Mac Engel

Southlake Carroll’s gamble pays off as Riley Dodge restores Dragon brand his father built

While NASA landed a ship on Mars, Southlake Carroll is proving it can go back in time: The Dragons are undefeated, their next playoff opponent is Euless Trinity, and a Dodge is their head coach.

Whatever trepidation anyone at Southlake felt in handing the keys to their cherished football program to the kid Dodge, the child prodigy has demonstrated in Year 1 his hiring was not just case of nepotism on steroids.

“It’s been exactly what I thought it would be. It’s been great,” Carroll coach Riley Dodge said this week. “It hasn’t been hard. It’s been a lot of fun and the kids have made it that way.”

This is not to say Riley Dodge does not have to navigate some misconceptions about his age.

“The other day one of the referees asked how old I was,” Dodge said. “I mean, I’ve had that my whole career.”

For the record, Riley Dodge is 30 ... but he looks 12. Of course, when he walks the halls at Carroll, he’s just another old guy who doesn’t get it.

“What the (high school) students are talking about these days, I have no idea what they are talking about. I try to act like I do,” he said. “I started this job young but I feel like I’ve aged a lot this year.”

In his first season as the head coach, Riley Dodge has re-established the brand of Carroll football. Carroll is again big on big Texas high school football, and living up to its status as one of the most successful programs in the nation.

And Friday at North Texas’ Apogee Stadium in Denton will be the embodiment of Texas high school, big on big playoff football: Southlake Carroll vs Euless Trinity in the 6A regional round. This game is what makes Texas high school football Texas high school football.

Big kids. Elaborate player tunnels. Trinity’s Haka dance. Carroll’s Emerald Belles. Large student sections. Tears. Shrieks. Laughter. Nutso parents. Over-the-top assistant coaches. Bands that go on forever during halftime shows that last longer than the Godfather trilogy.

Carroll is immersed in it all again, and it is zero fluke Riley Dodge has them there. Some people are simply born for certain professions.

Unlike last season when Carroll surprised everyone, including itself, with a prolonged playoff run, the Dragons this year are legit. They may be good enough to defeat Trinity in what is the hardest draw in the 6A bracket.

If Carroll can defeat Trinity, its next likely opponent will be Duncanville in the state quarterfinals. After that, it appears the Dragons will have to play ... Alabama. Maybe the New England Patriots, too.

However this playoff run ends for Carroll, the start of the Riley Dodge era is an unquestionable success. Forget the record, at least the considerable dysfunction and infighting that existed within the program and too much of the administration appears to be gone. Or it has been replaced by normal inner-office challenges that exist everywhere.

The near toxic atmosphere that had existed for too long within Carroll’s successful athletic department is gone. That is not all the doings of one Riley Dodge, but it helps.

Riley Dodge may never string together the run that his father did at Carroll, which would only make him good at his job. Riley has not been expected to duplicate Todd’s success line by line, which gives Dodge 2.0 a chance at success.

“The run we went on when we went from 4A to 5A had not been seen before,” Riley said.

Between 2002 and ‘06, Carroll was 79-1 with four state titles under Todd Dodge. Riley was his starting quarterback in 2006. No one is doing that again in the largest classification of Texas high school football.

The coaches are too good. There are too many good players. There is more than one or two or three Carrolls.

“We were trailblazers and we had good players,” Riley said. “People forget we had a lot of guys who played on the college level. In the NFL. We had a good defense, but we were trailblazers on the offensive side in the entire state. We were doing things people had not seen.

“Now you look in Texas, and in the Metroplex, and they are all doing things we did to some variation in the early 2000s. You have to be very innovative now because everyone caught up.”

From the early returns under Riley Dodge, Carroll has caught up to what it previously was and restored what it means to be Carroll Dragons football.

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