TULLY STADIUM – This is where my son and his son played football and where my daughter led cheers for the Fightin’ Wildcats. The whole complex would make many a college envious, for it is a vast and expensive facility with double-decked press boxes, big scoreboard, and artificial turf. My tax dollars at work. Ah, but this stadium pales in comparison to what the Katy ISD, right down the road, is building: a $62.5 million facility (but the cost keeps rising) which makes it the most expensive high school football stadium in Texas, beating out the Allen ISD, up near Dallas, which spent $60 million to build its stadium. However, another $10 million is needed to repair “significant structural defects.”
That’s a lot of money, but it’s all a matter of priorities. As CBS newsman Bob Schieffer (TCU) said, “In Texas, the week begins on Friday nights.” This creates a problem, and as usual, I have the solution. The problem: Many of our best football talent – the blue chippers — are going to out-of-state schools, there to raise millions for LSU, Florida, USC on an on. A recent survey by the Houston Chronicle determined that four of the 32 five-star recruits in the nation are from Texas, and none are staying here. A composite survey found that nine of the state’s top 15 recruits are leaving Texas. What we have here is a brain concussion drain. There are several reasons for the days when all our best players were staying in state. One reason: At the end of the last season, no Texas university ranked in any Top 25 poll. If you’re a winner in high school, why would you want to play for a loser? Then there is the constantly changing coaching situation. A head football coach at UH went to Baylor, then his replacement at UH went to Texas A&M. The last UH coach fled to UT, which had fired its coach, Charlie Strong, after only three years. We all know the chaos at Baylor, which now has had three coaches in two years. Texas A&M may be looking for a new coach. Same for Texas Tech since Kliff Kingsbury is only coaching .500. Every time a head coach leaves, some of the young men he recruited leave with him or just leave.
SMU is a special case. The Mustangs were once a football power with a Heisman Trophy winner. In 1987 SMU received the Death Penalty for a host of continued violations, the only time the NCAA has ever done that. SMU never recovered, and to this day is landing mostly the B and C list. Technology has played a role. It used to be that Texas recruiters could tell a young halfback, “Stay in the state and your folks can go see you play.” Cable TV lets the parents watch junior play for almost any school with a major program. And social media allows college coaches anywhere, if the tape is available, to view Number 34 running for yet another TD.
We’ve seen the problem, and why it is a problem, but what is it about our high school players that anyone else would care?
Simply put, Texas has the oldest, largest and best high school football operator in the nation: the University Interscholastic League, or UIL. The old line goes: “There are better football programs, but they play on Sunday afternoons.” (As an aside, note the name contains “Scholastic” but not “Athletics,” because the UIL was established as an academic operation and still runs programs and contests for accounting, stage design, poetry interpretation and much more. But we’re talking football here, which most Texans prefer.) This past season, more than 150,000 students from 1,000 schools played UIL football. On any Friday night in the fall, some 600 games were played before 1-million people. Texas is the only state in the country that plays high school football using NCAA football rules, as opposed to the National Federation of State High School Associations. This provides for an easier move to the college level. Each December the top teams compete for the coveted state championship. This past year, 245,913 spectators watched the finals at AT&T Stadium (formerly Dallas Cowboys Stadium) and we must suspect 90 percent of them were college scouts. Over the years, the results have been impressive. Only 76 individuals can say they are Heis¬man trophy winners, and nine of them are products of Texas high school foot¬ball. Meantime, 24 former UIL players have been inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
As for my solution to our blue-chippers heading out of state, we pay for these kids to begin playing at the age of 8 or 9, then support them when they move on to junior and finally high school. Texas taxpayers provide them with coaches, equipment, fields and bleachers not to mention cheerleaders, flag girls, bands with expensive uniforms and lots of adulation you can’t buy. Then, when they reach the top of their early game, they go to play for the Crimson Tide. (The starting quarterback for Alabama, the perennial Number 1 team in the nation, is Jalen Hurts from Channelview, Texas. How much money did Hurts generate for ‘Bama?) We have a coveted commodity here, and we are giving it away. Texas does not give away its oil, cattle or sleazy politicians. So we charge or trade. “Florida, you want Bubba Musclebound? That’ll be 100k and an orange grove to be named later.” “Okies, since most of your team is made up of turncoat Texans, spot UT three touchdowns in the Red River Shootout.”
This story has been told before, but is worth re-telling about an alleged confrontation some years ago at a coaches’ convention when Michigan State head football coach Duffy Daugherty ran into UCLA head coach Tommy Prothro. Daugherty thoroughly upbraided his colleague for “recruiting in my backyard.” Prothro replied that he hadn’t even been in Michigan lately, much less recruited there. “Not Michigan,” Daugherty fairly yelled. “Texas!”
Ashby is recruited at ashby2@comcast