Go! Fight! Win!

Presenting the top twenty Texas high school football programs of all time. Let the debate begin.

September 2007By Comments

BOBCAT NATION: Celina, which set the record for the state’s longest winning streak, ranks number eight.
Photograph by Fred Helms

It may be the oldest argument in Texas sports: Which high school football program is the greatest ever? It may also be the hardest to win: How can you compare Abilene High, which won 49 consecutive games in the fifties, with Southlake Carroll, a suburban juggernaut that has won four out of the past five 5A Division II titles?

Easy—I looked at the numbers.

Great teams win championships, so I started way back in 1920, when the University Interscholastic League first sanctioned a state title game (in what must have been a forgettable matchup, Houston Heights and Cleburne tied 0–0). I assigned schools ten points for each championship and five points for being a runner-up. To reward consistency over the years, I also awarded three points for each district title. (I used overall wins as a tiebreaker.) That formula yielded our top twenty teams, and it helped ensure that a small program had just as much of a chance as a big one, since schools play in classes that are based on enrollment.

Finding accurate records going back nearly a century can be tricky; documents get lost or destroyed over time. And though schools are responsible for keeping their own statistics, they aren’t always perfectly reliable. A few years back texas monthly called one prominent coach to find out about his team’s winning streak. When asked how many games he had won, he replied, “Well, I’m not sure exactly.” I did the best I could to match the school’s information with other sources, such as the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, in Waco, and Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.

As you’ll see, some of the teams on this list are perennial favorites; others were dominant decades ago but have struggled as of late. But all of them, at the end of their championship seasons, could once say that they were the best in Texas.


Wichita Falls

1. Wichita Falls


Location: Wichita Falls
Nickname: Coyotes
Class: 4A
First Season: 1911
State Titles: 6 (1941, 1949, 1950, 1958, 1961, 1969)
Runners-up: 4 (1937, 1959, 1960, 1971)
District Titles: 45
Overall Record: 614-315-47

The golden age for the Coyotes came under Coach Joe Golding, who, from 1947 to 1961, won four state titles and earned an .850 winning percentage. His single-wing offense punished opponents on the ground and in the air. But the Coyotes have always attracted top coaching talent. Wichita Falls has had six consecutive coaches elected to the Texas High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor.



2. Plano Senior


Location: Plano
Nickname: Wildcats
Class: 5A
First Season: 1910
State Titles: 7 (1965, 1967, 1971, 1977, 1986, 1987, 1994)
Runners-up: 2 (1978, 1993)
District Titles: 30
Overall Record: 683-293-49

The dynasty that became a model for suburban schools everywhere, Plano won seven titles over four decades, and the Wildcats also boast more wins than any other school on the list. Coach Tom Kimbrough (below) led his 1987 team to a 16-0 record and a number one ranking in the country. The program recently fell on hard times, losing every game of the season for the first time in its history, in 2003, but Coach Gerald Brence—who led the Wildcats to a state title in 1994—turned things around and reached the state quarterfinals in 2005.

3. La Marque


Location: La Marque
Nickname: Cougars
Class: 4A
First Season: 1938
State Titles: 5 (1995, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2006)
Runners-up: 4 (1986, 1993, 1994, 1998)
District Titles: 32
Overall Record: 469-175-14

When head coach Alan Weddell first arrived at La Marque, in 1990, the program had been to the state title game only once. By the time he departed in 1997 for a job at Texas A&M University, the program had appeared in five championships, winning three. During his eight years at La Marque, the Cougars went 103-13 and won six district championships. Now all roads to the 4A state championship run through La Marque.



4. Amarillo


Location: Amarillo
Nickname: Sandies
Class: 5A
First Season: 1921
State Titles: 4 (1934, 1935, 1936, 1940)
Runners-up: 2 (1930, 1948)
District Titles: 38
Overall Record: 650-284-19

If certain teams seem to dominate certain decades, then the Amarillo Sandies owned the thirties. Under head coach Blair Cherry—who later coached at the University of Texas—the school captured three consecutive state titles and played for another. During that same time, they also won 54 out of 55 games, including 27 straight. Though the Sandies haven’t made it back to the state title in nearly sixty years, they still have bragging rights: They remain one of the winningest teams in history.



5. Abilene


Location: Abilene
Nickname: Eagles
Class: 5A
First Season: 1920
State Titles: 6 (1923, 1928, 1931, 1954, 1955, 1956)
Runners-up: 2 (1922, 1927)
District Titles: 28
Overall Record: 575-331-23

Though Abilene posted an impressive record during the twenties, making it to four state title games, the Eagles’ heyday would come three decades later. That’s when head coach Chuck Moser led the team to three consecutive state titles—and an astounding 49-game winning streak (the second longest of all time). Those feats were enough for the Dallas Morning News to name them the “Team of the Century” (above, a key catch against Thomas Jefferson in 1959). And that’s not the only thing the Eagles like to crow about: Wide receiver Dave Parks, who went on to play at Texas Tech University, was the first overall pick in the NFL draft of 1964.



6. Permian


Location: Odessa
Nickname: Panthers
Class: 5A
First Season: 1959
State Titles: 6 (1965, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1989, 1991)
Runners-up: 5 (1968, 1970, 1975, 1985, 1995)
District Titles: 23
Overall Record: 440-123-6

Permian became the face of Texas football to the entire world in 1990 when a Philadelphia writer named Buzz Bissinger published the book Friday Night Lights, which, in turn, inspired a movie and TV series of the same name. It captured the city’s lust for winning (no team has played for more state titles) and its unique traditions (Mojo!). In addition to titles, it also produced star players. Wide receiver Roy Williams (below), who played for the University of Texas and is now with the Detroit Lions, was one of the state’s hottest recruits in 1999. Though the program has suffered recently, all things come full circle. The head coach featured in the book Friday Night Lights, Gary Gaines, returned to Odessa in 2005 for a short stint as the district’s athletic director.



7. Brownwood Senior


Location: Brownwood
Nickname: Lions
Class: 4A
First Season: 1920
State Titles: 7 (1960, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1978, 1981)
Runners-up: 1 (1977)
District Titles: 26
Overall Record: 628-316-29

For a particular generation of fans, there’s only one true high school coach: Gordon Wood (below), the man who guided Brownwood to seven state titles during his 26-year tenure at the school. (The Lions now wear seven stars on their jerseys to honor this achievement.) Until G. A. Moore passed him in 2002, Wood was the state’s all-time winningest high school football coach, with 396 wins.



8. Celina


Location: Celina
Nickname: Bobcats
Class: 3A
First Season: 1958
State Titles: 7 (1974 [tie], 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005)
Runners-up: 0
District Titles: 26
Overall Record: 479-221-18

Celina may not get the attention of larger schools, but it certainly has two statistics that trump any other program. Its longtime former coach G. A. Moore is the winningest in Texas history (404 wins), and under his leadership, the Bobcats set the record for the longest winning streak (68 games). After Moore (below center) left for Pilot Point in 2001, one of his assistants, Butch Ford, became head coach, and the Bobcats never missed a beat, winning their seventh state title in 2005.

9. Judson


Location: Converse
Nickname: Rockets
Class: 5A
First Season: 1962
State Titles: 6 (1983, 1988, 1992, 1993, 1995, 2002)
Runners-up: 4 (1990, 1996, 1998, 2005)
District Titles: 22
Overall Record: 387-157-10

Arguably the best team of the nineties, the Rockets made it to six state championship games that decade, winning three. D. W. Rutledge, who coached at Judson from 1984 to 2001, won four titles and helped produce an impressive roster of future NFL players, including offensive lineman Chris Samuels (San Diego Chargers), defensive back Derwin Gray (Indianapolis Colts), defensive end Corey Sears (Houston Texans), running back Darnell Stephens (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), defensive back Eric Brown (Denver Broncos), and defensive end Otis Grigsby (Miami Dolphins).



10. Cuero


Location: Cuero
Nickname: Gobblers
Class: 3A
First Season: 1911
State Titles: 3 (1973, 1974, 1987)
Runners-up: 7 (1970, 1975, 1985, 1986, 1993, 1998, 2004)
District Titles: 24
Overall Record: 607-327-36

Head coach Buster Gilbreth (below) took Cuero to the state finals four times in the seventies, winning twice. But the real story for the team has been the ten trips they have made to the championship: Only Odessa Permian has played in more. Though the Gobblers haven’t won a title since 1987, they continue to stand alongside Celina as the team to beat in Class 3A.



11. Carroll Senior


Location: Southlake
Nickname: Dragons
Class: 5A
First Season: 1964
State Titles: 7 (1988, 1992, 1993, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006)
Runners-up: 1 (2003)
District Titles: 19
Overall Record: 398-126-8

If this list were to be compiled next year, Southlake Carroll might well hold the record for winning the most state titles (below, in a 2006 playoff game). Though head coach Todd Dodge left after the 2006 season to take over at the University of North Texas, his replacement, Hal Wasson, has plenty of talent to build on: The Dragons have played in the past five state championships, have won 79 of their past 80 games, and will return eight offensive starters, including Riley Dodge (Todd’s son), the 2006 Class 5A offensive player of the year. The Dragons, who were named national champs in 2004 and 2005, remain the team no one wants to line up against—and the program we’ll be talking about decades from now.



12. Stamford


Location: Stamford
Nickname: Bulldogs
Class: 2A
First Season: 1912
State Titles: 3 (1955, 1956, 1958)
Runners-up: 1 (1959)
District Titles: 30
Overall Record: 531-278-25

When Stamford celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its state title run in 2005, 62 out of the 76 players from that era came from as far away as Oregon back to their alma mater to be recognized (8 had passed away). During the fifties, the Bulldogs went 109-7; seven of those seasons found Gordon Wood patrolling the sidelines. In fact, the best team that Coach Wood claims to have coached never won a title. The 1954 squad, led by lineman Bob Harrison (below), lost to Colorado City in the district championship. The Bulldogs might have done better had Harrison not forgotten his shoes.



13. Garland


Location: Garland
Nickname: Owls
Class: 5A
First Season: 1904
State Titles: 4 (1956, 1963, 1964, 1999)
Runners-up: 1 (1955)
District Titles: 26
Overall Record: 589-291-44

One of the state’s oldest programs, Garland has won 26 district titles, including 9 of the past 12. But the Owls will forever be known for head coach Chuck Curtis (below), who led Garland to state titles in 1963 and 1964, the only years he was at the school.



14. Katy


Location: Katy
Nickname: Tigers
Class: 5A
First Season: 1939
State Titles: 4 (1959, 1997, 2000, 2003)
Runners-up: 3 (1994, 1999, 2005)
District Titles: 22
Overall Record: 412-259-18

Named the “5A Team of the ’90s” by the Houston Chronicle, the Katy Tigers established themselves as one of the state’s premier suburban powerhouses. In the past twelve seasons, they have produced two Texas state players of the year (running back Bill Jatzlau, in 1994, and linebacker Rusty Bucy, in 1997) and one state title MVP (James Aston [above] in 2003).

15. Sealy


Location: Sealy
Nickname: Fighting Tigers
Class: 3A
First Season: 1928
State Titles: 5 (1978, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997)
Runners-up: 0
District Titles: 21
Overall Record: 438-370-22

Eric Dickerson’s legend casts a long shadow on the lore of Sealy football. Rushing for 5,877 yards in his career, Dickerson also carried the Tigers to an undefeated state and national championship in 1978. Then, in 1994, Fred Smith rushed for 324 yards in the title game, breaking a record held by Dickerson. Smith also surpassed Dickerson with 6,588 rushing yards in his career. But the most significant member of Sealy’s program would have to be coach T.J. Mills, who led the Tigers to a record of 63-1 and four consecutive state titles between 1994 and 1997.



16. Sonora


Location: Sonora
Nickname: Broncos
Class: 2A
First Season: 1919
State Titles: 5 (1966, 1968, 1970, 1971, 2000)
Runners-up: 1 (1969)
District Titles: 17
Overall Record: 516-309-31

One of the four teams on the list from the 325 area code, Sonora led the way for Class A teams in the sixties and seventies. Coach Jerry Hopkins won the first three state titles for the program, in part because of a stand­- out running back named Ed Renfro (below), who went on to play for Texas Tech. The Broncos won their most recent championship in 2000, after their move to Class 2A.

17. Waco


Location: Waco
Nickname: Lions
Class: 4A
First Season: 1920
State Titles: 6 (1922, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1945 [tie], 1948)
Runners-up: 3 (1923, 1924, 1939)
District Titles: 9 (figures available only since 1986)
Overall Record: 169-76-1 (figures available only since 1986)

During the twenties, Waco won four state championships and lost two others, making the Lions the most dominant team of the decade. But the program has consistently produced NFL-caliber players, from wide receiver George Sauer, who won Super Bowl III with the New York Jets (and quarterback Joe Namath), to linebacker Derrick Johnson, a standout at the University of Texas who now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.



18. Reagan


Location: Austin
Nickname: Raiders
Class: 4A
First Season: 1965
State Titles: 3 (1967, 1968, 1970)
Runners-up: 1 (1973)
District Titles: 20
Overall Record: 335-132-9

It would take only two years after Reagan fielded its first team, in 1965, for Coach Travis Raven (below) to win a state championship. Before leaving the program after the 1970 season, Raven would go on to win two more titles, a feat that still has old-timers talking. Helping Raven’s Raiders win their first state title was All-American defensive tackle Ray Dowdy, who was later named All-SWC at the University of Texas.

19. Stephenville


Location: Stephenville
Nickname: Yellow Jackets
Class: 4A
First Season: 1920
State Titles: 4 (1993, 1994, 1998, 1999)
Runners-up: 0
District Titles: 17
Overall Record: 513-343-26

Known as the state’s most prolific quarterback factory, Stephenville has produced nine top recruits for Division I-A college programs since 1989 (including Jevan Snead, who bolted from the University of Texas last year to play for Ole Miss). Much of the credit for this talent goes to former head coach Art Briles, who led the Yellow Jackets to all four of their state titles. The best-known quarterback of the crop, Kevin Kolb, followed Briles to the University of Houston, where he started for four straight years. He was also the thirty-sixth overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft, taken by the Philadelphia Eagles.

20. Lee


Location: Midland
Nickname: Rebels
Class: 5A
First Season: 1961
State Titles: 3 (1998, 1999, 2000)
Runners-up: 1 (1983)
District Titles: 13
Overall Record: 348-176-9

The West Texas Tornado, running back Cedric Benson, set the state’s 5A record for career rushing yards (8,423) and carried the Rebels to three state titles and one national title in 1999 (Benson rushed for fifteen touchdowns in the championship games alone). Like their rival, the Permian Panthers, the Rebels have faltered lately, but they have still won thirteen district championships in one of the most competitive regions of the state.

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