There is no Ivy League match up bigger than Harvard-Yale.
And big games for the Crimson football team are infrequent. Games with title implications happen almost every week, but playing under the gaze of the 50,000 viewers is a rarity for the players of the Ancient Eight. Well, most players.
For the athletes from Texas, playing in big high school games is the norm.
“Football in Texas is a tradition,” senior linebacker Chase Guillory said. “Basically all your buddies and all your friends grow up together playing the game. You grow into the sport and get to participate in something that brings the entire community together and that’s why it’s so special to all of the Texas guys.”
Throughout the past few years, playing in an Ancient Eight divisional matchup with 15,000 attendees is a novelty. For Harvard-Yale, of course, that number shoots up.
Most years, Harvard Stadium brings in just over 30,000 viewers to The Game—31,662 spectators made the trek in 2016. The Yale Bowl is bigger and can host just over 50,000, making it the most attended Ivy League matchup of the year.
“This is definitely a true division one college football atmosphere,” junior wide receiver Adam Scott said. “You see college football, SEC football. When you go into the stadium, it feels like one of those games. It’s just really one of those games where you just feel like the hard work you put in is coming to fruition.”
But 50,000 spectators is nothing new for junior running back Charlie Booker. The Houston, Texas, native has played in big games before, specifically the 2014 Texas 6A Division I State Title.
During his senior year at Cypress Ranch High School, his team took on Allen high school in front of 52,308 fans. While Cypress Ranch did not win, there is no bigger game in the state of Texas than the State Championship for the state’s largest division. That specific game ranks as the second most attended high school matchup in the state.
Booker isn’t the only Crimson player to compete in Texas’ playoffs. Two of Harvard’s current athletes’ high schools actually met that same year, in the same region.
Lamar, where now-freshman quarterback Owen Holt attended as a sophomore, came across Cy-Fair, where now-sophomore receiver Cody Chrest attended as a junior. Cy-Fair carried the Area Championship before falling in the next game, one round before meeting Booker’s squad in the State Quarterfinals.
Yet, big games and crowds aren’t the only unique experience Texas football players have come across prior to their tenure on the Crimson. The state championship, and many playoff games, are held in domed professional football stadiums. The most significant contest, the title game, is hosted in the Dallas Cowboys’ $1.2 billion AT&T Stadium.
The year prior to Booker’s championship run, another current Harvard junior was playing under the billion-dollar dome. Scott’s high school, Denton Guyer, also made a run to the title game, and captured the elusive Texas State Championship in the 4A D1 Division.
“It’s surreal,” Scott said. “All eyes are on the two teams. We were in the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium and it’s a dome so … you feel like you’re a celebrity. The experience I had in Texas playing football is something I’ll never forget and I’ll cherish forever.”
The title win was Denton Guyer’s second in a row. Now-senior safety Zach Miller’s Stratford was one game away from that championship matchup against Guyer, but fell short in the semifinals.
“We used to fill up the Cowboys’ stadium for state championships,” Scott said. “So it’s a bit of a change coming here when sometimes you may just have your parents or a few students.”
The one thing that the folks from Texas have been less prepared for in Crimson football is the New England weather. Obviously there’s the warmer climate in Texas, but couple that with the large, covered venues, and players rarely compete in weather similar to that of the Northeast.
“In Texas, once it hits 50, everybody's like 'oh my gosh it's freezing,'” Booker said. “But by that time playoffs have started and then we're playing in domes.”
This season, in this respect, has been kind to the Harvard football team. No game has dropped below freezing, so far, save the most recent matchup against Penn. In years past, players have had to fight the elements for the latter half of the season, but a late-arriving winter this year has spared the team.
In 2011, the Crimson played in a snow storm against Dartmouth. The weather, and particularly the temperature, represents a hindrance specifically to those players that have never encountered it—those from the South and parts of California.
This may become particularly relevant for the team in the upcoming matchup against Yale, which is forecasted for rain accompanied by temperatures in the low 40s.
“You could wear whatever [in Texas],” Scott said. “You didn’t have to worry about rain or even the cold. It’s a pretty big adjustment, but you kind of get used to it.”
Aside from the preparation that competitive Texas football inevitably brings, there is also a certain camaraderie that comes with being from the Lone Star state.
“We have Texas Tuesday music—it's country music on in the locker room. Some of the guys don't like [it] but we don't care,” said linebacker and captain Luke Hutton.
On the team, the two most represented states are, unsurprisingly, California and Texas, with 17 and 14 players, respectively. The members of the team will tell you the style of the player changes across state lines.
“In terms of skill players, they’re pretty equal,” Scott said. “I think for mid-skill players, linebackers, we’ve got them on that. In terms of physicality, I think we’ve definitely got them on that.”
The discrepancy shows. Each of the three starting linebackers in last week’s game against Penn—Hutton, Guillory, and Charlie Walker—are all graduates of Texas high schools.
“In Texas we have a culture that perpetuates grit and toughness,” Guillory said. “A lot of guys from Texas take pride in the fact that we’re not afraid of physicality and just playing the game of football. After playing for so many years and being around that type of culture, it basically transcends into the game. You have a bunch of linebackers who love contact, who love getting in there, and getting dirty and just hitting and that culture just perpetuates in Texas.”
There a reason that culture permeates among the players.
“You have your religion, your family, and football if you play in Texas,” Guillory said. “There’s nothing better.”
—Staff writer Cade Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.