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Column: Texas high school football gets bigger, better with California invasion

Fans take their place at the $70-million McKinney ISD Stadium for a high school football rivalry game.
(Jerome Miron/For The Times)

Peering through window blinds while sitting at his office desk, Duncanville High football coach Reginald Samples has a perfect view of Panther Stadium, which has a seating capacity of nearly 11,000 and pristine all-weather turf.

He’s asked to describe Texas high school football.

“Football in Texas is a big deal. The atmosphere is a frenzy,” he said Thursday during a typical 90-degree summer day.

Texas is known for everything being bigger there — flags, bridges, brisket. Nothing, though, comes close to high school football, where state championships are played at the 80,000-seat AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

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Allen High plays in a $62-million stadium that featured future Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray playing quarterback on three Class 5A state championship teams while the city of McKinney features a $70-million municipal stadium for its three high schools. Allen has 8,500 season-ticket holders and reserves 1,000 seats for its marching band, drill team and color guard. Duncanville has a 400-member band.

“There are high emotions because of the rivalries of the teams,” Samples said.

Enter Santa Ana Mater Dei and Bellflower St. John Bosco, the top two teams in California. Mater Dei is serving as Duncanville’s season-opening opponent Friday night, and St. John Bosco has booked its own trip to Dallas for Aug. 26, 2022, against an opponent to be announced.

Could this be the start of an expanded relationship between California and Texas?

Mater Dei agreed June 25 to play at Duncanville, when both were searching for opponents to play this week. Trinity League powers Mater Dei and St. John Bosco — one of which has appeared in the Southern Section Division 1 championship game annually since 2013, combining for five titles — routinely have trouble filling their nonleague schedules.

“They have to be willing to come to California,” St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro said. “It’s going to have to be a two-way street.”

One problem. Texas powerhouse teams are mostly public schools that make too much money filling their own large stadiums to make costly trips to California. Most top teams that have traveled to Texas from California have been private schools.

In 2014, La Puente Bishop Amat went to Aledo, the defending state 5A champion, and won 42-7. The team received a stipend from Aledo to help with expenses. Coach Steve Hagerty remembers his team traveling on a bus “in the middle of nowhere.”

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“It’s flat. It’s a desert,” he said. “We pull up and my goodness, it’s better than any stadium we’ve ever played in. I remember our film crew of three students. They’re eating food between plays. Anything they want. The fun is there’s expectations. You think it’s going to be great and it was awesome.”

In 2015, Concord De La Salle went to Euless Trinity as the No. 1 team in the nation and lost 26-21. Coach Justin Alumbaugh said the experience exceeded expectations. He said his wife required 30 minutes just to get through a massive tailgate party before the game.

“It’s really ‘Friday Night Lights,’” he said. “The pageantry, the setup, the support, the barbecue joints. Then you go to the game. They have massive, gorgeous stadiums. It was electric. Their bands, their student sections. It was just bigger. There was more people doing more of it enthusiastically. They take it a little serious.”

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A California vs. Texas high school football all-star game lasted seven years until ending in 2001. California won the first six times. Texas teams have a 21-14 record in head-to-head matchups against California teams, according to CalPreps.com and CalHiSports.com. Texas, Florida and California have annually produced the most top football talent for college programs.

Perhaps the visits by Mater Dei and St. John Bosco can serve as a reboot in the California vs. Texas relationship. California fans are certainly fired up.

“We all MD fans on Friday,” tweeted one California fan.

“It’s no secret that I don’t care for MD, but not this weekend,” a football fan from rival Anaheim Servite tweeted.

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Mater Dei players showed up at school Monday at 7 a.m. to get COVID-19 tests. “It’s time to get serious,” coach Bruce Rollinson said.

When word came back Tuesday that his traveling party of 64 players all tested negative, Rollinson said, “We’re rolling.” The team boarded a flight to Dallas from John Wayne Airport on Thursday afternoon and will return Saturday morning.

Alumbaugh is hoping expansion does take place.

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“Texas has the big stadiums and want people coming there,” he said. “The hard part for California teams is funding. A lot of times it’s the first time kids get on a plane. We’ve always talked about going back to Texas. It’s a unique experience.”


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