- Jeff Miller
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DALLAS -- The undefeated Skyline (Dallas, Texas) Raiders will carry more than their own unfinished business into the Texas Class 5A football playoffs. This city has waited a long time to embrace a football state champion.
"That's really a motivation for us," said LSU-bound senior receiver Mike Davis, one of nine Skyline seniors already committed to play major college football.
Just how long of a wait it has been is open to interpretation.
Officially, Dallas' most recent state football champion is Sunset in 1950. But Carter won the 5A final in 1988, which you might have read about in the best seller "Friday Night Lights" or seen in the movie version. Carter defeated the subject of the book and movie, the Permian (Odessa, Texas) Panthers, but had that title revoked after the season for using an academically ineligible player. (In the movie, Carter beat Permian in the state final at Houston's Astrodome. They actually met in the semifinals at the University of Texas.)
Corey Nelson, a senior linebacker for Skyline, has a DVD of Friday Night Lights at home. "Actually, it's one of my favorite movies," the Texas A&M commit said.
Whether the Dallas school district drought is traced to 1950 or 1988, a Skyline run deep into the playoffs would probably expand the Raiders' fan base to encompass all of the city's 21 football programs. That's what happened each of the past two years, when the Raiders reached the Region II final.
"I do tend to see a lot of my friends from Dallas that start to follow us," coach Reginald Samples said. But he's more focused on simply winning six playoff games instead of three.
I do tend to see a lot of my friends from Dallas that start to follow us. ... We're going to stay at the door 'til we get in.
-- Skyline coach Reginald Samples
"You get just close enough and don't taste it," Samples said, "so I feel like we have a hungry team. We're going to stay at the door 'til we get in."
Samples is in his fifth year building Skyline into the signature football program in Dallas and a state title contender. He came over from Lincoln (Dallas) after his Tigers nearly ended the city drought in 2004. They lost the 4A Division II final in double overtime to Kilgore when a blocked Lincoln field goal attempt was returned for a touchdown.
To assess the state of Skyline's program, consider the following: Fifteen seniors from the 2008 team that finished 12-2 are playing college football, led by Iowa State running James White and Cal defensive back Steve Williams. Yet 2009 was seen as a better chance of winning a state championship.
The '09 Raiders have trailed in only two games, only once in the second half. With Nelson rated No. 46 in ESPNU 150 and Davis No. 54, Skyline is one of four high school programs with two players rated that high.
Frenetic defense was the hallmark of Skyline's 2007 and '08 teams. This season, the no-huddle shotgun offense that Samples installed midway through the 2006 season has finally caught up.
"The last two playoffs that we've been in, our offense had been slacking a little bit," said senior center Tristan Turknett, headed for Navy. "I feel this year that our offense can carry the game and our defense can carry the game."
The defense revolves around Nelson and fellow senior inside linebacker Domonique Patterson, also headed to Texas A&M. The Raiders had to replace their entire secondary this season but haven't missed a beat, led by seniors Adrian James (UTEP) and Adrian Lee.
In the passing game, Davis and fellow senior Joe Powell (Oklahoma) combined for 58 catches, 1,251 yards and 22 touchdowns in the regular season. Senior quarterback Javia Hall (North Texas) threw for 1,888 yards, 25 touchdowns and no interceptions. The ground game was led by senior Tony Drake (Michigan) with 1,044 rushing yards on 100 carries.
Skyline was held below 400 yards once, in a 39-7 victory over Berkner (Richardson, Texas). Berkner coach Jim Ledford isn't convinced any playoff opponent can slow the Raiders' offense.
"They're good at every position," Ledford said. "When you try to take one area away, they have the ability to attack you in another."
And there's senior kicker Aaron Dosal, who has kicked two 45-yard field goals this season.
Dallas schools have won 12 state basketball titles in the last 20 years, and the city has produced marquee football players like 1987 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown of Woodrow Wilson and All-Pro Jessie Armstead of that 1988 Carter team. But they've only watched suburban schools like Carroll (Southlake, Texas), Cedar Hill and Allen bring home state championship trophies in recent years. This season, Cedar Hill is also 10-0, ranked No. 1 in 5A and third nationally by ESPN RISE, and joins Skyline in the 5A Division I bracket.
"Skyline has as much talent as I've seen around here in a long time," Berkner's Ledford said. "Probably the best since that Jessie Armstead bunch at Carter."
Which you can check out -- sort of -- in Friday Night Lights the movie.
Jeff Miller is a free-lance writer in Texas and can be reached at email@example.com