Written by Michael Florek
Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Lancaster making football history, creating the biggest bandwagon in Texas down Belt Line Road
Just south of Dallas, there’s a 15-mile stretch that’s a special place for football, a place where the supply of FBS recruits seemingly never ends. And right now, it’s home to the biggest bandwagon in Texas.
The state has 1,061 high schools spread across more than 260,000 square miles competing for the UIL 11-man football state championships. Yet DeSoto (Class 5A Division I), Cedar Hill (5A Division II) and Lancaster (4A Division II), three schools within 15 miles of each other, are collectively six wins away from winning three titles.
It’s the first time the schools have all been in the state semifinals in the same season. With each in a different division, the three communities on the south-of-Dallas stretch of Belt Line Road have banded together in support of one another.
“It’s just been a special time,” Lancaster coach Chris Gilbert said. “You don’t know if this kind of thing will ever happen again. … I’ve heard a lot of people talking about all three of us being in it. A lot of our fans have mentioned that.”
Essentially, Cedar Hill High School and Lancaster High School are separated by 12 miles of Belt Line Road, with a couple of turns thrown in. In between, a cream-colored monument welcomes travelers to DeSoto, “All-America City, 2006.” Its high school isn’t more than five minutes off Belt Line.
Restaurant marquees and signs in local shop windows wish the teams luck. Crowds for each school’s games have increased with every win. DeSoto cornerback Zach White says wearing his team gear in public has led to an offer of a free meal or two.
Players and parents of the different schools come from the same elementary and middle schools, the same little league football and track teams, the same churches.
Cedar Hill quarterback Damion Hobbs went to elementary school with DeSoto cornerback Zach White. Cedar Hill offensive lineman Anthony Pullins ran track with DeSoto running back Dontre Wilson in middle school. Wilson ran summer track with Cedar Hill running back Laquvionte Gonzalez and played little league football with Lancaster quarterback Demarcus Ayers. The connections go on and on.
“I pretty much know the whole team on both sides” DeSoto linebacker Taylor Young said of the other two schools.
The coaches are no different. Cedar Hill coach Joey McGuire talked with Gilbert on Sunday and texts with DeSoto coach Claude Mathis regularly.
The inter-school rooting, especially among DeSoto and Cedar Hill, is rare. The two are district-mates in 7-5A and traditional rivals, annually meeting in “The Battle of the Belt Line.” DeSoto beat Cedar Hill, 48-35, in the district opener for both teams and went on to win the district title. Cedar Hill finished second.
Mathis said it’s weird rooting for Cedar Hill. “It really is,” he said. “I learned not to lose to Cedar Hill. You better not. I learned that my first year.”
Though they occupy traditionally fertile recruiting ground and are likely to send 13 players to FBS colleges next year, the three schools don’t have much late-round playoff history. DeSoto and Lancaster are in the semifinals for the first time. Cedar Hill’s only state championship came in 2006. According to Gilbert, this year is different because the support around the first-class talent is different.
“If it’s just talent, then we would have been winning state titles,” Gilbert said. “I think that coaches and the communities and the parents have done a good job.”
With three teams still alive, what happens if two or all three take home state titles? Pullins has an idea.
“There’ll be a big ol’ parade down Belt Line,” he said.
Could that actually happen?
“That would be something,” said DeSoto Mayor Carl Sherman. “I haven’t contemplated that. I don’t want to jinx anything.”
Follow Michael Florek on Twitter at @michaelflorek.