He started exchanging notes with another Toros receiver, an aspiring coach named Ronnie Thompson, who, like Detmer, was committed to a pass-happy offense that his old coach at Jefferson High in Port Arthur would have condemned as an apostasy. The indelibly nicknamed Buckshot Underwood had been a Bear Bryant assistant at Kentucky.
"When I read about the camp the Bear took those boys to—the Junction Boys—man, I thought it was a comedy," says Thompson, now the athletic director at Memorial High in Port Arthur. "Shoot, we lived through the [same] thing, and we were high school kids." Was Buckshot a fan of the forward pass? "My junior year we threw 17 passes—and 11 of those were in the state semifinals against Corpus Christi Miller."
Launching his own coaching career, Thompson became an early advocate of the passing game—a reaction, in large part, to the archconservatism of Underwood. While his aerial attack was "very simple" compared with those seen today, Thompson says, "we did a lot of damage because no one else was doing it."
At wit's end during his first season as coach at Jefferson, Thompson brought a sophomore quarterback off the bench, a Methodist minister's son by the name of Todd Dodge. "We'd gone through a bunch of seniors and nothing worked," Thompson says. "It was November and we were 0-fer, as in 0-for-the-season. Todd comes in against a pretty good team from Beaumont and leads us to a 33--9 win. Next year we win six games—should have won eight. His senior year, he was flat-out smokin'."
How the Irish Saved Civilization, author Thomas Cahill shows that in the Dark Ages, an "isle of saints and scholars" preserved most of the written treasures of Western civilization from the barbarians marauding across Europe.
Think of Thompson and Detmer and Mumme and Dodge as the saints and scholars who kept the passing game alive. After playing in 38 games for the Longhorns in the early 1980s, the quarterback known as TD got into the coaching business. As offensive coordinator at McKinney High outside Dallas in 1989, Dodge crossed paths with his old mentor, Thompson, who had landed at nearby South Garland. There, his offense drew from a potpourri of potent influences: the quick-passing game of Miami's Dennis Erickson; the Mouseketeer attack of the USFL's Houston Gamblers, concocted by offensive coordinator Mouse Davis and executed by the young Jim Kelly; the devilish run-and-shoot variation implemented by mad-scientist-coach John Jenkins at Houston.
Emboldened by Thompson, Dodge junked McKinney's I formation in favor of a four-wide set run out of the shotgun—an offense now popularly known as the spread. But his system did not earn renown as Dodge Ball until 2002, his third season as coach at Southlake Carroll High. "That was the year we put in the no-huddle," says Dodge, who left for North Texas in late 2007. "Over the next 80 games we went 79--1." The Dragons won four state championships in five years, losing only to Katy High, by a single point, in the 2003 Class 5A title game.
During that dynastic span the Dragons were quarterbacked by Chase Wasson, the state's 2002 5A Player of the Year; Chase Daniel, who would go on to shatter Missouri's career passing records; Greg McElroy, now starting for No. 2 Alabama; and Riley Dodge, who turned down a scholarship offer from Texas to play for his old man in Denton.
By the time Todd Dodge moved on to the Mean Green, a clear majority of the state's 1,100 or so high schools had embraced some species of the spread offense. "As the spread got more popular, so did the position of quarterback," says Ennis High coach Sam Harrell, whose son Graham led the Lions to a Class 4A state title in 2001 and set a Texas record for career passing yards (12,532) before putting up more eye-popping stats at Texas Tech. "When Darrell Royal made that statement, the quarterback's biggest job was to hand the ball off. Now it's a much more exciting proposition. So the pool of kids wanting to play quarterback is bigger. And in a state this big, you'll find some good ones."
They're finding them earlier and earlier. As Dodge notes, "A lot of these quarterbacks are starting to be trained from the seventh and eighth grades. It's not about taking the best player from last season's team and making him a quarterback his senior year."