Everything is bigger in Texas.
That includes high school football, something South Carolina’s top-ranked team, the Dutch Fork Silver Foxes, will find out when it travels to Texas to battle the Allen Eagles, the top-ranked team in the Lone Star State, on Friday night at Kimbrough Stadium in Murphy, Texas.
Dutch Fork, the defending South Carolina Class 4A state champion, opened its 2014 season with a convincing win against Greenwood and is coming off a bye week heading into this showdown of state champions in Texas.
Allen is the two-time defending Texas state champions in Class 5A (the state’s largest classification) and moving up to the newly created Class 6A after realignment this year.
This will be the first contest Allen, ranked No. 4 in the nation in this week’s USA Today poll, has played against an opponent from outside the state of Texas, according to coach Tom Westerberg.
The city of Allen, located 12 miles north of Dallas, has grown for over a decade, from under 36,000 in 1998 to almost 90,000 in 2013.
City growth, as well as success and popularity of Allen’s high school football program over the years, led to the building of Allen Eagle Stadium, which opened to fanfare in 2012.
But the Dutch Fork-Allen game will not take place at Allen Eagle Stadium, which was likened by many to be a high school version of the Dallas Cowboys impressive pro football venue in Arlington, Texas.
Allen school officials closed Allen Eagle Stadium, built at a price tag of $60 million, on Feb. 27 after a structural analysis revealed design and construction deficiencies that were causing cracking on the concourse. Allen is playing its home football games this season in area district stadiums.
The stadium, with a seating capacity of 18,000, is a showplace for high school football, even by Texas standards. “We’ve enjoyed playing in Allen Eagle Stadium the past two years,” Westerberg said. “The stands have been full or near capacity for every game we played there the last two seasons. It is a college-type game atmosphere.”
Westerberg has been instrumental in making Allen football into a football powerhouse. He is in his 10th year as coach at Allen and 13th overall, having previously served as offensive coordinator for Todd Graham, who went on to turn around collegiate programs at Rice and Tulsa before taking over as coach two years ago at Arizona State.
Westerberg credits Graham for a surge in popularity and success for Allen football.
“Everyone likes a winner,” Westerberg said. “Todd Graham created an atmosphere and attitude to win, and win in the playoffs. We have been blessed over the years with great kids who have worked hard for all they accomplished.”
The Allen program has been dominant for a decade, winning district championships the past eight seasons, a state title in 2008 and back-to-back state championships in 2012 and 2013. It has won at least 10 games each season since 2006 and is 31-1 the past two seasons.
Allen has been a pipeline for collegiate football programs. “Players make the program,” Westerberg said. “We had about 13 kids from last year’s team to get college football scholarships. One year, we had 22 to go to the next level.”
The 2014 Allen team features senior quarterback Kyler Murray, the 2013 Gatorade Texas Player of the Year. Murray, a Texas A&M commit, accounted for 65 touchdowns last season (46 passing and 19 rushing) in leading the Eagles to a 16-0 state title run.
In the 2013 title game, in front of the largest recorded crowd (54,347) to see a high school football game in Texas (the game was played at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium), Murray accounted for 468 yards and five TDs as Allen dominated Pearland 63-28. He is 28-0 as a starter.
Twelve teams have won three or more consecutive state titles in Texas, the first being Waco in 1925-27. And no quarterback has led his team to three straight titles in the largest classification, a feat that Murray could accomplish this season.
Murray made history in the spring by being the first player selected for the Under Armour’s football and baseball games. The two-sport star led Allen’s baseball team this season with eight home runs and 31 RBIs while batting .432 and playing second base.
Athletes abound in the Murray family. Kyler’s father, Kevin, was a standout quarterback at Texas A&M, who also played baseball professionally. His uncle, Calvin Murray, played five season in major league baseball.
The Allen football juggernaut has other talent, including wide receiver and Notre Dame pledge Jalen Guyton. Four starters return on the offensive line, three of whom are Division I prospects: seniors Bobby Evans (Oklahoma commit) and Cody Wheeler (North Texas pledge), as well as junior Greg Little, considered by several recruiting services as the top player in Texas in the 2016 Class.
“I think right now, especially with the newly created Class 6A as a result of realignment, football in this area and the state of Texas is the best in the country,” Westerberg says. “And the game has changed over the last eight to 10 years. It is now a more fast-paced game. And, you have to adjust to continue to be successful.”
And high school football programs in the state of Texas are scrambling to adjust as well. Especially if they want to compete with Allen.