The Wichita Falls-based rock group Bowling for Soup has a song in its playlist entitled “High School Never Ends.” The lyrics may not be true for everyone, but for the likes of Kevin Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson, they make a lot of sense.
Smith and Tomlinson were among nine men whose high school football glory days in Texas were preserved for posterity Saturday. They comprised the 2016 induction class to the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame, which was honored at an afternoon press conference at the Hall of Fame and a banquet Saturday night at the Ferrell Center.
In addition to West Orange-Stark’s Smith and University High’s Tomlinson, who both went on to college and NFL greatness, the 2016 class included Stamford’s Kenneth West, San Antonio Lee’s Linus Baer, Euless Trinity’s Mike Baab, Houston Madison’s Vince Young, Katy coach Gary Joseph, Southlake Carroll coach Bob Ledbetter and broadcaster Craig Way.
West just attended his 64th high school reunion Wednesday. Even though six decades have passed since his high school days playing for the legendary Gordon Wood, the bond with his classmates hasn’t broken.
“It was the friendships we made, coming from a small high school at Stamford,” said West, whose son Glen is the head coach at Brenham. “We were all somebody. It wasn’t like, you’ve got this guy who is above the others. We were all even. … It’s just like yesterday when we all get together.”
Baab played at Euless Trinity before it exploded in growth to be one of the bigger schools in the state. Back then, Euless could still be considered a small town, Baab said.
“We only went to the playoffs one time, but when we did the whole town went,” he said. “The bus trails and all that, all the Texas stuff.”
Like so many of his new Hall of Fame colleagues, Smith remains an icon in his hometown of Orange, Texas. When the Hall of Fame asked the class members to get together in December for an on-field introduction at the state championship games, Smith made a special request. You see, West Orange-Stark was playing in the Class 4A Division I state final, and he wanted to be introduced before the home folks.
“So it worked out. Mr. Mike Anderson (Hall of Fame board president) said, ‘As long as you come back tomorrow and do it, I’ll let you do it.’ It worked out well,” Smith said. “The Mustangs won the game and brought the first state championship home since I won it back in (1987). It was a great day.”
Smith went on to set the all-time interceptions record at Texas A&M and win three Super Bowl rings with the Dallas Cowboys. But as a youngster growing up in Southeast Texas, he didn’t dream of becoming an Aggie or a Cowboy.
It was all about being a Mustang.
“That ultimate goal was to put that silver on,” Smith said. “The first time I walked into that stadium and saw that high school play, as a kid I had no aspirations of playing nothing other than high school football for West Orange-Stark.”
Tomlinson put together a dazzling senior year for the University Trojans in 1996 before proceeding to grand achievements for the TCU Horned Frogs and the NFL’s San Diego Chargers. He said it was an honor to join the likes of Eric Dickerson and Earl Campbell in the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame.
That said, when he was playing, he could have never imagined such an honor.
“I certainly worked my butt off to try to accomplish some great things. Honestly, you never think about the Hall of Fame,” Tomlinson said. “It’s just not something you really think about when you’re playing the game. You just play for the love of it, as hard as you can. It’s fun. One day they give you a call and say, ‘Hey, you’re going in the Hall of Fame.’”
Tomlinson was nattily attired in a dark suit with a purple tie and purple pocket square. University colors, naturally.
“I never forgot where I came from. It certainly represents the University High School Trojans,” he said. “I keep that purple on.”
Then he added with a laugh, “It helps that it’s TCU’s colors, too.”
Craig Way made the Hall of Fame class as this year’s Dave Campbell Contributor to the Game recipient. Way may be best known for broadcasting University of Texas athletics, but just like the athletes on the dais, he got his start on the high school level.
“I was stunned (making the Hall of Fame). Then the usual things you’d expect, feeling humbled and honored and all of those things,” Way said. “You don’t expect it. I didn’t expect it when I was climbing on top of press boxes at Pilot Point and Royse City and Lindsey, back in the early and mid-80s. You don’t expect that.
“But it is a great, great honor for something that I enjoyed doing and loved doing for so many years.”