“How can it ever be more satisfying than to get a chance to go play for a state championship,” asked a rain-soaked Hank Carter after Lake Travis’ 2016 state championship win against a previously unbeaten Katy Tigers’ team that had beaten the Cavaliers a year earlier in a blowout.
Though the answer to his question was simple, the journey from an ambiguous past to a dominant recent present — filled with both likely and unlikely heroes — is not.
“Probably for some of our former players who were part of that 2015 game, this may have been a little extra fist pump in there,” Carter beamed. “But heck, that doesn’t matter.”
Matthew Baldwin. Michael Brewer. Cameron Dicker. Garrett Gilbert. Cade Green. Baker Mayfield. Garrett Wilson. The players change and time passes but the storyline — one dominance and a brash approach to a winning culture — rarely changes.
Neither does Carter, Lake Travis’ steely blue-eyed head coach, who has led the Cavaliers to three of the high school’s six total state titles. He’s also guided arguably the most continuously dominant program in the last decade regardless of classification to 105 victories and five top-25 rankings in seven years.
LAKE TRAVIS-LIKE ALLURE
Twenty-nine of those victories have come in the last two years and during runs to the 6A state title game in 2016 and 2017. Those wins, however, mean little compared to the next because, in Lake Travis, it’s all about continuing history — not clinging to it.
“I actually moved from out of state and heard about how dominant Lake Travis was. Before I moved here it was kind of intimidating,” former Cavalier athlete Michael Mast said with a wry smile.
“Dominating. Intimidating,” he said under his breath, muttering the words like a mantra.
It’s more than records, winning and golden plaques for Lake Travis, though. Its an ambiance, a history surrounding a city that will seek to secure its seventh state championship in less than 36 hours.
“From our head coach down to our special team’s coordinator they would always have us prepared,” Mast continued, running a finger across the stitching of a Lake Travis ball cap. “They went so far as to have us all practice special teams before our normal practice in the morning. I don’t know of another school that does that.
To Mast, a sophomore move-in from out of state, it became a routine, another day at the office. To Carter, though, it was a way to consistently rebuild the foundation of an already existing successful process.
One could say that Carter inherited a golden goose when he took over for former Southern Methodist University and current Arkansas head man Chad Morris after the Cavs won a Class 4A title in 2009. The same could be said about Morris, who stepped in place of Jeff Dicus, who “Lake Travised” — an undefeated run to a second consecutive championship earned the merit of the school being its own verb, a lá “getting Mossed” — 16 consecutive teams en route to history.
ESTABLISHING A NEW HISTORY
Dicus, who walks hand in hand with former Athletic Director Jack Moss in creating the Lake Travis dynasty, was a catalyst that turned a program that had won 79 games — albeit seven or more under former coaches Don Cowan, George Jackson, Jim Shewmake, and Keith Tuck — in the 21 seasons before his arrival into one that’s won 182 games in the 15 seasons after.
Dicus won a District 27-4A title in his second season. It was three seasons removed from a 0-10 Lake Travis finish under Charlie Sadler. He won the first state championship in the school’s history three seasons later with 15-1 Cavalier team led by Gilbert, a former 2014 sixth-round draft pick by the then St. Louis Rams.
Despite Dicus’ departure after the title run, he had done the heavy-lifting for Lake Travis — set the foundation of a program mired in anonymity and made it a threat to those not only in its own classification but those outside of it.
The Cavaliers won 32 consecutive games as well as their second and third consecutive Class 4A titles under Morris, who departed the program in 2010 to accept a position at the University of Tulsa as its new offensive coordinator and associate head coach.
Carter, the school’s winningest coach, led Lake Travis to its fourth consecutive title in his first season in 2010. He led the Cavaliers to a historical fifth in 2011 with then-junior Mayfield, who has his Oklahoma Sooners eyes’ squared on the 2017 College Football Playoffs and a possible National Championship run.
That high school state title was special though. No high school team in any Texas classification had ever won five consecutive championships, let alone one not from the powerhouse region known as North Texas that houses the Allen’s, Cedar Hill’s, DeSoto’s, Denton Guyer’s, and Southlake Carroll’s of the high school football universe.
“Just knowing we had to win was the only thing we could do,” said Cameron Wrinkle, a member of the “Drive for 5” year, in a 2011 documentary by Jeff Power. “It was to win a state championship. Everyone wanted to end the streak and there was a pretty heavy load on our back, but we just went out there and played. If we would have done anything other than that, we probably would have failed.”
Since breaking away from Dripping Springs ISD as a Class 1A program in 1981 and creating their own brand a year later, one could also argue that the journey to Cavaliers’ legend is on par with Lone Star State football lore itself.
“I can’t speak for other guys coaches but I remember when I took [Wisconsin Head Coach Paul Chryst] into our weight room, he said ‘Holy crap this is crazy! This is like a college,'” said Cade Green, a member of the 2016 state championship team and current Badger wide receiver, chuckling about how big of a mark his alma mater has left on the landscape of prep football — and in the mind of college recruiters.
Green, who moved to Lake Travis as a freshman, said the NCAA-caliber facilities only scratch the surface of Lake Travis’ allure. There’s also the brotherhood that welcomed an “outsider.”
THE CAVALIER WAY
“I didn’t know much about LT until I learned I was moving there but once I started to hear more, I was impressed with it. Winning is expected at LT and anything less just doesn’t work, but it’s more than winning here,” he said. “Its a way of life, a way of being. Each year I bet teams talk about how they want to win a state title but the difference with Lake Travis is that we try to live it every single day. We set goals throughout the season and make sure we work toward reaching them. We constantly have a state title on our mind.”
He noted the science of their winning formula lies in the respect players have for coaches — men like Carter, Jonathon Coats, Michael Wall, and Kevin Halfman that have been present for one or all of the five state titles — and a willingness to “empty the tank for them.” Green expounded on the brilliant game plans built around players and dedicated film study to prepare them as well as a balance between having fun and knowing when it’s time to go to work.
All things — much like time — pass. There are no guarantees, fail-safes, or golden parachutes in the business of Lone Star State football. Lake Travis is no different, though the Cavaliers seemingly have control of the hands on the clock and their collective fingers pressed firmly to the pulse of the winning trends.
They do as they always do, Mast said.
Put their cleats on one at a time, strap up, get ready for battle and play their style of football — no prisoners Lake Travis football.
“Lake Travis is what it will always be and long after we’re gone and a new generation rises to take our place,” Mast continued. “A city tied to a tradition that’s bigger than any one individual. It’s like I said, it’s a dominating and intimidating thing — when you’re standing in the stampede instead of in front of it.”
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