Forever is a long time.
But in the fall, across the more than 268 square miles of the state of Texas, between the lines of a white chalked field that stretches 120 yards long and 53 1/3 yards wide, forever occurs over 48 minutes for thousands of high school students.
The love affair between the state of Texas and high school football is an indescribable bond between teammates and coaches, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and communities in large cities and small towns alike.
Friday nights have a hold on us that reaches deeper into the souls of our communities—moreso than the NFL, college football, or any other sport for that matter. Drive through a small Texas town on a Friday night and the brightest lights for miles around will come from the high school football stadium. Local businesses will have “closed for game” signs hanging in the store windows. These are the days we anticipate during scorching summer afternoons. The days we prepare for with our t-shirts, pom-poms and face stickers. The days we mourn when they’re over in the winter. No, there’s nothing quite like Friday night in Texas.
“I can name a dozen people that I wanted to be like that played high school football,” says Michael Odle, the new head football coach at Lewisville High School, outside Dallas. “And I couldn’t name you more than three or four professional. That’s really how powerful Friday nights were.”
He remembers watching football games at Max Goldsmith Stadium, a place the Lewisville Farmers call home. As a 5th grader he longed for the day he could play under those lights in front of families and friends. “I’d dream of playing on that field and wearing maroon and white,” Odle says.
All season long, players, families, coaches and community members count wins and losses, wondering if maybe, just maybe, this will be the year—the year they win the state championship. Odle knows firsthand what that’s like. He was part of two Lewisville High School state championship teams during his high school career. The town, he says, comes alive. “That’s when you see a really small town just really come to life and appreciate what they had seen and witnessed. There is no feeling like that.”
But it’s not just jerseys and fields and stadiums and touchdowns. This thing, this tradition, is something else entirely. “It’s bigger and better than football,” says Carli Odle, Coach Odle’s wife, the new first lady of Lewisville football.
For her and many others who didn’t play football on Friday nights, the game and the evening under the lights still holds tremendous meaning and importance. The games are a place for neighbors to come together with a common purpose: to cheer on the team, hometown heroes. “The town would literally shut down. That’s what you did on Friday nights,” Carli recalls.
High school football is the pulse of every town in the state, helping raise and develop young men through hard work on the field, while also building community pride. “I tell my kids this all the time,” Coach Odle says. “‘We are going to be a better version of ourselves today than we were yesterday. And every day we are going to get a little better. We are going to chop a little wood.’ And that’s the mentality and mindset that we have.”
It is that mindset, that toughness, that is ingrained in each one of us. It’s something we carry with us and cling onto through winter, summer, and spring, until it’s finally fall again. It’s the thing we pass down from father to son, husband to wife, Texan to Texan.
Texas football forever.
By Natalie K. Gould