By Thursday night, Slone Stultz will have played back-to-back football games in front of a live television audience and under the brightest lights.
The lineman from Mason High School does not play for a Top 25 college program, although the Fox Sports Southwest broadcast crew was already assembling Tuesday at the Puncher Dome for Thursday’s home game pitting the defending Class 2A Division I state champion Punchers against the perennially strong 3A Division I program at Wall.
“All the Fox Sports Southwest people, they’re going to be at practice today (Tuesday),” said Stultz, the Defensive MVP of last year’s state final. “A few of them were there yesterday, but all of them will be here today.”
The pregame show on the FSS broadcast begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and will highlight the UIL awarding the 2019 Class 2A Lone Star Cup trophy to Mason High School before kickoff, which is set for 7:08 p.m.
As many as 4,000 fans — and maybe more — are anticipated to invade the Fort Mason City Park area, where the stadium, a rodeo arena and baseball field are all located in the town of about 2,000.
The combined high school student enrollment for Mason (214) and Wall (360) is 574.
It’s the season-opening game for both teams that ultimately only counts in bragging rights between two programs that are intertwined and connected throughout the history of high school football in West Texas.
But this one’s special.
“As a team, we’ve never really seen that before in a game,” Wall all-state defensive end Joe Walker said. “It’s going to be quite the hyped-up atmosphere, more than the playoff games we’ve been in together.”
Since 2010, the programs have had almost identical records: Wall 105-16, Mason 112-11.
Wall has been to a state championship game, but it was in 2013 before Walker’s class was in junior high. The Hawks went to the state semifinals in 2016 when Walker was a freshman. Wall (9-3) advanced to the regional semifinals last year.
But a televised game, like the state championship, is different.
“I know we don’t like to look down the road to those state games, but if we do make it there, (this game) preps us so we’re not all new to it, so we don’t get all wide-eyed when it really matters,” Stultz said.
“The nerves are really high,” Walker said. “I had a safety talk to me the other day, and he said if he gets an interception, everyone’s going to see it. But that if he doesn’t get a tackle, everyone is also going to see that.”
Star of the show
According to Mason ISD superintendent Stan Whittle, one of the main attractions for the broadcast crew is R. Clinton Schulze Stadium itself, because of the covered grandstand with giant letters spelling out PUNCHER DOME. It was once the main grandstand for the horse racetrack that used to occupy the same space.
“They are building platforms, stages, scaffolding for announcers,” Whittle said. “They’ve brought in extra lighting on the visitor side at the 50-yard line.”