The Good Life
A small-town program has won 25 state championships in 50 years and is richly supported by fans and boosters
VISITORS APPROACHING Artesia, N.Mex., from the west on state Route 82 come upon a water tower on which is painted a large bulldog and the greeting ARTESIA: CITY OF CHAMPIONS. Also adorning the tower are logos commemorating all but a few of Artesia High's 47 state titles, including the 25 football championships that the Bulldogs have won since 1957.
In its remote location, a four-hour drive from Albuquerque and also from El Paso, Artesia is home to the Navajo Oil Refinery, numerous dairy farms and the Border Patrol Academy, but the town of 10,597 is best known for its football tradition. The Bulldog Bowl is regularly filled to its capacity of 6,500, and this year Artesia—fresh off an 82--0 rout of Taos last Friday—has a 6--2 record and its first national recruit. Landry Jones, a 6'5", 215-pound quarterback, who has completed 66% of his passes for 2,237 yards and 25 touchdowns, is bound for Oklahoma.
November 5, 2007
More common are players such as 5'9", 139-pound senior slotback Coly Hokett, the Bulldogs' leading receiver with 43 catches for 806 yards and 12 TDs, who is likely playing his last season of football. Hokett played soccer until seventh grade before deciding, "I had to play football, I live in Artesia."
Game day is the biggest attraction. Main Street turns orange with Bulldogs flags and fans in team T-shirts, and there are fireworks at the Bowl before the game and at halftime. Then, there's the unusual pregame ritual known as the Dog Pile. The players sprint onto the field through the legs of a 15-foot-high wooden A, burst through a banner held by the cheerleaders and, with fans lining the field around them, pile on each other. "I always get in the back [of the line] because I get claustrophobic under everyone," says Jones. "But we put on a pretty good show."
Coaching stability and community support have helped sustain excellence and reinforce good character. Only three men have coached the football team in 43 of the last 50 years: L.G. Henderson (1960 through '73), who went 110-41-7 and won five state titles; Mike Phipps (1974 through '83), who was 95-28-2 with seven titles; and current coach Cooper Henderson, L.G.'s son, who is 180--52 with 10 titles since 1989. No school bond issue has ever been voted down, and oilman Mack Chase, a former Bulldog who graduated in 1952, has donated millions for athletic-facility upgrades, including the artificial turf in the Bulldog Bowl, and for college scholarships that benefit Artesia students overall. "Our kids are not wanting for anything," says Phipps, now the school's superintendent.
And fan interest isn't measured only in orange clothing and dollars spent. On Tuesday nights the Quarterback Club, a group of 50 boosters, gathers to review game film and talk football with the coach. More important is the club's Quarterback Dad program, which pairs each player with a club member, who contacts him weekly. "Its intent is to let that young man know there's another adult who's very interested in his life," says club president Raye Miller.
In turn the players mentor the town's younger citizens, visiting elementary schools each Friday morning to tutor students in reading. "It's heartwarming to see the little kids who look up to you so much," says senior center Payton Kirkpatrick. "They're like, We want to be a Bulldog."
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Friday Night Lights
OSCEOLA (Kissimmee, Fla.) at LAKELAND (Fla.), Nov. 2
The top-ranked teams in Florida's Class 5A, No. 1 Lakeland (8--0) and No. 2 Osceola (8--0), meet on Friday to settle the District 8 title. Lakeland's Dreadnaughts are coming off their state-record 53rd consecutive win, a 22--19 double-OT thriller against Ridge (Davenport, Fla.). A committee of six Lakeland running backs, led by Jason Guzman, have rushed for a combined 2,011 yards and 22 TDs, while Osceola will rely on Bubba Brown (above), who has 1,385 rushing yards and 25 TDs.
JACKED UP FOR DOWNERS
Though its offense did not score a touchdown, No. 16 seed Homewood-Flossmoor stunned No. 1 Downers Grove South 16--0 in the first round of the Illinois Class 8A playoffs last Friday. The Vikings got three field goals from senior Andrej Skiba and a 79-yard interception return for a touchdown by senior linebacker Stephan Sewell.
Massillon (Ohio) senior Chris Willoughby's one-yard QB sneak in OT gave the Tigers a 23--20 win over archrival Canton (Ohio) McKinley last Saturday, the 116th game in the series. Massillon RB Devoe Torrence (right), an Ohio State recruit, rushed for 134 yards and two TDs.
Seniors Jon Major of Ponderosa (Parker, Colo.) and Brendan Beal of Liberty (Pa.), among rival.com's top five recruits for their position, made oral commitments to Colorado and Florida, respectively. Major (6'4", 230 pounds) has 136 tackles at his OLB spot; Beal (6'4", 235) has 98 at OLB.
SI's Top 10 Power Rankings
1 NORTHWESTERN (Miami) 8--0
Captured District 13-6A title with 24--12 win over Miami Central in front of 22,000 at the Orange Bowl
2 ST. XAVIER (Cincinnati) 10--0
Enters playoffs after surviving nation's toughest schedule
3 SOUTH PANOLA (Batesville, Miss.) 8--0
Had 351 rushing yards in 27--14 win over Southaven
4 CARROLL (Southlake, Texas) 7--1
Streaking Grapevine (6--2) offers a late-season test
5 KATY (Texas) 8--0
Coming off 38--9 win over Cinco Ranch, next victim is 3--5 Alief Elsik
6 MATER DEI (Santa Ana, Calif.) 8--0
Faces a tough battle vs. 7--1 Lutheran (Orange, Calif.)
7 HAMILTON (Chandler, Ariz.) 9--0
Can clinch regional title with a win over rival Chandler (7--2)
8 MARYVILLE (Tenn.) 9--0
Will cruise to fourth straight unbeaten season vs. 1--9 Lenoir City
9 COLERAIN (Cincinnati) 10--0
RB Dominique Sherrer has rushed for 1,127 yards, 22 TDs
10 BOOKER T. WASHINGTON (Miami) 7-0-1
Stingy defense allows 3.4 points per game
ONLY AT SI.COM For the Top 25, go to SI.com/highschool.