Five years ago, Prairie View running back Johnta’ Hebert declined an offer to walk on to his hometown program because he thought he had more to offer.
On Saturday, he showed Southern why that lack of a scholarship offer was a mistake.
Hebert — a graduate of Glen Oaks High School — rained on the Jaguars’ homecoming parade with a homecoming celebration of his own as he ran for 125 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, adding another 170 yards and two touchdowns receiving, as well.
“Southern asked me to walk on, so of course I have a chip on my shoulder,” Hebert said. “I didn’t get a scholarship here and I stayed right down the street. Every time I play Southern, I want to have a big game.
“Coming back home, being my last time — especially them scheduling us for homecoming — I had a pretty big chip on my shoulder.”
A fifth-year senior, Hebert said he had about 30 family members in the stands at A.W. Mumford Stadium on Saturday night to watch his final game against Southern.
He stood out from start to finish.
Hebert opened scoring for the Panthers midway through the first quarter when he tipped a slightly overthrown pass from quarterback Trey Green back to himself in the end zone, putting the Panthers ahead 7-3. It was the first time the Jaguars trailed in Southwestern Athletic Conference play this season.
The opening touchdown was only the first of many times that Hebert snuck behind the Southern secondary as the Panthers used him to attack the edges for the majority of the night.
Prairie View coach Willie Simmons said his game plan was simple: Get the ball to their best offensive player, Hebert, as many different ways as possible, then let his big-play ability shine.
“He makes game-planing a little easier because you have the flexibility to move him in a lot of different places,” Simmons said. “We knew we would get some matches with safeties with him, and there aren’t many corners in this league that can run with Johnta’ Hebert.”
Hebert’s playmaking ability was in full force against Southern — not so much because he wasn’t on Southern’s sideline, something he dreamt about, but because of who was on the sideline: Southern wide receiver and return specialist Willie Quinn.
Simmons said Hebert had a personal “vendetta” against Quinn, generally considered one of the most explosive players in the conference. Hebert wanted to prove that he was just as much a playmaker as Quinn, if not more.
Hebert echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“I don’t like the fact I get titled as a kick returner or a return specialist,” Hebert said. “(Quinn) may like the fact he gets titled as a return specialist, but I feel like I impact the game in every aspect — kick return, rushing and receiving, as you saw tonight.”
Quinn had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown after Hebert’s first score but was largely quiet the rest of the night, only recording one catch for 13 yards.
Hebert tacked on 66 total yards and a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter to seal the victory for Prairie View — including a 13-yard run to the end zone with 41 seconds left to play as Simmons was trying to run out the clock.
“In a game that close, we have to make those tackles,” Southern linebacker Daniel Brown said. “We can’t let him break out of those tackles. We can’t let him get to the edge. (Hebert) outwitted us, he out-finessed us and he got to the corner. Plays like that — you can only chalk it up to heart, and in his heart, he wanted it more.”