Q&A with Hal Wasson
We caught up with Southlake Carroll head coach Hal Wasson
Southlake Carroll is inarguably one of the top football programs in the state. The Dragons have won eight state titles and are always a threat to run the table. This year, Southlake Carroll enters the season ranked No. 5 in Class 6A. With unmatched tradition and key starters returning on both sides of the ball, the Dragons are poised for another deep playoff run.
DCTF’s EJ Holland caught up with head coach Hal Wasson, who guided Southlake Carroll to a state championship in 2011, to get his thoughts on his team’s offseason, an extremely tough district slate, Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill and more.
EJ: Players always say ‘the grind never stops.’ But it never stops for coaches either, right?
HW: Well, I’ve never looked at it as a grind. It’s the process. It’s what makes football… football. We get to come to work everyday. Your players get to come in and lift and run and do those necessary things to be good. As coaches, we get to do the same things. We might not do the conditioning and lifting side, but we invest in kids’ lives and the team to try to be as good as we can be. I look it as more of an investment not a grind.
EJ: Well, I’m sure it’s tough not invest 24 hours a day into your team. Can you describe your typical offseason?
HW: (Laughs) I think a key word we use around here is balance. We want our players and the guys we work with everyday to see balance in your life. Balance for a football coach is different from balance at another occupation, there is no doubt about that. We have a 12-month plan, and we don’t deviate from the plan. That doesn’t mean that we don’t tweak it annually, but we never deviate from how we do things here. The season is very intense and magnified. But in the offseason, it’s a different type of intensity. We always start from the end and work to the start as far as our vision goes. The season is over, and we do our exit meetings. We start with constructive criticism. After a couple of weeks of offseason, we do our 200s. We don’t move on until everybody meets the specified time. When that’s over with, we go into our skill and agility phase. When that’s done, we go into Dragon Maker — our boot camp. It’s a very attentive to detail and structured workout. It’s not about the what; it’s about the how you do things. Then we go into offseason then spring ball and then our summer strength and conditioning program. If you ask our players what’s the single most important thing you do as a football team, they will unanimously say it’s what we do in the summer. They don’t have to be here. They choose to come to work everyday. Again, we don’t call it a grind, we call it an investment.
EJ: A big part of that investment is spring ball. How do you feel your team performed and what are some things they need to improve on?
HW: I’m always impressed with their work ethic and their reps and their mindset. There is no doubt about it. As with any spring, you come out and say ‘well, this looks good, but boy, we have a long way to go here.’ But I do trust that our players are going to work on their weaknesses. If they need to get stronger, faster, quicker, tougher, they are going to identify that. We have a long way to go up front. The good news is we have a returning quarterback and two or three running backs we’re really excited about. The receiving corps is a work in progress, but they’re getting better. We’re replacing four of our five starters on the offensive line. We have to create some depth on the defensive line. Our linebackers and secondary run well. We have some seasoning there, so we’re excited about that. We had a young kicker step up this spring. We’re always optimistic, and our kids are always going to focus on what they can control. At the end of the day, we have to be better and more efficient in certain areas, and I’m confident our guys will step up and work to get that way. Will it be Week 1 or Week 3? If I had a crystal ball, I’d be a lot smarter than this. But I’m always confident.
EJ: (Laughs) Well, y’all do have a tough district. Realignment wasn’t exactly kind to y’all. What were your thoughts when saw that your district features teams like Euless Trinity, Coppell and Colleyville Heritage?
HW: I’ve learned through the course of the years that if you can’t control it, don’t concern yourself with it. There is no doubt that it’s a tough district. But football is a tough game. There is nothing easy about it. We don’t believe that there is a big game. Every game is a big game. That’s the way we approach it. We have not changed that mindset, and we won’t change that this year. Every game is a big game. What’s changed about that? Nothing. Boy, I have tremendous respect for this district. Wow, there are great coaches and players in this district. Look at the skins on the wall in this district. So yes, it’s going to be challenging and competitive, but we won’t change our mindset. Every game is a big game.
EJ: I definitely believe you. But that first game might be the biggest of them all with Todd Dodge coming back to Southlake Carroll now as the head coach of Austin Westlake. He really started something special here that you were also a part of as an assistant. You must have that game circled on your calendar, right?
HW: It’s the next game, so it’s a big game. Yeah, it’ll be a fun and exciting game to watch. But I never want to play a game where the outside factors are bigger than the game. The kids are playing the game, so we’ll keep our focus on our players and our execution because I do know this: the team that plays the best is going to win. That being said, we hope to be at our best. I have tremendous respect for that program. Westlake is no stranger to Texas high school football. They’ve been really good for a lot of years. I know Coach Dodge and his staff are going to do a great job there. But we’re going to try to be the best we can be that night and approach it like any other game. It’s a game. But the game after that is a big game and so is the one after that. There is none bigger than the other.
EJ: I’m sure it will be a great one. Y’all had a lot of success together. Can you tell me a little bit about your time together and what you learned from him?
HW: Coach Dodge has had tremendous success. I really enjoyed working with him. We had great times together. We’re great friends. I have great respect for him. You can’t say enough good about him. What he accomplished here is remarkable. Coach Dodge was a good fit for Southlake, and Southlake was a good fit for Coach Dodge. We’d all echo that. I’ve been blessed to be here. It’s a special place. It’ll be different. I’ve always been a big admirer and fan. Gosh, I worked for him. I know he’ll do great things at Westlake. I’ll always wish him well… except against Southlake (smiles).
EJ: Obviously, y’all run a fast tempo spread offense. One thing that’s new this year is the 40-second play clock. Is that going to affect y’all at all?
HW: I don’t think so. We’re going to be who we are. If you ask anybody, they know we're going to try to play fast. It’s not going to be a secret. They put it on the ground, we’re going to snap it and go. We believe in our players and we believe in our system. We are going to be who we are. We know our identity in all three phases. We have an incredible coaching staff that work really hard to be as good as they can be because they know the expectations of our players, school and community. Backtracking a little bit, you alluded to the tough teams in the district. They’re all great teams with tradition and the same high expectations. What a great venue to be in. What an exciting time for Dragon football. If we’re not at our best, we put ourselves in harm’s way. But what’s better than that? You’re either at your best or you're not.
EJ: You mentioned earlier that you have your quarterback back this season. And Ryan Agnew is a pretty good one. It seems like Southlake Carroll produces college quarterbacks every year. How does Agnew stack up to some of the quarterbacks that have come through this program?
HW: We’ve always taken great pride in not comparing one quarterback to another because they’re their own unique player. I’ll tell you what, football is an easy game to watch, but it’s a tough game. We don’t want to put any stress on our players. All we want Ryan to do is be the best he can be. Ryan did a great job backing up Kenny (Hill) as a sophomore, and he had a really strong junior year. We anticipate him having a strong senior year. There has been a great legacy of quarterbacks here. Since 2001, they’ve all gone Division I. They’ve all been great leaders and great character guys. Those things just don’t happen. Those guys come in and train to be quarterbacks. It’s important to them. Ryan is just another one of those guys. This is my eighth year, so I’ve been blessed to watch him grow up and go through the ranks. It’s been very important for him to be a Dragon quarterback. He’s never felt entitled. We tell him, if you play your best and we play our best, great things are going to happen for us.
EJ: You just mentioned Kenny Hill. He’s in the mix to win the starting quarterback job at Texas A&M. Do you think he’s ready to take over in Aggieland?
HW: I have no doubt that he’s ready. I’m very blessed to have coached him and been around him. He has great work ethic and is a great competitor. I know he’s relishing this opportunity. It’s been fun to watch him grow, mature and get better. I know the guys around him will make him better and in turn, he’ll make them better. I’ll tell you what, he’s not going to shy away from competition or playing great football teams. If they think he’s not going in to win the starting spot, they’ve got another thing coming. I’m not a betting man, but I will always put my money on Kenny Hill. He’s as good as I’ve ever been around.
EJ: Obviously, it’s important for college coaches to have great relationships with the state’s high school coaches. It seems Kevin Sumlin is doing that at Texas A&M. So what is your relationship like with him?
HW: He hadn’t been on the job but for five hours, and he came into my office (to recruit Hill) with Kilff Kingsbury at the time. He came in with bloodshot eyes, and I remember thinking, gosh, this guy knows what he wants. I think Kevin has done a remarkable job at Texas A&M. That’s a school with high expectations as well. He’s assembled a great staff. That’s evident in the way he’s recruiting. He’s getting a lot of marquee guys. Texas A&M has been a team to contend with the last couple of years, and they’re going to be a team to contend with the next few year. They’ve got great players coming in, and now they have to manage all that talent. I think the proof is in the pudding. Coach Sumlin and his staff are committed to excellence.
EJ: Thanks for your time coach. That’s all I got, but I do have to ask you one last thing: are you bringing back the silver fox this season for good luck?
HW: The silver fox is here. Don’t you see it? You don’t see it! The silver fox is here and doing well (laughs).
EJ Holland is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.
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