Opening-week high school football games often showcase clashes of top teams and blue chip recruits.
While action on the field is worth the price of admission, this week’s Austin Westlake at Southlake Carroll game has some sideline intrigue as well.
“About two days into spring ball, I was reminded of that fact,” said Westlake coach Todd Dodge, who led Carroll to four Class 5A state titles between 2002 and 2006 and completes his return to the state’s largest classification with Friday’s game at Dragon Stadium. “To have that game, it’s unbelievable. It’s surreal to be honest with you.”
When Carroll beat Westlake for the 2006 championship — completing a 79-1 five-year run by Dodge in Southlake — college football was the next mountain to climb, and the University of North Texas was the first step.
“Because of all the success we had at Carroll, because of a whole lot of people, myself included, I was offered a Division I head coaching job,” Dodge said. “You don’t turn that down. I didn’t.”
At UNT he was 6-37 before being fired seven games into the 2010 season. After a year as a college assistant at Pitt, and two years at Marble Falls, Dodge found his way back to Westlake.
“As far as a high school job, there was no reason for me to leave Carroll, at all,” Dodge said. “I went into college coaching for 41/2 years; once that gig was over I knew my passion, my true calling, is to coach high school football.”
Dodge’s Westlake connections go way back. He’s the son-in-law of the late Ebbie Neptune, a beloved former Westlake head football coach and Eanes school district athletic director. Dodge was also a student teacher at Westlake when he played quarterback for the Texas Longhorns from 1981-84.
“I probably know this job better than a lot of people on the outside looking in,” Dodge said.
Weeks before Dodge got the job, Carroll and Eanes officials scheduled the two-year home/home series.
Dodge “left a great legacy in Southlake and he is an icon in Texas high school football,” Carroll athletic director Kevin Ozee said in an Aug. 21 email. “However, our team and staff’s sole focus next week will be on our own effort and execution of assignments.”
When Dodge left Carroll in 2006, he recommended Hal Wasson for the Carroll job. Wasson was a Carroll assistant from 2000 to 2004, then served as head coach at Keller Fossil Ridge for two years.
“Nobody respects coach Dodge more than me,” said Wasson, who led Carroll to an eighth state title in 2011. “I have complete respect for him. I know that he’s going to do really good things at Westlake.”
Still, the return of a favored son creates almost unavoidable added drama.
“I heard they sell home tickets on the visitor side,” a Westlake dad said to other dads the first day of the Chaparrals workouts.
“We sent Westlake plenty of tickets,” Ozee said. “I am not sure what they are talking about. We sent them 3,000 tickets, I think. The same amount we sent Allen last year.”
Wasson prefers to characterize the game as an early season contest between two good football teams — nothing more.
“We’re going to keep our emphasis on the game between the lines, and our focus on trying to get better that week,” he said.
Dodge admits the Carroll connections add a bittersweet feel.
“I don’t necessarily think that guys in coaching just love to compete against their really good friends,” he said. “For 2 1/2 to 3 hours you get after each other, then you hug each other when it’s over — win or lose.”
Austin Westlake at Southlake Carroll
7:30 p.m. Friday, Dragon Stadium, Southlake