There is something unique about small-town football.
While Class 5A programs typically receive a majority of the attention from a big-picture perspective, some of the most rabid, loyal and passionate fan bases reside in the smaller classifications.
It does not mean big schools in larger cities do not have strong support systems because they do. But it is not the same.
True fans will always support their team. Copperas Cove is a prime example.
Every Friday night from late August to, hopefully for them, mid-December, the Bulldawgs’ faithful allegiance follows its team, turning out in droves for home game and routinely filling the stands when on the road.
They sport blue and gold with pride, scream until they turn purple and back their team through thick and thin.
Like at most large programs, in Copperas Cove, there is a community of dedicated fans following the Bulldawgs. In smaller cities, however, the entire community unifies around high school football.
Need proof? Travel 45 minutes to Gatesville.
The Hornets’ undefeated season has whipped the population of roughly 6,000 — not including the 9,000 or so inmates at the local prisons — into a frenzy. Business windows are decorated in yellow and black, and flags wave in front of homes.
Fans are urged to line the streets as team buses depart for the next playoff venue. Schools shut down early so kids can make long road trips to see the Hornets attempt to advance.
The atmosphere in Gatesville right now is unique. It seems like every single person in the city is rooting for the Hornets, and that is because almost everyone is.
Everybody knows everybody and all are connected in some way with the team.
Friends, family members, former players, teachers and neighbors all turn out to see “their” kids play the game they love.
Not to mention, personal ties aside, high school football is often the most entertaining thing going for little cities, so in places like Gatesville, football becomes a communal experience.
Again, not to say this does not happen in big cities — because it does — but when populations are reduced, the web of connectivity grows and the degrees of separation are lessened.
Large schools have passionate fans, but not all of them have direct connections to players and coaches like they do in smaller communities.
It is impossible for a city like Copperas Cove, with a population of 30,000 or so, or Killeen with its 125,000-plus residents, to match a small town’s ability to collectively unify around a team. Attention for schools in more populous cities like Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas becomes even more watered down.
It is hard to believe something as simple as a sport can deliver such an impact, but football has the power to draw communities closer, and winning amplifies the process.
Several years ago, Lampasas was at one of the lowest points in the football program’s history. The Badgers lost 20 consecutive games and failure was the norm.
Then, Joey McQueen took hold of the team, turned the Badgers around in three seasons and cultivated a new culture in the little town.
He instilled belief within the players, taught them to expect more from themselves and led them to the school’s first district championship in more than 20 years.
And the mentality grew like mold, covering the entire population with a sense of renewed enthusiasm. The Badgers were the talk of the town from men, women and children alike.
Head coach Kyle Cooper is doing the exact same thing for Gatesville right now.
With Cooper’s leadership and the Hornets’ execution, Gatesville is on the verge of winning a state championship. Should the Hornets’ win three more games, the city of Gatesville would rejoice in unison. Undoubtedly, when describing the Hornets’ accomplishments, locals would exclaim, “We did it!”
It is unlikely such a response would be generated by the majority of residents in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, for example, if Skyline or Allen wins the Class 5A state title, but that is why small-town football is unique — the communities cling to local teams.
While small-town schools can rarely compete talent-wise, they have something big programs simply do not — the support and undivided attention of an entire city.