Grapevine High School football linebacker Blake McCarroll is hungry for wins — the kind that take teams to the playoffs.
The 17-year-old senior has played Mustang football for four years. But this fall, as he heads back to school along with thousands of other students across Texas, he hopes a new beginning will help Grapevine shed the heartbreak of last year’s 1-9 record.
Grapevine, which for years has been competing in what is now Class 6A, has dropped down a classification. Instead of battling the likes of Euless Trinity and Colleyville Heritage for playoff spots, the Mustangs will be taking on smaller schools such as Lake Dallas and Fort Worth Eastern Hills.
Grapevine High students have a new sense of optimism going into Friday’s season opener against North Crowley.
“I think the mood around Grapevine is more confident than last year,” McCarroll said.
The University Interscholastic League, which oversees extracurricular activities in Texas, reclassifies public schools every two years, based on student enrollment. In addition, the UIL this year also changed its classification structure, creating Class 6A for the state’s largest schools, and bumping up every other class. Class 4A last year, for example, is now Class 5A.
By dropping down to District 6-5A, Grapevine now is the big boy on the block — one that is geographically much different than in the past, when most of the Mustangs’ opponents were in or around Northeast Tarrant County.
Joining Grapevine in 6-5A are Birdville, Lake Dallas and Fort Worth Dunbar, Eastern Hills, Carter-Riverside and Polytechnic.
With an enrollment of 2,088, Grapevine is the biggest school in the district and more than double the size of Dunbar, which has 829 students.
“Our advantage is that we have a bigger roster,” McCarroll said, but added, “We are not going to think we have an automatic win.”
High school football watchers, including Dave Campbell’s 2014 Texas Football magazine, predict that the Mustangs will make the playoffs this year. Grapevine has had success in the smaller classification before, winning state football championships in 1996 and ’98.
New volleyball coach Kori Cooper also likes the looks of the upcoming year. “I’m a fan of the new alignment,” she said. “Our goal is to train like we are 6A.”
A new era
Grapevine has deep roots in Northeast Tarrant County. Its first high school started in the early 1900s as a private college and was later designated a state high school when it was at the corner of Austin and Worth streets near historic downtown Grapevine.
The first graduating class in 1908 had only one student.
Grapevine High School has been at its current location on Mustang Drive since 1969.
“The thing that fundamentally remains the same, for more than 100 years, you have a school that has been serving this community,” Principal Shannon Tovar said.
Along with being in a new district, Grapevine High has many new faces on campus. Besides coach Cooper in volleyball, 11 of the school’s 14 football coaches are new, including Head Coach Randy Jackson.
He likes the school’s long history in the area, unusual for suburban teams.
“I’m enjoying that this is the 97th football team,” Jackson said.
The fact that Grapevine’s previous two state championships in football came when the school was in the smaller classification, stirs hope.
“Yes, absolutely,” said Hank Barry, president of the GHS football booster club. “The old 4A is now the 5A.”
Grapevine has been successful in other extracurricular activities as well, earning a Class 5A state title in boys wrestling and academic state championships in current issues and events last year. In 2013, Grapevine High’s production of Chicago won six awards at the annual Betty Lynn Buckley Awards in Fort Worth, which honors the area’s best musicals.
Heritage still a rival
Although it’s dropping down a classification, Grapevine still sees Colleyville-Heritage as its main rival, especially in football, annually drawing a packed house at Mustang Panther Stadium.
Hank Barry said the good-natured rivalry is bittersweet because many of the players attended the same elementary or middle schools.
“There’s a lot of pride if you beat Colleyville,” he said.
Even with Heritage remaining in Class 6A, in a district with powerhouses Trinity, Southlake Carroll and Coppell, the two teams will maintain their rivalry.
This year, Grapevine and Heritage will meet on Sept. 5, in a nondistrict game.
The games that really matter, though, are in District 6-5A.
And despite having more students that any other school in 6-5A, the Mustangs and their 32 seniors are taking nothing for granted.
Principal Tovar said the message emphasized to Grapevine’s students is clear: “Be respectful and never underestimate who you are going to compete against.”
‘Football is about life’
Dunbar went undefeated in the regular season last year and Birdville is coming off an 11-3 season in which it made the regional finals before losing to eventual state champion Denton Guyer.
Quarterback Sam Bary and teammate McCarroll know what it’s like to be an underdog, so when they suit up this season, they will wear some humility.
“We can’t let ourselves be like, ‘We beat them because they are small,’” McCarroll said, noting that any team can pick up last year’s Grapevine record of 1-9 and start making judgments.
“They could be saying the same thing about us,” McCarroll said.
This year’s district games will take the Mustangs to Lake Dallas Falcon Stadium, Fort Worth’s Herman Clark Stadium and the Birdville Fine Arts Athletic Complex.
Dunbar Wildcats Coach Todd Lawson said the district’s diversity offers a good learning opportunity for his players because they get to experience a society outside the inner city while showcasing their athleticism.
“Football is about life,” Lawson said, adding that Grapevine will provide a tough challenge. “At any given time, they can only put 11 on the field,” he said.