Justin Todd has always been a big kid. Born in Florida, he weighed 10 pounds and 6 ounces at birth.
Now a senior at Ridge Point, Todd is 6-foot-7 and could play any sport he chooses. Basketball was once an interest. But it was volleyball that Todd chose to pursue, and his skills and hard work recently resulted in a commitment to the University of Hawaii, the back-to-back Division I men’s volleyball national champions of the NCAA.
“People there really like volleyball,” Todd said. “The whole community there admires and respects it as a great sport. They will sell their arena for the playoffs and championships. All of that was a big reason why.
It’s a long way from Texas. UIL, the state governing body for high school athletics, opted out of adding men’s volleyball in 2018. It has since added water polo.
The boys’ club volleyball scene is thin, though Houston is home to one of the most highly regarded Houston Volleyball Academy programs.
TAPPS, which governs most private athletic schools in Texas, does not have men’s volleyball. The Southwestern Preparatory Conference has 10 of its 15 Texas schools participating in the sport.
“It’s pretty hard to hang out with a bunch of guys to play here in Texas,” Todd said. “Even people from my club, they all commute from far away just to play. I was lucky to have access to players and coaches because my parents took me to camps and everything. I worked really hard to be the best and focused on being really competitive against the best players, the best talent.
Ridge Point senior Justin Todd. Courtesy
Todd’s father, Jason, encouraged him to play volleyball. Volleyball is a passion for Jason, who started playing recreationally on Florida beaches at the age of 20 before moving his family to Texas and now oversees the beach volleyball program for HVA .
Once Todd developed a taste for volleyball because of its pace and intensity, he did whatever it took to expose his talent to college coaches, whether it was networking with coaches during qualifying tournament, emailing them their stats and club schedule or, most importantly, taking advantage of the opportunity to be chosen by USA Volleyball for their National Team Development Program, s training with the beach and indoor programs for two years.
“It was an amazing experience to train and compete with the best,” Todd said.
Todd started playing volleyball when he was 11 years old. At 12, he joined HVA. During the first three club seasons, he played midfield.
It was in 2020 that Todd went through a growth spurt. He focused on being an outside hitter on the recommendation of his club manager.
At the USA National Junior Volleyball Championships in Las Vegas in June, Todd compiled 13.5 kills per game with a .373 kill percentage, averaging three digs, 1.8 blocks and 1 .6 aces per game.
On the final day, Hawaii coach Charlie Wade told Todd he thought he was the No. 1 uncommitted recruit in the nation.
“A lot of people didn’t believe a center was put there, but as soon as I was put on the pin I knew it was my time to shine,” Todd said. “I can hit over blocks and I’m physical and strong.”
Todd thinks if Texas ever adopted high school volleyball, it would do wonders. Already, the sport is developing considerably.
First Point, an organization chaired by UCLA men’s volleyball coach John Speraw that raises funds for men’s volleyball and funds to start college programs across the country, has been key , bringing varsity teams to the annual Southwest Classic held annually in Austin. High school players, boys and girls, compete in exhibition scrimmages in front of college coaches and learn from them in half-hour seminars. It was at this event in January that Todd first met Wade.
HVA has seen an increase in attendees resulting in significant success. This year, HVA Teams 14, 15 and 16 all played their respective championship games at the Junior Nationals. HVA also sent 12 male players to compete in the USA National Boys’ Beach Volleyball Championships in Florida.
“If high schools implemented it, I really think the sport would be promoted more and exposed more,” Todd said. “Just having it available in secondary schools would be the best thing that could happen, as far as attracting people to the sport.
“I talk to kids in California who are coached by college coaches at the club level and in high school. It’s super competitive there. So even though I don’t have the same opportunity to play in Texas, I want to put the state on the map.