They say everything is bigger in Texas.
And that includes football, especially in #bEASTTexas.
“I don’t know if this is probably cliché, but it’s different,” Lindale head football coach Chris Cochran said. “And I mean that in a really good way. There’s something about East Texas football that’s different than other places.”
To get ready for this project, the Tyler Morning Telegraph and Longview News-Journal hosted two photo shoots that featured 62 schools and more than 600 students
These photo shoots were held in multipurpose facilities at Tyler Legacy High School and Marshall High School. Kilgore, Tatum, Carthage, Henderson, Whitehouse, Tyler, Lindale and others have added indoor practice facilities.
That just begins to tell the story of what makes East Texas football so big.
“It’s a wonderful experience,” said Bishop Gorman head coach Daryl Hayes, who has coached in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia before coming to Texas before last season. “Friday Night Lights are quintessentially America, and Texas takes pride in its patriotism. It makes sense that Friday Night Lights are bigger here.”
Here are some of the other things #bEASTTexas has to offer:
East Texas has grown accustomed to seeing players star at the collegiate level and some eventually making it to the NFL.
“When you watch games on Saturday, you see guys you coached against last year playing as true freshmen,” Cochran said. “And then four years later, you see them playing on Sundays. It’s cool to say you coached those guys. It makes it a lot of fun.”
Taking a look at the Class of 2023 247Sports composite rankings, there are two East Texans in the top 100 nationally.
It starts with Longview receiver Jalen Hale at 59. Others on the list are Tyler Legacy defensive lineman Jordan Renaud at 86. Hale is the No. 11 receiver nationally, and Renaud is the No. 10 defensive lineman in the country.
On the state rankings, Hale and Renaud are ranked No. 11 and 16, respectively. Others on the state rankings are Carthage receiver Montrel Hatten (78), Tyler receiver Montrell Wade (92), Chapel Hill defensive lineman Keviyan Huddleston (101), Gilmer athlete Rohan Fluellen (115), Henderson safety Montana Warren (122), Mineola athlete Dawson Pendergrass (160), Pleasant Grove defensive lineman Vic Shaw (175), Liberty-Eylau safety Tracy Revels (177) and Tatum defensive lineman CJ Fite (194).
In the Class of 2024, Daingerfield cornerback Aeryn Hampton is ranked No. 58 in the nation. Tyler athlete Derrick McFall is also in the Top 100 at No. 82. Longview running back Taylor Tatum is ranked No. 128, Timpson athlete Terry Bussey at No. 170, Pine Tree defensive lineman Dealyn Evans (236) and Lindale offensive lineman Casey Poe at 240.
Hampton, a Texas commit, is the No. 7 cornerback nationally. McFall is the No. 9 athlete in the nation. Tatum is the No. 5 running back in the country on the composite rankings and No. 3 in the country in the 247Sports rankings. Bussey is the No. 22-ranked athlete in the nation. Evans is the No. 16 defensive lineman in the country by 247Sports and the No. 24 defensive lineman in the composite rankings, and Poe is the No. 14 inside offensive lineman in the nation.
Hampton is No. 9 in the state in the Class of 2024, followed by McFall (12), Tatum (20), Bussey (26), Evans (35) Poe (36), Pleasant Grove running back Jaylen Boardley (43) and Beckville athlete J’koby Williams (49).
“It’s definitely a lot of competition for sure,” Longview’s Tatum said. “I think that’s my favorite thing about it. Every Friday night, there’s no scrubs. Every Friday night, you’ve got to go out there and compete. It makes me better.”
And when the Class of 2025 rankings come out, there’s a good chance Chapel Hill running back Rickey Stewart and Chapel Hill quarterback Demetrius Brisbon, who have a combined 19 Division I offers after their freshman season, will likely be up there, and other East Texas underclassmen are sure to emerge.
There are the highly recruited big guys— Renaud (6-3, 245), Huddleston (6-4, 235), Poe (6-5, 270), Evans (6-4, 260) — but East Texas has plenty of size to go around.
Tyler Legacy’s Somadina Onwuzurumba (6-5, 275), Texas High’s Briley Barron (6-4, 288), Lindale’s Will Hutchens (6-3, 270), Kilgore’s Braydon Nelson (6-3, 270), Henderson’s Johnthan Bateman (6-1, 360), Jacksonville’s Alexis Martinez (6-0, 330), Palestine’s Latimer Baker (6-1, 300), Athens’ Slade Haresnape (6-5, 280), Carthage’s Keystone Allison (6-4, 275), Carthage’s Johnny Lewis (5-11, 330), Van’s Ace Bostick (6-0, 295), Van’s Jose Suarez Jr. (6-3, 275), Brownsboro’s Will Clague (6-3, 295), Bullard’s Cason Craig (6-4, 275), West Rusk’s Travion Anthony (6-1, 290), Arp’s Lance Langenbau (6-3, 290), Troup’s Jack Johnson (6-1, 280), Cayuga’s Jacob Ingram (6-4, 296), Winnsboro’s Lane Warren (6-1, 290), Rains’ John Hinch (6-4, 310), Malakoff’s Mason Logan (6-0, 280), Linden-Kildare’s Ruston Hargett (6-3, 260), Elysian Fields’ Wes Brown (6-0, 300), Garrison’s Jasper Shaw (5-10, 350), Texas High’s John Jack (6-4, 290), Nacogdoches’ Ryan Larson (6-3, 285), Gilmer’s Lucas Cano (6-2, 275), Pleasant Grove’s Victor Shaw (6-4, 265), Pleasant Grove’s Caleb Hackelman (6-5, 275), Pittsburg’s Nathan Thompson (6-2, 275), Spring Hill’s Jayson Jordan (6-3, 280), Tatum’s C.J. Fite (6-2, 290), Tatum’s Laynce Welch (6-1, 300), Atlanta’s Keaton Kinney (6-3, 305), Ore City’s Caleb Davidson (6-3, 292), DeKalb’s Tanner Hawkins (6-4, 300), Chisum’s Tucker Johnson (6-3, 275), Cushing’s Wyatt Sharp (6-7, 270), Overton’s Kadden Williams (5-11, 375), Bishop Gorman’s Aaron Ekwuruke (6-3, 290), Grace Community’s Caleb Wilson (6-4, 270) and Grace Community’s Ashton Smith (6-4, 280) are some of the large young men in East Texas either providing protection for skill position players or trying to chase them down.
East Texas currently has 13 active head coaches with more than 100 career wins — Longview’s John King (197), Marshall’s Jack Alvarez (193), Carthage’s Scott Surratt (190), Timpson’s Kerry Therwhanger (153), Jefferson’s Antwain Jimmerson (150), Grand Saline’s Joe Drennon (134), Malakoff’s Jamie Driskell (129), Grace Community’s Tim Russell (116), Tatum’s Whitney Keeling (113), Tyler Legacy’s Joe Willis (111), DeKalb’s Buddy Griffin (105), Winnsboro’s Josh Finney (104) and Van’s Jared Moffatt (103).
King, Alvarez and Surratt all have a shot at reaching 200 wins this year, and Surratt has more state championships (eight) in his career than he has playoff losses (seven).
“It’s the coaches,” Carthage defensive end and outside linebacker Amajah Lewis said. “They make sure we work day in and day out, on the field, in the weight room and in the classroom. I think it pays off.”
Nacogdoches’ Darren Allman (98), Palestine’s Lance Angel (95), Hughes Springs’ Chris Edwards (94), Tenaha’s Terry Ward (92), Chapel Hill’s Jeff Riordan (88) and Texas High’s Gerry Stanford (86) are all within striking distance of reaching 100 career wins this season.
“There are great coaches and great programs,” Willis said. “There are coaches who have won it all and guys who have established programs who have continued to win. That’s evident in the Longviews, the Gilmers and the Carthages. Those are programs that have sustained themselves over the years. That’s what we’re trying to get to here.”
East Texas has become a regular representative at the UIL Football State Championships at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Gilmer has played for the Class 4A Division II title in each of the last two seasons. And in 2020, the Buckeyes faced another East Texas program (Carthage) in the championship game. It was the third time since 2011 that two East Texas teams faced each other in the state championship — Chapel Hill vs. Henderson (2010) and Carthage vs. Kilgore (2013). Lindale was in the Class 4A Division I championship game in 2020, giving East Texas three teams playing on the same day.
“It’s very fun,” Gilmer senior running back/linebacker Kendall Jackson said. “We have to stay humble and hungry at Gilmer to keep that tradition going. I feel like our coaches push us enough to where we stay hungry enough to continue that tradition.”
In 2009, Carthage, Gilmer, Daingerfield and Cayuga all won a state championship, and Longview advanced to the Class 4A Division I title game that year against Lake Travis. Carthage and Daingerfield both won the year prior and following year also for three-peats, while Longview also played Lake Travis in the 2008 Class 4A Division I final. Cayuga lost in the 2008 Class 1A Division II final.
In 2004, Gilmer, Kilgore and Tyler Lee — now Tyler Legacy — all won state titles with Marshall and Troup losing in championship games that year.
“We play really good football out here,” Cochran said. “You always see that in December. On that third weekend in December, there’s normally at least a couple of East Texas schools representing every single year. I feel like it’s something we as a whole can poke our chest out at. It’s exciting being from Beast Texas.”
At least one East Texas team has played for a state championship in every season since 1993.
Winning championships in that span have been Carthage (2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020), Texarkana Pleasant Grove (2017, 2019), Longview (2018), Mineola (2016), Waskom (2014, 2015), Gilmer (2004, 2009, 2014), Chapel Hill (2011), Tenaha (1998, 2011), Henderson (2010), Daingerfield (2008, 2009, 2010), Cayuga (2009), Alto (2006, 2007), Tatum (2005, 2006), Texarkana Liberty-Eylau (1999, 2006), Tyler Legacy (2004), Kilgore (2004), Garrison (2003), San Augustine (2003), Atlanta (2003), Texas High (2002), Corrigan-Camden (2002), Lufkin (2001), Paul Pewitt (1998) and Tyler (1994).
“I don’t think it’s better nowhere else,” Pine Tree’s Evans said. “There’s nothing better than East Texas football. We’ve just got better players and harder workers.”
BIG STADIUM CAPACITIES
East Texas also has some big stadiums.
The largest capacity stadium is Tyler ISD’s Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium at 12,500. Other notable stadiums with large capacities in East Texas are Lufkin’s Abe Martin Stadium (10,467), Marshall’s Maverick Stadium (9,580), Longview’s Lobo Stadium (9,250), Jacksonville’s Tomato Bowl (8,384), Hallsville’s Bobcat Stadium (8,300), Lindale’s Eagle Stadium (8,500), Nacogdoches’ Dragon Stadium, Mount Pleasant’s Sam Parker Field, Kilgore’s R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium and Palestine’s Wildcat Stadium (all at 8,000), Gilmer’s Jeff Traylor Stadium (7,150) and Whitehouse’s Wildcat Stadium (7,000).
“There’s definitely something different about the atmosphere in East Texas, especially when you’ve got these communities that are used to going to these Friday night games, and that’s the big show,” Willis said.
“I’ve noticed that football is everywhere here,” said Bishop Gorman lineman Josh Hayes, who previously played football in Maryland. It’s a ritual. Everybody here, it’s in their blood. Honestly, coming from a state where it’s not like that, it’s interesting to look around and see how big people are in to football.”
“I can honestly say it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” Lindale offensive lineman Poe said. “Being under the lights with the entire town in the stadium footing for you to do your best, encouraging you and your team full of brothers, it’s a feeling I can’t explain.”
Even the rivalries are bigger in East Texas.
Longview and Marshall have met 111 times with Longview leading the series 66-40-5. Longview has also had 98 meetings with Tyler, leading the series 51-40-7.
Lufkin and Nacogdoches have met 103 times with Lufkin leading the series 74-23-6.
Texarkana High and Arkansas High have met 103 times with Texas High leading 66-30-7. Marshall and Texas High have faced 98 times with Texas High leading the series 54-37-7.
Tyler (formerly John Tyler) and Tyler Legacy (formerly Tyler Lee) is a battle for city supremacy. They’ve met 66 times with Legacy leading 33-32-1.
Henderson and Kilgore have faced 87 times with Kilgore leading the series 49-32-6.
Athens and Palestine, Henderson and Nacogdoches, Jacksonville and Palestine and Marshall and Tyler have all met 85 times. Palestine leads 48-36-1, Nacogdoches leads 44-38-3, Palestine leads 42-40-3 and Tyler leads 50-32-3.
Elkhart and Grapeland have faced 84 times with Grapeland leading 42-39-3.
Grand Saline and Mineola have played 84 times, but haven’t met since 2017. Mineola leads the series 48-30-6. Grand Saline’s head coach Joe Drennon was the head coach at Mineola when the Yellowjackets won a state championship in 2016. Grand Saline has played Edgewood 83 times but not since 2017, as well. However, they will be in the same district the next two years, and Grand Saline leads the series 54-27-2.
Henderson and Jacksonville and Longview and Lufkin have faced 83 times. Henderson leads the series 47-32-4 and will be in the same district with the Indians for the next two years.
Arp and Troup have met 77 times with Arp leading the series 40-36-1.
Jacksonville and Nacogdoches have met 69 times with Nacogdoches leading 34-31-4. The teams played 12 overtimes in 2010 with Jacksonville winning 84-81, and Jacksonville won an 85-79 game that went five overtimes in 2014.
Spring Hill and White Oak have met 52 times with Spring Hill leading the series 26-25-1.
Carlisle and Overton have met 64 times with Carlisle leading the series 35-26-3. New Diana and Ore City is another notable small-school rivalry.
With private schools in Tyler (All Saints, Bishop Gorman and Grace Community) and Bullard (Brook Hill), they’re all rivals, but Phil Hicks said the rivalries between Brook Hill versus Grace Community and All Saints versus Bishop Gorman stand out.