By Chuck Cox
Photo of Jacob Ledesma IV courtesy of Jacob Ledesma IV's Twitter page
Now that football season is in full swing in West Texas, we are taking a position-by-position look at the best returning players.
This elite group of tight ends helped lead their offenses with outstanding blocking and pass-catching abilities, while gaining varsity experience in 2021.
See if you see eye-to-eye with us on our picks, and enjoy watching their progress this season as we move toward the playoffs.
Top high school football players in West Texas for 2022
Jacob Ledesma IV, 6-2, 205, Sr., El Paso Pebble Hills
A gifted all-around athlete who is also a baseball standout for the Spartans, Ledesma IV is an ultimate team player.
As a junior last season, he caught 15 passes for 132 yards and rushed for 362 yards and four touchdowns. That helped Pebble Hills finish 6-5 and earn a playoff berth.
Ledesma IV also landed a first-team selection on the All-District 1-6A squad. One of 14 returning starters, he hopes to lead the Spartans back to the playoffs in 2022.
Luke Braden, 6-5, 205, Sr., Stratford
One of the top tight ends in all of Class 2A, Braden is coming off of a big year that saw him rack up 407 yards and four touchdowns as a pass-catcher. Also starting at defensive end, he had 74 tackles and four interceptions to help the Elks go 15-1 and claim the Division II state championship.
He was a first-team All-District 3-2A Division II selection on defense a season ago. His brother, Bryce, is the starting quarterback for Stratford this season, so they should be on the same page for some sibling-to-sibling connections.
Jack Pipkin, 6-4, 210, Sr., Spearman
Pipkin is a tremendous athlete who also excels in track and field and starts on both sides of the pigskin for the Lynx.
Last year, he had 21 catches for 459 receiving yards and four touchdowns on offense. On defense, he made 112 tackles, including 15 for loss, six sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception to help Spearman finish 6-5 and earn a playoff berth.
He was a first-team All-District 3-3A Division II selection on offense and defense.
Mateo Grajeda, 6-5, 240, Jr., El Paso Coronado
Another standout player from the 915, Grajeda contributes on both sides of the ball at tight end and defensive end.
Although the Thunderbirds struggled to a 1-9 record in 2021, Grajeda was steady as a rock, catching 19 passes for 271 yards. He also earned a first-team All-District 1-6A selection for his performance as a sophomore.
Coronado has a new head coach in Mike Pry this season, so the T-Birds are hoping to grease the playoff wheels this time around with Grajeda's help.
Sam Marcinkowski, 6-1, 190, Jr., Lubbock Cooper
After a banner 13-2 season that included a trip to the Class 5A Division II state semifinals, Marcinkowski and the Pirates are looking to take the next step to finish the season at "Jerry World" for the state title game this season.
As he joins 11 returning starters, Marcinkowski should be an even bigger weapon than he was a sophomore last season. Having a year of varsity experience under his belt should be huge.
Expect Marcinkowski's stock to rise over the next two seasons as he gets more reps.
Davian Perkins, 6-3, 235, Sr., Amarillo River Road
Perkins is primarily a blocker on offense for the run-heavy Wildcats, but he is a vital part of making the running game go.
As a junior last season, he also made 75 tackles, including five sacks, to help River Road finish 7-5 with a 14-6 bi-district win over Denver City. Perkins earned a first-team selection on offense and earned a second-team nod on defense on the All-District 2-3A squad.
He is one of seven returning starters on offense, but just one of three back on defense.
Breckan Reed, 6-0, 185, Sr., Bushland
Another standout tight end out of District 2-3A, Reed is a do-everything player who can line up at most any position for the Falcons.
Last year, he was almost always on the field to help Bushland finish 8-3 with a 55-6 bi-district playoff victory over Slaton. Reed earned first-team all-district accolades on offense and a second-team selection at linebacker.
With his pure athleticism and another solid season of experience, Reed should land somewhere at the next level.
Cruz Rojas, 6-4, 255, Sr., Fort Stockton
A two-way starter at tight end and defensive tackle, Rojas is a physical presence on both sides of the rock for the Panthers. Last season, he caught 13 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown to help lead Fort Stockton to a 9-3 season, which included a bi-district win over El Paso Mountain View.
Rojas, who is also a basketball and baseball standout for the Panthers, earned a first-team District 2-4A Division I selection for his efforts. He has not committed to play in college, but his talent and size should lead to offers.
Jovan Lopez, 6-3, 195, Sr., Midland Greenwood
Lopez, who is also a starter at both tight end and defensive end, missed a significant portion of his junior season due to injury last year. But he should be a difference-maker for the Rangers in 2022.
Even though he only played in four games a season ago, Lopez earned a first-team All-District 1-4A Division II nod at tight end while catching two passes for 17 yards.
Greenwood is coming off of a 5-5 year with 14 returning starters, so Lopez should be in for a big season.
Cole Garcia, 6-1, 190, Jr., Dumas
Garcia burst onto the scene last year as a sophomore starter for the Demons, earning District 3-4A Division I Co-Newcomer of the Year honors.
He helped Dumas finish 9-3 overall with a district championship and a trip to the regional semifinals. Wichita Falls Hirschi ended Dumas' season in the third round.
One of 12 returning starters, Garcia is on track to have a monster year as one of several weapons on offense.