Talking Texas high school football

My love for the NBC television show “Friday Night Lights” knows no rational bounds. For those of you who never have seen the show – and are the reason it is always in danger of getting canceled – the series revolves around the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, and the coaches, teenagers and adults who love and live for high school football. The cast, led by Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton and Taylor Kitsch, is talented and the writing and directing are strong, but the real star of the show is the world of Texas high school football, which was made so famous by series writer Buzz Bissinger’s novel “Friday Night Lights.”

When Axe contacted me to see if I wanted to interview Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is promoting the company’s hair products, I said yes. Stafford played high school football at Highland Park High School in Dallas from 2002-2005. What were we going to talk about? Texas high school football, I told them. The series returns to NBC for its fourth season on Friday, May 7.

MM: How familiar are you with the “Friday Night Lights” franchise?

Stafford: I read the book and saw the movie. I haven’t seen the TV show, but my mom is a huge fan. I’d say it’s pretty close to right on.

MM: In the show you see a lot of spread offenses, real complex offenses. Was that your experience when you played ball?

Stafford: Definitely. I played in a spread when I was in high school and we played a bunch of games where other teams were even more complex than we were. We saw offenses that were even more complex than a lot of college offenses in terms of motions and formations and all that.

MM: I’m from Ohio. We do a lot of three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust.

Stafford: (Laughing) It’s too cold to throw the ball up there.

MM: Why so many spread offenses down in Texas?

Stafford: It creates a lot of one-on-one match-ups – if you have guys who are really great players. You don’t have to have a lot of size. A lot of teams don’t have a lot of great linemen. You get the ball out quick on screens. It can be effective.

MM: How big was your high school playbook compared to your University of Georgia playbook?

Stafford: It was not as big, obviously, but we still ran a lot of formations and a lot of different plays.

MM: In the show the coach is very involved in his players’ lives. How was coach Randy Allen? How involved was he in the players’ lives?

Stafford: He was very involved. It was a great thing. He’s a really good man and he taught a lot of guys a lot of things. Across the board in the state of Texas it’s probably pretty similar. Our coach is the athletic director and the head football coach so he has time to be involved with players and he does a good job of using it.

MM: On the show, high school running back Smash Williams loses a scholarship to a major Texas college after getting in a fight. When you were being recruited, did you police your actions?

Stafford: For sure. You have to. It’s that way when you’re coming out for the NFL Draft, too. Especially in this day and age, with the Internet, you have to be careful what you do. Every day you run into situations of whether you should do something or not and how it could affect things. I make every decision in that frame of mind.

MM: The kids on the team on the TV show do a fair bit of beer drinking. Is that Hollywood or is that how it is in Texas, where the kids like to have some fun?

Stafford: Ha. I can’t speak for everyone. I’m sure some kids out there are drinking a little bit of beer in high school.

MM: Were any of the girls in your high school as pretty as Minka Kelly? Or is that Hollywood?

Stafford: Ha-ha. That’s Hollywood, right there.

MM: On the show cheerleaders decorate the players’ lockers and homes. Did you guys get the same treatment at Highland Park?

Stafford: We had what were called football girls and they would sign up for a certain player and come to your house and decorate your room and bring you cookies or whatever. I think our moms decorated our lockers.

MM: Your mom decorated your locker?

Stafford: My football locker.

MM: Did you tidy up your locker before your mom got there?

Stafford: I didn’t care. She could see how it is. (Laughing.)

MM: Boosters are a huge part of the show. Were you aware of the boosters when you played?

Stafford: In my town I never knew of any. I never talked to any of them or anything like that. For me it was not a big part of it.

MM: On the show the character J.D. McCoy starts for a powerhouse team as a freshman. How plausible is that – a freshman quarterback starting for a good team in Texas?

Stafford: Usually not as a freshman. I saw a good amount of sophomores, but not freshmen at quarterback usually. It’s probably more physical than anything, but there is usually someone older at the same skill level playing there. They can groom the freshman and let him play freshman ball.

MM: Also on the show, local radio and TV cover the team the way the Washington Post covers the White House. Did you have a lot of local news following the team while you were there? (Note: Stafford’s team went undefeated and won state his senior year.)

Stafford: We had a lot, yeah. There was a whole section in the Dallas Morning News. There is a sports section and a high school football section during football season. They cover it really well. They cover it about as well as a lot of college teams.

MM: How much was the Internet a factor during your junior and senior years?

Stafford: That was when Rivals and Scout.com started booming, my last year.

MM: Axe hair products was nice enough to set up this interview. Are you more of a Smash Williams, who has to look perfect, even while in uniform? Or are you more of a Tim Riggins, who looks like a caveman when he takes his helmet off?

Stafford: During the games and during the season I am more of a caveman. I’m not too worried about my hair on the field. Sorry, Axe. (Laughing.)

MM: Tell me what you’re doing with Axe.

Stafford: I’m promoting Hair Action, when girls get their hands in your hair and they can’t get enough of it. They’re smelling it and rubbing their hands through it. You come off the field, throw a little Axe hair product in your hair after the game, hang out with the fellas and it helps you with the ladies.

MM: Did you have a “Texas high school football moment?”

Stafford: I got to play in the Cowboys’ old stadium five times. The first time I played there I played Graham Harold, the guy who went on to play quarterback for Texas Tech. They were the No. 5 team in the country or something and we beat them and upset them when I was a sophomore. I remember after that game I had TV cameras shoved in my face and I was like, ‘What am I doing.’ It was a ‘welcome to Texas high school football’ moment, I guess.

 

 

 

 

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