Football Is King In Texas

Growing up in Texas, we had all heard the stereotype that football was considered a religion in the state. To an extent, the aforementioned isn’t too far from being a reality. Smaller towns all across the state of Texas shut down on Friday nights during the fall and the place to be is at the local high school following the local team. Hollywood has even perpetuated the notion with films such as Friday Night Lights and the eventual television series with the same name.

This year, the UIL did something that it had never done before – the organization scheduled all 10, 11-man championships in one central venue over a three-day stretch.  From Dec. 15-17, the eyes of Texas descended upon Cowboys Stadium in Arlington with the finale featuring the Class 5A Division II championship game that concluded with an unexpected runaway golf cart.

Over the three day stretch, attendance was a resounding success as record crowds were on hand. The Class 4A Division II championship game between Aledo and Manvel took home the attendance record for the weekend with an announced crowd of 43,369. The Class 5A Division I championship between Southlake Carroll and Fort Bend Hightower drew a crowd of 42,822.

On the day after Christmas I found myself watching the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl between Missouri and North Carolina and couldn’t help but notice the small crowd on hand in Shreveport, LA. To be fair, a non-premiere bowl game on the day following Christmas and poor weather were factors in the small crowd but it got me thinking – are there too many bowl games?

Through the first eight games of the college bowl season, the average bowl attendance has been 31,430. Attendance numbers should pick up as the bowl season progresses as the more tradition-rich bowl games are still on the docket. But to put things in perspective – Aledo and Manvel outdrew the first eight bowl games with Southlake and Hightower outdrawing all but the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

Calling football in Texas a religion might be a stretch. However, football in Texas is King.

2011-12 College Football Bowl Game Attendance Numbers:

Gildan New Mexico Bowl: 25, 762
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: 28,076
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: 42,841
Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl St. Petersburg: 20,072
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: 24,607
Maaco Bowl Las Vegas: 35,720
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: 32,630
Advocare V100 Independence Bowl: 41,728
Little Caesars Bowl: 46,177
Belk Bowl: 58,427

The Rise of Dekaney

Last night at Cowboys Stadium, Spring Dekaney snapped Cibolo Steele’s 28-game winning streak and clinched the Class 5A Division II State Championship – the first football title for Spring ISD. On several occasions this year I’ve had numerous opportunities to cover the program as they feature one of the most talented running backs and an exciting offensive attack. Below is a feature I wrote for VYPE Houston after the Wildcats jumped out to a 5-0 start this season.

Here Come The Dekaney Wildcats
by Austin Staton

Growing pains are inherent. However, it is the resilient nature and yearning for success that breeds champions and builds character.

Four years ago, Dekaney High School fielded their first varsity football team under the direction of first-year head coach, Willie Amendola. Things weren’t easy as the squad didn’t feature a senior class and was bleak on upperclassmen as many student-athletes that were originally zoned to Dekaney opted to petition the district to stay at more traditional powers, Westfield and Spring.

With only an eight-game schedule due to Hurricane Ike, the Wildcats were winless in their first season of varsity competition. Moreover, they were outscored by nearly 35 points a game in district play and never crossed the goal-line more than twice per contest.

In both years two and three of the Amendola era, Dekaney began to provide hope for the program as they posted a 5-1 start during the 2009 season and finished the 2010 season with a 6-4 record with all four losses coming by a combined 13 points – including a pair of one point defeats at the hands of Tomball and Westfield.

That was the then.

With one of the most explosive and athletic running backs in the state of Texas in Trey Williams leading this season’s squad, the Wildcats are primed for their first playoff berth.

As an offense, Dekaney averaged more than 44 points per game through the first four games of the season. Finally catching the eyes of pundits across the Houston area, the Wildcats were set for a homecoming showdown with perennial power Klein Collins with a chance to stake their claim as one of the elite teams in the talent-rich district 13-5A.

Behind the efforts of Williams’ 215-plus total yards and three touchdowns – two rushing and one receiving – and D’Juan Hines’ four passing touchdowns, Dekaney clinched the programs’ first win over Klein Collins as they dropped the Tigers, 42-31, moving to 5-0 on the season.

“As a team we’ve talked about finishing (all season),” said Amendola. “We are more consistent throwing the football and the passing game is one of the biggest differences between this team and some of the other teams that we’ve had in the past.”

“The win against Klein Collins gave us a lot of confidence and we needed the win to show everybody that we’re here and we’re coming,” added Hines.

Through five games, Hines has completed 60 percent of his passes for 541 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Perhaps the best-kept secret on the team is Hines’ favorite target, Austin Garrett. The 6-foot-3 receiver possesses standout athletic prowess with the ability to make critical adjustments to the ball while it is in flight. Of his nine receptions on the season, the senior receiver has recorded five touchdowns and is averaging 25 yards per catch.

“All you have to do is throw it to this guy (Austin Garrett) and he is going to make a play,” said Williams, a Texas A&M commit.

In just four short years, Dekaney has formed a close knit group of student-athletes that look after each other and have a will to succeed.  Off to a 2-0 start in the ultra-competitive North Houston district, the Wildcats are right where they want to be – in the mix for their first playoff berth.

“We’ve wanted to make the playoffs for three-straight years and our time is now,” said Garrett.

“This is a team game,” added Williams. “We’re a confident team and we have a lot of team leadership and team unity. We plan on making it and hopefully God can keep blessing us to do well and protect our athletes.”

The original feature can be found here.

The Incredible Shrinking Work Force

As a fan of the Atlantic Monthly, I found the below article quite interesting. Thoughts?

When unemployment fell to 8.6 percent last month, its lowest rate in two-and-a-half years, some newspapers hailed the number as a sure sign that the recovery is back on track. But when you dig into the numbers behind the numbers, a darker picture comes into focus. It’s not just that jobs are growing. It’s that the labor force is shrinking.

Read the rest of the article here.

Stanford’s Michael Thomas

It’s always refreshing when you read stories about athletes playing the game for the right reasons.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to chat with Stanford senior FS Michael Thomas for a ‘Where Are They Now?’ feature. In what was initially supposed to be a four-seven minute phone interview, it quickly turned into a much longer interview.

After speaking with Thomas, it was easy to understand that he had a passion for the game of football while having a complete understanding about the importance and value of an education. Essentially, Thomas defines what it means to be a student-athlete in a time in which college sports seems to be more of a business than what it truly is – a game.

Below are the first few paragraphs from the article, enjoy.

The Year of the Cardinal
by Austin Staton

In the fall of 2007, Michael Thomas was just hoping for a shot to play collegiate football.

Four years later, the 5-foot-11 product of Nimitz High School is one game away from capping back-to-back 12-1 seasons to end his illustrious career at Stanford University.

“It’s crazy to think about the journey that I’ve had,” said Thomas. “Four years ago I was hoping to just get a chance to earn a scholarship and now I am the co-captain of a BCS football team. All of the hard work that we put into the program is paying off.”

As the starting quarterback at Nimitz, Thomas was the overlooked signal caller that played in the competitive district 17-4A – the same division that featured two-time Heisman trophy finalist Andrew Luck, Darron Thomas (Oregon) and Ken Guiton (Ohio State).

Recruited as an athlete by Boise State, Missouri, Northwestern and Vanderbilt, Thomas ultimately found his niche as a Cardinal. In a program that was reeling but had shown promise in the previous year with a monumental upset of top-ranked Southern California, snapping a 35-game home winning streak, Thomas wanted to be a component in the restoration of a proud and tradition-rich program.

“When I got to Stanford we had talent but the guys didn’t know how to win yet,” Thomas explained. “Coach (Jim) Harbaugh did a great job to get the guys to believe that, in order to compete, we’d have to work. It wasn’t about the stars when it came to our recruiting class; it was the type of guys that were recruited.

“I didn’t want to go to a program that was already established or all about hype. I wanted to go some place where we could work and make our own story. We all had in our minds when we got here that we were going to change this program and find a way to win. We weren’t going to accept failure.”

Read the rest of the feature here.

Unbelievably, Believable

Note: I began writing this at 2:20 a.m. on Sunday morning (Dec. 11). What a night and what a weekend it is to be a Bear. This will probably need a bit more work in terms of revising but I had to write down my thoughts in some form before I fell asleep.

Unbelievably, Believable
by Austin Staton

Last night, I watched the Heisman Trophy ceremony and what had once seemed like the impossible became a reality.

As Robert Griffin III accepted the Heisman Trophy, I was grinning ear to ear, nearly choked up, just reflecting how far the University had advanced in six years.

Times have changed in Central Texas.

“This moment right here, it’s unbelievably believable,” said Griffin. “It’s unbelievable because in the moment, we’re all amazed when great things happen. It’s believable because great things only happen with hard work. The great coach Art Briles always says great things only come with great effort, and we’ve certainly worked for this.

“To Baylor nation, I say this is a forever kind of moment, and may we be blessed to have many more like it in the future. God has a plan, and it’s our job to fulfill it, and in this moment we have.”

Robert Griffin III forever transcended the way that Baylor University will now be viewed across the country with those words.

For a program that was once the laughing stock of the Big 12, that has all changed.

As a freshman at Baylor during the fall of 2005, there was plenty of reason to be excited at the prospect of Baylor football. Just a year before, the Bears shocked the country with an upset-win over 16th-ranked Texas A&M – snapping a streak of 13-straight losses to the Aggies – and were off to a 4-1 start on the season.

However, the Bears dropped five of their final six games and fell just one win shy of becoming bowl eligible. During that stretch, Baylor was shutout twice and dropped a heartbreaker in double overtime on the road in Norman.

The next two years didn’t fare much better as football combined to win just seven games, forcing the hand of Athletics Director Ian McCaw to relieve Guy Morriss of his duties as head coach.

Despite the setbacks, I never missed a game.

During the final year of the Morriss era in 2007, I began working with Baylor Athletics as a student assistant in the Athletic Media Relations office. After finishing the season with eight-straight losses, we began to hear word that Art Briles would be named the successor to Morriss.

On Nov. 28 of that year, I was inside the Galloway Suite at Floyd Casey Stadium and was tasked with the responsibility to transcribe quotes from Briles’ introductory press conference to the Baylor Nation.

As both Briles and McCaw spoke to the crowd, we began to get the feeling that the hiring of Art Briles would be something special and that the reputation of Baylor football could be turned around.

It was a daunting task, but there was hope.

“Art Briles embodies all of the characteristics that I was seeking as we began our search 10 days ago for our new football coach,” said McCaw. “We have been very fortunate to recruit him for our football program. He shared a wonderful vision and brilliant plan on how he is going to build a championship football program here at Baylor.”

“That’s what drives you,” said Briles, when asked about taking a program like Baylor and becoming a winner. “As a competitor, you don’t feel like there is anything that can’t be done. I feel very strongly about the leadership here at Baylor University that I know I am going to get great support. All I’ve got to do is go motivate some student-athletes and get some folks in the stands excited.”

Hired just weeks before the recruiting dead period, Briles immediately hit the recruiting trail in attempts to secure the dual-threat quarterback that had previously committed to him at the University of Houston.

That quarterback was RG3 – a 17-yeard old phenom from Copperas Cove, Texas.

Graduating seventh in his high school class and enrolling at Baylor in what should have been the spring semester of his senior year, Griffin began spring camp battling incumbent signal caller Blake Szymanski and Miami transfer Kirby Freeman. Ultimately, Griffin would enter the 2008 season second on the depth chart behind Freeman, a fifth-year senior.

In their season opener against Wake Forest, Freeman and the Bears fell behind 17-0 after back-to-back 3-and-outs and drive that was squandered with an interception. Just 37 seconds into the second quarter, Griffin made his debut in the green and gold to a loud roar from the Baylor faithful.

Following a timeout with 3:23 remaining on the clock, Griffin rushed for 22 yards to his left, juked three defenders near the home sideline, and the Baylor faithful instantaneously knew that this wasn’t the same Baylor program.

Things were changing in Waco.

Although there were minor setbacks over the next two years, the program was no longer a cellar dweller in the Big 12 Conference. There was always a buzz about the football program on campus and we had faith in both Briles and Griffin and what they were doing to change the program.

This season I was fortunate enough to attend eight games and will be in attendance in what could be the final outing of Griffin in a green and gold uniform as the Bears are set to take on Washington in the Alamo Bowl.

When I graduated in 2010, I knew that coming back as an alumnus would be a rewarding experience.

Two years out of college, Baylor is the 12th-ranked team in the country and Robert Griffin III just won the Heisman Trophy.

“Everybody associated with Baylor University has reason to celebrate tonight,” Griffin furthered. “To my teammates, I’d like to say thank you. As we say, the hotter the heat, the harder the steel. No pressure, no dominance. We compete, we win. We are Baylor. Baylor we are, Baylor we’ll always be, but it’s up to us to define what that means, and this Heisman Trophy is only the beginning of that process.”

RG3, you’ve made this alum proud!

Sic’Em Bears!

Hiatus Over!

It’s been far too long since I’ve posted on this site. I’ve been swamped maintaining the content for VYPE Houston while traveling around the state of Texas for the past few months – and what a ride it has been.

Over the past six weeks I’ve posted 4,500-plus miles on my car with various trips to Dallas, Arlington, College Station, Austin and Waco – not to mention the various treks throughout the greater Houston covering some of the finest student-athletes in the area.

During that stretch, I’ve done freelance work with ESPN Radio during the OU game in which RG3 had his “Heisman Moment“, worked the sidelines at the Texas Tech game at Cowboys Stadium while making my debut as a play-by-play analyst (here and here) for high school basketball.

There are only 22 more days left in the year and I feel that there a plenty of great moments ahead.

As always, I am addicted to Social Media so in case I slip up over the next few days and have another lapse in posting, you can also find my thoughts in just 140 characters on @AStaton and @VYPEHouston!

Until next time, Sic’Em!