Guyer coach John Walsh has never shied away from playing marquee early-season matchups.
In recent years the Wildcats have played perennial playoff teams such as Cedar Hill, Flower Mound Marcus and Colleyville Heritage in nondistrict play, and they will open the 2013 season in August against Cedar Hill, the Class 5A Division II runner-up.
But in August 2014 the Wildcats will step it up another notch, as they are set to open the 2014 and 2015 seasons against state powerhouse Allen in the Tom Landry Classic.
The teams will meet on the season’s opening Friday night at Allen’s Eagle Stadium, and Highland Park and Frisco Centennial also will play at the 18,000-seat, $60 million stadium that opened last season.
“In Texas high school football, they’re [Allen] as elite as it gets,” Walsh said. “Thanks to our nondistrict games, we’ve been a lot better in the middle and end of our season because of the folks we’ve played in the beginning.”
Both teams hoisted state championship trophies to cap the 2012 season — Allen in 5A Division I and Guyer in 4A Division I, and both are among the favorites to repeat in their respective classifications in 2013.
Walsh and Allen coach Tom Westerberg also have the luxury of having an elite athlete under center in Guyer’s Jerrod Heard and Allen’s Kyler Murray, who is a year younger than Heard and will be a senior in 2014. Both were named Offensive MVPs of December’s state championship games.
“In our nondistrict matchups, we want to play people that will expose our weaknesses early so we can fix it before it counts, and he’ll [Murray] definitely be one of those guys,” Walsh said.
Allen also has made a habit of playing big games prior to district play, partly because of the challenge and partly out of necessity due to a lack of willing opponents.
Westerberg said he relies on organizations like the Tom Landry Foundation to help him come up with games.
“The Tom Landry Classic likes having the big games in there,” Westerberg said. “That’s a long ways away, though. We still have to play next year before we figure out how good we’ll be [in 2014]. We have a good schedule every year.
“It’s not bad to have [big nondistrict games]. It’s not out of my choice sometimes, though, it’s just out of finding games.”
Walsh agreed, saying it is a bit of relief to have at least one of his games for the 2014-15 realignment phase taken care of and eliminating the need to chase games at February’s biennial realignment by the University Interscholastic League in North Richland Hills, where coaches scramble around a banquet hall trying to find opponents.
When a team is as successful as Guyer and Allen have been, it can pose a challenge.
“I hate looking for games that time of the year, so to have some nailed down before that craziness starts is big,” Walsh said. “You actually have to find games during your season, and I’d rather not do that. If I can find some games before we get heated up, I’ll surely do it.”
Walsh added that recent nondistrict opponents like Cedar Hill and Marcus also are in play for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Guyer fell to Cedar Hill to open the 2012 season and dropped to 0-2 with a loss to Heritage before rebounding with a win over Marcus to enter District 5-4A play at 1-2. The Wildcats proceeded to reel off 14 straight wins en route to their first state championship.
“I’d love to keep the Marcus thing going [beyond 2013],” Walsh said. “I’d say Allen is in pen and Cedar Hill is in pencil and Marcus is in pencil.”
In 2010 and 2011, Guyer played in two such classics — the Kirk Herbstreit National Kickoff Classic and the Old Coach Avery Air Classic — before Walsh decided to get back to traditional home-and-home matchups for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
But thanks to the Landry Foundation’s charitable missions, Walsh said, he was open to returning to the neutral-site format for 2014 and 2015. Walsh was under the impression his team would be matched up with Highland Park, but then there was a change.
“I’m still not big on losing a home-and-home, but after I met with the Landry Foundation and Landry family, I found out that they provide scholarships and do other good things,” Walsh said. “It’s got a better purpose than most classics. The other side is we need games. We weren’t sure we were going to play Allen, initially. There was a pool of teams, but it just slipped out that we’re playing Allen, so we’ll go do it.”