VHS Football Preview
Odessa Permian at Vandegrift
Friday, Aug. 26 – 7 p.m.
By SCOTT W. COLEMAN, Four Points News
It isn’t often one gets to face off against a true legend, but that’s exactly what lies ahead for Vandegrift coach Drew Sanders and the Vipers this Friday.
The Permian Panthers helped the nation and world learn the significance here in Texas of high school football. Through his 1990 book “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream,” Buzz Bissinger introduced millions to the Permian Panthers, telling the story of the Panther’s 1988 season that ended in a 5A state semifinals loss to Dallas Carter. Permian won the 5A title the following year and followed it up with another in 1991; those would be the last titles for the six-time state champions and twice national champion Panthers.
For most of the last two decades, the Panthers have been a revolving door of coaches, including the short-lived return of Gary Gaines — the national champion coach made famous in Bissinger’s book. Still, the success of the 80s and 90s teams haven’t been repeated.
Current head coach Blake Feldt, who arrived to the sidelines in 2013, is a former head coach at Hays High School in Buda. Though Feldt never faced Vandegrift in his time at Hays, he is no doubt familiar with the Vipers and their rather more recent rise to statewide recognition.
This Friday marks Permian’s first return trip to Austin in well over a decade, and the matchup will be a big, early test for both teams. Vandegrift is replacing a record-setting running back in Travis Brannan and a number of other key starters on offense and defense. Permian is facing the loss of all but three of its starters from last year from a team that went 10-2, falling in the second round of the playoffs to Amarillo Tascosa.
Feldt still sees a lot of talent on this year’s squad, even if most of the players are lacking experience. “We just have a bunch of guys that haven’t played very much on Friday nights,” Feldt told the Odessa American this week. “As everybody knows … how many seniors we lost from a year ago. That’s the way it goes. The next group is up and it’s time for them to step up and have a really good year.”
Quarterback Kobe Robinson, himself one of the three returning starters on offense, told KSWO TV “We’ve just got to go in there, be us. We know how we can play and we’ve just got to play to our potential.”
Robinson has one returning lineman to protect him in 6-foot-2, 250 lb. OL Jayce Rush, while wideout Hunter Hawkins is the third returning starter on the whole team.
That’s pretty similar to the approach the Vipers are likely to take. Though Vandegrift returns more starters from last season — 14 in all — Sanders is fielding fresh faces at many of the skill positions. One of the benefits of long playoff runs of the previous two years is that many of those fresh faces have seen more than a little playing time, which should be a key to this game.
While the fans will pack the stands at Monroe Stadium for the return of football to Friday nights, and the game holds some intrigue in terms of the historical significance of the matchup, the contest itself could be a bit one-sided in favor of the Vipers. With a positive showing, Vandegrift can continue making its mark on football in the State of Texas and set the stage for the season to come.