GRATITUDE FROM THE GRIDIRON
Sep 30, 2016 03:18PM ● Published by Ashley Pape
By Audrey Sellers
Grateful: That's how Hal Wasson feels about his past nine seasons in Southlake Carroll. When he became head football coach in 2007, he inherited a powerhouse program. The Dragons have won eight state championships—more than any other football team in Texas. And while Wasson is determined to protect the tradition, he’s also committed to relishing the good moments. Which, when you’re in Southlake Carroll, aren’t hard to come by.
“I’ve taken an attitude of gratitude. To me, Carroll is a unique place—in a good way,” Wasson says. “In other places, there are always areas to move the bar. When I came here in 2007, [I wondered] how do we raise the bar here?”
At that time, the Dragons had racked up seven state championships and had an incredible winning streak. With Wasson at the helm, everyone wanted to know: Who are we playing in the third round? The fourth round? The state championship? The pressure of Texas high school football was officially thrust upon his Dragon polo-adorned shoulders.
“I wanted to be in a place where the expectations are so high and to continue that elite status,” says Wasson.
But instead of trying to envision how the season would play out so far down the line, Wasson narrowed his focus. He knew what the next practice, play and game could look like. The goal was to win the next game; the vision was to win the last game. Wasson began preaching this mindset to his coaches and players. “Let’s be the best we can be at this play, on this day of practice and most significantly, the best we can be on Friday to win the game,” he says.
This shift to focusing on the present moment means taking time to enjoy every victory. When the Dragons rack up the points on Friday night, Wasson savors the win. He even instituted a 24-hour rule: After the team wins a game, Wasson expects his players and coaches to celebrate the victory for 24 hours. Then, they move on and prepare for the next game.
Though every victory is monumental to Wasson, one of his proudest wins is, naturally, the 2011 state championship. The Dragons took on Fort Bend Hightower and won 36-29 to claim the state title, further solidifying SLC as a force in Texas high school football. “That was an incredible moment for me personally. It was incredible, but that’s the great news,” he says. “The tough news is you always want to get it again. It’s a great motivator.”
Wasson, who had a perfect season in 2011 and has a record of 102-20 as of press time, has experienced victory and defeat in the past nine seasons as the Dragons’ head coach. But he doesn’t let the wins get to his head—or the losses get to his heart.
“A lot has happened over the years, and I wouldn’t trade any of it,” he says. “Some people say adversity builds character. I think adversity reveals your character.”
Wasson is particularly enthusiastic about this season because he knows his Dragons can tackle anything that comes their way. He’s coached players to get faster; they’ve done it. He’s expected them to build team camaraderie; they’ve answered the call. Excellence, it seems, is simply in the Dragons’ DNA.
“Dragon players do common things like lifting weights, blocking, running or tackling with uncommon discipline and energy,” Wasson says. “That’s the difference maker.”
When it really comes down to protecting the tradition and continuing a legacy of excellence, Wasson has just one question for his players: Are you at your best when it matters the most? Every game depends upon two or three plays, he says, and if the players aren’t going as hard as they can every single play, they’ll miss it. “It’s easy to say,” Wasson admits, “but incredibly hard to do.”
GAME DAY FOR THE GREEN AND WHITE
In Texas and Dragon Nation, there is no more anticipated day of the week than game-day Friday. And for Wasson, there is a sense of pride and duty upon seeing those Friday night lights and the packed stands at Dragon Stadium. He encourages fans to arrive early and savor the full experience of a Dragon football game. And, of course, he wants everyone to make some noise for the green and white.
“That energy feeds us. It motivates our team and distracts the other team,” he says. “Feed the beast!”
But early on Friday, before the fans, cheerleaders, Emerald Belles, Dragon Band and Crew arrive for the game, the stadium is quiet. Not to Wasson, though. That’s his time to get a feel for the stadium … and listen to what it has to say.
“I let the stadium talk to me. I get emotional because it means so much to me,” Wasson says, with tears welling in his eyes. “I think about the past when I do that. There have been so many great games here, so many players who have invested so much. I know how important it is to our school, our community and our players and parents to be the very best we can be that night.”
Taking time to reflect and listen at Dragon Stadium is only one of Wasson’s game-day traditions; he also has a few other weekly routines to get him ready for the game. For starters, Wasson wakes up a little earlier on game day and mentally prepares for the day ahead. Oh, and in case you were wondering, he has a particular way of getting dressed in the morning. If he doesn’t put something on right, he does it again. “Yes, I’m one of those guys,” he says with a laugh. “Does it help win a game? No. But it helps me stay in a routine, and consistency is a good thing.”
Wasson also likes to enjoy a quiet lunch by himself, though he welcomes a visit from his wife, Sallie. And every Friday since 2007, Wasson has watched the movie “Tombstone,” the 1993 action flick about gunslingers, cowboys and outlaws in Tombstone, Arizona. Wasson almost has the entire movie memorized. He admits he’s a creature of habit, which is why the movie is part of his game-day ritual.
After lunch and the movie, Wasson turns to Scripture, sometimes reflecting on verses passed down through his players; sometimes studying his copy of “The Competitors Bible.” He also has verses saved on his smartphone for quick reference. One of his favorites? I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13.
While fans may supplicate for a win for the Dragons, Wasson asks for something deeper. “I pray but I never pray for victory,” he says. “I pray for safety, making good choices and to be the leader I need to be personally.”
And he never forgets to say a prayer of thanksgiving. “I use this time to be thankful to get to do what I do. I don’t want to take it for granted,” Wasson says. “I ask that I can really enjoy the moments and not get caught up in the stress of it.”
Should any pre-game anxiety creep into his day, though, Wasson has a surefire way to squelch it: He listens to his favorite tunes from Hall & Oates. Whether the game is at home or away, you can bet Wasson is jamming to songs like “You Make My Dreams” and “Private Eyes” on the drive to the stadium. “My players and coaches are like, ‘There he goes again! There’s Hall & Oates,’” Wasson says.
It’s all part of his routine, and the Dragons are a consistent team. Every Thursday, the team in unison repeats expectations and quotes what they have to do to be their best. Aside from game day, Thursday is Wasson’s favorite day of the week. It’s his opportunity to bring the players back to the present—this day, this game.
“Some people call it a grind; I call it a process,” he says. “Grind is negative. Process, to me, is play by play, day by day.”
GRATITUDE BEYOND THE GRIDIRON
For Wasson, feeling grateful is a way of life. He can’t imagine being anyplace other than Dragon Nation. “I appreciate this community, our administrative team and our educators,” he says, “and I appreciate and value our players because I know how hard they work.”
Off the field, Wasson is thankful for the constant love and support from Sallie, his wife of 35 years. “She’s been an unbelievable coach’s wife,” he says. “She has never wavered.”
Their children, Chase and Chelsie, have blessed the Wassons with two grandsons. Wasson as a grandpa? He has embraced the role with open arms. “Someone once told me, ‘If we knew how much fun grandkids were, we’d have had them first,’” says Wasson. “I love being a grandpa. It doesn’t get any better.”
Wasson appreciates that his grandsons are always happy to see him. They don’t care if he has won or lost a game—they just enjoy being with him, whether they’re rolling a ball, riding a wagon or just getting a good cuddle.
So, does Wasson want his grandchildren to play football one day? “Absolutely,” he says. “No questions asked.”