There’s one word that perfectly encapsulates high school football in Texas: different.
It’s not a well-kept secret and just one glance at some of the monstrous stadiums in the state will tell you that it’s different. 10,000+ seaters aren’t uncommon in some of the major cities including Houston, Austin, and the DFW Metroplex. However, to really get a feel for that the sport is like in Texas, you just have to go.
Convenient to where I live, I decided to make Southlake Carroll my first Texas High School Football Experience. The city of Southlake is one of the wealthiest areas in Fort Worth, rival that of districts like Frisco and McKinney of northern Dallas. Their biggest allure: ESPN’s No. 1 high school recruit and Texas Longhorn commit.
It doesn’t take long to realize how seriously Texans take their high school football. Maybe it’s my northeast Ohio upbringing or that fact that before games I was always in the locker room, but there were actual tailgaters before this game. I mean school flag-waving, barbecue brisket-smoking, mini football-throwing tailgating.
It’s not even close to being the premiere venue in the northern Metro (though it’s no slouch), but Dragon Stadium looks like a lower division college stadium. Again, maybe it’s my northeast Ohio upbringing, but this stadium has a full-on concourse with built in concessions and all. As pictured, Teslas and Mercedes line the gates and end zones. (Skipping ahead: they actually attempt to give one of these away at halftime. My MAC school didn’t have that kind of funding.)
It’s almost always a beautiful night in northern Texas during football season and tonight was no exception: 75º and sunny at kickoff. It’s the usual theatrics pre-game complete with a kickline and dance team but, still, it feels different. Everything is a little more polished, a little more mature; to steal the SEC mantra, it means more here.
The drill team is a nationally-acclaimed squad that’s made appearances on GMA, performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and a long laundry list of other accolades. The marching band was as practiced as any college and really added another dimension to the production.
The team runs out, through a banner, and all the other stuff normal teams do pre-game. The Dragons have a passionate fanbase even outside the parents thanks to eight state championships; they look every bit of eight state titles. The aforementioned ESPN top recruit stands 6′ 3″– looking down on the officiating crew. He’s not even close to being the biggest player.
Also on the team is a wide receiver committed to playing at Minnesota and a kicker who’s a UConn commit (and likely others, these were just the few I found on 247Sports). The Dragons took the opening kickoff and from the first drive, you could tell that this was the best high school player in the country. The zip on the ball, the evasiveness, everything just looks different.
During college games, the band holds off when the ball is snapped, but at Southlake, the band just keeps on during play. I thought this would be to my chagrin, but it added a nice dimension to the ballgame. The sparse fans that were at the game (a cap of 2,000 was put on the game) were loud and into it, and Southlake marched up and down the field on Rockwall Heath.
The scary part about the Dragons’ dominance was that Heath could likely go undefeated out of state; they had real athletes and a large team, but Southlake was just too talented offensively. And I mean offensively. The game ended in an exasperating 72-57 shootout.
Of all the differences between Texas high school and other high schools, of all the exorbitant pageantry, of all the grandeur; the biggest difference was in the Dragons’ offensive line. From what I’m familiar with, the high school offensive line was comprised of the biggest kids, usually regardless of athletic ability. But Southlake fielded monstrous athletes; they looked like a Division-I unit. They could move, they had great footwork, it was just a different squad.
So, if you find yourself down in Texas on an autumn Friday night, make your way to the nearest high school football game. It’s just different.