Football: A Friday Night in Texas – West Central Tribune

DALLAS — So what’s so special about prep football at the Lone Star State?

I mean there must be something going on. After all, it inspired a bestseller, a critically acclaimed film, and a television series.

I rarely leave the county anymore, but in late September I found myself in Waco (home of Baylor University) with my wife, Donna, and our daughter, Carmen. We vacationed there with our son Peter, his wife Kristina and their four children.

When it was time to leave, the three of us drove back to Dallas on Friday before flying home on Saturday morning. “Tell me,” I said to myself, “how about you go to a football game the night before you leave Texas?”

Scots line up from goal-line to goal-line for the national anthem.

Scots line up from goal-line to goal-line for the national anthem.

And what better place to do that than the long-established Highland Park High School just north of downtown Dallas.

I’ve known Highland Park for a long time. Believe it or not, the Lions, who grew up in Michigan in the ’50s, were an NFL powerhouse. And her two biggest stars were Doak Walker (Highland Park ’47) and Bobby Layne (Highland Park ’45). These future Hall of Famers led Detroit to three NFL championship games and two titles through 1955.

I searched online and emailed Rodney Webb, Scotland’s sporting director, pleading media credentials on my case. He answered quickly. “The Dallas Jesuit game is sold out, but we have three media field passes for you at the media gate.” Webb, who coached for 32 years, felt he had “the best AD job in Texas.”

Thanks to the helpful Mr. Webb, here’s some of what we saw on Friday, September 30th under the Friday night lights, supplemented by further research:

  • We took an Uber to the stadium and arrived well before kick-off at 7pm. We walked through the upscale neighborhood that closely surrounds the school and sports facilities. The homes resemble southwest Minneapolis where it merges with Edina – very fine older homes, each distinctive in design and landscaping, and some quite grand.
  • The music before the game: no rap, but bagpipes. At kick-off, the stadium was less than half full. “Always a late arriving crowd,” Webb commented. “I don’t like it, but that’s the way it always is.” If you have a reserved seat ticket, there’s no need to rush.
  • Though you may not have heard of my childhood heroes, sports fans will recognize the names of three Highland Park grads: Los Angeles Rams’ Matthew Stafford (’06) led the Scots to one with the future Los Angeles Dodgers in 2005 15-0 record pitcher Clayton Kershaw (’06) his centre. Current Masters champion Scottie Scheffler is a 2014 Highland Park graduate.
    Highland Park graduates Bobby Layne and Doak Walker led the Detroit Lions to three NFL titles in the 1950s.

    Highland Park graduates Bobby Layne and Doak Walker led the Detroit Lions to three NFL titles in the 1950s.

  • Texas High School Football is a public school league. Private schools are segregated (All-Jesuit High School is one of two exceptions accepted due to its large enrollment of 1,100). There is virtually no open enrollment in Texas, Webb said.
  • For the first time, more than 1,500 schools are playing university football. There are just over 1,200 public schools that play soccer, divided into five 11-man classes (Texas call them conferences) plus 6-man classes. There are two divisions in each class (based on enrollment) so 14 state champions will be determined in a four-day tournament in mid-December at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. Only the top-ranked teams by district (similar to a Minnesota section) qualify for the postseason. There are 251 private schools, divided into 11-men and 6-men schools.
  • Willmar’s head coach Jon Konold spent six years coaching tight ends and running backs in the Grand Prairie football program – then a 5A program, now 6A – in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
  • With 2,200 students, Highland Park is among the smallest of 250 teams competing in 6A. The Scots’ squad included over 100 juniors and seniors and two sophomores. Only Walker’s No. 84 had retired before Sept. 9, when Stafford’s No. 7 was honored after leading the Rams to a comeback win at February’s Super Bowl.
  • Jesuit is located in University Park, which borders Highland Park. Southern Methodist University is on the eastern edge of the two parks.
  • Highland Park’s high attendance spans the marching band, cheerleaders (27 girls, 5 boys), color guard and twirler, danceline (around 80) and student section (perhaps a thousand).
  • Scots Illustrated, the beefy program, features all the sports, arts and academic teams. Scottish field hockey, crew, a perch fishing team and a cycling team. The boys’ tennis team has won 22 state titles (including the last six), the most of any team in any sport in Texas. Since 1992, girls’ soccer has won seven state titles.
  • The Scots lead nine assistant varsity football coaches under legendary head coach Randy Allen, 276-33 in 23 seasons at Highland Park. Allan, 72, is the most successful active coach in Texas with 429, including four state titles at Highland Park.
  • 14th-ranked Highland Park (now 7-0) owned the first three quarters to build a 35-0 lead. Remarkably, the Rangers (now 6-2) threw a switch in the fourth quarter, scoring four unanswered touchdowns before time was up. HP won the game, 35-28.
    Highland Stadium is modest compared to many 6A stadiums in Texas.

    Highland Stadium is modest compared to many 6A stadiums in Texas.

  • The Scots have an indoor practice facility, which is not uncommon in the larger schools. Their stadium is modest compared to some. Katy High School, a 6A power, recently built a $70 million stadium. Texas lists 10 high school stadiums costing $39 million to $80 million. Half of public schools play on artificial turf and 25 percent have video scoreboards.
  • The Uvalde Coyotes were 4-3 with three games remaining after Week 8. They play at the sweetly named Honey Bowl Stadium (Cap. 5,082). After the Coyotes’ dramatic 34-28 win over CC Winn in their home opener, senior linebacker Justyn Rerdon told ABC News football is “like therapy.” He wore the No. 21 jersey in honor of the 19 students and two teachers who died in the May massacre at nearby Robb Elementary School.
  • “We’ll all be tested to the core” – Friday Night Lights.


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