For the second consecutive year, St. Thomas is proud to be the Texas private school state champion for the National Football Foundation (NFF) National High School Academic Excellence Awards. This prestigious acclaim is in partnership with the nationwide recognition honoring individual teams with a 3.0 or above cumulative grade point average.
The collective St. Thomas GPA for 2023 as it applied was an exemplary 3.58. The metric was calculated almost equally from the classes representing varsity student-athletes, including 22 seniors, 25 juniors, and 25 sophomores.
In tandem with its notable distinction through the school’s rigorous college preparatory curriculum, Eagle Football posted historic and dominant dual-purpose success in the seventh season with head coach Rich McGuire. St. Thomas whipsawed through 12 straight opponents and vaulted to its first state final in 23 years. The program’s first unbeaten regular campaign since 2013 was only the second since 1939.
Athletic director Mike Netzel says “Our entire focus across 12 varsity sports is development. The key to student-athletes being successful is seizing what is needed to get the most desirable outcome. Our young men understand what is required to reach their goals academically, athletically, and personally. That is the intent of St. Thomas. That’s what we do.”
Previously, St. Thomas was the only private in Texas among 42 schools named as NFF finalists. More than 1,400 competed during the 2023 season.
The NFF collaborates with the College Football Hall of Fame and the Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation for this elite accolade celebrated by the Texas High School Coaches Association. Academic champions were named for classifications in each state.
St. Thomas is in select company joining 56 teams from across the United States and seven within Texas vying as finalists for the NFF Hatchell Cup. The winner will be announced February 6, identifying the top individual team in the nation for excellence in the classroom, on the field, and in the community. The Hatchell Cup, named in honor of NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell comes with a $10,000 donation.
“Academic and athletic success go hand-in-hand,” NFF Chairman Archie Manning said in a statement. “We are proud to recognize these outstanding high school football teams as the top academic performers in their states. These schools, coaches, players, and their families should all be incredibly pleased with their accomplishments, and we look forward to announcing the overall winner of the Hatchell Cup. We hope by inspiring teams to compete in the classroom with the same competitive spirit that it takes to win on the field, we will better prepare high school football players for success later in life.”
The tribute continues and confirms the growth of Eagle Athletics since Netzel assumed the leadership role in 2006. St. Thomas was but one half-point away from capturing the 2023 TAPPS All-Sports Trophy, narrowly missing the powerful merit for the 10th time in the previous 12 years that the prize was awarded. The journey through 19 years toward 21 state titles has been spread across eight sports, including 13 crowns since 2014 with more than two dozen other teams reaching at least the state semifinals or finishing in the top-four in state tournaments. More than 175 relentless Eagles have extended their careers to the collegiate level.
“These kinds of measurables speak to the St. Thomas mission,” says Netzel. “The dedication drives our student-athletes to excel on the field and also serves them in embracing the demands of being a complete St. Thomas scholar. Their academic and athletic pursuits provide complementary learning opportunities.”
Netzel credits McGuire and defensive coordinator Ray Davis for a genuine desire to nurture the total student-athlete. “Rich and Ray are partnering with exceptional leaders on the sidelines and behind the scenes who have a passion, a vision, and a charisma to inspire supreme achievement in those around them.”
The 2023 turbo-blast extravaganza propelled St. Thomas to the state’s no. 1 private rank for 10 straight polls by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. The soaring Eagles were the wire-to-wire no. 1 private in Greater Houston by the Houston Chronicle.
The overall St. Thomas record under McGuire is a robust 55-24. The Touchdown Club of Houston Private Coach of the Year in 2020 has guided Eagle Football to 22 wins in its previous 25 games and 19 victories in its previous 20 games at home. Since 2018 the Eagles have been guardians of their galaxy with a 26-2 district mark with four undefeated championships plus a share in 2021. In the previous three years, McGuire is 15-1 in the non-district with 11 straight triumphs.
Eight Eagle Football scholar-athletes in 2023 earned all-academic all-state and 16 received some form of all-state recognition.
Dual-sport, dual-threat quarterback dynamo Donte Lewis ‘24 (Kansas St. baseball) was named the 2023 Offensive Player of the Year by the Touchdown Club at the 12th annual Hildebrand Private High School Awards Dinner. He was also nominated for Male High School Athlete of the Year by the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority for its 2024 Houston Sports Awards.
Running back Johann Cardenas ‘24 (Vanderbilt) was a POY finalist after his breathtaking smash-and-dash senior season. Glue-grip game-breaking receivers Luke Edgecomb ‘24 (Northern Arizona) and Larry Benton III ‘24 (Vanderbilt) were also award finalists along with marauding linebacker Tyler Day ‘24 (Rice), daredevil defensive back Aron Valentine ‘24 (Angelo St.), and monster of mayhem defensive lineman Dominic Ori ‘24.
In January, Eagle Football was lauded by the Touchdown Club as a finalist for the 4A/Private Sportsmanship Award in conjunction with the Houston Chapter of the Texas Association of Sports Officials.
Eagle Fight Never Dies!