Along Highway 26 and Texas 121, the anticipation for Grapevine-Colleyville Heritage 2017 is about as good as it gets.
But inside the field houses, it’s almost as if the rivalry didn’t exist.
The mentality instilled by Grapevine’s Mike Alexander and Colleyville Heritage’s Joe Willis is a reflection of where these growing programs now stand. Opposing players who grew up around each other all their lives want to win this game. That’s not the issue. This game has its place. It’s just not the place on the schedule.
That’s the way the coaches want it. That’s how the players want it.
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“The program’s success has changed with the mentality that’s been brought in,” Colleyville Heritage senior defensive lineman Thomas Chapman said. “It means a lot to the students. But we’re trying to get to the playoffs. Playoff games are special.”
Colleyville Heritage (6-1, 4-0) and Grapevine (6-1, 4-0) have already clinched playoff berths in District 8-5A. This annual Battle of the Red Rail at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mustang-Panther Stadium assures the winner the lead and path toward an outright championship.
Grapevine snapped a six-losing streak in this series with a 49-34 win last year. However, the season isn’t over after Friday. There are two regular season games remaining, along with at least one playoff game.
The elevation for both really started in 2014, when Grapevine returned to the postseason for the first time since 2011. It then reached a new level when each won 10 games in 2016.
Colleyville Heritage is making its twelfth consecutive appearance. The transformation from postseason participant to state championship contender happened last year in the 5A Division I state quarterfinal run.
“It takes growing and maturity to really understand how to deal with this game, but then knowing what else you’re playing for,” Grapevine senior nose tackle Cole Thompson said. “When you’re playing on the field, you have a job to do. Everything else is secondary. That’s how we have to treat it.”
Each program’s passing attack is similar and different. Both have two fluid playmakers at wide receiver. Both are different at quarterback.
Grapevine’s David Clayton and Haslet Eaton move-in Jordan Brooks-Wess each average 16 yards per reception. Colleyville Heritage Division I prospects Ke’Von Ahmad and Kameron Brown have combined for 99 receptions and nearly 1,500 yards.
Alan Bowman, Grapevine’s four-year starting quarterback, has been consistent. He’s helped first-year head coach Mike Alexander transition smoothly. Colleyville Heritage head coach Joe Willis has been rotating between seniors Jagger LaRoe and Landry French. The wrinkle is sophomore Drew Sanders, who returned last week from injury.
“They’ve got a lot to stop,” Alexander said. “When you go into a game like this, it’s hard to narrow the focus on what you think you’re going to see. With a player like Sanders, we know what kind of skill set he has, but there’s a lot of different ways Joe can use him.”
The bragging rights will never fade. If anything, the talent and successful coaching track records add to the buildup. Sure, it is another game. It’s just one that will create more attention than previous editions will.
“We know we’re playing a quality opponent,” Willis said. “That’s only going to make you better. It’s a great game for our district. Both teams are having great seasons. You appreciate the talent on the field and the competitiveness that will come with this.”