News Column

Coach Strong, talented players only a deep route away

August 25, 2014

By Rick Cantu, Austin American-Statesman

Aug. 25--

Charlie Strong, I've got your back.

As the new sheriff in town, you have been introduced to the city's live music and its scenic lakes, barbecue joints and I-35 traffic. You will soon learn that "Keep Austin Weird" is a slogan that really applies here. The black cloud you see near the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk is a trail of 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats looking for their nightly meal.

The street named Guadalupe is pronounced Gua-da-Loop. Don't ask why. Some traditions, no matter how senseless, can't be changed.

Your new home also is ripe with high school football talent, and it's my duty as a sportswriter here for 24 years to educate you about Central Texas Football 101. Just last season, 13 players listed on the Longhorns' roster were plucked from high schools within a one-hour drive of Austin.

By comparison, just nine players on your 2013 squad at Louisville played high school football in Kentucky, including Louisville's own DeVante Parker, a wide receiver who might be a first-round NFL draft pick next spring.

Clearly, your surrounding talent was upgraded when you landed at Austin-Bergstrom.

Let's start with Westlake High, which was represented by three players in this year's NFL Pro Bowl. Quarterbacks Drew Brees and Nick Foles and kicker Justin Tucker are the headliners for a Chaparrals program that has reached the playoffs for 26 consecutive years.

To get to Westlake, go South on MoPac Boulevard -- named after the Missouri-Pacific Railroad -- and turn right onto Bee Cave Road. While you're there, introduce yourself to first-year Chaparrals coach Todd Dodge, a former University of Texas quarterback who won four state titles up north at Southlake Carroll.

Then head to nearby Lake Travis High, the only school in Texas to win five consecutive state championships (2007-11). Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, one of the hottest young college coaches in the biz, won two state titles with the Cavaliers, going 32-0 from 2008 to 2009.

Morris is credited with helping quarterback Garrett Gilbert earn Gatorade national player of the year honors as a high school senior. While his playing career at Texas was such a disappointment he eventually transferred to SMU, it should be noted that Gilbert was drafted this year by the St. Louis Rams. Meanwhile, nary a Longhorn was selected in the same draft.

Central Texas has produced other quarterbacks whose names should ring a bell. Some are so good, we identify them with nicknames.

Before he was Johnny Football, Johnny Manziel was a young gunslinger in Kerrville, about 100 miles west of the Forty Acres. We knew RG3 as Robert Griffin when he played in Copperas Cove, an hour north on I-35.

Both were recruited to play at UT -- as defensive backs. As LeBron James might say, they took their talents to College Station and Waco, respectively, and that's one reason you're the new head coach here.

For stout offensive linemen, contact Cedar Park coach Joe Willis. The Timberwolves develop battering rams for the O-line the way Franklin Barbecue pumps out sausages. You already know Dominic Espinosa, and another Cedar Park grad, Spencer Drango, was an All-Big 12 honoree at Baylor last season.

Speaking of Franklin's, the president of these United States ate there recently, when he became the first person to cut in line. A breach in security, some call it in Washington, but you'll be able to cut in line whenever you want if you barbecue the Sooners!

With the exception of letting Foles, Manziel and Griffin slip away, Mack Brown developed a pipeline from area high schools to Royal-Memorial Stadium.

Tennessee Titans safety Michael Griffin was a running back at Bowie High. Griffin, former Detroit Lion Chris Houston (LBJ) and Buffalo'sAaron Williams (McNeil) are three reasons Texas refers to itself as DBU.

Coach Strong, the TV show "Friday Night Lights" was filmed in Pflugerville, 15 miles north of the university. In 1999, Jon Voight starred as coach Bud Kilmer in "Varsity Blues," another movie filmed in Austin that somehow escaped Oscar buzz.

Just remember, Coach, I'm here for you. Text me. Let's chat.

I'll fill you in on how Hutto High became the home of the Hippos.


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Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)

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