By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
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By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
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The program loses players each year, weeded out when the off-season gets too tough or when a player realizes if he makes varsity, his chance of playing is slim. After last season, however, several players who would have been returning starters quit, including an all-district defensive lineman.
"Some people, maybe they think about what they can be doing other than football, or what their life would be like if they didn't have football, and they see something better," says Elvin Tapong, a senior nose tackle and one of Katy's standout players.
Tapong moved to Katy after his freshman year, after his mom sent him to live with his dad. Making solid friends has been tough, even with other guys on the team. His dad is more concerned with academics and didn't want Tapong to play football when he first moved in; he doesn't go to his son's games.
Quitting the team has rarely been a thought for Tapong, never seriously. Not when teammates don't understand him or make him mad, and not when he's running the ropes after long practices with hundreds of repetitions.
"Looking at all the stuff on the wall, everyone's name and everyone's picture, I want to be one of the people that get my name up on that board," Tapong says. "It's pretty much going to last forever, you can tell it sticks, so I want to be one of those guys to be part of the tradition."
Katy and Cypress Bay are football powers in their states, and both teams were getting first-time national TV exposure at the Battle at Rhodes. Other than that, the schools couldn't be more different.
Cypress Bay opened in 2002, 104 years after Katy High and 73 years after Katy's first football team.
The high school campus at Katy is large but modest, on the western edge of the old side of town, its parking lot filled with pickups and Ford Mustangs.
The campus at Cypress Bay, in Weston, Florida, looks like a university or a military base, a web of pavement and colorful new buildings.
Last year, Viacom-owned MTV featured the school on its reality show The Paper. The football team is sponsored by Rolex and Outback Steakhouse, and a student once wore a T-shirt calling an opposing team "Trailer Bums."
The city of Weston has boomed in recent years, with streets dotted with cropped palm trees and bright green landscaping. More than 4,000 students attend Cypress Bay, and until last year, it was the largest high school in the country.
The student population at Katy High School — about 2,000 — has gotten smaller as the town grows, with newer high schools engulfing old zones. The district has grown to six high schools, covering an area with a population of about 210,000 people.
But "old Katy" has remained insulated from the area's growth, and the population within the city proper has stayed at about 12,000 people.
The business strip along Highway 90, which cuts through Katy along defunct railroad tracks, has kept the small-town atmosphere, with rice storage tanks and rice dryers as the only structures rising above the tree line.
Katy Mills Mall and Bass Pro Shops and acres of newer retail space line Interstate 10. A new shopping center, La Centerra at Cinco Ranch, was built within walking distance of Cinco Ranch High School, where some people wear T-shirts that say "Cinco Ranch, Texas."
"We call that the other side of the freeway. There's Katy, then there's everything else," says Sam Holl, a junior defensive back at Katy High.
Playing varsity football for the school was about the only thing Holl wanted growing up, from the day his dad signed him up for youth football in kindergarten. Even though his dad moved to nearby Bellville when Holl was a boy, his mom kept him surrounded with football.
"It became clear that we were in a big football town," says Holl's mother Nylene. "So we thought we'd let him excel in that."
His uncle was a football coach in Waller — now the head coach at Greenville High School — and Holl has cousins playing college football at the University of North Texas and Texas Christian University.
Holl worked out with the Katy varsity as a freshman and played on last year's state championship team. A playoff injury, a torn muscle in his thigh that ripped off a piece of bone in his hip, kept him out of the final games.
"State was still one of the best feelings of my life, but it would have been so much better if I'd been out there, actually playing," he says. "I was playing with them all season, and I miss a lot of the seniors from last year, and not being able to play the last two games, I was miserable."
A week before the Cypress Bay game, Katy was at Rhodes Stadium playing Oak Ridge High School, and late in the fourth quarter, Katy had secured a 27-3 blowout victory, its first big win of the season.
On the final kickoff, after Holl had played almost an entire game on defense, he sprinted down the field in front of the rest of his team and through a line of Oak Ridge blockers, hitting the Oak Ridge kick returner so hard that he knocked himself unconscious with a concussion.