Anyone who catches a glimpse of Euless Trinity's football team could easily confuse the Trojans for a college squad.
The Trinity offensive and defensive lines block out the sky; this year's O-line is made up of Salesi Uhatafe (6-foot-5, 301 pounds), Lem Galeai (6-4, 299), Andreu Kirby (6-3, 334), Mosese Vakasiuola (6-1, 256) and Saia Mose (6-0, 295). Gaius Vaenuku (6-5, 264) and Samiuela Tevi (6-5, 271) dominate the landscape on the defensive front.
But Trinity is acting like a college team in a whole new way this week. The Trojans are in Seattle to take on national power Bellevue High School in the Nike Gridiron Classic tonight, a road trip that is much more common for a team in the Big 12 than in District 6-5A.
"It's like magic for us to be able to do this," said Trinity coach Steve Lineweaver, who visited Seattle in June to get a feel for Memorial Stadium and the area. "Everywhere you look is picturesque. It's going to be so awesome for our boys to experience this. I value this trip in so many ways."
Trinity's showdown against Bellevue, which has won four straight state championships and nine since 2001, is the first in a long line of quality matchups in this first week of the regular season.
"I would rather play the Sisters of the Poor so that we could feel good about ourselves and get everyone equal playing time," Lineweaver said. "But it creates really good football, because you have a very small margin of error against great teams."
For weeks after realignment in February, Lineweaver searched for a third predistrict game. No one wanted to put Trinity on the schedule, and it appeared the Trojans might end up with a nine-game slate.
"We looked all over, and we even considered playing a team from Mexico," said Lineweaver, who was eventually able to set up tonight's game. "I wouldn't schedule us. We have a style that teams aren't going to see at all in the season with a two-back I formation. Why would you want to come play us and get beat up in a physical game and then never see it again when everyone is running the spread?"
The Trinity players heard rumors that they would be traveling out of state to play their first game. Oklahoma, Louisiana were their best guesses. Florida and California were also thrown out as wild ideas. Washington wasn't even in their minds.
"I didn't believe it at first," said Vaenuku, who has family in Washington but has never visited. "There were a lot of rumors, but when Coach told us, everyone was really excited."
Trinity played in three stadiums last season: Pennington Field in Bedford, Irving Schools Stadium and Cowboys Stadium. The Trojans are hyped for the change in scenery, but they are still treating the game more like a playoff game than a field trip.
"We will be ready," Vaenuku said. "I like going against hard teams right away. It helps us when we get in those playoff situations. We already know what to do."
Trinity's trip to Washington won't cost Trinity High School at all. Bellevue's booster club pitched in providing funding for the plane tickets, and Trinity's booster club is still raising the money for the other travel expenses of the 92 players and 35 support staff who made the trip.
"Our administration paid nothing, nothing out of HEB [the school district]," Lineweaver said. "Our booster club has been great about setting up all of the meals and sightseeing tours. It's going to be a great opportunity for our team to grow closer."
Other area powerhouse programs have also found blockbuster matchups before district play begins.
"The better you get, the more and more difficult it becomes to find nondistrict games." Arlington Martin coach Bob Wager said. "And for all of these great programs, Carroll, Allen, Bowie and on, if your aspiration is to be the very best, you have to play the very best teams you can play. I'm proud of the fact we are even in the conversation now."
Martin opens against DeSoto. The Warriors are also playing nationally ranked Dallas Skyline and South Grand Prairie.
"Playing these teams creates a sense of urgency," Wager said. "It's a race to get ready and improve. I can only imagine that's beneficial to all of the teams involved."
Defending 5A Division I state champion Southlake Carroll is beginning its season at Allen. Mansfield is playing Arlington Bowie, a matchup that deserves to be a game of the week but is fourth on this list. Playing playoff-quality teams could have negative and positive benefits. Teams risk injury, but playing good programs forces schools to perform at a high level early in the season. Top teams that stumble can also start the year with deflating losses.
"Everyone in our district is having to look ahead to the tough games later in the schedule and say, 'We have to get ready,'" said Mansfield coach Jeff Hulme, whose team will also play Keller and Mansfield Summit before starting District 7-5A play against opponents like Mansfield Timberview, DeSoto and Cedar Hill. "That's why you are seeing so many marquee matchups in nondistrict. It's because teams are getting ready for district."
Trinity's lineup of nondistrict opponents doesn't get easier after Bellevue. The Trojans play Tulsa Union and DeSoto before starting 6-5A play against a talented Colleyville Heritage team that has championship potential.
"When you play these tough games early, you get bruised up a little," Lineweaver said, "but the lessons you learn serve you well later in the season."
Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760