The Can’t Miss Kid

Katy Taylor OL Hayden Conner is the “Next Big Thing”

Katy Taylor’s Hayden Conner is one of Houston’s top prospects in the Class of 2021 Vype

The great thing about high school football is that there is always a “Next Big Thing.”

St. Pius X quarterback Grant Gunnell stole the headlines two years ago as an emerging sophomore, while North Shore running back Zach Evans became a household name as the top sophomore prospect for the Class of 2020.

So who is next?

Katy Taylor big-man Hayden Conner is the top player in Houston for the Class of 2021. The 6-foot-6, 295-pound offensive tackle is college-ready right now.

“During my eighth-grade year, I took a visit to Miami University,” Conner said. “I had no expectations and they offered me. It was the coolest thing ever. Then came Nebraska and Tulane and from there it just blew up.”

It hasn’t stopped since, totaling double-digit offers, including one from Texas A&M.

This was the expectation all along.

Conner’s dad played at Sam Houston and his grandfathers played at the University of Houston and UTEP, respectively. He has a pair of cousins who played at Baylor and TCU.

“The first time I played, I fell in love with the sport,” Conner said. “I could sense in the sixth grade that I was going to have a life in football.”

While starting on varsity as a freshman and earning all-district, honorable- mention honors, the honor-roll student has a few other passions.

“The basketball coaches kept me with my class this year because we were pretty set with big- men,” Conner laughs. “But I do plan on making a big contribution for our basketball program in the future.

“I pretty serious about video games like Overwatch and Fortnite. I’m also looking to find a high school robotics team. Our school doesn’t have one.”

Conner helped lead one of the most lethal running attacks in the city with his line-mates Andrew Coker (6-foot-9 junior) and Bryce Foster (6-foot-4, 290-pounds), another super freshman. All three have offers from virtually every major Division I program.

“My first varsity season is not really what I expected,” Conner said. “We had Hurricane Harvey, our coach being dismissed and our leader Max Wright (Texas A&M signee) going out with a season-ending injury. We just had to stay focused. Max taught me so much and I owe a lot of my success to him because of what type of teammate he was.

“Now, I like being in a leadership role and being there for my teammates. I love JJ Watt and he’s been my idol since he’s been in the NFL. I really try and be like him on and off the field from being a good teammate and good person.”

The recruiting process is starting to heat up but Conner has more important things on his plate.

“I have just started driver’s education, so that has me really busy right now,” Conner said. “But on the recruiting front, I have five schools in mind and the order moves around. I think about my future all the time, and honestly, education is the most important part.”

He will do the rounds of the Nike Opening, Rivals Three-Stripe Camp and likely the Under Armour Combine, but school visits will also fill his summer. It’s a tremendous position to be in.

“My parents always tell me to stay humble,” Conner said. “They feel the same way as me, just blessed that I’m getting recruited by these major programs.”

Conner has a split family and his parents live in two different school zones, so he had the choice to either go to super-power Katy or Katy Taylor.

“I’ve always wanted to come to Katy Taylor and be a part of something special,” Conner said. “We want to be the team that takes down Katy at some point.”

Enter new coach Chad Simmons, who has been at Cinco Ranch for 18 seasons as the defensive coordinator. Simmons is the new boss at Katy Taylor and there is a culture change in motion.

“I thought it was going to be a little bumpy with a new coach, but it’s been really smooth,” Conner said. “There is a new energy and things are being taken about 10 times more seriously. The intensity is what we have needed.”

This article appears in the March Issue of VYPE Magazine. Pick up your copy at any one of our locations today!

 

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These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.

Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?

Affecting the NL playoffs

It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.

Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.

As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.

They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.

It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.

Affecting the AL playoffs

There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.

Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.

So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.

This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.

Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.

So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.

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