Mission Veterans senior Mark Champion first stepped on the gridiron as an eighth grader, joining football after watching all his friends play football.

During his first season, Champion saw action on both sides of the ball, spending time as a receiver and defensive end.

When he stepped foot at Mission Veterans High School as a freshman, however, Patriots head coach David Gilpin knew Champion would become an impact defensive player for his team.

After considering moving Champion to linebacker due to his athleticism, Gilpin and his staff decided to keep the 6-foot-2 athlete at defensive end.

The decision paid its dividends, with Champion emerging as a disruptive defensive force for the Patriots this season. During his final year as a Patriot, Champion made a living in opponents’ backfields, racking up a school record 15 sacks and 28 tackles for loss, while forcing six fumbles and one interception.

With Champion leading the charge, the Patriots allowed only 17.3 points per game, while holding opponents to under 225 yards per contest. For his role as a defensive playmaker, Champion is The Monitor’s 2021 All-Area Defensive Player of the Year.

“I think obviously you look back to this year, you can tell we made the right decision on him playing defensive end,” Gilpin said. “He was a wrecking ball back there.”

Champion checks off all the boxes for a football player, Gilpin said, demonstrating his physical and mental toughness by bouncing back from a shortened junior season and playing through a lingering injury as a senior.

For Champion, his no fear mentality was a key to his success on the field, leading to him playing with a non-stop motor that Gilpin said was the senior’s biggest strength.

“You just can’t be scared,” Champion said. “It doesn’t matter how tall or big he is. It’s about what’s inside. It just came down to a lot of off the field stuff like film and practice.

“The guy refuses to think he can’t make a play,” Gilpin said. “He refuses to stay blocked. They had to account for him every game. You’d always see a second guy get on him. He faced double teams almost the entire year and I understand the offensive coordinators doing that. You must account for him. … Even though so much attention was being paid to him, he continued to make plays.”

Champion’s goal when arriving at Mission Veterans was to leave his mark on the program, watching players like Landry Gilpin break records during their time.

He showed signs of his potential early during his career, recording three sacks in a limited role as a sophomore. The following season, Champion suffered a season ending shoulder injury during
the Patriots’ first game of the season.

Rather than waver in the face of adversity, Champion came back stronger than ever, setting school records during his final season, finishing as the Patriots’ career leader in sacks with 18 despite playing only one full season.

“It’s an honor,” Champion said. “Coming in as a freshman in high school, I always wanted to be like Landry and them. I wanted to be known. I wanted the all-star games and all of that. It’s just an honor.”

Champion accomplished his goal of leaving his mark at Mission Veterans, finishing as arguably the best defensive end in program history.

Still, Champion has no intent to stop playing just yet, with his sensational senior year earning him scholarship offers from Hardin-Simmons University, Southwestern University and Sul Ross State.

“It was great playing for Mission Veterans,” Champion said. “I love Coach Gilpin and his coaching staff. All my teammates, they were very supportive. But now I really want to play college ball and also focus on my education so I can be a physical therapist.”

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