North Texas

Five North Texas Players Take the Field at Super Bowl LII

Super Bowl LII will be on Feb. 4 on NBC

The field is set. The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles will face off in Super Bowl LII for the right to be called world champs.

North Texas will be well represented in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There will be a total of five players from the area- three with the Eagles and two on the Patriots.

Let’s start with Philly.

The Philadelphia Eagles Running Back Jay Ajayi grew up in North Texas and graduated from Liberty High School in Frisco.

Ajayi was redshirted as a true freshman at Boise State in 2011. Once on the field, he began to shine. Ajayi finished his collegiate career with 678 yards rushing and 50 touchdowns before announcing his decision to forgo his senior season to enter the 2015 NFL Draft.

Ajayi was drafted in the fifth round by the Miami Dolphins and became the starting running back prior to the 2016 season. He was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for two weeks in a row after 200-plus rushing yards in back-to-back games in Weeks 6 and 7. Ajayi would finish the season with 1,2,72 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl.

He began the 2017 season as the Dolphin’s top running back before being traded to the Eagles for a 2018 fourth round draft pick. Ajayi would run for 873 yards and a touchdown. He had 91 yards rushing in the Eagles 37-9 win over the Cowboys in Week 11.

DeSoto head coach Todd Pederman explains how proud he is that one of his former players, Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills, is playing in Super Bowl LII. Pederman was Mills defensive coordinator at DeSoto.

Cornerback Jalen Mills began his football career at Lancaster before transferring to DeSoto during his senior year in high school. He had 26 tackles and an interception while helping the Eagles to a 10-2 record and a second-round 5A-Division 1 playoff appearance. DeSoto would go on to lose to Skyline.

Mills was rated as a three-star recruit and picked LSU as his college of choice. He started all 13 games his freshman year in 2012, resulting in 57 tackles and two interceptions. The Eagles selected him in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

He played all 165 games during his rookie season, with two starts. He finished the year with 51 solo tackles (61 combined). The Eagles named Mills the starter before this season and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after the Week 8 win over the San Francisco 49ers, where had three combined tackles and a pick-six.

DeSoto head coach Todd Pederman explains how proud he is that one of his former players, Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills, is playing in Super Bowl LII. Pederman was Mills defensive coordinator at DeSoto.

Haltom native Halapoulivaati Vaitai was ranked No. 40 on the list of best offensive line prospect in high school. He chose to play for Gary Patterson and TCU over Michigan State, Texas Tech, Arkansas and Utah. 

Vaitai was a second team All-Big 12 selection as a junior in 2014 after starting all 13 games at right tackle. He was named second team All-Big 12 again during his senior year and drafted by the Eagles in the fifth round.

Vaitai made his first start in Week 5 of the 2016 season and held the job until an MCL sprain suffered in Week 11 wiped out the rest of his rookie year. This season, he stepped in for injured left tackle Jason Peters in Week 7 and stayed there for the rest of the year. He’s started 16 of the 23 games he's played in his first two seasons in Philadelphia.

Rex Burkhead was a multi-sport star at Plano Senior High School and now has a chance to earn a Super Bowl championship with the New England Patriots.

On the Patriots side of the field, Texas Connects Us with running back Rex Burkhead and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon.

Burkhead was a star on both the football field and the basketball court for Plano High. As a junior, he rushed for 1,762 yards and 28 touchdowns, leading the school to a state semifinal appearance in the 5-A football playoffs. He earned first-team all-district honors in basketball as a junior and senior, and as a freshman he was part of Class 5A state championship basketball team.

Highly recruited out of high school, Burkhead chose Nebraska over Arkansas, Ole Miss, Stanford and Texas A&M. He played in nine games as a freshman in 2009, rushing for 346 yards on 81 carries with three touchdowns.

Burkhead took over as the starting running back his junior year and ran for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns, earning a first team All-Big 10 selection.

With expectations high going into his senior season, Burkhead sprained his knee in the season opener and missed two games before re-injuring the knee four games later. He missed a total of six games but still finished with 675 yards rushing and five touchdowns.

The Cincinnati Bengals selected Burkhead in the sixth round of the 2013 Draft. In 41 games with the Bengals from 2014-16, he ran for 375 yards with three touchdowns. Burkhead added another 288 yards with a touchdown as a receiver.

Last March, Burkhead signed a one-year contract with the Patriots. In Week 10 against the Denver Broncos, he had 36 yards rushing and 27 yards receiving with a touchdown. Burkhead also had a blocked punt, becoming the first NFL player since 1977 to catch a touchdown pass and block a punt in the same game.

A four-year letterman at TCU, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon was a three-time all-conference offensive tackle who earned All-America honors as a senior on the Horned Frogs' 2011 Rose Bowl championship team. A few months later, he was drafted by the Patriots in the fifth round.

This is Cannon’s fourth Super Bowl trip in his seven years with New England. That ties former Buffalo Bills running back Kenneth Davis for the most in TCU history.

Danny Amendola, wide receiver for the New England Patriots, is back in the Super Bowl. Amendola is a former high school football star at The Woodlands High School near Houston.

Super Bowl LII will take place on February 4. Kick-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on NBC.

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