Dodge would like to be known as the first quarterback to lead Southlake Carroll
High to back-to-back Texas 5A Division I football titles. Someday he'd
like to be known for helping his dad, Todd, the former Carroll coach, build a
winning tradition at the University of North Texas. Someday Riley Dodge would
like to be known for something other than what he's famous for now--projectile
vomiting through his face mask immediately before (and moments after) throwing
the go-ahead touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the state championship
victory against Austin Westlake last December.
Nobody seems to remember those heroic elements. This was apparent last winter when Riley and his family, in an Oval Office visit arranged by a family friend who works in the White House, were greeted by President Bush, who said, "So, you must be the guy who threw up!"
Fortunately for Riley he will have more opportunities to make a lasting impression on his fellow Texans. With the onset of his senior season at Carroll, his second as a starter, the suburban Dallas program that has won three straight 5A titles and is SI's preseason No. 1 team in the nation (box, page 76), Riley will try to prolong the Dragons' dominance and top his own outstanding performance last year: 4,184 yards and 54 touchdowns passing, plus 1,119 yards and 13 scores rushing, in a no-huddle spread offense.
Then, in January, instead of heading to the University of Texas--Todd's alma mater and the school whose scholarship offer Riley verbally accepted last February--Riley will move 23 miles north to Denton to start classes at North Texas and resume playing for his dad. Todd, who accepted the Mean Green's job offer in December, takes over a team that has won only five of its last 24 games and in 2006 ranked 117th in the country in both passing and total offense. "I think I can help him," says the soft-spoken Riley.
So now, rather than playing in front of 85,000 at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Riley will be playing for a team that drew an average crowd of 16,000 last season. "North Texas is going to be a challenge," says Riley, "but I am excited about the possibilities."
Giving up a chance to play for the Longhorns, he says, "was the hardest decision of my life." Riley was taken to his first Texas game as a three-week-old and for most of his life has had his bedroom walls painted burnt orange. But a week after making his nonbinding commitment, he started having second thoughts. If he were in Austin, Riley realized, his dad wouldn't get to see him play, and his mom, Elizabeth, and his 14-year-old sister, Molly, would have to choose between watching his team or his dad's. It would be the same for his 68-year-old grandfather, Ebbie Neptune, a coach and administrator at Austin Westlake from 1982 through 2003, who suffered a massive stroke last January and had relocated from Austin to the Dallas area.
Finally, Riley felt he had a better shot at playing quarterback at North Texas, a member of the Sun Belt Conference. "I know some people doubt me because of my height," says Riley, who at 6 feet, 187 pounds, is rated the 58th-best prospect in Texas by rivals.com. "But I can play at the Division I level. And I've been playing my dad's offense since I was in sixth grade. I know it like the back of my hand."
Dodge ball, as the offense is known in Southlake and Denton, has its roots at Thomas Jefferson High, in Port Arthur, Texas, where Todd, a Methodist preacher's son, played quarterback from 1978 through '80. Under coach Ronnie Thompson, Todd threw the ball 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 yards in a season. After a stellar career at Texas--his passing totals of 2,791 yards and 18 touchdowns rank ninth and 10th, respectively, in school history--Todd caught up with Thompson again in the late '80s, when Thompson was the offensive coordinator at South Garland High and Todd held the same position at nearby McKinney High. "Ronnie had put together a little package that included some Port Arthur, a little old University of Houston run-and-shoot and a little of Dennis Erickson's Miami Hurricanes pro-style one-back offense," says Todd, who drew on Thompson's expertise. "At McKinney we replaced the I [formation] with the spread, and we really lit it up. I've used four receivers out of the shotgun ever since."
After several more stops--including a stint as the offensive coordinator at North Texas in 1992 and '93--Todd landed at Carroll in 2000 with a 24-35 high school coaching record. The program had won three 3A titles with coach Bob Ledbetter's run-oriented offense but stagnated after Ledbetter retired following the '95 season. Using the spread, Todd's teams went a combined 19-10 in 4A in his first two years. Since the Dragons moved up to 5A in 2002, they have been nearly unstoppable: four state titles, a 79-1 record (the Dragons lost by one point to Katy High in the 2003 5A Division II title game) and the 48-game winning streak, which is two short of breaking the Texas big-school record.
The program's success stems from a perfect storm of good coaching, highly motivated players and an affluent community's commitment to a football development system. Every football team in Southlake, from peewee to high school, wears green-and-white jerseys with the trademarked Dragons logo. Thanks to coaching clinics that Dodge started when he arrived, players learn the proper way to throw, catch and tackle beginning at the age of six. In middle school they are taught Dodge's spread offense and 4-3 defense.