The Son Also Shines

Todd Dodge left Southlake Carroll with a 48-game win streak, but his boy Riley, the quarterback who led the team to its third straight Texas 5A title last year, is entrusted with keeping the dynasty alive
August 26, 2007

Someday RileyDodge would like to be known as the first quarterback to lead Southlake CarrollHigh to back-to-back Texas 5A Division I football titles. Someday he'dlike to be known for helping his dad, Todd, the former Carroll coach, build awinning tradition at the University of North Texas. Someday Riley Dodge wouldlike to be known for something other than what he's famous for now--projectilevomiting through his face mask immediately before (and moments after) throwingthe go-ahead touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the state championshipvictory against Austin Westlake last December.

Never mind that his stomach was roiling from a combination of the flu and anevening of scrambling in the backfield, or that he was bothered by a sprainedankle and bruised ribs inflicted earlier in the playoffs. Dodge had the addedpressure of keeping Carroll's 47-game winning streak alive and giving Todd, whohad built that streak and was moving on to his first college head coaching job,a proper send-off.

Nobody seems toremember those heroic elements. This was apparent last winter when Riley andhis family, in an Oval Office visit arranged by a family friend who works inthe White House, were greeted by President Bush, who said, "So, you must bethe guy who threw up!"

Fortunately forRiley he will have more opportunities to make a lasting impression on hisfellow Texans. With the onset of his senior season at Carroll, his second as astarter, the suburban Dallas program that has won three straight 5A titles andis SI's preseason No. 1 team in the nation (box, page 76), Riley will tryto prolong the Dragons' dominance and top his own outstanding performance lastyear: 4,184 yards and 54 touchdowns passing, plus 1,119 yards and 13 scoresrushing, in a no-huddle spread offense.

Then, in January,instead of heading to the University of Texas--Todd's alma mater and the schoolwhose scholarship offer Riley verbally accepted last February--Riley will move23 miles north to Denton to start classes at North Texas and resume playing forhis dad. Todd, who accepted the Mean Green's job offer in December, takes overa team that has won only five of its last 24 games and in 2006 ranked 117th inthe country in both passing and total offense. "I think I can helphim," says the soft-spoken Riley.

So now, ratherthan playing in front of 85,000 at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Riley will beplaying for a team that drew an average crowd of 16,000 last season. "NorthTexas is going to be a challenge," says Riley, "but I am excited aboutthe possibilities."

Giving up a chanceto play for the Longhorns, he says, "was the hardest decision of mylife." Riley was taken to his first Texas game as a three-week-old and formost of his life has had his bedroom walls painted burnt orange. But a weekafter making his nonbinding commitment, he started having second thoughts. Ifhe were in Austin, Riley realized, his dad wouldn't get to see him play, andhis mom, Elizabeth, and his 14-year-old sister, Molly, would have to choosebetween watching his team or his dad's. It would be the same for his68-year-old grandfather, Ebbie Neptune, a coach and administrator at AustinWestlake from 1982 through 2003, who suffered a massive stroke last January andhad relocated from Austin to the Dallas area.

Finally, Rileyfelt he had a better shot at playing quarterback at North Texas, a member ofthe Sun Belt Conference. "I know some people doubt me because of myheight," says Riley, who at 6 feet, 187 pounds, is rated the 58th-bestprospect in Texas by rivals.com. "But I can play at the Division Ilevel. And I've been playing my dad's offense since I was in sixth grade. Iknow it like the back of my hand."

Dodge ball, as theoffense is known in Southlake and Denton, has its roots at Thomas JeffersonHigh, in Port Arthur, Texas, where Todd, a Methodist preacher's son, playedquarterback from 1978 through '80. Under coach Ronnie Thompson, Todd threw theball about 30 to 35 times a game, which was unheard of at the time in Texas,and became the first quarterback in the state to pass for more than 3,000 yardsin a season. After a stellar career at Texas--his passing totals of 2,791 yardsand 18 touchdowns rank ninth and 10th, respectively, in school history--Toddcaught up with Thompson again in the late '80s, when Thompson was the offensivecoordinator at South Garland High and Todd held the same position at nearbyMcKinney High. "Ronnie had put together a little package that included somePort Arthur, a little old University of Houston run-and-shoot and a little ofDennis Erickson's Miami Hurricanes pro-style one-back offense," says Todd,who drew on Thompson's expertise. "At McKinney we replaced theI [formation] with the spread, and we really lit it up. I've used fourreceivers out of the shotgun ever since."

After several morestops--including a stint as the offensive coordinator at North Texas in 1992and '93--Todd landed at Carroll in 2000 with a 24-35 high school coachingrecord. The program had won three 3A titles with coach Bob Ledbetter'srun-oriented offense but stagnated after Ledbetter retired following the '95season. Using the spread, Todd's teams went a combined 19-10 in 4A in his firsttwo years. Since the Dragons moved up to 5A in 2002, they have been nearlyunstoppable: four state titles, a 79-1 record (the Dragons lost by one point toKaty High in the 2003 5A Division II title game) and the 48-gamewinning streak, which is two short of breaking the Texas big-school record.

The program'ssuccess stems from a perfect storm of good coaching, highly motivated playersand an affluent community's commitment to a football development system. Everyfootball team in Southlake, from peewee to high school, wears green-and-whitejerseys with the trademarked Dragons logo. Thanks to coaching clinics thatDodge started when he arrived, players learn the proper way to throw, catch andtackle beginning at the age of six. In middle school they are taught Dodge'sspread offense and 4-3 defense.

Walk into any ofthe five Southlake elementary schools on a Carroll game day, and the facultyand students are wearing green, and the walls are adorned with go dragons!signs. "It makes your arms tingle," says new Carroll coach Hal Wasson,who was an assistant under Dodge in 2001 and '02. "The idea that 'I want tobe a Dragon' is embedded in these kids from the time they are in grammarschool."

If their parentswere lucky enough to snag Carroll season tickets--which cost $75 on top of the$50 required for the right to buy the tickets--those same kids will be flockingto the $15.3 million, 11,000-seat Dragon Stadium, a six-year-old facility.Because the stadium is four miles off-campus, the team uses a $6 millionon-campus indoor practice facility that's so state-of-the-art, the DallasCowboys borrowed it a few times in 2001.

Riley and Toddstill occasionally use the facility to play catch, something they've done sinceRiley was 12 years old and Todd started teaching him the footwork and throwingmotion that served him so well in his own youth. "If you looked at a tapeof him throwing at Texas and watched me at Carroll, we're very similar,"says Riley.

A few weeks agothey were playing catch while Dragons senior receiver Blake Cantu watched fromthe sideline. When Cantu spotted a sports drink on a nearby stool, he went toreach for the bottle--but before he could get his hand around it, Dodge pèrethrew a perfect spiral from 40 yards that knocked the bottle off the stool."Blake just looked at him and said, 'Oh. My. God,' " says Riley withpride.

Being the coach'sson wasn't always fun, of course. Though Riley grew up serving as a ball boyfor his father's teams, Todd had never coached him until spring practice of hisfreshman year at Carroll. It took Todd a while to get the hang of it. WhenRiley didn't perform to his father's expectations, Todd lit into him to thepoint where Riley's teammates started to defend him. "I was being reallyunfair to him," says Todd. "It was a typical parent thing; you get waytoo involved in their successes and failures, you take it too personally."A good coaching friend gave him a piece of advice. "He told me, 'When youare a coach and a dad, you are the two most important people in that child'slife. Don't rob him of either one of them,' " Todd recalls. "I startedtreating him differently. I started treating him fairly."

The last two yearswere "very smooth and a lot of fun," says Riley. "When we are onthe field, we turn the light switch on to coach; when we are off the field, weturn it off."

Todd says he nowhas a great friendship with and an enormous respect for his son. "To playquarterback at Southlake Carroll is very high pressure; the town has a lot ofexpectations," Todd says. "Prior to the 2006 season, the past four 5Aplayers of the year had all been Carroll quarterbacks. They had all led theirteams to a state championship. Now here comes the coach's kid. Coaches' kidsalways hear, 'Oh, he's only playing because he's the coach's son.' He playedthrough a lot of tough stuff last year."

This year Rileywill face new challenges, the most obvious being calling signals for a coachother than his father. Wasson was a high school head coach for 16 years beforemoving to Carroll to coach running backs during the 2001 and '02 seasons, whenhis own son, Chase, was a running back and receiver, then the quarterback. Hethen became head coach at nearby Fossil Ridge, where he installed a version ofTodd's offense. "I think it might have been hard [for me] had the new coachbeen anyone but him," says Riley. "Coach Wasson knows the system, andhe isn't changing anything. We'll have the exact same plays, the same signals.He has said, 'If it's not broke, don't fix it.' "

That includes theDragons' motto, Protect the Tradition, which can be found on everything fromthe T-shirts the players wear under their jerseys to beverage mugs sold in thestadium gift shop. "We want to adapt to the tradition and things that havebeen done here," says Wasson, who brought three new assistants to theCarroll staff. "The main thing I've told the coaches that I've brought inis, These kids are going to bring their A game every day, and as a coach youbetter bring your A game. [The players'] expectations are high, the community'sexpectations are high."

Wasson says hedoes not find those expectations overwhelming, "because I know it's notabout me. I sleep every night, and I don't wake up in a sweat, because I know Iam just a very small part of this."

Among the othersmall parts critical to Carroll's continued success are Cantu, the team leaderin receiving yards with 1,283; senior running back Tre' Newton, the older sonof former Dallas Cowboys guard Nate Newton (Tre' verbally committed to Texasafter carrying 274 times for 2,010 yards and 20 touchdowns in his juniorseason); wideout Chris Brainard, "a great route runner with terrifichands," according to Wasson; and linebacker Derek Tomlin, who says he willgo with Riley to North Texas next year.

Someday Rileywould like to lead North Texas "to bigger and better things," he says.In the meantime his assignment is twofold: protect the tradition at Carroll andgive Texans something new to remember him by.

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"Kids say, 'He's only playing because he's thecoach's son,' " says Todd. "Riley played through TOUGH STUFF lastyear."

PHOTOPhotograph by Darren CarrollHONORING THEFATHER
After piling up 5,303 total yards last year, Riley (11) was bound for Texas,where Todd (above, and opposite right) starred in the mid-1980s. Then Rileydecided to follow his dad to North Texas.
PHOTOJOHN F. RHODES/THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS [See Caption Above.] PHOTOCOURTESY OF THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS[See Caption Above.] PHOTOLOUIS DELUCA/THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS

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