When he wrote about football in Texas while making his 1960 road trip around the country with his standard poodle, John Steinbeck, shock of shocks, nailed it: “Sectional football games have the glory and the despair of war, and when a Texas team takes the field against a foreign state, it is an army with banners.”
Those signs of pride are a little damaged today.
The troops are a little shaken.
The latest USA Today Super 25 poll includes two prep teams from Las Vegas, rankings that are topped by Bishop Gorman and also list Liberty at No. 23, the latter of which made its appearance following a 21-14 win at Westlake on Friday night.
As in ranked No. 1 in Texas Class 6A Westlake, which was missing its starting quarterback and yet stacked with skill elsewhere.
As in real-life “Friday Night Lights,” only with much better players than Smash Williams.
As in beating the best in Texas on its own turf.
Bishop Gorman began this Nevada takeover of ranked Lone Star teams by opening the season with a 44-14 rout of Cedar Hill, then fifth nationally. It wasn’t that close, a road victory so decisive that it brought a forgettable response from one of the leading coaches in the state where flags of six nations fly over it.
David Wetzel is president of the Texas High School Coaches Association and head coach at Reagan High in San Antonio, a guy who penned some public thoughts about what high school football means in his state while taking not-so-subtle shots at Bishop Gorman and the fact some of its star players moved into the Las Vegas area to specifically play for the Gaels.
The sky is also blue and Texas can get pretty humid during the summer.
“The parents and families of (Cedar Hill) players are proud of where they live, where their kids go to school, and of the team their sons play for,” Wetzel wrote. “These parents would never dream of moving out of state so their son could play for a team like Bishop Gorman.
“If parents want to send their children to a ‘nationally ranked football powerhouse,’ that most certainly is their God-given right as a parent. But I firmly believe that most of us in the football-loving state of Texas want to maintain and support the sanctity of what the community high schools really do here in our great state.”
This, from a coach whose star quarterback transferred to a Florida prep academy in the off season.
Wetzel’s ode to Texas prep football came off as, mostly, a truckload of whining after one of his state’s better teams got outclassed before a nationally televised audience. It’s just a tough portrait to accept when someone depicts Texas prep football as solely some small, back-country existence of communal innocence, what with public school districts dropping a cool $60 million for stadiums that feature Jumbotrons bigger than Dallas.
Do you remember the Jon Voight character from “Varsity Blues?” Yeah, that guy exists in all parts of Texas coaching high school football and to insinuate top players there don’t move from one district to the next to improve their recruitment is to say the Alamo is just another tourist attraction.
Wetzel would be smart to adopt the perspective of Rich Muraco.
There are few coaches locally at any level I respect more than the man who is in eighth season leading Liberty. Muraco has gone about building what is the town’s best public school program today by embracing the challenge that is trying to compete with seven-time state champion Bishop Gorman rather than listing all the reasons it can’t.
This isn’t a column about recruiting or unfair financial advantages on one side and don’t get me started on suspect zone variances and the use of fraudulent addresses on the other. This is about a coach who teaches his kids to work hard, worry only about their mission and refuse to make excuses when confronted with the Gorman Dilemma.
“I’m not looking to schedule games I know we’re going win,” Muraco said. “I want games that are going to get us ready to play Bishop Gorman, hopefully in the state championship again, and to show our kids how perfect you need to be in order to beat them. That’s why we played at Westlake.
“Absolutely, the (national ranking) validates the plan we have had in place, all the hard work by all the kids who have gone through our program. We’re proud to be part of two Nevada teams going into Texas and winning in back-to-back weeks, but beating Westlake isn’t the goal. It’s always to win state.
“Bishop Gorman is on a historic run and is a great, great team, but they weren’t always this good and won’t be this good forever. Maybe, the alignment will come into focus one year with our coaches and players and boosters and we will continue to cut into the gap and eventually get an opportunity to beat them .”
There is much to love about Texas prep football. The size of it. The importance on which its communities place around Friday nights. The incredible depth of talent.
The daughter at home would say Tim Riggins and the wife head coach Eric Taylor, but I keep reminding them it’s just a television show.
But none of it gives Texas some unalienable right to success. Games are still won on the field and, while Texas obviously owns a much larger number of capable teams than Nevada, it appears the best here is better than the best there this particular season.
In fact, Las Vegas has as many teams ranked in the Top 25 this week as the state of Texas.
That’s big news around these parts and should be celebrated.
No matter how much folks like David Wetzel whine.
Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney