Road trips are nothing new to Coach David Gilpin and his Veterans Memorial Patriots football team. Each season approximately half their games are played away from the friendly confines of Tom Landry Stadium so boarding buses for quick trips up or down the Valley, or possibly to venues as distant as Laredo or Corpus Christi, comes with the territory.
Today, however, the Patriots will be embarking on the longest road trip in Veterans Memorial High School (VMHS) football history. Their destination will be the fabled Ratliff Stadium in Odessa, Texas which is known as “The epicenter of Texas high school football,” home to the Odessa-Permian Panthers – the team immortalized in the book and subsequent movie and television series titled, “Friday Night Lights.”
So why would Gilpin go to all the trouble and expense of scheduling a non-district game so far away? It’s all part of his plan to make his Patriots competitive against the kind of teams that always seem to beat Valley teams in the third round of the playoffs and beyond.
“Studying and looking and listening and talking to other coaches and then developing my own philosophy, I have a deep-seated belief that in order for us to take our program to another level one thing we have to do is to up our non-district schedule by playing the toughest competition we can,” explained Gilpin. “As I’ve said many times before, the only negative to playing a tough district schedule against teams that we’re expected to lose to would be the head coach’s win/loss record. And I don’t have an ego that worries about my won/loss record. I worry about where our football team is and how we can get better.”
Since he took over the VMHS football program five years ago, Gilpin has led the Patriots to the playoffs four times. In only one of those years did the Patriots make it past the first round. And Gilpin is determined to keep raising the bar.
“If it comes down to us taking losses, or possible losses, in non-district games to help us challenge for district championships, instead of just getting in the playoffs, and we’re looking at playing second, third and possibly fourth round playoff games then I’m willing to do it,” said Gilpin. “That is why I set out in September of last year to find the toughest opponents I could for our non-district games this year and why I contacted several coaches across the state.”
“I tried getting Harlingen on our schedule but Coach Gomez was doing the same thing I was doing and trying to get the toughest non-district schedule he could by calling teams from the Dallas and Houston area,” added Gilpin. “I then called Corpus Christi Calallen, a tradition rich program that’s been successful for many, many years. I called Odessa-Permian, another team with the tradition and history behind them. I called Marble Falls where Coach Todd Dodge was at the time – four-time state champion at Southlake Carroll.”
Gilpin did originally succeed in lining up Calallen as a non-district opponent in Week 3 but a scheduling conflict forced them to back out of their commitment leaving Odessa-Permian as the Patriots’ only out of the Valley non-district opponent.
While Gilpin had plenty of good reasons to schedule a game in Odessa, it never would’ve happened had he not had the support of Mission ISD Superintendent of Schools Ricardo Lopez.
“Our superintendent came in and said to the coaching staff and to the administration, ‘I want us to be the best in the state. I want us competing at the state level. Winning in the Valley or in the region is not good enough,’” said Gilpin. “When he said that, I told him, ‘I appreciate what you said so much because here is what I want to do.’ And we sat down and talked about making this trip to which he said, ‘Coach if this is going to help you then I’m all for it.’”
As for those who might be critical of making such a long trip at taxpayer expense Gilpin said, “We’re going to end up making money on this trip. It is going to cost us around $13,000 to make this trip but they’re giving us a $5,000 check and half of the gate. I expect there to be a very large crowd so if they make $40,000 in ticket sales on Saturday and we get half of that, that’s $20,000 plus the $5,000 for a total of $25,000 and a $12,000 profit for our district. That’s just an example because it could be more or it could be less but this trip is not going to cost the school district anything at the end of the day.”
The Patriots/Panthers game is scheduled to kick-off at 2 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday) in Odessa.
View photos from last week’s game in our gallery!