HERE COMES FRIDAY NIGHT: High school football and Texas pride


Manor High School cheerleaders rouse spirit at the Sept. 4 home opener against Shoemaker High School from Killeen.

By Kevin Robbins
Photography by Jay Godwin
Here comes the bus. It’s an ordinary bus, but red instead of yellow, with the stylish silhouette of a horse head on the side. It labors into the lot at Mustang Stadium under a marbled sky. Two hours of daylight remain. The lights have not yet begun to warm. 
Now here come the Mustangs. 
The 50 boys on the Manor High School football team spill into the stadium for their second game of the season and first at home. “WAMM,” the jerseys read: We Are Manor Mustangs, the rallying cry on this first Friday of September. The Mustangs won their first game, and they’ve been busting to compete again, especially since the afternoon pep rally earlier in the gym. That’s where their principal, an exuberant former defensive lineman at Goliad, implored them to “take that field, own that field and defend that field.” That field is bright green and ready. 
Manor is one of 1,202 high schools in Texas that play football.
Most of them field 11-player teams, but 138 schools are so small they play a version with six. Football is the most popular sport in the state — as beloved as Blue Bell, Shiner, Whataburger and American-made trucks. Last season, 163,998 boys and 169 girls competed in six classifications based on enrollment. With 1,750 students, Manor is a Class 5A school, a step below its opponent tonight, Shoemaker High School in Killeen. And now look: Here come those visiting Grey Wolves, bigger and stronger and skipping and shouting and punching the air like they own it. 

(Jay Godwin photos)TOP LEFT: Skyler Dudley crashes cymbals for the WAMM (We Are Manor Mustangs) Nation Drumline. TOP RIGHT: Here come the Mustangs. The Manor varsity football team explodes through an inflatable helmet with a 1-0 record before its first home game.  MIDDLE LEFT: Fans rise for the National Anthem.  MIDDLE RIGHT: Tuba player Nahum Flores booms low notes from the bleachers for the Manor Mustang Band.  BOTTOM LEFT: Manor offensive lineman Joseph Dantes gets a pat on the helmet as the defense takes the field at Mustang Stadium. BOTTOM RIGHT: Manor head coach Sadd Jackson, who played for the Mustangs in the late 1980s, barks instructions to his team.
The aluminum bleachers of the 7-year-old stadium begin to fill. Players from both teams stretch. The Manor side teems with red and black and memories of 2012, when the Mustangs lost to eventual state champion Cedar Park in the semi-final game. Here comes the pounding Manor drum line. The Highsteppers prance behind. Wind scrapes the fresh black mulch around the trees outside the gate, where sun toasts the parents carrying seatbacks and KayLynn Mireles, a Manor senior, adjusts the f-stop on her camera. 
This is Mireles’ last season as a photographer for the school newspaper. She’ll aim her lens tonight at everything: fans, cheerleaders, the band, the players, the mascot, the drum majors, the flag corps, the head coach who played here, graduated in 1990 and dressed for the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University. These are the faces of Mireles’ last year in high school. She wants to get it all because it’s all a part of something greater. “The spirit here really brings up the team,” Mireles says. 
Now the whistle chirps. Here come the teams. Here comes the Manor coach, a stern man named Sadd Jackson, who brings a sense of mytown ownership to the field. The sun retreats and the lights glow brighter. 
Manor quarterback Jonathan Gaston knows immediately that it will be a long and frantic night in the backfield. The Shoemaker defensive line is enormous – especially that tackle in the No. 50 jersey, Kendall Jones, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs more than 350 pounds. Jones rips through the snaps like an asteroid. 
The Grey Wolves score with three minutes left in the first quarter. They pass for another touchdown with 10:28 remaining in the second. It’s 14-0. 
In the bleachers, Emilio Vargas wears no smile. He’s the first-year principal at Manor, the one who played football at Goliad from 1980 to ’83, and while he understands the deep contextual significance of football in his rural community — that pride goes beyond winning, that football should unite a town win or lose — he also wishes the Mustangs’ offensive line could figure out a way to stop that big nose tackle, No. 50 for the Grey Wolves. It cannot. 
Vargas, 50, loves football. He loves everything it means. He wants to see his parents, teachers and families together at the stadium on every Friday night, wearing red and black. He wants all 5,000 seats full, and tonight he is close to getting his wish, but he still sees bare aluminum. Vargas wants the whole town present. He believes a full football stadium can be an adhesive that bonds a community from the inside. “I need our kids, our families, to have a stake in our society,” Vargas says. That’s what football means. It starts here, under these warm lights. 
It’s halftime now, and here comes the Manor band. The musicians assemble on the field, directing their horns at the home bleachers. Snare drums snap. Bass drums boom. The flutes strain to be heard over the din of parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts murmuring about how Gaston has no time to evade No. 50 for the Grey Wolves. 

(Jay Godwin photos)TOP LEFT: Manor color guard member Carolina Fisher smiles through the halftime show. TOP RIGHT: Manor supporter Tasha Mora cheers for her son, offensive tackle Matthew Mora. MIDDLE LEFT: A favorite Manor fan fortification: tortilla chips, sliced jalapeño peppers and melted cheese. MIDDLE  RIGHT: Manor quarterback Jonathan Gaston, No. 11, pitches to Jamall Collins, No. 7.  BOTTOM LEFT: Volunteer Antony Lopez collects trash after the game. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Manor Mustang bus awaits the equipment after the game.
Another Shoemaker touchdown after halftime. It’s 21-0 now. This is not the team that Hughie Shaw played for from 1971 to 1974, before he was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. But this is not the same kind of football, either. Schools in Texas play a faster game now, mostly through the air and far more specialized. Tonight, the themes are the same all over the state: stuffed runs, missed blocks, dumb penalties, sacked quarterbacks, nicked passes, hoarse cheers, seized moments, lifted spirits, canceled dreams and renewed hopes for a better outcome next week. Manor scores in the fourth quarter. Belief rises. 
So here comes Cheryl Rimes. She’s an 11th-grade American history teacher at Manor. She talked to her classes today about spirit, and she knows that message is being tested right now. Rimes looks around. They might not be celebrating, she says of her students. But they’re here, still mingling. “It reminds me of when I was in high school,” Rimes says. The enduring charm of a Friday night in Texas isn’t a number on a scoreboard, which reads 21-6. 
The game ends with no Manor miracles. The teams shake hands. Here comes Erick Fowler, a senior linebacker who wears No. 1 for the Mustangs. 
He’s the last player to leave the field. 
“Hey!” a friend shouts to Fowler. “Keep grindin’! You’re a good team!” 
Fowler forces a smile. This week is gone. Next week is Brennan High School in San Antonio. Here comes a new chance.  
Editor Note: (The Mustangs lost, 37-27). 

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