TexasHSFootball.com is a partner of USA TODAY High School Sports. They recently had a wide-ranging interview with Austin Westlake coach Todd Dodge. Below are some of the questions and answers, notably pertaining to the official shortage in Texas, the importance of high school football to the area, and the transition from youth football to high school.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: It’s no secret that high school football takes on a bigger meaning in the great state of Texas. What does it mean to you to be a high school football coach in Texas, a place where the ‘Friday Night Lights’ seem to shine a little brighter?
COACH DODGE: Myself, probably like a lot of coaches that coach in the state, knew that we wanted to do this when we were probably 15-16 years old because we were apart of the brotherhood as a player. I tell our players all the time that I just thank the good lord that I live in the state of Texas and I thank the good lord that I get to be apart of the greatness of Texas high school football. I remind our players. Our players work extremely hard and there’s a whole lot of programs that kids work extremely hard and they’re passionate and they’re up early. I always remind them, ‘guys, sometimes you got to remember, what’s this all about?’
I think it’s a pretty cool deal, when you play high school football in the state of Texas, what you choose to do as a high school athlete, is the most important thing to the people of our state. It’s more popular than professional football. It’s more popular than college football. It is Texas high school football, and people are just like, an example, you know, it’s just like the people in Indiana, it’s Indiana basketball, or Kentucky basketball. Texas high school football people are very passionate about it. So when you’re a kid and you’re working real hard at something that people love what you do and people are very interested in the game that you play.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: There’s been some news made in the offseason about referee shortages around the state. What would you say to someone thinking about getting into officiating, and how do you feel about the job the Texas Association of Sports Officials does at providing y’all with top-notch officials for Friday nights?
COACH DODGE: The first thing is, I think everybody needs to take the approach, whether it’s a Thursday night JV game or a Friday night game between Katy and Westlake, it’s going to be a very hyped-up, 12,000 people, then let’s all understand, the guys that are referees, and the guys that are coaching, we’re all working together. And that’s what I always tell referees. When we talk to them, I say ‘we look forward to working WITH you tonight,’ because we’re working together. We’re all apart of the greatness of Texas High School Football because really when it gets down to it, we are all here for these young men and their experience.
We all love the game or we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. A guy who wants to officiate, I would believe that he has a love and a passion for the game of football. Coaches, us as coaches, need to respect that. We need to respect the fact that they’re another guy who has a passion for the great game, and I think sometimes when you get to a game, there’s like adversity between officials and coaches already because they just think that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and it really doesn’t need to be that way. Everybody’s got their job in the game. There’s going to be officials that we have this year that are going to make great calls. I’m going to tell them, ‘man, you had great position on that one. Great call,’ and it may be against us or them. And there’s some times that they’re going to make a mistake, but you know what, there’s time in the game that I’m going to make a great call and it’s going to be a difference-maker and there’s going to be some where I make a really bone-head call. I just can’t stand watching games and seeing, you’ll see a guy, a side judge, and you got eight coaches on a team that are all just ripping him, yelling at him. He may (think) ‘why in the hell would I want to do this anymore?’ We talk a lot about our staff about staying away from that kind of behavior.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: How do you feel about the job your youth, middle school and sub-varsity coaches do at getting your players ready for the varsity level?
COACH DODGE: I think youth football here in Westlake is outstanding as I’ve seen it. One of the things as a father back when my son Riley was coming up, I think he played in about three different youth football programs as we moved around in my young coaching career. A lot of the time you can tell pretty quickly if the youth football program is about the dad’s egos or if it’s just about developing players and making sure that kids, when they’re in 3rd, 4th, 5th grade, start to have a love for the game early, and that’s the thing that I think our youth football, our Pop Warner, here in Westlake does. You have to grab kids and make sure that they teach them the right way and they have fun and they start to have a passion.
Our middle school coaches work very closely with us. We’re running (the) same offense, same defense, same terminology. We got an awesome situation here at Westlake. We’re one of only 17 school districts in the state of Texas that it’s a single-school district and the school is 6A. That’s kind of unbelievable even in the big state of Texas that there’s only 17 of those left, but we have two feeders going into one high school so I’m really pleased at where our kids come in. Our summer conditioning program is absolutely outstanding. It’s as good as there is anywhere in the state. Our rising freshmen, right now, yesterday they came in to meet the coaches with their parents and there’s 86 of them a week before we start camp. We think we’ll end up having 100 freshmen out.
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