Louise ISD is a small school district near the gulf coast of Texas located about 80 miles southwest of Houston. Approximately 500 students attend all grades (K-12) combined. The district has one combined campus that houses the high school, junior high school, and elementary school.
Athletic Director/ Head Football Coach Heath Clawson joined the district in 2016 after being the offensive coordinator and track and field coach at Carrollton’s Newman Smith High School.
I arrived at the front of Louise High School just as the sun was rising.
7:12 AM – Coach Clawson comes out of his office to greet me. He’d already been in office since before 6 A.M.
After a brief greeting and welcome, Coach Clawson headed across the street to a small building that serves as the locker room for both teams on game day. “I need to get the Jerseys to give to the players to greet the elementary kids.” Louise ISD has a game day tradition of the varsity football players greeting the elementary students as they arrive at school.
After retrieving the jerseys, Coach Clawson and I drove to the opposite side of the campus and he parked his truck opposite the entry gate for the elementary school. One-by-one the varsity players greeted Coach Clawson and he handed them their jerseys before crossing the street and forming lines on either side of the entry gate. The players slapped hands with the elementary students as they passed through the welcoming line.
As we stood beside his truck distributing the jerseys, a few brief sprinkles of rain fell. Given the recent bad weather on game days, thought immediately went to the weather conditions for the game. The forecast was clear skies with warm, muggy conditions.
A few minutes before the elementary bell rang, we jumped back in Clawson’s truck and drove back around to the high school side of the campus. “I need to check in with the junior high team before they do weights.” We again crossed the street to the football stadium. Coach Clawson chatted briefly with a few of the junior high coaches and players. The conversation was more along the lines of a pep talk than specifics or Xs and Os.
“I need to oversee the junior high P.E. Class. It’s either me or one of the junior high football coaches and I’d rather give them time to coach.” As Coach Clawson and I arrived at the gym, the Junior High volleyball team was practicing. Coach Clawson discussed how they had implemented a one-sport/ two-sport requirement the previous year. If a child played one sport, they also had to choose a second sport to participate in. Coach Clawson said this had obviously increased participation in some sports and was giving the kids an opportunity to discover new sports they might enjoy and be good at. However, there was enough push-back that they had discontinued the requirement this year and, though the numbers were still higher than in previously years, they were seeing a decrease in participation numbers across multiple sports.
Coach Clawson watched the coaches take the junior high volleyball team through drills while the junior high P.E. class watched on. Coach Clawson also stole a few minutes to review game film on his cell phone.
At the end of Junior High PE period, Coach Clawson briefly went to his office at the front of the school to grab his laptop. We went back to the gym to oversee a High School PE period. “If I don’t do this, then another coach has to and I want them spending the time with the teams and I want to give them the opportunity to coach.”
While overseeing the P.E. period, Coach Clawson reviewed more film on his laptop to prepare for the night’s game.
At the end of the P.E. period, Coach Clawson returned to his office and began working on the wristband inserts that would contain the plays and schemes for the game that night. “I need to change out a few plays from last week that we had in specifically for a verbal snap count. We are going to use a clap tonight, so I need to change out those plays.”
Coach Clawson worked on the plays, flipping back and forth between skills player’s plays and linemen plays, occasionally consulting his master call sheet as he organized the plays for the wristbands and made final decisions on the plays to include.
Around eleven o’clock, Coach Clawson and I headed to the library. “I need to pick up something from my wife and I told her I’d met her at the library at 11.” Clawson’s wife, Kim, is a third grade teacher at the elementary school. Each week she prepares a tag with something motivational for Coach Clawson to place in the player’s lockers. In this case it was a simple “Beat Brazos”, the team they were to play this evening.
We then headed to the locker room where Coach Clawson placed the tags inside player’s locker. Shortly after that the players began to arrive in the locker room. The trainers mixed Gatorade and put water in coolers and sports bottles. The assistant coaches checked the radios to make sure they were charged. The coaches passed out the jerseys to the few players that hadn’t made it in time to greet the elementary students.
The team then went back over to a class room in the high school and the coaching staff reviewed specific plays, reads, and formations for the game that night. Drawing on the dry erase board, Coach Clawson’s passion for the game become apparent. Indicating a particular player on the other team, “This is the guy we have to block. He’s the best player on this side of the field. If we block him, we can run over here.” The entire time he emphasized his words with circles and drawings on the dry erase board.
As that school period ended, Coach Clawson and I headed back to the Library. Louise ISD had been chosen to receive a rebuilt playground courtesy of KaBOOM! and the Rebuild Texas Fund. Several teachers were to serve as team leaders for the build of the new playground to be conducted the following Monday. The playground was designed by children from Louise ISD in conjunction with the KaBoom! team. The KaBoom! team provided general instructions for the team leaders to be prepared for the one-day build on Monday.
Following the meeting with KaBoom! we headed to Coach Clawson’s house. The color printer in his office wasn’t working, so he needed to print the sheets for the wrist bands from his home printer. I was expecting to drive a few blocks or miles to his house. However, his house is located right beside the football stadium. The house is provided by the school district. Some smaller school districts find it necessary to providing housing due to limited housing options in the small towns they are located in.
After printing the sheets for the wrist bands, and meeting the Clawson’s two dogs, Coach Clawson and I headed out to run an errand and eat lunch. Cloach Clawson drove to El Campo, about 10 miles away, to pick up flowers from a florist. The flowers were for a pregame ceremony to honor current and former members of the military, police, and first responders.
On the way back to Louise, we stopped at Prasek’s Hillje Smokehouse to grab a bite to eat. Prasek’s in one those pieces of small-town Americana that you stumble across travelling the highways and byways. Prasek’s started out as the small Hillje Grocery until purchased by the Prasek family in 1974. From that humble beginning it has grown to a 15,000 square foot facility that is a grocery store, restaurant, and smoked meats distributor to over 400 different outlets. While eating our lunch, we also managed to catch half an inning of the Houston Astros playoff game.
We arrived back at the school and Coach Clawson laminated and cut out the sheets for the wristbands. His QB and team captain, Colin Gonzales, assisted with putting the cutouts in the wrist bands themselves.
Coach Clawson continued to review the wristbands against his master play sheet. There had been an error between the two a few weeks earlier and he wanted to make sure everything matched exactly.
As the end of the school day approached it was time for the pep rally. The football team, the teachers, the staff, the band, the cheerleaders, and the student body gathered in the gym and encouraged their players for the upcoming game.
After the pep rally, Coach Clawson made one more trip home, this time to print his call sheet in color, and then we headed to the “old gym” where the coaches did a walk-through of the plays and defensive reads for the game.
After the walk-through, we headed to the stadium. It was at this point a last-minute drama occurred. The lead official informed Coach Clawson that the team’s jerseys did not meet the contrast rule that requires the color of the number to be in clear contrast to the number of the jersey. The team would be penalized one time out each quarter that they wore the jerseys. Coach Clawson sent the team managers to retrieve the junior varsity jerseys which had numbers that would in compliance.
The home team dressed first in their normal jerseys and then headed to the weight room at the opposite end of the stadium to allow the visiting team to use the locker room.
After the teams warmed up on the field, the Louise players greeted the current and former military members, law enforcement, and first responders and presented them with the flowers acquired earlier in the day.
After the ceremony, Coach Clawson and the players went back into the weight room and the players changed into the junior varsity jerseys. The members of the coach staff were calling it “Throw Back Night” and generally using the entire situation as a motivator for the team.
The team took the field running through their inflatable tunnel. There was a ceremonial coin toss with members of the Louise coaching staff that were former members of the military.
Full disclosure, I’m a football stat geek and I review computer and statistical information about any game I am reporting on. I use two different computer models to get an idea of how a game might play out. They aren’t always accurate, but they do give me an idea of what might happen. The computer models for this game had the visiting Brazos team as 28 to 30-point favorites in the game.
Brazos jumped out to an early lead, but Louise answered back, at one point taking the lead in the game, before going into the half down 3 points.
The Louise coaching staff, Coach Clawson included, was visibly excited as they entered the weight room for halftime. They were pleased with the play of the players and the way the game was going. The position coaches immediately went to the dry erase board and began drawing out specific plays and schemes. Coach Clawson walked around the weight room and praised and encouraged his players for their first half performances. The position coaches finished their work on the dry erase board and began walking around the room talking to specific players about specific plays from the first half and adjustments to made. Coach Clawson joined the rest of the coach staff at the dry erase board and discussed adjustments. The coaching staff then addressed the entire team with the adjustments they would be making for the second half.
Coach Clawson encouraged the team to leave it all on the field in the second half. “Remember who you are playing for tonight. You aren’t playing for yourselves. You are playing for those we honored before the game. You are playing for your parents, your teachers, and this community.”
Louise stayed competitive in the second half of the game. After a driving the ball down to the Brazos 3-yard line with just under five minutes left to play in the game down three points, Louise fumbled the ball into the end zone and it was recovered by Brazos for a touchback. Brazos would drive the ball and run out the clock to secure a three point win over Louise.
It was a disappointing result for Louise. Several of the players were fighting back tears while being encouraged by a proud coaching staff. The thing that struck me most as the game ended was the contrast between the emotion and moods of the players and coaches. The players were devastated by the loss. The coaches were very excited. Their players had almost pulled off a huge upset. They were proud of their player’s performance and excited about what that performance might mean for the future.
Coach Clawson stood with the coaching staff and the players for the Louise school song before addressing the team. “We are not defined by whether we win or lose. We are defined by how hard we play. You played hard tonight. Play like that and we’ll win a lot of games. I’m proud of every single one of you.”
After addressing the team, Coach Clawson was interviewed by a local paper, the El Campo Leader. He addressed the team’s play on the night and the call on the fumble into the end zone. We reiterated how proud he was of the way the team played and that he hoped to carry that over into district play when it started in two weeks.
As Coach Clawson walked down the sidelines after the interview, he checked on a player that had injured his hand during the game. He asked the trainer about the injury and then asked the player if he understood the trainer’s instructions.
Coach Clawson then walked down the track and hugged his niece and his wife. He also chatted briefly with several of the player’s parents and gave flowers left over from the pregame ceremony to several of the moms.
As the players began to leave the stadium around 10:30 pm, Coach Clawson and the coach staff began to tidy up the locker room and sorted out the jerseys. They sorted out the junior varsity jerseys worn in the game from the varsity jerseys that had been worn in warm ups.
And then it was time to do laundry. The coaching staff loaded the jerseys and pants into the washing machines. As they waited in the locker room for the load of laundry to finish washing, they discussed the night’s game. The coaching staff was universally excited about their future after the night’s performance. After the load of laundry was finished, the coach staff and Coach Clawson prepared to lock up and leave for the night.
On a normal game night, Coach Clawson would also upload the game film and mark the plays before heading home. But since the team was off the next week, that task would wait until Saturday morning this time around.
After over 16 and half hours, it was time to call it a day.
11:48 PM – Coach Clawson climbs into his truck and heads home.
I hope you enjoyed following along with me as I followed along with Coach Clawson and the Louise Hornets. And I hope this helped provide some insight into the life of small town football coach and small town football in general.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Coach Clawson and Louise ISD for allowing me to shadow Coach Clawson throughout the day.