Perhaps the only parts of Dragon Stadium that Todd Dodge isn’t familiar with are the visitor’s locker room and visitor’s sideline.
But he will be Friday.
Athletics usually presents an interesting opportunity for unexpected reunions. As soon as Dodge accepted the head football coaching position at Austin Westlake in May, irony became reality. Dodge’s Westlake Chaparrals visit his former school Carroll in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. season opener in a game that is the talk of Texas. This game wasn’t Dodge’s doing. Former coach Darren Allman, now at Colleyville Heritage, set it up with Carroll coach Hal Wasson.
As much as both Carroll and Westlake will stress this game is about the players and what they do – and they’re right – this game catches the attention because of what happened from 2000-2006. Lest we forget the 98-11 record, state championships won in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Carroll went 48-0 in those three title seasons and beat Westlake for the crown in 2006.
Yes, it’s history. But football embraces its history. And that’s why Dragon Stadium should expect a standing-room-only crowd for this game. It should draw people who have no allegiance to either program.
Dodge, 51, faces his former assistant Hal Wasson. He also brings three assistants with Carroll ties. Chase Hargis, who was a defensive back on the 2002 championship team, coaches the Westlake secondary. Brandon Murdock was on Dodge’s first team in 2000 and is also an assistant, and Kirk Rogers just left Carroll in the spring to become Dodge’s offensive coordinator.
“It will be surreal,” Dodge said. “But I’m not one who gets into competing against good friends. But it is what it is. We’re going to compete to win, and Carroll is going to do the same.”
Time has moved forward since Dodge left to take the University of North Texas job in 2007. Carroll has gone through two full classes without him being around. Still, longtime families like the Agnews will note it because Dodge coached current Dragons quarterback Ryan’s older brothers Michael and Joseph. Dodge also coached Carroll defensive tackle King Newton’s older brother Tre.
Wasson doesn’t have to, nor should he, believe that he is still being compared to Dodge. If that thinking is out there, then that would be shortsighted. If you did that, then you would also have to accept that Tom Rapp was compared to Bob Ledbetter when Ledbetter retired from coaching in the 1990s and that Dodge was also compared to Ledbetter before he won a state title.
Wasson has his state championship (2011), produced deep playoff runs and maintained a program that continues excellence. And in case you didn’t know, Wasson is 79-15 as he begins his eighth season at Carroll. Yes, he’s been at Carroll longer than Dodge was. And yes, most coaches would give anything for that record.
As for this game, Carroll should be the heavy favorite. Ryan Agnew is a polished quarterback with great poise. Westlake sophomore Sam Ehlinger is making his first varsity start. He would be one of 52 doing that. By no means is Carroll perfect. The Dragons have some concerns about their offensive line and wide receivers corps.
But Westlake and Carroll share the same dynamics. Each is an affluent community with successful professionals and children driven to succeed. Resources are vast. Facilities are state of the art. The programs have maintained a level of success regardless of who the head football coach was.
You may see the similarities in the pregame warmups. Carroll and Westlake could be doing their routines the same way and wearing the same t-shirts with the face of the shirt reading TEAM in all caps and the word “Me” below team.
Once it kicks off, the hype ends and it becomes another game. Westlake would love nothing more than to beat Carroll because that’s what it’s supposed to do. Carroll would love to beat Westlake because that’s what it’s supposed to do.
“You have two programs that will compete and prepare to do everything they can to win the game,” Dodge said. “That’s part of the success at Westlake and Carroll.”
Opening Week Predictions
Normally, this space is usually for week by week high school picks. But with the Dodge-Carroll circumstances, we had to highlight that. We haven’t forgotten them, though. So here we go in brief fashion:
Abilene over Colleyville Heritage; Grapevine over North Crowley; Midland Lee over Keller; Byron Nelson over Flower Mound; Northwest over Corsicana; Keller Fossil Ridge over Tyler Lee; Carroll over Austin Westlake; Hurst L.D. Bell over Keller Central and Keller Timber Creek over Irving Nimitz.
Let’s win them all.