Texas high school football is religion. Whether it’s a tiny town or a major metropolitan area, the bright lights of stadiums tower in the fall night sky almost any direction you drive. This is true of the state capital, Austin, which has produced some of football’s greatest players, including current Saints quarterback and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees.
Located right in the heart of the capital city, with a clear view of the burgeoning skyline, is one football program that has been around for decades. It hasn’t ever produced an NFL player. However, it has produced some of the most unique football on the planet with the Texas School for the Deaf. And now, for the first time in the program’s 164-year history, the football team can be called state champs.
Texas School for Deaf program history
The first question any fan unfamiliar with the Texas School for the Deaf and its football program asks is — how do the players know the snap count? The answer: the team uses a large drum on the sidelines and the players can feel the vibration.
That’s been the way TSD has played football for years. It’s also played traditional 11-man football in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools or TAPPS. However, like everything else in 2020, the pandemic dramatically altered the football program. In fact, it almost ended it.
“It’s just amazing because I seriously considered canceling the whole football program this year,” Texas School for the Deaf Superintendent Claire Bugen told NBC.
Bugen didn’t. Instead of dropping the program, the team dropped down to TAPPS six-man football.
Team avoids season cancellation, drops to six-man football
While six-man is still football, it’s a much more offensive-minded approach. With a field 80 yards long and 40 yards wide and every player eligible to catch a pass, scores can sometimes run so high it makes the Big 12 blush. Naturally, it required some adjustment by the TSD Rangers.
“Everything was new. The rules were new. The field is new. The field is no longer 100 yards. It’s down to 80 yards, so that changes our whole game,” head coach John Moore said. Despite those major adjustments, the team was just happy to have the opportunity to play football.
“We’re in the season. It doesn’t even matter. We’re going to get to play. We’re 6-on-6. We’ll take it,” the coach said.
And did they ever.
Texas School for the Deaf wins state title
In the Texas School for the Deaf’s debut game in six-man football, it didn’t go well. Veritas Academy, also in Austin, dominated the Rangers by a score of 58-25. It was an eye-opening experience and one where the team learned a great deal about the new game and, more importantly, about themselves.
Following that opening defeat, TSD lost two more times in the next five games. Then, they never lost again. The Rangers reeled off four straight victories, including a revenge 63-32 win over the Veritas Academy for the TAPPS Division I Six-Man state championship on Dec. 11.
The team’s fairytale title run understandably made national headlines. It’s been featured on Today as well as a video shoutout on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
In a year that has felt like it’s been one bad news story stacked on top of another, the Texas School for the Deaf falling victim to the pandemic and canceling its season would have blended in well with 2020. Instead, the team found a way, pushed forward, and unbelievably won a state title. That’s the type of inspiration we all could use heading into 2021.