Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Tradition is buzzword as players must pay dues, learn Highland Park way
UNIVERSITY PARK — Tradition isn’t taken lightly at Highland Park. It isn’t a term dismissed as coachspeak or abused like a cliché.
Tradition may be something abstract, but it can be quantified with wins and trophies. Highland Park, the winningest program in Texas high school football history, certainly has no shortage of those.
Future football players begin buying into that tradition long before they’re even old enough to realize it.
Quarterback Brooks Burgin and wide receiver Andrew Frost said they have attended Highland Park football games for as long as they can remember. It’s the place to be on Fridays in the fall.
“That’s the thing to do,” Frost said. “From kindergarten to eighth grade, that’s the most fun you can have here on a Friday.”
There is only one middle school feeding Highland Park, so players begin familiarizing themselves with the playbook and with each other as early as fifth grade.
Those players are later invited to attend summer camps, where they watch Highland Park highlight reels to strengthen their dedication and continue team building.
Most players pay their dues on subvarsity teams until their senior season. They wait patiently for their chance, because to play for the varsity is to fulfill a lifelong dream, Burgin said.
“When kids grow up watching the older guys make plays and win close games,” coach Randy Allen said, “it creates an expectation that if they can do it, we can do it. You have to train those expectations, so that if they come up in the program, they’re going to be able to do the same things the older guys have done.”
Allen is able to tap into those expectations on Friday nights, and he demonstrated that during a key district victory against Mesquite Poteet last season.
Poteet had a seven-point lead and the ball in the waning minutes, and it had scored on each of its previous two possessions.
The Highland Park defense did its part, coming on and getting a stop on fourth down. But the Scots still needed to drive the length of the field and score. They’d passed for only 18 yards up to that point.
Quarterback Jet Tuma promptly completed his first two passes of the drive for 69 yards, then rushed for 10 more to set up Hank Howard’s 2-yard score. Highland Park went for two, converted the attempt and won the game, 20-19.
If tradition could be seen, that magical Highland Park win is what it would look like.
The victory preserved a perfect district season and a fourth straight district title. Highland Park hasn’t missed the playoffs in 18 years.
“Which of those kids is going to let down the 97 groups that came before them?” former Poteet coach Randy Jackson said of Highland Park. “Those kids are machines. When they took the field late in that game, they expected to get it done. They weren’t just hoping to win.”
Jackson said Highland Park represents “what high school athletics are all about.” The program isn’t full of college-level talent, and Highland Park isn’t always the biggest or the fastest team.
“You don’t have to be a Rivals three-star guy,” Jackson said. “You just need to be a great teammate and be where you’re supposed to be. I just have total respect for what they do.”
Highland Park maintains its high level of success despite having almost the entire roster turn over each year. It’s typical for Highland Park to have only one or two starters return on each side of the ball. This year is an exception, though, with one returning offensive starter and six on defense.
The team is usually senior laden because the program enjoys stellar participation numbers. Roughly one-third of all the boys at Highland Park join the football team.
Once they’re in the program, athletes are siphoned to various subvarsity squads. There are two freshman teams and two junior varsity squads. The JV Gold is composed mostly of sophomores, and the JV Blue is mostly juniors.
Allen, who has been the coach at Highland Park since 1999, created the JV Blue team in 2006. He struggled to find competition that first year, but the JV Blue went 10-0 and didn’t give up a point. The next year those same players brought Highland Park to the state finals.
“It’s been a great thing for us because instead of going into your senior year without experience, you have 10 games on the JV Blue team,” Allen said. “You don’t get any better by sitting on the bench. That’s the bottom line.”
The 2013 season promises to be more of the same for Highland Park.
Its chief competition in District 10-4A will be Mesquite Poteet and West Mesquite, both of which have multiple players already committed to major college programs.
Highland Park has none.
But it has tradition, and that has served pretty well so far.
Follow David Just on Twitter at @DavidJustDMN
Highland Park returns seven starters this year, which is more than usual. There is only one returning offensive starter and six on defense. A closer look:
Player, Pos., Cl., Ht., Wt., 2012 stats
Boomer Backich, SS, Jr., 5-11, 180, 56 tackles, 1 int.
Jack Ceverha, NG, Sr., 6-2, 235, 37 tackles
Andrew Clyde, DE, Sr., 6-2, 230, 36 tackles
Andrew Frost, WR, Jr., 6-0, 180, 10 receptions, 190 yards
Tanner Houghton, LB, Sr., 5-10, 186, 48 tackles
Robert Mencke, CB, Sr., 5-11, 175, 35 tackles, 3 int.
Caz Orr, DE, Sr., 6-2, 220, 25 tackles
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