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It’s time to step it up

LBJ, McCallum opts to keep rivalry alive for good reason

HARD+HATS%3A+In+the+final+post-game+huddle%2C+players+raise+their+battered+helmets+to+the+sky.+Photo+by+Ian+Clennan
HARD HATS: In the final post-game huddle, players raise their battered helmets to the sky. Photo by Ian Clennan

HARD HATS: In the final post-game huddle, players raise their battered helmets to the sky. Photo by Ian Clennan

Liannes Ibanez 2014 R

Liannes Ibanez 2014 R

HARD HATS: In the final post-game huddle, players raise their battered helmets to the sky. Photo by Ian Clennan

Julie Robertson, Shield co-editor in chief

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 It’s Sept. 29, the morning of the of the LBJ rivalry game, there’s a certain buzz in the air on the McCallum campus. The football team has a perfect record through four non-district games. Slashing through Anderson, Lehman Seguin and Akins, the Knights arrive at the LBJ game at a perfect 4-0. There is talk in the hallways all day about the strengths that LBJ brings to the table but then someone counters that we have Alexander Julian, our unstoppable running back, or Max Perez, our golden-armed quarterback, who had been completing pass after pass so far this season to receivers such as Mason Bryant, Deron Gage or Davis Roe. As the day unfolds, the hype builds and builds as we get closer to the pep rally, then inevitably, the 7:30 p.m. kickoff, a routine that has been engraved into our brains as the Friday Night Lights golden hour. You read on tweets throughout the day coming from LASA students insulting Mac students and players. Some LASA student even going so far as to drop a diss-track laying out all these insults in one place. McCallum drops one right back, spitting lyrics about the separation between LASA and LBJ.

I listen to this track as my best friend, and I head to our usual game-day lunch spot, Thundercloud. We go back to school and head to the pep-rally. The gym is loud and filled with screaming students, band songs playing over head, cheerleaders and Blue Brigade members dancing, and a general buzz of excitement. Coach Taylor comes over the microphone and tells us how hard they’re going to work to beat LBJ tonight, we all believe him.

7:30 rolls around and Nelson Field is packed with students, from both LBJ/LASA and McCallum. I stand on the sidelines ready to capture all of the big plays on video and soak it all in. My last LBJ game ever. The game kicks off and both sides are playing well. But by halftime, Junior Deron Gage pads the McCallum lead with a touchdown making the score 21-13. By the end of the game, however, things get awfully tight. In the last few seconds of the game, Mac leads by five points, but LBJ is at the Mac 10-yard line threatening to score what would be the winning touchdown.  But the unstoppable, or should I say, stopping McCallum defense stops them from advancing as Tyrell Washington makes a game-saving tackle on the 3-yard line on fourth down and goal. The game is over and McCallum wins 38-33. These victories always spur so much momentum and energy into the football program. Coach Taylor and the team’s 22 seniors mentioned at the year-end banquet on Sunday that the team’s victory over LBJ that night was the moment when the team truly started believing that they were destined to have a special season.

So the LBJ game is much more than a rivalry. Many middle schools split off with some kids going onto McCallum and others going to LASA/LBJ, so when these games happen, youŕe seeing friends you haven’t seen in months, along with some great Texas football. But now, UIL district realignment, which happens every two years, threatened the future of the rivalry because LBJ/LASA will be classified as a 25-5A Division 1 school while McCallum and most of the other AISD high schools are smaller and will be classified as 5A Division 2. It appeared as if the McCallum’s rivalry game with LBJ might disappear before the much-discussed split between LBJ and LASA takes place. The school district decided not to let that happen. Instead of the McCallum-LBJ rivalry dissolving because of LBJ moving to DI, McCallum and the other District 25-5A schools (with the exception of Austin High which is moving up to 6A) will be moving with it, changing potential matchup games completely. Instead of us working against LBJ on the defensive line, we will be working with them to keep the rivalry alive for at least two more years, but when is the expiration date on this rivalry?

The move for McCallum to be moving to DI is clearly the correct next step. The rivalry is not just good for the players, but it is good for the community. If only LBJ were to be moving to DI, leaving McCallum behind, that would throw them into unknown territory alone, having to compete against suburban schools such as Cedar Creek and Pflugerville. When it comes to football, those schools are complete powerhouses. Having team rosters hitting the upper 90s while McCallum’s roster this season hovered at 39 varsity players. With realignment this year, the Austin High rivalry that was first re-introduced two years will come to an end as Austin High moves back to being 6A playing teams such as Westlake and Bowie once again. To me, that is ridiculous. I understand that realignment is judged on student population, not talent, but our “inner city” school beat Austin High handily two years in a row. Then going on to beat out four playoff opponents such as the Alice Coyotes, when it seemed their entire town came out for the matchup to support their team. The Knights even beat legendary power Calallen even though every single prediction bracket for 5A DII had us losing and Calallen going on to win the state championship. If we are judging on pure talent, the only school that should be moving up to 6A is McCallum, but as an “inner city” school on Sunshine Drive we will be holding down the 5A DI fort so we can keep most of our AISD neighbors as district foes.

Moving with LBJ to DI not only keeps the rivalry alive, but it also challenges McCallum when playoffs come around. It can be argued that the reason why we breezed through the first three rounds of playoffs this past season is because we were in the DII bracket, giving us opponents who were not as competitive as the DI bracket that LBJ faced. In order for our school’s football program to improve, we must challenge ourselves in order to get better. This can only be done by playing more difficult schools that make us hone in on our skills and show our weaknesses and what needs to be improved upon. This can be contrasted to someone doing the same workout over and over again, they will never improve or strengthen other muscles. They need to switch it up in order to improve, just like the football program needs to play against harder opponents in order to build a stronger, more competitive program.

Some Knights’ fans understandably believe this is the wrong move for the school. McCallum staying in DII does guarantee a much easier playoff schedule. We would lose the LBJ rivalry, which arguably is one of our harder district opponents, and we would also be sticking with easier playoff opposition for the first couple of rounds. Going to DI for the 2018-19 season is risky, because of the 2017-18 team taking with it 22 seniors, leaving many underclassmen to step it up. A less experienced team will have to really step it up not only for playoffs, but for district play as well, which we will find out in the fall, may be a lot to ask for.

In the grand scheme of things, this move will benefit both sides more than hurt it in the long run. Our team will have the chance to flex its muscles at the DI level, making us competitive with those large suburban high schools. It will show if we are really able to hang with the big dogs, and if moving to the more competitive division is something we would be able to handle. Even though the LBJ rivalry may end up ending in the next five years because of the eminent LASA/LBJ split to different campuses that was decided in the fall billion dollar bond, we can at least savor a few more LBJ vs. McCallum rivalry games before the two schools will be split into separate 4A schools, and the LBJ rivalry will be nothing more than history.

 

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