For high school football players and coaches in Texas, a state championship game can mean the culmination of a year’s—or a career’s—worth of practice, preparation, and execution. Craig Way, the play-by-play announcer for Bally Sports Southwest, just called seven of these title games in four days.
Last Saturday, as his seventh and final broadcast wound down last Saturday at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium, Way noted that the first of them—a six-man Division II matchup between Benjamin and Loraine—began the previous Wednesday morning. “That game was played three days ago,” he said, “and I called it, and it seemed like it was three years ago.”
Eighty-three hours after that first game, Way’s marathon of state championships ended with Duncanville quarterback Keelon Russell running out the final seconds of the Panthers’ victory over Galena Park North Shore to decide the Class 6A Division I winner. Along the way, Way recited 363 names of players, coaches, former players (such as Baker Mayfield, of Austin Lake Travis), former coaches (Bum Phillips, of Port Neches–Groves), coaches’ relatives, a school’s namesake (1st Lt. Matthew Vandegrift, killed in action in Iraq), game officials, UIL officials, the athletic director at Boerne, the registrar at Westbrook, his fellow announcers, and his wife Linda (who once had a flat tire changed by Abbott coach Terry Crawford).
As the radio voice of Texas Longhorns football, basketball, and baseball, the 62-year-old Way has held one of the state’s premier sports announcing jobs for 20 years. He called Vince Young’s romp into the Rose Bowl’s south end zone to win the 2005 national championship. He was at the microphone in Omaha, Nebraska, for two UT baseball coronations at the College World Series. He described T.J. Ford’s trip to the Final Four in 2003. He also hosts Light the Tower, a weekday sports radio show in Austin.
Most announcers of his stature probably would have ditched calling high school games long ago. Not Way. There were twelve University Interscholastic League state title games this year, and Way was on the mic for more than half of them. His personal record for championship week, he said, is eight televised games and one radio broadcast. And Way’s closing remarks Saturday revealed why he called so much high school football in those weeks, and why he continues to work Friday nights throughout the fall, either announcing high school games or hosting Bally’s late-night recap show. “This event is unlike any other in the state of Texas, and it’s unlike any other in the United States of America,” he said. “If you know, you know.”
“I’ve never seen anyone who enjoyed the high school sports aspect of it the way he does,” said Brad Sham, the longtime radio voice of the Dallas Cowboys, who brought Way into the sports department at Dallas’s KRLD-AM in 1985. “I’m not sure he wouldn’t rather do this weekend of games more than a Super Bowl.”
Way learned his devotion to high school athletics decades ago, first as a student at the University of North Texas, and later at KRLD. In 1982, Way called his first high school game at Pilot Point for UNT college radio. He sold his own advertising for the broadcast (and still appreciates Huff Funeral Home for helping him get on the air). When Way started at KRLD, the station was committed to showcasing Dallas–Fort Worth-area high school football, particularly the Lewisville Fighting Farmers. Sham shared with Way a nugget of wisdom that Verne Lundquist, who preceded Sham in the Cowboys radio booth, had passed on to him: Recognize the importance of the event—any event—to the listener.
“Whatever you’re doing, treat it like the biggest thing you’ll ever do,” Sham said. “To whoever’s listening, it might be that way.”
Way, a North Carolina native who followed his parents’ move to Texas after high school, has been calling football state championship games since 1995. He was inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame in 2016 without playing or coaching a down. With close to thirty years on the job, Way has built an astounding base of knowledge in Texas high school football geography and history. He can recite the location and mascot of seemingly any school in the state, and he appears to be able to recall, on demand, the results—and sometimes the kickoff temperatures—of games played decades ago.
“Craig Way is the perfect Texas high school football ambassador and perfect voice of Texas high school football,” said Greg Tepper, managing editor of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. “Whether it’s some backroad way to get to Clyde or some playoff game that he called in 1988, you just kind of sit back and marvel, like, ‘How did you get this way?’ But I’m so glad he is that way.”
At the beginning of UIL championship week, Way and six-man football analyst Granger Huntress (the state’s preeminent small-ball expert) called games not from the telecast booth at Jerry World but from a converted green room at Bally Sports Southwest’s Irving headquarters. That meant instead of seeing the entire expanse of the field, Way and Huntress depended on only two camera angles, without help from a spotter.
From the time that Benjamin’s Marco Zana kicked off to Loraine in the Class 1A Division II game shortly after 11 a.m. last Wednesday, Way’s enthusiasm was evident. The following six-man title game ended on an unlikely touchdown four minutes into the third quarter, which allowed Westbrook to defeat Abbott via a 45-point mercy rule. The game-winning pass to a burly lineman showcased that, in six-man, every offensive player is an eligible receiver.
“To the big man!” Way boomed. “John Wolffarth! It’s a state championship for the Benjamin Mustangs!” Way quickly added that prior to that touchdown, Wolffarth had caught one pass all season.
On site at AT&T Stadium during the last three days, Way was joined by Gary Reasons, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants under Bill Parcells who played at Crowley High, just south of Fort Worth. The announcing duo’s last game on Thursday night and first on Friday afternoon were decided by tiebreaking field goals. Each kick was from 20 yards, with Franklin edging Brock for the Class 3A Division I title and China Spring beating Boerne to take Class 4A Division II.
The immediate aftermath of Franklin-Brock attracted Way’s most focused attention of the week. Brock coach Billy Mathis, minutes after suffering the gut-wrenching defeat, gathered both Franklin Lions and Brock Eagles around him to deliver a post-game message. The session ended with silent players taking a knee and Mathis wiping his eyes.
“A really cool moment, and this is part of what the communal aspect of Texas high school football is all about,” Way told viewers. “Billy Mathis, you see him there in the middle, the losing head coach—although you just say you don’t think there are any losers in what a great game—speaking to both teams as they gathered and then a moment of reflection there.
“That is the greatness—one part of it—of this game.”
Juggling high school assignments with his Longhorns play-by-play duties is never easy, but Way told me he plans to continue his dense work schedule “as long as it works for me both physically and logistically, and as long as folks want me to keep doing it.”
Why? Well, remember Brad Sham’s hunch that Craig Way would rather call UIL football championship week than the Super Bowl?
Said Way: “He’s right.”