HOUSTON – The scene is Brownwood High School Stadium on a comfortable sunny afternoon as the Katy Tigers face the Sundown Roughnecks in the 1A Texas High School Football Championship game.
It is December 19, 1959 and this is the first ever appearance by Katy in a State Championship game. Led by coach Gordon Brown, the Tigers defeated the Roughnecks 16-6 for the program’s first State Championship.
Katy, unlike today, wouldn’t be back on the biggest stage in Texas High School football for 35 years.
In 1994, under coach Mike Johnston, who started at Katy in 1980, the Tigers finally got back to the big game. Katy would fall to Plano West 28-7.
“That’s all you can ask for is an opportunity,” Johnston, who went 200-75 at Katy, said about the 1994 State Championship game. “That’s the thing, we felt confident about leaving after the game, I felt then that we’d be back. Maybe we’d turn things around because we learned some things.”
The date; December 13, 1997. The place; the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. The matchup; Katy against Longview with a crowd of 25,000-plus on hand.
“You grow up and the Astrodome back then was still an amazing structure and growing up as a kid it was always something cool and amazing,” former Katy wide receiver Jason Vourazeris said. “Then being able to play in it. We’d start from Katy load up on the busses and it would be a caravan down to the Astrodome. It was a great experience. You make that 30-45 minute drive and felt like the whole town was driving with you.”
Vourazeris was in eighth grade when Katy made the run in 1994. Even though he was at every game leading up to it, Vourazeris said he wasn’t at that title game.
Led by a solid senior class, Vourazeris, a junior at the time, said they felt the program turning into something big.
“Expectations were building and we felt like it was our year,” he said.
In what they referred to as “our Dome away from Home” Vourazeris, who is now an orthopedic surgeon in El Paso, and his teammates battled Longview.
Katy defeated Longview 24-3. The drought was over. The Tigers were once again State Champions.
“It was kind of destiny,” Vourazeris said. “At that time Katy didn’t turn out the Division 1 prospects that they do now. So I think it was a bunch of hard working guys that were really into the team mentality, which has really carried onto today at Katy.”
It was the first title for Katy in 38 years. Johnston had been at Katy since 1980 trying to win one, along his side for 22 of the eventual 24 years of his time there was defensive coordinator Gary Joseph.
“It took us a while. When I first came, I came as an assistant coach. To be honest with you we weren’t very good,” Joseph, a 2016 Texas High School Football Hall of Fame Inductee, said. “It took about four years before the expectations of the kids were set. After that it was on and off. Went to the State Championship game in 1994 and it kind of set the standard. It’s kind of built upon itself since then.”
With it having been so long between State Championships was Katy just a flash in the pan or were we seeing the beginnings of a dynasty?
The last 18 seasons under the direction of Johnston and Joseph have answered that question as the Tigers are now the standard in Texas High School Football.
Katy, since winning the title in 1997 has made 12 State Championship appearances, winning six more State Championships along the way.
“I think as much as anything else right now we’ve got a lot of tradition,” Joseph said. “Tradition doesn’t win games for you but it sets expectations. I think the expectations year in and year out are for the kids to do well.
“Most of the kids want to work their way up and make sure they are not the group that lets down the expectations or tradition of the program.”
While still the head coach, Johnston saw his teams win two more titles before stepping down after the 2003 title season. Joseph stepped right in and continued the success.
“There is one thing you’ve got to understand and Gary would be the first one to tell you we had a great staff,” Johnston said. “I have 10 former assistants from Katy that are head coaches around the State of Texas right now. So I was blessed to have really outstanding coaches.”
The Tigers made three-straight trips to the State Championship game from 2007-2009, winning back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008 for the program’s fifth and sixth championships.
“I’m thrilled that they’re continuing building and making the tradition even stronger,” Johnston said. “When you spend 24 years of your life investing yourself into something you’d like for it to continue.”
The number of championships following the 2008 season already put Katy among the upper echelon of Texas High School Football programs, joining the likes of South Lake Carroll, Lake Travis, Aledo and Celina.
Following their appearance in the 2009 title game, it would be three years before Katy would return to the game. Little did they know a 2012 State Championship win against Cedar Hill would be the beginning of a historic run.
Entering the 2016 season, Katy is seeking its fifth-straight State Championship game appearance. Only three other programs have accomplished that feat – La Marque (six-straight from 1993-1998) Lake Travis (2007-2011) and Southlake Carroll (2002-2006).
“We’re on a really good roll right now as a program,” Joseph said. “Been to the State Championship game four years in a row and not many schools do that. Sometimes people forget how hard it is to get to one State Championship game.”
“I think looking back on that and what they are doing now it’s really a humbling thing and a great source of pride as well,” he said. “I got to be a part of the team that kind of started this machine that’s rolling over all the teams in Texas. It’s pretty neat to be a part of that.”
Lake Travis won five-straight State Championships, while South Lake Carroll went 4-1 in their run and La Marque went 3-3.
The trips to the State Championships, seven in nine years also puts Katy in special company. Celina from 1998-2008 made eight appearances, winning six titles. Judson made six appearances from 1990-1998, while Aledo made five appearances in six years winning five titles from 2009-2014.
“It’s very humbling. I also realize that I have a great support group here that can do everything they can,” Joseph said. “Our coaches work extremely hard from the top down. They understand. In four years they’ve coached 64 games. They understand what it takes to get there.”
Entering his 13th season as the head coach of Katy, Joseph has gotten accustomed to addressing a team following a State Championship season.
No matter the previous season’s record or outcome the message is always the same.
“The biggest message for them all along is there is no entitlement,” Joseph said. “We’re not going to win just because we’re Katy. We’re going to win because of the things that have got us there, hard work, discipline and the kids play extremely well together. That’s what the message is going to be.”
For some of the players, like defensive end Corey Bethley playing a 16-game season is nothing new for the senior. The past two years, Bethley has appeared in the final game of the year for Katy, losing one and winning one.
“It’s very special,” Bethley said. “It’s a lot of responsibility because you can’t go out there and mess around. It’s work. That’s what you do for a living basically.”
With all the focus on Katy, there is possible pressure that comes with the outside expectations. The pressure of being Katy, making another title run, making another State Championship game appearance and everything that goes with that.
The pressure is something they don’t talk about, Joseph said, they talk about the kids that have put sweat into getting the program where it is now and not going backwards under their watch.
Currently in Texas three programs stand atop the mountain with eight State Championships apiece – Katy, Southlake Carroll and Celina.
Winning the next championship would set Katy apart from the rest of Texas High School Football.
“I’d like to see them get that ninth one,” Johnston said. “So we can separate ourself from Southlake and Celina. Most State Championships would be a real feather in the hat.”