Unbridled euphoria has its new poster man-child.

Johann Cardenas ‘24, among the state’s top 100 football recruits just eight months removed from tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, is vividly and proudly showcased in the 64th edition of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.

His return to potential glory is the showcase feature for Texas private schools and as valuable as any distinction awarded a St. Thomas scholar-athlete in the program’s rich history of achievement.

“It’s gratifying to see the story of my career at St. Thomas told and especially the injury element,” Cardenas says. “How I’ve dealt with adversity and not just getting back to where I was but getting better. I used (former NFL Most Valuable Player and three-time rushing champion) Adrian Peterson as my role model. I wanted to use the injury as a positive means to show people how hard I work.”

Football is a folk-hero religion in the Great State and Texas Football emerged long ago as the undisputed bible, spreading the word like a High Plains sandstorm.

The magazine was launched in 1960 by the legendary writer and sports editor for the Waco Tribune-Herald. Campbell published the debut edition from his kitchen with the assistance of a small team of local scribes and his wife Reba. Throughout the decades, addicted schoolboy enthusiasts remained perched and fever-pitched, anticipating the annual print publication that includes previewing more than 1,500 high schools, public and private, from across Texas.

“It was the internet before the internet,” says St. Thomas head coach Rich McGuire, who grew up in small-town Oklahoma, then became indoctrinated, then infatuated with Texas Football in 2004 during his first high school coaching position mentoring linebackers for Kenny Hammock at Klein Forest.

“For Johann to be featured is a testament first and foremost to him. His story is compelling,” McGuire says. “And it’s also a nod to our program, the standard built over the years, and to the student-athletes before Johann who are part of that foundation.”

In 2020, Eagle quarterback Maddox Kopp ‘21 (Miami, OH) became the first St. Thomas scholar-athlete to receive a coveted invitation to the Elite 11 Finals where he fared in the nation’s premier showcase camp.

But the acclaim for Cardenas carried particular weight in a rarefied air exclusive to the state that prizes, if not cherishes, high school football like no other. He’s the first Eagle student-athlete to merit such recognition since St. Thomas Sports Hall of Famer Andrew Locke ‘03 (West Point rugby) in 2002 and offensive tackle Travis Olexa (Tulane) in 2004.

“It was a crazy feeling to share that kind of distinction with so many great players from the past,” Cardenas says. “It was what I worked for since my freshman year when I was looking up to guys like Maddox and Cameron (Bonner, Baylor football).”

Cardenas bolted on the scene in 2020 like a shock of lightning – his five-touchdown explosion against Beaumont Kelly proved hotter than the beef links at Patillo’s Bar-B-Q and a promising sign of raucous developments to come.

Despite an abbreviated junior season, Cardenas projects among the state’s elite running backs from the Class of 2024. Before the injury, he roared as a rare three-down run-catch-block dynamo through the Eagles’ 6-0 start, part breakaway Humvee, part beast-mode smash mouth, certain success in every high-leverage situation. Cardenas romped for 1,041 rushing yards and more than nine yards a carry with 13 touchdowns while adding 330 receiving yards and five scores.

By early summer, Cardenas pronounces himself “100% back” after attacking an exhaustive rehab process. His muscular strength and endurance measurables – squat, bench, 40-yard, shuttle, three-cone – are calibrated essentially at pre-injury levels.

“I knew I would have setbacks during the process but the key was to have patience, listen to the doctors, and be grateful for the opportunity to be healthy and play the game again,” Cardenas says.

On July 7, Cardenas gave his much-anticipated verbal commitment to Vanderbilt University.

Texas Football’s patriarch passed in 2021 at age 96 but Dave Campbell’s emphatic impact and undeniable legacy live strong. The now media goliath chronicles the gridworld at all levels on multiple digital platforms with a legion of contributors 12 months a year.

For generations – Dumas to Denton to Dime Box, Monahans to McAllen, Levelland to Longview to the Rio Grande Valley, Marfa to metroplexes – the renowned Texas Football is where fandom near and far has been annually introduced to the likes of thunderous Earl Campbell (Tyler John Tyler), incandescent Billy Sims (Hooks), and kinetic Kylar Murray (Allen), transcendent talents destined for Heisman Trophy deity.

From Prairie View League prodigies Bubba Smith (Beaumont Charlton-Pollard), Jerry Levias (Beaumont Hebert), and Joe Greene (Temple Dunbar) to pocket-passing flamethrowers Matthew Stafford (Dallas Highland Park) and Garrett Gilbert (Austin Lake Travis).

From gold rush sensations Peterson (Palestine), Chris Gilbert (Spring Branch), Jeff Bergeron (Port Neches-Groves), and Cedric Benson (Midland Lee) to breathtaking see-still-not-believe game-breakers Eric Dickerson (Sealy), Vince Young (Madison), and Patrick Mahomes (Whitehouse).

From two-way bone-crusher Tommy Nobis (San Antonio Jefferson) to earth-mover David Richards (Highland Park). From record-smashing passing wizard Todd Dodge (Port Arthur Jefferson) to Hall of Fame head honcho Todd Dodge (Southlake Carroll and Austin Westlake).

Their sainted exploits were an electric mix of mesmerizing talent, blood, sweat, and no fears. Shake n’ stomp. Swat and swarm. Bop ‘till you drop. The stuff of screenplays. Identities forged, then forever embossed on memory banks after first discovered on the pages of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.

And now, Johann Cardenas, Houston St. Thomas, Class of 2024, joins a prestigious group of precocious Friday Night heroes. His best is yet to come.

Eagle Fight Never Dies!