When All Of The Pieces Fall Into Place
Jul 30, 2018 11:19AM
● By Maleesa Johnson
For Riley Dodge, it seems like all of his puzzle pieces fell into place as he accepted the head coach position of the Southlake Carroll Dragon Football team. The high-profile coaching job had eyes from across the state on it. And for good reason. The Dragons hold the Texas record for number of state championship titles with eight trophies in the case.
Given the nature of Southlake’s tight-knit community and the resignation of former coach Hal Wasson – who is now Irving ISD’s executive director of athletics – the transition could have created major rifts. Enter: Riley, the former state title winning Dragon quarterback and son of former head coach Todd Dodge. In 2006, the same year he won state, he was named national high school player of the year. He set the then record with more than 8,000 yards and 101 touchdowns passing and over 3,000 yards rushing for the Dragons.
“Honestly, when it came up, this has always been a dream of mine,” Riley says. “When you have a job like this, you never know when it is going to open up. Coach Wasson did an amazing job for a long, long time. He is a dear friend and actually coached me when I was in high school.”
As Riley states, dream jobs don’t open up often. His wife, Alexis, was well aware of what this opportunity meant for him, so she backed him wholeheartedly – all while nurturing their brand-new baby. Their second son was only one week old when his father applied to become the new Dragon coach.
“When he decided to apply, I was so proud of him for taking the leap of faith to go after his dream job,” Alexis says. “Over the past few years, God has closed several doors, and when Riley got the job, it has never been so clear that this was the door He was waiting to open.”
In towns like Southlake, being the football coach’s wife can be a job in itself. Add to the mix that Alexis is a fulltime Certified Public Accountant and mother to a three-year-old (Tate) and a five-month-old (Landry), and it clearly becomes a daunting balancing act.
“It is only by God’s grace and seeking Him each day that I am able to do it all, because I could not do it each day in my own strength,” she says.
Riley echoes his wife’s sentiments.
“It’s nuts, but we’re making it work,” he says.
And while the new job affects the whole family, it is also met with substantial excitement. Alexis is also a Dragon alum, having graduated in the same class as her husband: Class of 2008. The two actually met in sixth grade. Riley’s father, Todd, brought his family to Southlake in 2000 upon accepting the position of head football coach. Alexis and her family moved to Southlake four years prior in 1996 and were here to stay. Her parents still live in the same home 22 years later. For Alexis, Riley becoming the Dragon’s coach is also a bit of a homecoming.
“She’s pumped and definitely fully invested into it,” Riley says of his wife’s reaction to his new job.
It may surprise some, but the former Dragon cheerleader and 2006 state-winning quarterback didn’t date in high school. Sure, they were friends, but it wasn’t until their junior year of college that the two reconnected. He was at McNeese State University and she was at Texas A&M University when he texted her.
“We just started talking on the phone and he came to College Station and took me on a date, and that was it,” Alexis recalls.
The couple got married in 2013 and moved to Austin while Riley worked at The University of Texas as a quality control quarterbacks coach.
By that time, Alexis had earned a master’s degree in accounting from A&M. In 2015, the couple moved back to North Texas as Riley began his high school coaching career at Marcus High School in Flower Mound. Given the nature of a football coach’s career, it’s almost miraculous the Dodge family has remained in their Keller home for three years now and will continue to live there.
“For me, I always grew up in one place,” Alexis says. “For him, he was used to moving just because he came from a coach’s family. That was a way of life for him. But, I am very much the opposite. I don’t like change and I’m a type-A planner and want to know where we’re going to be. Knowing we’ll be here at home is awesome.”
They may have lived right around the corner this whole time, but for the new coach and his family, they’re now truly home. And just in time for the couple’s 10-year class reunion this fall.
An Innate Understanding
It’s simply impossible to live in Southlake and not feel the weight of the word “tradition.” The word arguably has more emphasis within Dragon culture than it does in “Fiddler on the Roof.” For outsiders, it’s a bit odd. But for Riley, the phrase “Protect the Tradition” has a profound and multifaceted meaning.
“To me, it means doing your job to the best of your ability and respecting what has come before you,” he says. “Having a total understanding of the community as a whole. It’s about being a good person in the community, it’s about being a great student in the classroom and taking care of business in extracurriculars. It’s not just about football.”
It’s not surprising that the former Dragon quarterback relates so closely to the phrase. His father coined it. Coach Dodge Sr. is the man behind the mantra that Southlake Carroll seems to have printed on every T-shirt.
“He should have trademarked it,” Riley jokes of his father.
All jokes aside, Riley’s love for Southlake tradition turned out to be a big factor in him getting the job. This wasn’t some stranger to the district swooping in to take a highly coveted job. This was someone who had lived and breathed Dragon Football.
“I grew up in this field house,” Riley says. “I lifted weights in the same weight room they are. I can really relate to these kids and expectations of this place. I think trying to create a sense of swagger and confidence in these guys. I want them to have high expectations and a sense of urgency.”
Building HIs Own Narrative
Two major facts were highlighted when Riley came on the scene, one being that he is 29.
“I think it’s funny, because if I was 30 – which I will be in a couple months – I don’t think they would be talking about it,” Riley says. “For me, it’s not an issue. I’ve been around the game my entire life. I tell people that I’ve been around high school football programs for 29 years.”
And of course, once he was hired, you wouldn’t hear the name Riley Dodge without reference to his dad. The elder Coach Dodge, now coaching at Westlake High School in Austin, led the Dragons to four state titles titles between 2002 and 2006. During that span, he posted a win record of 79-1 and 98-11 overall. Attempting to fill his father’s shoes could be quite a burden, but Riley has his own set of goals.
“We have three goals: Being district champs, practicing on Thanksgiving and winning state,” Riley says.
These may seem like lofty goals, but when Riley lists them – counting them out with his fingers – it’s easy to get on board. In part, because when speaking with Riley, it’s plain to see he knows his stuff. He is constantly going to coaching clinics, reading and has an impressive network of coaches always ready if he needs advice. But Riley is quick to remind people there is far more than one coach of a football team.
“I believe we have the best staff in the state of Texas,” he says. “I really lean on those guys. I’m not someone who says ‘I know it all,’ because I don’t. I’m not doing it on my own. We have a lot of great coaches here.”
Learn more about "What To Expect This Season."