By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
It’s been a long time coming for Dallas ISD high school football. The South Oak Cliff High School football team raised the bar by winning the UIL 5A Division II state title game by defeating the Liberty Hill Panthers 23-14 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Dec. 18.
All eyes across North Texas were on the South Oak Cliff Golden Bears as they celebrated their victory, which made them the first championship team in Dallas ISD since Booker T. Washington won the state title in 1958 – in what was then known as the Prairie View Interscholastic League.
“When you think of state championships going through some adversities for the road like it was, this was a fitting end, because it tested our character and the peaks and valleys we talked about all year,” said SOC Head Football Coach Jason Todd. “So it was a lot of things that we discussed all year that we haven’t experienced in the last couple of weeks, that really came through for us in the end and we didn’t lose our focus.”
Todd explained that SOC’s appearance in the championship game represented the entire city.
“We felt like we were representing DISD long before we started the playoffs,” Todd said. “We were one school out of 22 high schools and those other 21 high schools are on our back too. Not only the current teams, but the teams of the past.”
In 1988, Carter won the state title but the school’s victory was revoked due to ineligible players’ grades. The Golden Bears would not suffer the same fate with each player’s GPA being 3.0 and higher. This made the trophy even more of a historical moment for Dallas ISD.
“It just shows you, you know if the right thing going forward is if we can get the whole city behind us, and that is what is big because it wasn’t just a South Oak Cliff thing, or Oak Cliff thing, this is about Dallas, and putting Dallas back on the map showing that we could play ball with anybody else in the state of Texas,” Todd said.
The football team had to deal with some adversities this season as the COVID-19 pandemic hit worldwide and high school football was affected as well.
“We had COVID restrictions. We didn’t get the offense you know fully in line like we wanted to. We have to put in the work. We had to make some adjustments as coaches. We got to allow players to play and put the ball in their hands a lot more often,” Todd said.
“We had one goal in mind the whole season and all guys were locked in. And this was probably the most loose group of kids I have ever been around, because the pressure never got to them. Like you saw last night, they were just walking around the hotel and when we said it was bed check, those guys were in the room locked in and we were ready to go.”
Todd said the team fought hard the entire season. The only loss for the Golden Bears this season was the season opener against Duncanville, when they lost 27-42. The team won 15 consecutive games afterward and fought through the playoffs, which includes defeating three time defending state champions Aledo High in the third round of the Texas High School UIL Playoffs. Aledo has a total of 10 state titles. Also, the Liberty Hill Panthers, who lost to SOC in the championship game, have two previous state championship wins in its school history.
SOC Quarterback Kevin Henry-Jennings said he was proud to see the entire community behind the football team.
“It means a lot, we did it for the whole Dallas region and we had the crowd behind our back and we just kept pushing through,” Jennings said.
For Todd, it is both a sense of relief and satisfaction for his ball club to get the title.
“It is kind of really bit of both you know, getting all the guys and people in the community behind us with one goal. It’s really hard and you want to make sure at the end of the day that we achieve that goal, which is to win a state championship. And now that we have, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Because you know, I have been to the state championship once before as an assistant and came up short and so that is something that haunts you for the rest of your coaching career,” Todd said.
The season was tough for the team but the coaches told the players to trust the process.
“I think it is how we coach them and how we are able to reach them in ways that they know we are being serious. And I think it also comes from a point that, as a kid, a lot of times you don’t understand how important things are in life or how big the road is. But I think a lot of times they understand that they are playing for us because they understand that we have feelings and passion about things. So they will do things as a kid a lot of times to … please you even if it is not a big point for it themselves,” Todd said.
Todd has been following Dallas high school football most of his life and said this victory is one of his proudest moments.
“I’ve only gone to school in Dallas, so everything about me is Dallas born and bred, and I am proud to be from Dallas, and I am proud we got the state championship in Dallas,” he said.
Abdul Muhammad, SOC Defensive Player, who was named the Defensive MVP of the championship game, expressed how he felt about winning the title.
“It just means a lot and we knew what we had to do, and we just came out there and finished it,” Muhammad said.
SOC has recently gone through a two-year, $60 million renovation project to its campus and facilities, which included the sports complex at the school.
Traylor said this project has helped sports, academics and clubs that students are involved in.
SOC Track Coach Dwayne Traylor said he had great hopes for the future for the entire school.
“It has been a long time coming. We worked extremely hard year in year out to get to this level and this finally happened. It is absolutely incredible. It is great,” Traylor said.
“Many of them [football players] are involved in other sports. Since I am a track coach, many of the football players are actually track athletes as well. So we have the same goals. We want to bring home another state title in track. In South Oak Cliff, they have a story and reputation in track and field of three or four state titles in school history, and so we want another one. So we are going to go after that one, and so the stakes are very high especially now since the football team has raised the bar and won state. So in other sports we are going to be looking to do the same thing.”