By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
There are other detractors. Mike Miletic, a sports psychiatrist who collaborated with a New York Times columnist to write Raiders Night, a novel about a dysfunctional high school football team, says, "The expectations of the school that's going to receive the money, going to be on TV, the expectations of the kids aren't just local Friday night crowds. Everybody at the school has a stake in winning the game at a very high level."
"When they begin to do that on the backs of high school kids, because of the unprotected quality of youth, you're getting pretty close to exploiting these kids."
The larger deal was nixed by the school board, but in March of this year, Katy High School still didn't have a tenth football game. Stephenson knew his friend Guandolo at Cypress Bay needed a game for the first week of October, and according to Stephenson, Guandolo jumped at the chance to play Katy.
Titus would pay for the flights, food and hotel expenses of the Cypress Bay team — 100 people total including players, coaches and administrators — and Katy and Titus would share equally in the money from ticket sales and advertising.
"We're not billing the game as a matchup of the top two teams in the country," Stephenson says. "We're billing the game as, no matter how they start the season, Katy will be the defending state champion playing one of the top teams in Florida."
Some people in Katy say that winning at high school football is the way it's always been. Truth is, it hasn't.
Katy football as it is today started in 1982, when former head coach Mike Johnston was hired and Joseph came to the school as a defensive coordinator.
Katy High School had been a small 2A school, then a small 3A school, but by the time the new coaching staff arrived, Katy was a 5A school operating with a small-town mentality, according to Joseph.
There wasn't a weight room at the school; instead, weights lined the hallways of the small field house.
"The attitude of the kids, it was more a social thing than it was an athletic thing — kids worried about where the next party is going on. Athletics wasn't a priority," Joseph says.
Only about 25 students played varsity football in the early years, but the coaching staff decided to keep the classes together, even if a freshman or sophomore had the skill to play varsity. Weight training was emphasized, to get the kids big enough to play 5A, especially since most kids played offense and defense.
"There were times we thought about leaving, and times they probably thought about asking us to leave, but once we got to the point where all the kids had been part of the program, we started to see some change," Joseph says.
The team won the district championship in 1986 — its first in 22 years — and a state championship in 1997, the first of four in ten years.
The Tigers advanced to another championship in 1998, and was loaded on the bus to travel to the game, but a last-minute phone call forced Joseph to bring the players back to the field house so the head coach could tell them they had been disqualified.
A fourth-string tight end who had forged a progress report in the middle of the season played three snaps in the game before the championship, going in the game after Katy was winning 40-0. A teacher saw the player in the game and reported it.
"That's about as low as we've ever had," Joseph says.
The week after the Woodlands game, Ray was eating at a Mexican food restaurant in Katy, and a man he'd never met or seen walked over to his table.
He told Ray, "I haven't lost faith in you, Parker. Other people might have, but I haven't."
"I just told him, 'Well, thank you sir," Ray says.
Ray is a fourth-generation student at Katy High School; his great-grandfather moved to the town to build the elementary school. His grandfather played football for the Tigers, and so did his dad, and so did his older brother. Ray was a varsity ball boy in fourth grade.
"I try to stay out of the armchair coaching, although I do get caught up in it because I'm a pretty intense person. Both of my boys have accepted it pretty well," says Dudley Ray, Parker's dad. "Now my wife quizzes him all the time; she loves it and wants to know what's inside his head, too."
Sometimes Ray dreams about football. It's a game at night in a familiar stadium, and he's playing quarterback for Katy High School.
A play starts and Ray hands the ball to a teammate who gets grabbed by a defender and slammed to the ground. The player with the ball doesn't get up.
The nightmare always ends the same way — the teammate has his head knocked off.
Few things disappoint Joseph more than a player quitting his team, especially when the player doesn't tell him personally.
"Come in here and be a man, and that's my whole deal with this thing, learn how to be a man and grow up," Joseph says. "Sometimes they quit and they do it for the wrong reasons, and then where do they go after that?"