Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: Good’s not enough at perennial 5A power Southlake Carroll
SOUTHLAKE — When the playoff brackets were set last season, Southlake Carroll football coach Hal Wasson took a long look at the powerhouses that could block the Dragons’ championship path.
There were undefeated teams such as Allen and Euless Trinity, which had each won a state title in the last three years. There was Skyline, also unbeaten, along with Arlington’s big dogs: Martin and Bowie. Even Plano East looked dangerous in the first round.
“If we play good,” Wasson told his players, “that’s not going to be good enough.”
Fortunately for Carroll fans, good is never good enough for the Dragons. Six weeks and six playoff rounds later, Carroll was 16-0 and celebrating a 36-29 victory over Fort Bend Hightower in the Class 5A Division I title game.
On the field at Cowboys Stadium, Wasson said he couldn’t explain how his team had come from behind to win four of its six playoff games. The team just has “it,” he said, and some teams have it and some don’t.
What it is comes into better focus as Carroll prepares for another season of high expectations.
“It’s an addiction. That’s the way I explain it,” Wasson said. “We’re addicted to doing it the right way. We’re addicted to being the best we can be. We’re addicted to trying to hit another level each year.”
Finding a higher level is a challenge at Carroll, which over the last 10 seasons has won five state titles and compiled a record of 135-12. Four of those state titles came from 2002 to 2006, when Todd Dodge was the coach and Carroll played in five consecutive 5A title games. The Dragons lost only one game in five years, creating some incredibly lofty expectations.
Wasson took over as coach in 2007, and the Dragons finished 11-2 that year. Carroll was 29-9 over the next three seasons, a stretch that included six playoff wins and would be considered a success for most programs. But some Carroll fans weren’t satisfied.
Wasson heard the criticism, but he doesn’t talk about it now. He said the support from the community and school administration is “unbelievable.”
Kevin Ozee, the Carroll ISD athletic director since 2009, heard some of the complaints. But there weren’t that many.
“We do have a lot of type-A personalities in the community who demand success,” Ozee said. “But some people are uninformed about Texas high school sports. They don’t know how hard it is to win a state championship. Some think you can just walk out there and put on a uniform and win a state championship.”
In reality, it’s extremely difficult. And in reality, that 79-1 run from 2002 to 2006 won’t happen again in 5A. It was just too amazing.
But Carroll is as well-positioned as any program to do the amazing.
“We believe in the system,” Wasson said. “And I really believe that excellence is a habit.”
“Southlake is just built that way,” said senior quarterback Kenny Hill, who is orally committed to Texas A&M and was the MVP of last year’s championship game. “We do the same things in the off-season every year. Everyone expects everyone to work hard, and everyone just pushes each other, and that always gives you a chance.”
Carroll must replace eight all-district players this season, but the Dragons’ football machine annually churns out quality replacements. The Southlake football addiction seeps down to the middle and elementary schools, and in a city with only one high school, middle school kids dream of playing for only one team. The Dragons have two freshman teams and two junior varsity teams, and the combined record of those teams last season was 35-4-1.
“What’s great about this year with a lot of guys leaving is that the younger guys are hungry,” said all-district safety Tanner Jacobson, a senior whose older brother, McKay, was a receiver for two of Carroll’s championship teams. “The younger guys really want to step in and have a role and contribute. I think they want to win one for them.”
The Carroll players will have to go out and win it, their coaches remind them. Nobody is going to roll over for the Dragons just because they have a tradition of winning.
“People always say ‘Protect the tradition,’ but tradition doesn’t block, tackle or run,” Wasson said. “But what it does do is set the doggone bar. It sets the standard.”
A standard that’s as high as anywhere in the state.
Follow Matt Wixon on Twitter at @mattwixon
The state’s top football dynasties in the history of Class 5A, which began in 1980:
School, 5A titles
Southlake Carroll (5): 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011
Katy (5): 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008
Euless Trinity (3): 2005, 2007, 2009
Odessa Permian (3): 1980, 1984, 1989
Converse Judson (3): 1992, 1993, 1995
Plano (3): 1986, 1987, 1994
Midland Lee (3): 1998, 1999, 2000