- In the game of his players’ lives, Doug Pederson’s Louisiana high school team upset a dynastic powerhouse thanks to game-planning and self-confidence. Those players say the Patriots are nothing Coach P hasn’t seen before
NATCHITOCHES, La. — They called him Coach P.
And when they really started feeling comfortable with the former NFL quarterback turned high school coach, they called him Doug E. Fresh. He introduced an NFL lexicon with eight-word play-calls to boys who had only known football plays by names like Smash and Power. He could drop-kick a football through the uprights, punt it 60 yards, and he spent portions of practice on the scout team, winging passes to freshmen and occasionally breaking their fingers. He asked his players to come to school an hour early for film study, and to spend their lunches in his office, watching more film.
Jared Myatt remembers fondly those first days of Doug Pederson’s tenure at Calvary Baptist, the tiny Christian school on the southern edge of Shreveport, La. As the director of strength and conditioning for Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Myatt owes his approach to the game, and some cherished football memories, to Pederson, the former Brett Favre backup who spent four years testing his coaching chops in high school before launching an NFL coaching career that led him to the Eagles, and this week, to a Super Bowl meeting with the New England Patriots.
“The one thing I recognize now, that I’m not sure I knew then,” Myatt, who played offensive tackle and defensive end under Pederson, says from behind his desk at Northwestern State, “was how much he did with nothing.”
Vegas is giving Pederson’s Eagles credit for more talent than that, but not much more. The Patriots are favored to win by 5½ points, according to the latest odds. The Bill Belichick-Tom Brady juggernaut is going for its sixth Super Bowl win. The Eagles are taking backup quarterback Nick Foles into the game, after losing regular season starter Carson Wentz to injury.
It’s the oddest Super Bowl matchup in recent memory, but it all feels familiar to the men who played for Pederson in high school. Asked to name the biggest game with the longest odds during their time at Calvary, Pederson’s former pupils are unanimous.
“The Evangel game in 2007,” wide receiver Sam Walker says.
“We shouldn’t have won it, to be honest with you,” quarterback Jake Booty says. “They had a lot more talent than us.”
“Evangel had nine guys go D-1—on offense,” Myatt says. “We didn’t have a bunch of world-beaters. Coach P had some kids ready to play for him.”
“It was kinda like our Super Bowl,” says Tate Martin.
This wasn’t your typical high school football rivalry; this was as personal as personal gets, with layers and layers of bitterness.
A short summary: Jake Booty, of the North Louisiana Booty football dynasty, was supposed to be playing at Evangel, the school that won 11 state championships between 1993 and 2006. All of his brothers—John David, Josh and Abram—had starred for Evangel, where their father, Johnny Booty, was a member of the religious leadership and the team’s quarterbacks coach. But when Johnny had a falling out with Evangel school chancellor/offensive coordinator Denny Duron, Johnny was fired as QBs coach, and the Bootys bailed. In 2003 John David Booty, Evangel’s star QB, left high school after his junior season, graduating early and enrolling at Southern Cal. With his youngest son, Jack, still in middle school, Johnny resolved to join Calvary Baptist and start a football program from scratch. He helped recruit Doug Pederson, a freshly retired NFL quarterback with local connections, to be head coach in 2005. A handful of Evangel players followed the Bootys to Calvary, and the Pederson hire prompted another small migration. His quarterback would be Jake Booty.
In 2005, Peterson’s first season, Evangel beat Calvary 55-3.
In 2006, Evangel won 20-19.
That same year, in the state playoffs, Evangel won again, 42-6.
By the time Jake Booty was a senior in 2007, Pederson had transformed the program into a regional powerhouse, going 11-2 in 2006, with those two losses to Evangel. The stage was set for a slugfest in 2007, with Evangel’s 17-year undefeated streak against district opponents on the line.
“We all know rivalries, but this was different,” says WR/DB Sam Walker. “Because all the Bootys had balled out at Evangel and put [Calvary] on the map. And now Evangel is still a powerhouse, but we have Jack. This was a team known for being nationally ranked. And it was like Calvary who? It almost had that Eagles-Patriots kind of vibe.”
Says Jake Booty: “It definitely was an uncomfortable situation, and it was a tough situation, going from watching my brothers win state championships at Evangel to go start a whole new program. Without getting too much into that, I’m happy with how it happened.”
Despite living in the crosstown program’s shadow, Pederson was careful to keep the focus on what his team needed to improve on, especially during Evangel Week, players said. “We were all really worked up that whole week, but Coach Pederson was just so composed,” said Sam Walker. “I never saw him get overly boosted, or get outside what the channel of focus was. He was a real grounding factor. He’s a guy that’s so easy to be around, he helps the nerves calm down. He establishes trust and instills confidence. None of us were overly nervous, because we were so prepared.”
“Everything was focused on what we were doing. How we’re going to be the best Calvary team we can be. There wasn’t much talk about the specifics of who they were. No hype about who they were. All that fluff that can get in the way.”
But Pederson did often narrow the focus to one or two players on the other team who could be taken advantage of. Plus, he gave Booty the freedom to audible at any time as a senior.
“He had us so prepared in the film room on who everybody was, where all the weaknesses were,” Booty says. “And Doug said two days before the game, if we get this matchup, with this cornerback on Sam [Walker], this is their weakness. The kid wasn’t a bad player; he was just a freshman.”
In-depth film study, often more than two hours a day during the season, is what Pederson’s former players believe set their teams apart.
“I didn’t watch nearly as much film in college as I did in high school,” Myatt says. “I didn’t see the lunch room until my senior year, after he went to the NFL. We were in coach’s office.”
“We had mandatory film, before school, at lunch, after school,” says Beaux Gipson, who eventually succeeded Booty at quarterback and is now a graduate assistant for Southern Arkansas University. “That was something that I’m realizing now was not a high school-level thing. He put so many things into our program that we thought were normal that were not.”
The film room wasn’t the only space Pederson treated as an extension of his daily experience in the NFL. The 6'3", 230-pound former pro in his mid-30s would assume scout team quarterback duties and lead teams full of freshmen to victory over the starting defense. “Yeah, he broke one of my ring fingers on a 10-yard curl,” says Eli Rothell, former Calvary Baptist receiver and current tattoo artist in Pennsylvania. “He broke a few peoples’ fingers.”
Playbook install was equally difficult to grasp. Over two years, Pederson gradually pared down the offensive terminology for high school boys.
“He couldn’t believe that I couldn’t call Spread Right 76 Smash Minus Over Protection,” remembers Booty. “I can only imagine how frustrated he was with me, because I wasn’t at the level I needed to be early on. He’s coming from the NFL to coaching a kid who can hardly throw an out route. He spent so much time with me to get me there and he was so encouraging.
“We were just a bunch of church boys, and he’d played in the NFL for 15 years. He was learning too. It took him about two years to really adapt to the high school level, and by the time we were seniors we kind of met in the middle.”
The 2007 team rattled off eight consecutive wins leading up to Evangel, scoring 40 or more points in all but one game. For Evangel week, the only thing Pederson did differently that players can recall is crank music during practices so coaches and players had to holler or use hand signals to communicate. “Somebody made a mix CD,” says Tate Martin, a sophomore in 2007. “I remember that song: ‘We ready.’ We knew how loud it was going to be in our stadium, so he wanted us prepared for that.
Then came the biggest game of their lives. The bleachers were packed. The school put up a waist-high temporary fence around the field and by kickoff it was standing-room-only, with three rows of standing fans lining the perimeter. “Everybody was at that game,” says Alex Lee, a junior receiver in 2007. “That whole week was crazy. We were always really small and young, but now people knew we could beat them.”
Booty decided to scrap the No. 4 jersey he’d worn all season for No. 10, to honor his brother, John David, who’d worn 10 at Evangel. The teams fought to a late-fourth quarter tie, 21-21, a defensive struggle by the standards of both offenses. Jake Booty drove the offense downfield in the final minute, reaching the 21-yard-line when, on first down with the clock stopped at 18 seconds to play, the matchup presented itself.
Evangel had been playing man defense the entire game with a deep safety, so Pederson called for his top receiver, Khiry Cooper, to run a post-corner to the pylon. After breaking the huddle, Booty recognized an advantageous matchup with Sam Walker in the left slot, and saw a stacked box and a potential zero blitz. He flashed a hand signal at Walker, cancelling a quick slant and calling for a go route. “Jake looked like Peyton Manning out there with all the signals,” Myatt says.
“I realized right before the snap that all I needed to do was do a quick jab outside and then just swim underneath him,” Walker says, “so that’s what happened, and Jack just laid it right in the pocket.”
Booty’s pass hit Walker in the chest at the two-yard line. Walker carried it into the end zone and pointed a gloved left hand at the students losing their minds beyond the end zone, then up at the heavens. An interception on Evangel’s ensuing possession sealed the victory, and the Calvary bleachers emptied onto the field, mobbing the team and Pederson.
“It really did feel like what it would feel like to win a Super Bowl I would imagine,” Martin says. “The energy around the school was pretty intense after that.”
Says Booty: “They had more talent than us, but if we played ’em three times we would’ve beat ’em three times because we had Doug as a coach and we were way ahead of them in terms of scheme.”
After the 2007 season ended with a loss to St. James in the state semifinals, Booty decided not to follow in his brothers’ footsteps and pursue college football, instead choosing an entrepreneurial path. Gipson and Myatt got into coaching. Walker lives in Dallas and recruits staff for hospitals. Lee became a coach at Calvary after high school and is now an insurance adjuster. Last summer he emailed Pederson expressing interest in getting back into coaching.
“If you’re thinking about getting into coaching,” Pederson told him, “I want you to see what the hours are like.”
The Eagles coach told him to get on a plane ASAP and join the team on the first day of training camp and stay through the preseason. Lee bid farewell to his pregnant wife and flew to Pennsylvania. The staff worked from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., every day, Lee says. Pederson was preaching the same things—avoid penalties and turnovers like the plague.
When the team practiced against Miami, Dolphins players took note of how fast Eagles players moved from drill to drill. Lee recalls Ndamukong Suh being so impressed with the team that he approached defensive line coach Chris Wilson with an offer: “Suh told our defensive line coach, ‘The way y’all practice is unbelievable. I don’t care about money at this point—I think I want to play with y’all next year for free,’” Lee says. “Our coach was like, ‘Uhh, can we get that in writing?’” (Suh, through a Dolphins spokesman, denies the incident.)
Gipson took over the starting job at Calvary when Booty graduated, playing one season for Pederson before the latter took an offensive quality control coordinator job with the Eagles and Andy Reid in 2009. Pederson was promoted to quarterbacks coach in 2011, then followed Reid to Kansas City as his offensive coordinator in 2013. A year after taking the Eagles job in 2016, he’s got them playing in the Super Bowl—minus a starting quarterback, left tackle and inside linebacker.
“He went from coaching me to coaching Michael Vick,” Gipson says. “No big deal.”
Gipson thinks Pederson and the Eagles will win on Sunday. Booty isn’t so sure about Philly’s chances in a matchup with Brady. Walker won’t make a prediction.
“I’m pulling for them,” Walker says. “I think sometimes it’s just someone’s year, if that makes sense. It’s hard to say I think they’re gonna win, but I think if they do win, it all makes sense.”
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