“Football is king in Texas.”
We as sports fans hear this cliché all the time. After all, we live in the state that has inspired the Friday Night Lights book, film, and Emmy-winning television series. As a sports reporter and a huge football fan, there is truly no better place to work in then right here in DFW and I am thankful to be able to cover the athletes we have in this area and in McKinney. One of the jokes I hear all the time is that McKinney is more of a girls soccer town than it is a football town and on some level I agree with that. I mean four state titles in less than 10 years says it all, does it?
McKinney ISD football has changed a lot over the last decade and this season will be unlike any other. Football fever is back in this town in a way that I haven’t seen since I started covering football here. McKinney has had three football teams for five years now and while the three teams aren’t at all equal, each program has now found its identity. I’ve already predicted that for the first time in history we will have two teams in the playoffs at once but I wouldn’t say it’s out of the question that we may have all three of our schools playing in mid-November this year.
McKinney was once a one-team town led by legendary head coach Ron Poe, who coached the Lions to a state title in 1979 and another state appearance in 1986. After 30 years in McKinney, Poe retired from coaching after a successful season in 2000. With the introduction of McKinney North, McKinney was now a two-team town and the football landscape of MISD was changing. The newly formed McKinney North Bulldogs struggled in their first few seasons and across town the tradition rich Lions of McKinney High were a bottom barrel Class 5A program. Then, in the fall of 2003 it was announced that MHS would be dropping down to Class 4A, where they would finally be able to play against the Bulldogs of McKinney North.
By that time the Bulldogs were starting to become more of a threat to a once Lion-centric town and the rivalry game date was set for October 1, 2004. After a few fairly quiet years, football fever was back in McKinney.
When the McKinney High-McKinney North football rivalry was at its peak and Ron Poe Stadium was a huge mosh pit of orange and gold during the first and second Crosstown Showdown games, McKinney was indeed a football town. In those days, there were only two high schools and either you were a Lion or a Bulldog. And if you were one then you hated the other. Rivalry brought the best out of both schools and both football programs.
Once McKinney opened up its third high school in 2006, the football talent was no longer split down the middle and with junior high players not knowing where they would end up, and in many cases being split up from their teammates, rivalries faded and school loyalty wasn’t nearly as important. We still had rivalry games year after year but I think most people would agree it just wasn’t the same.
Take my word for it. My senior year at MHS was the inaugural season for the Boyd Broncos so I saw the newly developed rivalries first hand. When it came time to play Boyd and North, it just didn’t seem as important as those two previous Crosstown Showdown games we all witnessed from the bleachers in 2004 and 2005. Those were do-or-die games. These games just felt like regular inner-city games. Were they big games? Sure. Were they games we absolutely wanted to win? You bet. But with the prize of town supremacy no longer up for grabs, football in McKinney had lost its spark and the Friday night crowds showed that times were changing.
Every year around this time, I’m excited for the start of a new football season but this year will undoubtedly be the most exciting of my career as a sports reporter for TownSquareBuzz for the following reasons. McKinney Boyd will be making a run for its second straight district title, McKinney North has unfinished business after falling short of the playoffs last season, and McKinney High will feature some of the best young talent in the area.
In my opinion, these three high school programs are finally starting to develop a solid identity and move in the right direction. In the case of the Broncos, they’ve only been around since 2006 and sure they had one playoff run in ’07 but let’s not forget they had a phenomenal quarterback in Daryn Alves. Not to take anything away from the rest of that team but Alves absolutely carried Boyd to the playoffs with his lightning speed and unparalleled agility. The kid just couldn’t be stopped. And with the move to 5A, the Broncos struggled to find their identity but as we saw last season – they now know who they are, what they want, and how to get it.
The North Bulldogs also had a transition to make. For one, McKinney Boyd took a lot of the Dawgs’ future playmakers not to mention their offensive coordinator, Don Drake. Secondly, the school’s first head coach Shawn Pratt stepped down to take over as Athletic Director of McKinney ISD. It’s taken a while but the Dawgs are starting to turn the corner and after last season, they know what it’s like to turn potential in the locker room into wins on the football field.
That brings us to McKinney High. This one is fairly simple. They hired the wrong guy in 2007 and paid the price. Now, with a young, defensive-minded head coach leading the way, and an amazing crop of young talent, the Lions are on their way back to the top and once they get there, they’ll be there to stay.
Two-a-days began today and although I am writing this column from a vacation house in Destin, Florida, I still got excited about high school football in Texas when I woke up this morning.
Football fever is back in McKinney, folks. And I hope everyone is just as excited as I am for all the fireworks that will surely take place this fall. Best of luck to the Broncos, Lions, and Bulldogs. Here we go…
-Joe Arriola, TownSquareBuzz.com