McCallum is not your run-of-the-mill football factory.
Not when its quarterback has been starting for the Knights since he was a fuzz-faced, 14-year-old sophomore. Not when the senior linebacker described by his position coach as “the heart and soul of our defense” still hasn’t received a single recruiting offer despite being all over the Alamodome field Saturday. Not when the opposing fans from Corpus Christi Calallen filled the lower bowl on the stadium’s east side and outnumbered the Knights’ faithful if not outyelled them.
Southern Arkansas has interest in left tackle Judah Copeland. Running back Alexander Julian’s getting a look from Houston Baptist. Howard Payne’s considering quarterback Max Perez. Hardly a factory.
In fact, McCallum’s more a mom-and-pop program with a small campus, one of the city’s most diverse, inclusive and talented student bodies, a proud athletic program and some of the most caring parents in Central Texas. McCallum’s entire campus probably would fit into the footprint of Lake Travis’ football stadium, but its dreams, ambitions and passion would match, too.
Clearly someone forgot to tell the Knights they couldn’t march this deeply into the Class 5A, Division II football playoffs.
Not only did they advance to a quarterfinal matchup against storied Calallen and its winningest coach in state schoolboy history, Phil Danaher, but they dominated the Wildcats 20-7 Saturday behind a smothering defense and big-play offense, earning a spot in next weekend’s semifinals as the first Austin school district team to make it that far since Reagan did it in 2001.
So has fourth-year coach Charles Taylor put McCallum on the map while leading these Knights farther than any other team in school history?
“I think McCallum’s been on the map,” said Taylor, a 42-year-old, serious-minded coach with a salt-and-pepper beard who always preaches belief. “I’m just trying to revive it.”
There might not be a more unlikely Class 5A team to flourish in this postseason than the one from the relatively small, tan-brick school snug in the heart of North Austin, just across the street from the Dart Bowl.
Enrollment falls under 1,700 students, and that number includes more than 600 high schoolers who are there for the Fine Arts Academy, which enlists those interested in drama, band or the highly decorated music program that was celebrated as the No. 1 Grammy Signature School in the nation in 2015.
Take those 600 students out of the equation — including two Knights, linebacker J.B. Faught and defensive lineman Jack Switzer, who have sung in school musicals — and the Knights might qualify as a 4A team.
But don’t think for a second they don’t play quality football.
“Numbers really don’t matter,” said Perez, a 6-foot-4 senior who’s an adept runner and gashed Calallen for 113 yards and a touchdown. “We’ve been talking about doing this for the last four years, and we’re about to put McCallum in the history books.”
An undersized but incredibly fast, gang-tackling defense was largely responsible, starting with 6-1, 205-pound linebacker Jackson Masters, who was once “skinnier than a twig,” Perez said, before gaining 30 pounds and wowing onlookers every Friday.
Faught and Masters were all over the field, stuffing Calallen’s running game, and Switzer had a pivotal sack before Masters’ interception helped keep the Wildcats out of the end zone before halftime. Masters was a maniac with two critical fourth-down stops after leading the team with 140 tackles this season. Oh, and he has a 3.00 GPA and ranks in the top 15 percent of his class.
“That kid has heart,” Knights linebacker coach Tony Osori said. “He knows more about football than anyone I’ve ever been around. He’s been the heart and soul of our defense. He’s a beast.”
Too bad nobody’s recruiting him. No one?
“Nope,” Masters said, beaming from ear to ear. “I wish. We’re just out here having fun. I love football.”
He’s got company, even though Taylor guesses he suited up no more than 34 kids on the varsity. Calallen’s roster, on the other hand, took up half the field at the Alamodome as 94 players went through pregame calisthenics.
The Wildcats’ supporters had to be stunned that their two-time state finalist and 445-win coach were overwhelmed by a feisty bunch and a coach who has just 34 career victories. Danaher’s such an icon that he joined UT coach Tom Herman on the cover of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine this past summer. “He’s a living legend,” Taylor said.
McCallum produces more outstanding baseball players such as major league pitcher Matt Belisle and golfers such as Hall of Famer Tom Kite and actors such as Wiley Wiggins than it does elite football players. As Taylor said, “We weren’t even picked to win district. Most of the time, we don’t fit the eye test once we get off the bus. If you look at our kids, it’s all want-to. They’re wringing every ounce of their ability out of ’em.”
From a bunch that numbers no more than 22 seniors, Taylor has molded a District 25-5A champion, using players with multiple skill sets such as wide receiver Mason Bryant, who showed off a 94-mph fastball this past summer and will pitch for the Longhorns next year, and wide receiver-safety-punt returner Davis Roe, who just happens to be his class’s valedictorian. Ian Carson, one of a handful of two-way players, kicked a pair of field goals Saturday and made the final stop on defense to seal the outcome.
“I think teams have been sleeping on us,” wide receiver Deron Gage said, “but we’re waking ’em all up.”
McCallum might not win or flirt with state championships on an annual basis or produce handfuls of FBS prospects for Power Five programs, but it is always competitive.
But you know what time it is?
It’s Knight Time.
The message was painted on the windows of the nine buses that made the 75-mile trip to the Alamodome. McCallum’s state-qualifying band, its proud cheer squad and its booster club routinely recite that catchy chant, which has brought positive vibes to a 14-0 team.
But this is a school that’s always made do with what it has. Why, not long ago, the booster club bought the first foul poles ever for the baseball field.
McCallum might not have the gravitas of some other powerhouses yet, but Taylor, the son of an auto mechanic and a seamstress in nearby Taylor and a former Longhorns track letterman, is quietly stacking up success on a foundation first laid by the late Pat Honeycutt.
“Coach Taylor is a very good man,” said Mike Garrison, McCallum’s principal for the past 15 years during a career in which he also coached football and basketball at Pasadena Dobie for 14 years. “He’s very honest. He loves the kids, but he also holds them accountable.”
So the celebration will continue at the little school at the aptly named 5600 Sunshine Drive.
“I didn’t even think of that,” Garrison said. “This is a ray of sunshine for our high school.”