“In Texas, the week begins on Friday nights.” — CBS newsman Bob Schieffer (TCU).
Yes, it usually begins on Fridays, although this fall, thanks to the pandemic, our revered annual ritual of sweating, cheering, fight songs and the heartbreak of the almost, have been moved around so that games have been cancelled, pushed back and the frustrating wait-till-we-get-the-test-results. But one way or another, Texas high school football games will be played, there will be winners and losers. And Texas taxpayers will be among the losers. I shall explain. For the 2019-20 school year, 166,036 young Texans played 11-man football and another 3,651 played six-man. That is by far the most high school football players in the nation, and they are also some of the finest. We put this program in a high priority. We pay for coaches, equipment, uniforms, bands and cheerleaders. Booster clubs raise funds when the districts can’t cover all the costs. (Taxpayers in the Highland Park ISD send 70 percent of their school taxes – yes, 70 percent — to Austin to be allocated to other districts, so the HP booster club pitches in.)
Then there are the stadiums. Katy ISD built a $70 million high school football stadium, the most expensive high school stadium ever built in the United States, beating out the Allen ISD, up near Dallas, which spent $60 million to build its stadium. However, another $10 million was needed to repair “significant structural defects.” Mesquite’s Memorial Stadium, built in 1976, is the largest high school stadium with a capacity of 19,400. According to Craig Hlavaty of the Houston Chronicle, in 2018 there were 1,305 high school football stadiums in Texas, with a combined capacity of 4,130,440. Currently there are nine high school stadiums that have a seating capacity of 16,500 or greater. There are 394 stadiums that only hold 100 to 1,000 fans. You could seat every person in Houston in Texas’ high school football stadiums and still have room for almost 2 million more.
Texans, even those without quarterbacks, halfbacks and bench warmers, spend all this money to teach almost 170,000 players how to master the game – then so many leave the state, generating ticket sales and TV rights for a host of competitors. OU has 49 Texans on its current roster. Oklahoma State has 37. LSU, the defending national champion, fields 13 Texans. Even the military academies play ball: West Point has 19 Texans and Annapolis has 15. The Air Force Academy fields 21 players from the Lone Star State. Legendary UH head football coach Bill Yeoman once said that he could field a championship team every year if he could just hold on to Houston-area players. In light of this exportation of our home-grown talent to fatten other schools’ budgets, I propose any out-of-state team that successfully recruits a Texas boy pays for the privilege. We have an investment in them, and we want our money back.
Maybe the same should apply to the NFL which has or has had since 2018 at least 200 native-born Texans. New Orleans QB Drew Brees went to Westlake High School, practically in the shadow of the UT Tower, then played football for Purdue. Andrew Luck, longtime star for the Indianapolis Colts, attended Stratford HS in Houston, and went to Stanford. The list of marvelous football players from Texas who went elsewhere to college goes on and on.
Derek Carr, QB for the Las Vegas Raiders, moved to California his senior high school year, attended Fresno State, but got his start at Clements High School in Sugar Land. Nick Foles, QB for the Chicago Bears, went to Westlake HS in Austin, Michigan State then the University of Arizona. Ryan Mallett, QB for several NFL teams, graduated from Texas High School in Texarkana, played for Arkansas U. Matthew Stafford, Highland Park HS, played for Georgia. Whatever happened to Johnny Manziel? But he stayed in the state: went to Texas A&M. They were all high school QBs in Texas. Let’s discuss the story of Baker Mayfield, QB for the Cleveland Browns. He attended high school at Lake Travis, just west of Austin, one of seven former and current Division I quarterbacks who went to Lake Travis HS. His father, James, a private equity consultant, hit hard times which forced the Mayfields to sell their family home and move from rental home to rental home. Baker first attended Texas Tech, but had a falling out with the coaches – he was a walk-on – and transferred to OU. There he won the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and was a unanimous All-America – for the Sooners. As the No. 1 draft choice, he signed a four-year rookie contract with the Browns worth $32.68 million in guaranteed salary. No more rented houses. Mayfield was named as the Browns’ starting quarterback following a back injury to projected starter Michael Brewer (Lake Travis), who attended Virginia Tech.
Of the 10 Heisman winners from Texas universities, only two developed at an out-of-state high school: Texas A&M running back John David Crow and Texas running back Ricky Williams. There are only 80 Heisman trophy winners, and nine of them are products of Texas high school football. Meantime, Texas leads all states in the number of inductees into the NFL Hall of Fame with 30. And it all began on Friday nights in Texas. As Houston sports columnist Mickey Herskowitz once wrote: “There must really be something to religion. People keep comparing it to Texas high school football.” Small towns worship the Fightin’ Wombats. Their water towers proclaim their name. Signs at the entrance to these towns proudly sport signs: “State Champs ’91!” And they follow the teams on the road. A sports writer I knew once told me “If I were an intelligent burglar, I would hit towns that had a Friday night football game out of town. Even the cops would be gone.”
So go Fightin’ Wombats! There are better teams, but they play on Sundays.
Ashby suits up at email@example.com