Tuesday, May 28, 2024 May 28, 2024
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Cover Story

Southlake: Welcome to Perfect City, U.S.A.

Success must be in the water in Southlake. How else to explain the dominance in football and just about every other endeavor—athletic or otherwise—tackled by these small-town kids with the big houses.

Near the back of the Southwest plane bound for Lubbock, a pretty blonde named LeAnn Herchman twists around in her seat to talk to a fat man in the row behind her. Herchman is 18 years old and wears a green No. 11 football jersey that belongs to her boyfriend, Riley Dodge, quarterback of the Southlake Carroll Dragons, the best high school football team in the state of Texas—maybe the best high school football team in the country.

THE GREEN MONSTER: Southlake’s $15 million Dragon Stadium is the envy of other football programs.
photography by Michael Ainsworth/Dallas Morning News

The fat man has gray chest chair that takes advantage of two buttons left undone on his shirt. He wears a black baseball cap with “Permian” written on it. “The other team can be up 21 points and then weird things happen,” he tells Herchman, his accent so twangy it sounds like a poor imitation of a twang. “All a sudden we’ll git on a roll. Then we’ll win. Some people call it luck. We call it Mojo.”

This December afternoon at the neutral ground of Texas Tech’s football stadium, in the third round of the 5A state playoffs, Southlake will face Odessa Permian, the team of six state championships and Friday Night Lights fame. But Odessa’s glory has faded. It is a city that never recovered from the oil bust of the 1980s. Football there serves as a salve for all hardships and warps all sensibilities. It is a city that is in every way different from Southlake—affluent, booming, its football team just another manifestation of its almost otherworldly success. In recent years, aside from its four football championships, Southlake has won state titles in cross country, swimming and diving, baseball, soccer, theater, accounting, and robotics.

Herchman says to the man in the row behind her, “I don’t know what I’d do if we lost.” She really wouldn’t. She tells the man that Southlake hasn’t lost a football game since the 2003 state championship her freshman year.

He asks Herchman about her own plans for college. Poorly hidden in the question is the assumption that Herchman doesn’t have any, that she will spend the rest of her life chasing men with good pocket presence. But he’s got it all wrong.

She tells the man she has her choice of universities to attend but is leaning toward Oklahoma. It has a good volleyball team. She might accept a scholarship.

They’re good at everything in Southlake. If you’ve never been, there’s something a little Pleasantville about it. The streets are cleaner than your streets, the downtown more vibrant, the students more courteous, their parents more prosperous. Everyone is beautiful in Southlake. Everyone smiles in Southlake. Everyone is a Dragon in Southlake. This last fact, especially, is central to understanding the city. The kids and their mothers coming out of Central Market. The retired men who eat barbecue at the Feed Store. The white collar professionals strolling through the shops of Southlake’s Town Square. They are all Dragons.

photography by Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News

At the elementary and junior high levels, every school’s mascot is a Dragon. It creates a powerful bond. For the third-grader sitting in the stands of Dragon Stadium on a Friday night, one thought runs through his head: He is a Dragon, just like me. I am a Dragon, just like him. Starting in the seventh grade, every Southlake Carroll football team runs a version of the same complicated pro-style spread offense. It teaches the kids the Dragon Way, gives them something to know for certain when the crush of media and roar of 11,500 fans greet them a few autumns from now.

And the people on that Southwest flight to Lubbock? The majority of them aren’t even parents of football players. They are parents of band kids and cheerleaders, flying 300 miles across the state to watch a game Southlake will win easily, because Southlake doesn’t lose. Across the aisle from Herchman sit the parents of a Southlake drill teamer. They’re recent transplants from out of state and say all this Dragon stuff is overwhelming. The father laughs. “It’s almost like it’s brainwashing,” he says.

The game in Lubbock is a blowout. Herchman’s boyfriend requires a cortisone shot in his sprained ankle in order to take the field in the second half. Still, Riley Dodge passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns. Fathers of the football players, who wear their sons’ jerseys and roam the sidelines, encourage him with each toss. “Way to suck it up, Riley!” Coach Todd Dodge, Riley’s father, tries to protect his son’s ankle by having him hand off to running back Tre Newton, son of former Dallas Cowboy Nate. Tre goes for 198 yards and two touchdowns. Southlake wins 42-6.

After the game, coach Dodge says, “Oh, it is sweet.” He himself was once a celebrated high school quarterback, in Port Arthur, Texas, the first in state history to pass for 3,000 yards in a season. But in 1980 his team lost in the state championship game to Odessa Permian. The son avenging the father’s loss—a perfect storybook win of the sort that could only happen for Southlake.

ALL IN THE FAMILY: The Dodge clan (at left)—Molly, Elizabeth, Todd, and Riley—are in the Carroll school district though they live in Grapevine. Now Dodge takes over as head coach at UNT, which his son plans to attend next year.
photography by Elizabeth Lavin

The Dragons would go on to take state easily, on a 48-game winning streak, two shy of the Texas 5A high school mark. Today, Todd Dodge is the head coach at the University of North Texas. He will be joined in 2008 by son Riley, who could have played anywhere (at first he verbally pledged himself to the University of Texas). Riley will be joined at UNT by his girlfriend, Herchman, who decided to play volleyball there. One reason all three chose the school: it’s only 30 minutes from Southlake.

In 1952, to supply water to the growing region of North Texas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a reservoir in northeast Tarrant County and named it Lake Grapevine. This spurred development on the surrounding farmland, and, in 1956, a group of farmers voted to incorporate their 1.62 square miles, if only to keep neighboring Hurst from annexing it. Since they were south of Lake Grapevine, they called their town Southlake. The town’s population stood at just over 100 people. It would be nine years before Southlake had a fire department, 10 years before it hired its first police chief. In 1974, DFW International Airport opened just 13 miles away.

Today 25,000 people live in Southlake (since 1990, the population has grown 257 percent). They are nearly all white (95 percent), though tell that to the predominantly black St. John Baptist Church, which is building an 80,000-square-foot church on Kimball Avenue. They are strivers, these Southlakers, the nouveau riche. The average price of a home is a little more than $400,000 (third-highest in North Texas, after only the Park Cities). Many of the homes—especially those on White Chapel Boulevard, the wealthiest area of town—are 7,000- to 9,000-square-foot estates with Spanish architecture and names like “The Blessing.” But just down the street from White Chapel is a popular restaurant, a shack really, called the Feed Store. Until the 1990s it was an actual feed store for livestock. Cattle still graze in nearby pastures.

Don Barrineau, a former Southlaker now living in Highland Park, loved Southlake. He says though many in the town have money, they don’t act like it. Barrineau knew one parent who, when he was away on business, would fly back to town for his son’s baseball games and then fly right back out again. Owning three jets made the trips easier. “To talk to him, you just never would have known it,” Barrineau says.

All that money, inevitably, drew one of those fashionable “new urbanism” developments to Southlake. In 1999, something called Town Square sprung up out of the prairie: a 131-acre mixed-used development designed by David Schwarz, the same architect who built the American Airlines Center and the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The Hilton Hotel on the far west side of Town Square sits across the street from Truluck’s and Taco Diner, which are down the street from Barnes & Noble, which is near the Cheesecake Factory and Snuffer’s. There’s 1.2 million square feet of this—a Lane Bryant here, a Starbucks there. Just like Plano, just like Addison, just like everywhere else.

Except in Southlake it’s different. It works. It works because it’s beautiful. The main entrance of Town Square is a two-square-block public space, with a lawn in the foreground and mature trees shading parts of a fountain. Behind that there’s a gazebo and behind that another lawn with intersecting sidewalks, like a college quad. City Hall is here, too. And the post office. The development, perfectly huge and perfectly planned, does something most unusual in these parts: it gets people walking. Elderly couples, kids with their skateboards, mothers with their strollers. They’re everywhere. Go ahead. Try not killing someone while driving through the place.

HIP TO BE SQUARE: Southlake’s “new urbanism” development is home to usual suspects such as Starbucks and Mi Cocina, as well as the town’s City Hall and post office.
photography by Elizabeth Lavin

The day Town Square opened, developer Brian Stebbins walked around it. It was much smaller then, not yet built out, and Stebbins was thinking of staging a photograph to capture what he envisioned for the future. “That very first morning,” Stebbins says, “there were kids playing by the fountain and people playing Frisbee. And none of them were hired.”

This time of year, the kids playing in Town Square are more likely to be throwing footballs than Frisbees. Because the real heart of the city, at least on certain Friday nights, is found just down Southlake Boulevard, then left on Kimball Avenue. There, atop a rise, is Dragon Stadium, a $15 million, 11,500-seat arena. It has a 45,500-square-foot field house, a press box larger than those at most small colleges, a sky box featured in the Wall Street Journal for its poshness, and a turf consisting of individual artificial blades of grass that is nicer than the turf at Texas Stadium.

On a night in May, for the spring intersquad game, rain keeps many of the faithful at home. But Todd Dodge is here, the triumphant coach. They honor him at halftime, and he gets up to speak. Instead of talking about last year’s team or this year’s team, he talks about the town itself. “From the inside you can’t really explain it,” he says. “And from the outside looking in, you’ll never understand.”

Take this game. It is an otherwise innocuous affair—more a practice than a game—with play stopping so the Dragons can test out their field goal kickers. But scouts from another team are rumored to be present. Not a suburban rival, but a half dozen coaches from a high school in Florida, Miami Northwestern, the state’s reigning 6A state champion. Miami Northwestern will play Southlake this fall at SMU’s Ford Stadium—on national television. Sure enough, deep into the second half, a handful of men in orange and blue windbreakers, the colors of Miami Northwestern, come down from the press box, notebooks in hand.

“See? Miami Northwestern,” says Craig Rogers, a tan, slim father of three girls, the eldest of which was the 2007 class president. None of his friends finds it remarkable that the game is scouted. After all, the new Southlake head coach, Hal Wasson, will head to Florida later that week to check out Miami Northwestern’s spring game.

Something else an outsider would never understand: the madness surrounding season tickets. The Dragons sell 1,600 season tickets to football games. They aren’t the closest to the field, but they are backed stadium seats instead of benches. Having one means you don’t need to be in line by 3 Friday afternoon to ensure a spot in general admission seating (gates open at 6). Season tickets cost $75 for a five-game season, but once you own one, you have the right to buy it every year (provided you pay the three-year $90 seat license). Only 92 came up for sale this year. The first person arrived at midnight at the administrative building, eight hours before they were available. It rained hard that night. But the people waited, the line snaking halfway around the building.

The first person in line this year was 60-something grandmother Joyce Burnett, whose granddaughter Kayli is the student body president of the 2008 class. Burnett’s grandson Brayden is a junior who hopes to start this fall at defensive end. To get her spot in line, Burnett had left the bedside of her husband, Paul, who was recovering from a surgery the previous day to remove a blockage from his leg. A friend of Burnett’s came to sit for about an hour that night so Burnett could check on Paul at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Grapevine. But otherwise Burnett was there, in her lawn chair, waiting for the doors to open. Her fortitude paid off, and she was able to buy four season tickets.

Burnett had initially told Paul she’d stay with him in the hospital while he recovered. Paul would have none of it. “Go get those tickets,” he barked from the hospital bed.

Terri Anderson directs season ticket sales for the school. She says it seems to her that every day someone comes to her asking if any new tickets have become available. When she gives them the bad news, it causes a panic among the wives who forgot to renew their tickets. “I’ve had some women come in crying and they’ll say, ‘I hope my husband doesn’t divorce me,’” Anderson says. “I hope they’re kidding.”

It’s that kind of devotion that keeps Craig Rogers in Southlake. Watching the Miami Northwestern coaches leave the spring football game, Rogers says he will never leave Southlake. Just three weeks ago, a Houston company offered him a job as president of North American sales. “And I just told them, I said, ‘If I have to move, I’m not going to do it.’”

Sitting behind him is Cindy Padron, a math teacher at Carroll High School and mother of three boys, the two youngest of which either play or played football. When Padron talks about Southlake and how “blessed” she feels that they moved from San Antonio five years ago, her eyes well up. And not because of the football.

The Carroll Independent School District serves families in Southlake and Grapevine. In a few weeks, 575 Carroll graduates will accept their high school diplomas at this stadium, and 97 percent of them will go on to college. Thirteen of these students will be honored as National Merit Semifinalists, a record number for Southlake Carroll. In fact, for the last nine years, Carroll Senior High School has received an “exemplary” rating from the Texas Education Agency.

All this success. Every outsider always asks what’s behind it. Larry Padron, sitting next to his wife in the stands, says their son Matthew has a theory. Matthew is the eldest son, the one who grew up in San Antonio and never went to Southlake.

Larry says, “Matthew likes to say, ‘This is a cult.’” 

Southlake city officials will tell you why their town has grown so much. They’ll say the foundation was laid by DFW Airport, and then, in the early ’90s, new water and sewer lines in the southern part of the city gave rise to what you see today. But one man is more important than any sewer line: Bob Ledbetter.

He was a tall man with blue eyes and a tight jaw. Ledbetter was nearing 40 when Southlake Carroll hired him away from Frisco in 1979. Ledbetter was to teach three classes at the high school, serve as athletic director and head football coach, and, since Southlake had spent a little extra to woo him, drive a school bus every morning.

Southlake was a Class 2A school then. The kids on Ledbetter’s football team were descendants of farmers: white, slow, and strong. Ledbetter made every one of them run track, a policy that still stands today. He made them lift weights in an era when few high schoolers did. But his best decision was to schedule games against bigger 3A teams. Ledbetter knew Southlake would grow. And when the population hit 5,000 in 1986 and the school became 3A, few were surprised to watch the football team, with its wishbone offense and punishing defense, go 9-1 in the regular season and claim the district championship. Soon after, Ledbetter was scheduling games against 4A schools.

That’s when Southlake got really good. The kids loosed hell on the poor saps from their district. From 1987 until 1993, the Dragons never lost a regular season game, 10-0 every year. Carried across seasons, that’s 72 wins in a row. The Dragons won three state championships during that stretch: 1988, 1992, and 1993.

“Football, whether it’s good or bad, gets a lot of media attention,” Ledbetter says. “And a lot of that had generated a lot of hype about Southlake. And so people moved out here because of the school system.”

Those were heady days—the town in love with its football team, Ledbetter having to lock the stadium gates the day before a game so people wouldn’t reserve a seat by taping down a blanket to the bleachers. “It was a zoo,” he says.

Then people began to expect the team to win. That’s as dark as it gets in Southlake. Other Dallas suburbs grab headlines for heroin deaths (Plano), steroid abuse (Colleyville), and quadruple slayings (McKinney). Southlake is notorious for its success. The downside is that winning, with time, generates less a celebration than an expectation, especially among the newly transplanted who chose the school because of its superiority—because that superiority reflected their own.

“This is a very demanding community,” Ledbetter says. Winning wasn’t enough for Ledbetter. Instead, he began trying to accomplish the impossible: “We strived for the perfect game.”

He remembers one game in the mid-’90s in particular. Southlake had won big. The Dragons were 8-0. But they had fumbled in the first half and maybe mishandled a punt. Ledbetter doesn’t remember exactly. Whatever it was, it got him angry. “I went into the locker room after that ball game and I lambasted those kids,” he says. Duke Christian, an assistant coach, walked into his office afterward. Christian had previously been an assistant coach at Baylor, Tulane, and Oklahoma State. “Coach,” Christian said, “I’ve never been at a place where you can’t even enjoy winning.” It was true. Even after winning those state championships, Ledbetter says he felt as much relief as joy.

In 1995, athletic director Ledbetter stepped down as football coach. Tom Rapp, his former assistant, became his successor. Rapp did not fare well. He went 3-6-1 his first year. By 1999, after only middling success, Rapp resigned. Because of Southlake’s reputation, Ledbetter had endless applications from which to choose. “A who’s who of high school football,” he says. “Guys that won state championships. Guys that came to us with records of 4,000 wins and two losses, you know what I mean?” But the coach he wanted hadn’t applied. His name was Todd Dodge and he’d coached all over the place, most recently at Fossil Ridge High School, in Keller, where the last two years he had gone 2-7 and 5-5. Ledbetter called him.

“Todd, I want you to apply for the Southlake Carroll job.”

Dodge said, “Coach, you know I can’t get that job at Southlake Carroll.”

“Todd, I’m hiring the football coach,” Ledbetter said. “I want you to apply.”

Todd dodge speaks in a voice deeper than you’d expect, with a drawl that hints at his upbringing in Port Arthur. He was a legend there. He threw deep while everyone else ran up the middle, and he called many of his own plays, communicating with his receivers via hand signals. Every college wanted him. Dodge picked the University of Texas. His junior year, he quarterbacked a team that was briefly ranked No. 1. But the Longhorns lost four out of five games during one stretch of the season. Dodge was benched his senior year and learned that the adulation of the crowd could quickly become scorn.

Coaching was all he’d ever wanted to do, and UT had taught him a great deal. “You better be someone who doesn’t get too high with your highs or low with your lows,” he says. He worked first as an assistant coach at Rockwall, later as an offensive coordinator at the University of North Texas, and then at various high school jobs, spending the six years prior to Southlake at three schools and never once compiling a winning record. But at these other schools, Dodge beat Southlake three times. What Bob Ledbetter saw those Friday nights were well-disciplined kids who executed an offense with an expert knowledge of Southlake’s weaknesses. Ledbetter saw a coach the kids respected but never feared, a coach who was not rah-rah but cool, all business. Shortly after accepting the position, Dodge and the Southlake Booster Club printed t-shirts with an ambitious slogan: “Protect the Tradition.”

Dodge didn’t protect much. The Dragons lost their first three games in 2000. This had never happened under Rapp and, of course, never under Ledbetter. Fans questioned Dodge’s spread offense; Ledbetter’s running game had worked so well. But Ledbetter only told Dodge, “Everything’s fine. You just keep doing what you’re doing.” His faith was rewarded. Southlake won every game the rest of the regular season. The Dragons advanced to the fourth round of the playoffs, the state quarterfinals, before losing to top-ranked Wichita Falls.

By this point, Southlake was a town of 20,000 people and, with 7,000 students in the Carroll district, on the cusp of moving up another classification, to 5A, the largest in the state. This was a problem. Its growth now threatened its tradition. The town had to decide whether to split the high school into two schools. “Half the community wanted two high schools,” says Ted Gillum, the district superintendent at the time. Things got contentious. Websites were launched, flyers distributed, citizen groups formed with long names like Citizens, Parents, and Students for Carroll High School.

A smaller school was a better academic environment, some parents argued, the same parents who brought academic studies supporting their opinion to public meetings. No, other parents told the media, two high schools would only split resources and offer students fewer opportunities. No, with such a large school there’d be no way to stand out. No, competition is what led to Southlake’s winning the Lone Star Cup in 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 (awarded to the school with the most academic and athletic success). On and on it went.

“Around that same time we recognized the need to build a new stadium,” Gillum says. “And no one wanted it near their house.” In the end, Dragon Stadium was built on Kimball Avenue, and school board trustees in 2001 presented the idea of one high school, but two campuses—a ninth- and 10th-grade campus, and an 11th- and 12th-grade campus. It made sense. Academics at Southlake, already strong, would become as competitive as the athletics and as rich in resources. It would encourage even more people to move to Southlake. But it would be years before others saw this perspective. Too bad for Gillum. By the end of spring 2002, fed up, he resigned.

“The first four years it was one of the best jobs I ever had. The last two years it was one of the worst,” he says, referring to how difficult the involved parents made his job. “Once a month, I go in the backyard and set my hair on fire to remind me of what those years were like.”

Something else happened that same year Gillum resigned: Todd Dodge traveled to Tennessee before the 2002 season to revolutionize the state of high school football.

They ran a spread offense at Middle Tennessee State, where the offense featured four, sometimes five receivers scattered all over the field—just as Dodge’s did. But they didn’t huddle before the play, didn’t even have a receiver run the play in to the huddle. Instead, they relied on hand signals similar to those in baseball. The hand signals sped up the game; every player just lined up and looked back to the coach for the play. The signals also allowed for a more thoughtful offensive attack, since the coach had maybe 22 seconds of the 25-second play clock to consider his next move. Plus, they allowed the coach to call off a play when the defense shifted, and then signal another call in response to the shift. Dodge and three assistants spent four days in Tennessee that spring learning the no huddle. It sure looked familiar to Dodge. It was really just a variant of the signals he used at the line of scrimmage back in Port Arthur.

Still, it was risky. The 2002 season was Southlake’s first as a 5A school, and the quarterback of this eight-concept offense with endless variations, all of it relayed without words, was Chase Wasson. He’d been a running back the season before.

But the kids learned it. Opposing coaches, on the other hand, couldn’t figure it out. The Dragons went undefeated in the regular season. Their average margin of victory was 37.6 points. The offense scored 500 points during that stretch, only the third 5A team to do so. The Marcus High defensive coordinator, who found his team down 56-0 at halftime of its regular season game against Southlake, told the Star-Telegram after the game, “They are ungodly for a high school team.”

Southlake won state that year, going 16-0, and became the first team in Texas history to win a championship the season after jumping into the 5A classification. Chase Wasson threw for 4,822 yards, a state record. He tied the record for most touchdowns in a season with 54. But more than any of the improbable stats was the new moniker for the no huddle: “Dodge ball.”

Over the next four years, Dodge ball did for Dodge what the wishbone had done for Ledbetter: it brought the team championships and the town notoriety. The titles came in 2004, 2005, and 2006, all of them years Southlake went undefeated, all of them years sportswriters named the team “National Champions.” The notoriety was a new sort, though. It was a product of the new millennium, of national television.

In 2004, with a lockout in the NHL, ESPN2 broadcast Southlake’s game against top-ranked Denton Ryan. It was the first time the network had broadcast a high school game in Texas. Eddie George and Roy Williams of the Dallas Cowboys roamed the field, as did former Dallas Star Richard Matvichuk. Tickets on eBay went for as much as $120. And Clint Renfro, son of former Cowboys receiver Mike Renfro, caught three touchdowns as Southlake rolled to a 52-27 win. Even better, the district aired a 30-second commercial during the broadcast promoting the town.

Over the next few years, Southlake became a brand. Two more games, in 2005 and 2006, were broadcast on national television, both on Fox Sports Net. The school sold thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of t-shirts at Dragon games and at shops throughout town (and owned all licensing fees for Dragon paraphernalia). The sportswear line Under Armour became the official outfitter of the football team. It even filmed a commercial for its national campaign, featuring Green Bay Packer A.J. Hawk, at Dragon Stadium.

The pressure to win mounted. Former wide receiver Anthony Ford, like Bob Ledbetter a decade ago, admitted he felt “definitely more relief” than joy after going 16-0 two straight years. Former linebacker Justin Padron quit walking the streets of Town Square during the season. Too many random guys telling him, “Don’t let us down.” Riley Dodge, during a moment away from the field, said, “I mean, we’re only juniors and seniors in high school, and we have the weight of the world on us. The whole state is watching, the whole country is watching you, and waiting for you to lose. It takes a toll on you.”

The Dragons kept winning, though. More than the coverage on basic cable or the trophies crowding his shelves or even his name as a descriptor of an offense, this was Todd Dodge’s greatest achievement: he kept those kids loose. Every year after two-a-days Dodge walked the team to the weight room, the whole team, and locked the door behind him. For the next four hours, Dodge and his players would take turns talking about themselves, where they came from, who they were, what they hoped to do and be. The players left feeling as though they had a new family. “Like nobody else really mattered anymore,” Justin Padron says. Dodge approached every week of practice not as a means to inspire, though there was that, but as preparation for a test. Some players watched as much as four hours of film a day. Not with the team, but specific to their position, the tape rewinding and freezing and putting in slow motion the tendencies that these Dragons, in these instances, across from that guy, could expect to see. “We go through the syllabus every week. The test is on Friday at 7:30,” says Ron Mendoza, the former defensive coordinator. “No surprises.”

Dodge’s most telling trait was that he never berated a kid in a game. Dodge instead would ask what the player thought would happen and what he saw happen. Dodge guided his kids so that it felt like they were leading the way. At Southlake, that’s all they’d ever done.

Dodge accepted the head coaching job at the University of North Texas halfway through last season’s playoffs. As the team drove to the Alamodome for the championship game in San Antonio, four roadside billboards at various spots along the route thanked Dodge for what he’d done in Southlake. The final score that day: Southlake 43, Austin Westlake 29. Until Southlake, no team in Texas had ever won four championships in five years.

A month after the game, in the school cafeteria, the team had an autograph signing for the community. People brought everything from footballs to wristbands the players had thrown in the stands to helmets.

It took more than three hours for everything to get signed.

A month later, on February 8, Southlake has another signing day. Twelve seniors scrawl letters of intent with athletic programs at Division I schools. Two more sign their names to Division II schools. Not far from the flash of cameras and the grins of parents in the study hall, in an office he is still unpacking, stands Hal Wasson, Southlake’s new head coach. He is older than Dodge and a better dresser, today in a blue shirt and red tie. He sweeps his gray hair to the left. He could easily be mistaken for a geometry teacher.

The pressure on this man is enormous. As Riley Dodge says, “One loss, and this season is a failure. I don’t want to think about it.” But Wasson isn’t worried. “Yesterday when I was unpacking,” he says, “I was going through some old lock and key stuff, and I said, ‘Here’s the original blueprint to the offense.’” The offense is the no huddle. The blueprint is from the trip to Middle Tennessee State. Wasson was one of the three assistant coaches who accompanied Dodge. Dodge ball is the only offense he plans to run. It’s been good not just to him but to his family. His son is Chase Wasson, the quarterback of the first team under Dodge that won state.

In Southlake, he knows, you don’t mess with success.

Paul Kix ([email protected]) is the associate editor at D Magazine.