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December 22, 2009

Katy football is more that championships

A look back at the Katy High School football team's 28-17 loss to Abilene some 24 hours after the fact has me not so much wondering "what might have been" down by the River Walk Saturday night, but more marveling how the Tigers once again found themselves playing for the state title.

Former head coach Mike Johnston once said that the 2003 championship squad was his favorite because they were so unexpected. It was a new batch of talent that season, and the Tigers had been on a bit of a downward swing, "only" going 19-8 in the two years previous.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum is this 2009 bunch, whose every move was watched, noted, broken down and analyzed by the ever-growing legion of fans, parents, media, rivals and Internet critics.

How they would they do in rematches with North Shore and The Woodlands? What would be the impact of playing the Washington State champs? Would they take back the district title from Cinco Ranch? Is Donovonn Young the next Aundre Dean? Is Brooks Haack going to start under center as a sophomore?

Katy's core of community support is still there, and likely always will be, but a sports team can't be this successful without finding itself constantly under the microscope. It hardly seems right for even a mega-star like Tiger Woods to have the minutia of his life scrutinized on a daily basis. Putting 80 teenagers under the same spotlight is just unfair.

I marvel at the 2009 Tigers because of how much they went through to challenge an unnaturally talented Abilene squad for three quarters in the state title game.

Katy played for the crown despite changing quarterbacks at halftime of the 14th game of the season, playing the entire season without a true place kicker and losing key players to injury, academic probation and in-house violations that had the running back, and both line units changing week to week.

It's hard to say straight-faced that a team with the aforementioned Young, Nick Narcisse, Zachary Swanson, Shep Klinke, Sam Holl, Jonathon Fisher, Grant Clifton, Will Jeffery, Greg Morris, Ryan Jones and Colt Atwood is "thin." Teams across the state would kill for that level of thinness.

But at the same time it was clear that this wasn't the same old Katy power rushing and play-action passing its way to a state title. Defense, endurance and grit won more than a few contests this year.

Abilene was ridiculously fast and hungry out of the gate Saturday night. Even when the Tigers held the Eagles scoreless for two quarters, it was apparent which team had the means to deliver the knockout punch, and it wasn't the one wearing red and white.

In many ways, Saturday's loss reminded me a lot of the 2005 team's title-game 34-20 defeat at the hands of Southlake Carroll. In both games Katy was down 14 early, closed within four but could never take the lead.

The 2005 team was expected to do big things based on previous seasons, same as this one.

That group had a core of players - among them Andy Dalton, Will Thompson, Darren Konesheck and Cody Lopasky - who were such tremendous kids in addition to being remarkable football players, I couldn't help but root them on in the post-season.

This group was much the same, particularly Holl, Fisher and Swanson. Holl's high-school career seemed to zoom by the speed of light. One day he was the talented sophomore linebacker pushing for a starting job, the next he was wrapping up a three-year playing career as one of Katy's most-decorated defenders.

Even before he showed how little ego he has by moving from tight end to tackle for the title game, Swanson was already one of my all-time favorites. The combination of being that athletic, that nasty, and that intelligent all in one body makes it a no-brainer why Stanford wants him. I'm proud to say I even got a smile from him after the game when I told him that in five years he'd be the NFL, I'll be his agent earning 40 percent and we'll think back to this loss and laugh.

I'd be horrified if I forgot Dusty Vandenberg, who I believe, despite his tears, realized some time Saturday night that the journey, not the destination, was what made his senior season so special.

It's easy to expect greatness from Katy football. I've covered them since 1997 and Saturday was my eighth state title game.

As we got closer and closer to kickoff, I realized how very badly I wanted Katy to win, especially when I looked down at my arms.

On my right wrist, I wore my 'R.I.P Coach Kaiser' bracelet, made by his daughter and given to me by our intern Ashley Childs, captain of the Katy High School tennis team.

Scott covered the 2007 and 2008 title games at my side. He would have been at this one too - he volunteered to be Katy's "get-back" coach earlier this season- but his life-long battle with depression consumed him in October.

On my left arm, I sported the "SF" wristband given to me by Coach Mickey Thompson before the game. The entire Katy High family put its prayers on display for Steve Fisher, father of Tiger senior captain Jonathon.

Mr. Fisher spends a lot of time in pain these days. But that didn't stop him from staring cancer straight in the face Saturday and laughing long and loud at the thought that it could possibly keep him from seeing his son play in the biggest football game in the state of Texas.

Since Saturday night I've had more than a few people ask, "What went wrong? What happened? Why did Katy lose?"

The Katy Tigers lost the football game because Abilene was better and played better.

The Katy Tigers, for reasons like Steve and Jonathon Fisher, Dusty Vandenberg, Sam Holl, Zachary Swanson and the people who honor the memory of Scott Kaiser, win every day by being the Katy Tigers.




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