Paris bowed out to eventual State champion Waco La Vega.
However, as he helped push Paris to another level in his first varsity season, Zy’kius realized what was most important going into this past season, which are values he still holds and hopes to see growth in others.
“Going all the way to the third round my sophomore year, it really showed a lot of people in Paris what we could really do,” Jackson said. “I think after we lost in the first round my junior year, my teammates in my class and I were all even more motivated knowing that the next year would be our last ride. We wanted to make history and I think we were able to impact everyone around us along with their winning drive. Everything that we’ve been through with the coronavirus, missing two games from that, and people dying and stuff, I think it just made everyone lock in and cherish the time we had together.”
Balance, speed, and power are major components of Zy’kius’ ground game. Even though he did not sign with a Division I school yet, he knows the best is yet to come for him and that not one moment was taken for granted. With that, he signed with Trinity Valley Community College, a public community college in Athens. Furthermore, he hopes to have paved the way for those coming after him and that the best for them is even better than it was for him.
“Going to Trinity and showing them what people out of Paris can really do and putting the word out for Paris, I tell the younger kids coming back next year to not take anything for granted,” Jackson said. “I told them that they have to cherish every moment because, even if it seems like it’s going by slow, your time playing in high school goes by fast.”
Zy’kius impressed with another strong year on the ground. He finished with 148 carries for 1,141 yards and 13 touchdowns to go with 6 receptions for 71 yards.
Defensive anchor Lain Atwood agrees to join McMurray University – (bottom left in photo)
Even though he was late on the scene in the territory of the 903 area code, Lain Atwood was a perfect fit in the Wildcats linebacking corps. He signed with McMurray University, a Division III Private school in Abilene. Although he moved schools several times during his childhood, Lain never felt the support and positive energy of the people he played with and has come to know in Paris.
“I transferred here from Dallas, Texas, and Paris High took me in like no other school I’ve been to,” Atwood said. “I’ve moved a lot in my life when I was a kid, and they really welcomed me better than a whole lot of other schools did from the first day I came here.”
Impressively, Lain averaged 10.5 tackles per game for the Wildcats with his signature performance coming against a district rival in the Regional Quarterfinals in the Melissa Cardinals. The Cardinals created plenty of outside noise with a YouTube video they posted and declared themselves premature victors over Paris and, with that, Lain helped slow down Melissa with a season-high 15 tackles to go with 1 TFL. To say the least, the game and the circumstances surrounding it reminded Lain of an important lesson from his head coach.
“I learned to always be able to stand up for yourself. We learned that from Coach (Steven) Hohenberger,” Atwood said. “We’ve learned how to play the game or how to approach life, and he always had a PowerPoint ready to go through it with us every day. He really spent a lot of time teaching us real-life values apart from just playing football.”
Lain had an instant impact as he led the Wildcat defense with 126 total tackles, 8 TFL, 4 forced fumbles, and 3 passes defended.
Bubba Gray signs with Tyler Junior College – (bottom right in photo)
From his first day in Paris ISD athletics, Bubba Gray caught the attention of many with both his talent and essence. He signed with Tyler Junior College, a public community college in Tyler. There, he is expected to join former Wildcat standout football players Jaylen Henderson, James Neal, Ashton Savage, and Kobe Savage.
Once a mercurial athlete, Bubba is now a seasoned, wise, and fierce competitor who knows that success starts between the ears. The senior’s abilities to channel his competitive emotions while being the best possible teammate have made a noticeable difference in his overall impact in athletics at Paris High School.
“First off, it starts with my parents. I used to have a bad attitude my freshman year on the baseball team. My parents would tell me they had no words for all of that, so I actually took that in and tried to better myself,” Gray said. “I knew I had to change and I’ve been willing to do that while helping others with it and treating others the way I want to be treated.”
Along with refining his character, Bubba also felt the pressure to strengthen his body and sharpen his skills as a football player. Even though he felt like the odds were stacked against him, Bubba is grateful for each of the coaches who helped ignite his fire to be great.
“The first thing I remember was me coming in my freshman year not being the strongest, fastest, or biggest player,” Gray said. “But, my coaches pushed me because they knew my potential. I got bigger, stronger, and I will always remember them for how hard they pushed me and worked with me. I’m just going to try to take that to Tyler, do what I’ve got to do, and then try to play somewhere bigger.”
Bubba held his own in the Paris secondary as he finished his senior season with 75 total tackles, 6 interceptions, 4 passes defended, and 1 tackle for a loss.