IT’S A GAME, AN EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITY, a community bond, the state religion, the biggest show in town every Friday night in the fall, a character builder, a revered symbol, an inspirational rallying point that offers a rare moment—more like 48 minutes—in which all races, religions, and economic strata put aside their differences to get behind the home team, a traffic generator for the local Dairy Queen, and topic A in coffee shops from Roscoe (“How ’bout them Plowboys?”) to Itasca (“Go Wampus Cats!”). Yes, even today.
But for all that, and for all the stereotypes fostered by the impressions of outsiders—we’re thinking of Jon Voight’s sadistic small-town coach in Varsity Blues —the modern phenomenon of Texas high school football is not something your daddy or his daddy would immediately recognize. These days, for instance, the suburbs rule the bigger classifications; in the nineties they’ve dominated the playoffs, with an ebb and flow between the Dallas—Fort Worth sprawl and the Houston-Beaumont—Port Arthur megalopolis. (The North Texas schools are currently on top, though H-Town fans will tell you it’s because they’ve taken to beating each other up. Then there was that player at Katy who was ruled ineligible the day before the state championship, causing his team to be disqualified…) And the sport has grown alongside the college and pro versions. Sophisticated pass-oriented programs have left the three-yard formula in the dust. Training regimens are now year-round. Coaching systems are implemented in the seventh grade. Texas Football magazine’s Web site carries ads for creatine, a controversial strength-building compound. Private schools are lobbying the Legislature for the right to compete against the public schools. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has banned prayer before games. Who can be called upon for an extra edge now?
But even if change is afoot, Texas high school football remains one of the few institutions that distinguishes us from the rest of the universe. We have more players, coaches, band members, cheerleaders, and pep squads than anyone else. We send more of our boys to colleges and the pros than any other state (more than three hundred signed letters of intent to play for Division I schools last year alone). Our fans are more fanatical. Our boosters are more loyal. Our parents are more passionate. So believe the hype: We’re number one. And don’t you forget it.
See You in the Playoffs
4A La Marque has made it to the state finals six straight years. 3A Sealy won four consecutive state titles between 1994 and 1997. Both teams have racked up more than a hundred victories in the nineties, as have 5A Austin Westlake, 5A Converse Judson, 4A Corpus Christi Calallen, 4A Stephenville, and 2A Schulenburg. 5A Midland Lee, the top-ranked team in the nation according to USA Today, has made it to the postseason sixteen of the past seventeen years.
Won’t See You in the Playoffs
4A Fort Worth Trimble Tech and 5A North Dallas have fewer than twenty wins between them since 1990, making them the losingest public school programs of the decade.
After going 1-8 in 1997 and not scoring a single point until the last game of the season, 1A Marfa went 9-2 under new coach Pat Ward in 1998 and averaged 48.8 points a game.
Programs Worth Envying
Eighteen players who graduated from defending 5A Division I state champion Duncanville have signed with Division I college teams in the past three years, including seven from the class of 1999.
5A Arlington Lamar, which has played in Texas Stadium more than any other high school team, has six players who signed with Division I college teams this year. Five 1999 grads each from 5A Friendswood Clear Brook, 5A Dallas Carter, and 5A Richardson Lake Highlands signed with Division I college teams this year.
5A Mesquite has two artificial turf fields, more than any high school in Texas.
Don’t Touch That Dial
Local TV news, FOX Sports, and weekly publications notwithstanding, radio is the best way to follow Texas high school football—and no broadcaster merits more of a listen than Dallas Huston, the voice of the 4A Brownwood Lions on 101.5 KOXE-FM and 1380 KBWD-AM. Huston started calling the school’s games in 1963; from his lofty perch he’s brought us six of the Lions’ seven championship seasons. “I’m more of fan than a play-by-play man,” he says. “People know which team I’m pulling for. I want the Brownwood Lions to win.” Honorable mention: Mr. Ni-Fu-Ni-Fa, who does Friday night scores in Spanish on KGBT-FM in McAllen.
Fans of 4A Stephenville carry a kind of metallic maraca: welded-together propane bottles filled with ball bearings.
Size Matters. No, It Doesn’t
The largest high school to field a team is 5A Plano, which has nearly 5,000 students. The smallest are Novice, which chooses its six-man team from just 26 students, and Guthrie, which has only 29 students.
We Know What You Did Last Summer
The off-season fad of the moment is seven-on-seven football, the biggest thing to hit Texas since the invention of the running back. With no handoffs and no pass rush, it’s purely for the quarterbacks and the receivers. Organized outside the bounds of the University Interscholastic League, it’s adored by students because they can play it when school’s out; coaches love it because it keeps their stars in shape year-round.
Mascots We Love
The Pied Piper of 2A Hamlin, who leads the team and the cheerleaders onto the field to the tune of the Notre Dame fight song, and the Red Ant of 3A Progreso, who gives the Puffy Taco of minor league baseball’s San Antonio Missions a run for its money in creativity.
Get Your Rah-Rahs Out
The coed cheerleading squad from 5A Copperas Cove and the all-girl squads from 5A Spring Westfield, 4A Colleyville Heritage, 4A Grapevine, 4A Austin Lake Travis, and 4A Brenham were finalists in the American Cheer leading Association nationals. Finalists in the Universal Cheerleading Association nationals included all-girl squads from 5A Victoria, 5A Converse Judson, and 4A Corpus Christi Calallen and coed squads from 5A Humble and 5A Lewisville.
Arturo “Sneezy” Beltran of 5A Abilene, one of the most highly touted running backs in the state this season.
Best Real Name
Running back Kuna Maumalanga of 5A Euless Trinity.
On the Road Again. And Again. And Again
Every other year, on consecutive Fridays in October, 2A Anthony travels more than six hundred miles round-trip for district games against McCamey and Iraan.
1A Kopperl has no stadium on site—it plays home games 25 miles away.
Player to Watch
Vontez Duff of 5A Copperas Cove, who last year led the school’s return to the playoffs after a 37-year absence. He may be the state’s best running back—and he can throw the ball too.
15 Games Worth Seeing
Houston Washington at Houston Yates, October 2. H-Town’s unofficial inner-city Super Bowl. 5A.
Longview at Marshall, October 8. A collision of East Texas smashmouth dynasties. 5A
Stephenville at Brownwood, October 8. Hated rival B’wood accounted for the Yellow Jackets’ only loss last year. 4A.
Plano at Plano East, October 15. Two huge suburban schools, both in the top 25 preseason poll, fight it out for bragging rights. 5A.
Henderson at Jacksonville, October 15. Jacksonville QB Luke McCown—whose older brothers start for SMU and A&M—leads his team against a tough rival at the Tomato Bowl. 4A.
Klein Forest at The Woodlands, October 21. Chance Mock and Tony Jeffery, two top-rated quarterbacks, go mano a mano. 5A.
Bay City at El Campo, October 22. A battle for supremacy in the rice fields. 4A.
San Marcos at Hays, October 22. Last year’s contest drew more than 16,000 spectators, one of the largest crowds ever at Southwest Texas State University’s Bobcat Stadium. 4A.
West Orange-Stark at Port Neches-Groves, October 22. Golden Triangle foes square off. 4A.
Harlingen South at Harlingen, October 29. The much-anticipated Bird Bowl between the Hawks and Cardinals. Expected attendance: 14,000. 5A.
Midland Lee at Odessa Permian, October 29. The classic Petroplex rivalry is still a must-see. 5A.
Paducah at Aspermont, October 29. Both were ranked in the preseason top ten. 1A.
Gordon at Strawn, October 29. Archrivals within seven miles of each other; both were ranked in the preseason polls. Six-man.
Alief Hastings at Alief Elsik, November 5. Could be called the Diversity Bowl; neighboring schools with black, Hispanic, Asian, and Anglo mix. 5A.
San Antonio Lanier at San Antonio Fox Tech, November 6. The traditional Chili Bowl at Alamo Stadium. 4A.
Best Symbolic Prop
The cotton bolls held by fans of the 4A Robstown Cottonpickers.
Best Big-City Concession Food
Polish sausage wraps at Corpus Christi’s Buccaneer Stadium, prepared by the booster clubs of the five high schools in the Corpus Christi Independent School District.
Best Small-Town Concession Food
Fajitas at 3A Falfurrias and 5A Rio Grande City; boudin balls at 3A Hamshire-Fannett; and pit-cooked barbecue at 3A Hidalgo and six-man powerhouse Jonesboro.
Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. Now in its fortieth year, it’s the only preseason publication that matters.
Dave Campbell. The only guy who can draw a longer autograph line than R. C. Slocum at a coaches’ convention.
The Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco. A whole wing is dedicated to high school football.
The Gospel Online
Pigskin Prep (www.pigskinprep.com), Buck Cargal’s ultimate Texas football site, features nonstop chat, a radio guide, weather reports, and sections devoted to nicknames, colleges, and rule changes.