Publish date:

Hollywood has given us another West Texas high school football movie

Embedded in the human psyche is the desire to be told the same story over and over again. Just look at the box office charts if you don't believe me, where the same five movies are at the top over and over again. One of our fabled stories is David and Goliath, a hardscrabble underdog overcoming impossible odds to prove to stick it to all the haters... or something like that.

The modern audience loves David and Goliath translated on to the football field, and we especially love if it's a high school football tale, particularly in West Texas.

And so twenty years and 170 miles removed from the famed 1988 Odessa Permian Panthers, Hollywood -- Saban Films and Paramount Movies, to be exact -- has given us the tale of the 2009 Abilene Eagles.

Abilene's story is part of the largest story of Texas, and of America. The Eagles were once a power in the state, winning six state titles between 1923 and 1956, but the 2009 crown stands as its only state championship since '56.

In fact, the Abilene's 2009 title is the only state championship won by a West Texas school in the state's largest classification since Midland Lee, powered by future NFL running back Cedric Benson, won three straight from 1998-00.

As the state's economy has moved rural to urban over the past few decades, so, too, has its football power: At the 5A and 6A levels, state championships are won almost exclusively by powerhouse programs from the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Austin metro areas.

And that's part of what makes Abilene's 2009 run so special. The Eagles took down 2-time defending state champion Katy, from just west of Houston, in the state championship.

In fact, NPR's widely-heard All Things Considered produced a lengthy article and an 8-minute audio feature on Abilene's state championship win over Katy.

Much about the Texas 5A Division II state championship Saturday was big — the stakes, the schools, the stadium and the expectations. Abilene High School, which hadn't been in the state championship game since 1956, took on Katy High School, the two-time defending champion.

Katy was ranked No. 3 in a USA Today national poll and was winner of the past two titles in the biggest classification in the toughest state to play football. A 200-member band blasted news of the team's arrival into the stadium Saturday, and 10,000 or so Katy football fans rolled into San Antonio's Alamodome. Katy had only one thing in its way to its third state championship title in a row: the No. 4-ranked Abilene Eagles.

Packed into the other side of the stands, an equal number of black and gold-clad Abilene High School fans chanted their beloved team name all night long.

"Eagles! Eagles! Eagles!"

Abilene came into the game undefeated and undersized, according to Texas football watchers. Yet they were also fast and furious.

"I knew I wasn’t the biggest guy, or the fastest guy, but that’s the beauty of high school football: it’s that those guys are on the same playing field as the guys who’ll play on Saturdays and Sundays," nose guard Hunter Cooke said in a 2017 interview. "It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog, and other various clichéd – but true – phrases."

The trailer, though, focuses on Abilene's regional semifinal win over Cedar Hill, from the Dallas area. (Spoiler alert, the good guys win, 41-17.)

While Permian gave us Friday Night Lights, Abilene gives us Under the Stadium Lights. This one stars Lawrence Fishburne with Milo Gibson (Mel's son) playing the Billy Bob Thornton role. Like Permian, Abilene's best player is a running back -- Herschel Sims, a 4-star recruit who signed with Oklahoma State out of Abilene (and is now a GA at North Texas).

And like Friday Night LightsUnder the Stadium Lights features a down-on-his-luck parent played by a familiar face, although one we're not used to seeing in feature films. FNL had Tim McGraw, Stadium Lights has a certain NFL running back-turned actor-turned Division I head football coach.

Screen Shot 2021-04-15 at 4.37.51 PM

This film is a long time coming, originally announced in 2016 under the title Brother's Keeper. If nothing else, Stadium Lights appears to stick closer to the facts than its predecessor. The film was shot in Abilene, but the filmmakers at least tried to make it look like they shot the pivotal Cedar Hill game at the same Fort Worth-area stadium where it was actually played.

With a release date set for June 4, the trailer is out now. There isn't anything here you haven't already seen before -- but that's the point, isn't it?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9PF8bmrZ44