Jaylen Waddle ready for next battle against former teammate Jhamon Ausbon
Wednesday practices at Episcopal High School are typically concluded with one-on-one matchups between defensive backs and wide receivers. The small private school in Bellaire, Texas is known for churning out Division I talent. Naturally, the best-of-three competitions result in some must-see matchups.
Perhaps none of those have featured as much talent as the battles between Jaylen Waddle and Jhamon Ausbon five years ago.
Waddle, who earned SEC Freshman of the Year as a receiver at Alabama last season, played defensive back during his freshman season of high school in 2014. At that time, Ausbon, who currently leads Texas A&M in receiving, was a sophomore and one of Episcopal’s star wideouts.
“We would actually go at it a little bit in practice,” Waddle recalled. “It was great. I was young, and he had some experience, so had some good moves coming off the line. I remember that. It was a good battle.”
At first glance, you would have expected Ausbon to have the edge. Not only did the 6-foot-2, 218-pound receiver have an extra year on his freshman teammate, he was also quite a bit bigger than Waddle, who stands in at a generous 5-foot-10. However, more often than not, Waddle held his own.
“Jhamon had the body on Jaylen. He was just bigger, more physical,” said Preston Heard, who played quarterback and threw to both receivers during his time at Episcopal. “But whether it was the lack of power I could put on the ball or just his closing speed, even if Jaylen might have got beat at first it was just hard to get completions against him, even with Jhamon. The only way to beat him was to have it perfectly placed and have it out of Jaylen’s reach.”
Episcopal’s star-studded roster that year also featured a pair of five-star linemen in Marvin Wilson, who plays defensive line for Florida State, and Walker Little, who plays offensive line for Stanford. The Knights went on to finish 10-2 and claimed the Southwest Preparatory Conference Division I state title.
Unfortunately, Episcopal never got to see what Ausbon and Waddle would look like in the same offense. Waddle served primarily as a defensive back his freshman year before breaking into the offensive side of the ball as a sophomore. Meanwhile, Ausbon transferred to St. Thomas High School in Houston for his junior year.
“It was less disappointing coaching wise and more about being around good people,” said Steve Leisz who coached both players at Episcopal. “That’s what really stands out about those two people. To this day when I see Jhamon he gets a huge smile on his face. It seems like Jaylen always has a smile on his face. Just to catch up with those two guys, it’s exactly the same way when you coached them. They’re just great young men, and they love to compete.”
Through five games this season, Ausbon has pulled in a team-high 32 receptions for 446 yards with two scores through the air. The junior has been especially impressive lately, recording a combined 19 receptions for 302 yards and a touchdown in his past three games.
Waddle is having a somewhat quiet start to the season playing behind Alabama’s talented trio of starters in reigning Biletnikoff winner Jerry Jeudy as well DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III. Still, the speedy sophomore has recorded 12 receptions for 197 yards and leads the SEC averaging 17.38 yards per punt return.
Heard never had the privilege of having both receivers at his disposal at the same time but spent a season with each of them serving as his favorite target. The former Baylor walk-on isn’t surprised to see either of his former teammates experiencing success at the college level.
“Jhamon, he’s just a lot bigger and he’s got more reach. You can kind of put the ball anywhere in the vicinity and he’ll catch it,” Heard said. “He’s more of a 50-50 guy. If you can get him on an intermediate route like a curl or something, you can literally put the ball anywhere and he’ll just grab it and probably make a guy miss for a lot of yards.
“Jaylen’s a little different. You can throw him a 3-yard bubble and he’ll take the ball 80 yards for a touchdown. Those shorter routes were the most fun to throw to Jaylen. Sometimes it’d even be a lateral pass, and he’d just pad your stats with an 80-yard play.”
Perhaps Heard’s favorite part about both receivers was what they brought off the field. The former quarterback describes both Ausbon and Waddle as “perfect teammates” and says he still keeps in contact with them to this day following big games.
“A lot of times when you have superstars like that, it’s easy for them to get a big head, but it wasn’t like that for either of them,” Heard said. “They were both down-to-earth and great team players. Playing quarterback, you get a lot of guys who come up to you after the play and say, ‘Hey man, I was open. Why didn’t you throw me the ball?’ Neither of those guys are like that. They are always willing to take a backseat when they need to if that’s the best thing for the team.”
That’s especially been the case for Waddle this season. The former five-star recruit’s slow start comes after he was Alabama’s second-leading receiver last year with 848 yards to go with seven touchdowns through the air. Waddle is the only one of the Crimson Tide’s top four receivers yet to find the end zone or record a 100-yard game this season. However, that hasn’t seemed to bother him one bit.
“I’m just out there playing, playing together,” Waddle said. “Trying to do my job and trying to do it as good as the other guys do. It’s fun. I think it’s a challenge. I think we feed off each other and make each other better. I love it.”
Waddle and Alabama got the better of Ausbon and Texas A&M last year during the first collegiate meeting between the two former teammates as the Crimson Tide came away with a 45-23 victory inside of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Saturday, Waddle will return to his home state for the first time since joining the Tide as No. 1 Alabama travels to No. 24 Texas A&M at 2:30 p.m. CT on CBS.
“It's gonna be pretty cool, I think,” Waddle said. “I'm gonna know a lot of people in the crowd and on the other side. That makes it a little fun.”