Like most cities in the state, football reigns supreme in Katy, Texas. From Katy High School’s eight state titles, to the the district’s 70.3 million dollar stadium, the city is used to, and expects, success.
Located 29 miles west of Houston, Katy has grown in size, now hosting eight high schools in the district, including Katy Tompkins, built in 2013.
The Katy ISD board looked to make a big splash with their first hire, selecting Coach Tony Tademy in 2013. Tademy had spent seven years as TCU’s linebackers coach, before joining Duncanville’s coaching staff as an assistant, the year prior to taking the head coaching role at Tompkins.
However, the well-traveled coach never lived up to the hype in his first tenure as head coach. Placed in a tough district with mounting pressure to be competitive early, the Tademy-led Falcons never took flight.
After four seasons with only a 5-25 record to show for it, Tademy resigned and the Falcons were in dire need of a culture-builder. Little did they know that the man who would turn the program around was under their very nose.
Enter Todd McVey.
McVey had held the position of Assistant Athletic Director of Katy ISD since 2009. Prior to stepping away from coaching in 2009, he held Head Coaching positions at McKinney HS and Killeen Harker Heights.
So after eight years away from the sidelines, why come back now?
“I felt a calling back to it, I love coaching.” Said McVey. “Being able to get more out of kids than what they believe they can get out of themselves, that’s what matters most to me. And getting them to see that. I felt there was something more for me, if you want to go for something, go for it.”
McVey was back and he knew the rebuild would be tough. Times had changed, but so had the tenured coach.
His time in administration had allowed him to watch the successes of Katy under Gary Joseph and the development of other programs around the district. In his time, McVey watched four state championship runs.
“Like Mack Brown was saying a couple months ago ‘I got one more good run in me’ that’s what I was saying 2 years ago.” McVey said. “Mack and all those guys (Les Miles, Urban Meyer, etc) when you step away from the sideline you get to see a lot of good things from a variety of programs. As a coach you tuck those away and you hang on to them and I’m different than i was the last time I coached.”
The situation McVey was entering was a rebuild in all facets. From the culture to the on-field product, things needed to change at Tompkins.
The first task was building a patient, day-by-day mindset and a family atmosphere, a process that never ends. Second came instilling an emphasis on the weight room. Junior running back RJ Smith described a near “overnight” change in how serious the weight program was taken. The staff felt a change in the weight room would have a ripple effect throughout the rest of the program.
Then came the task of figuring out how much talent the school had coming in and what to do with it.
McVey found his quarterback of the future in incoming freshman Jalen Milroe.
“My eighth grade year he came to the middle school to meet with me.” said Milroe. “He talked about how he wanted to change the environment and culture at tompkins. We got off to a good step early.”
However, McVey felt a year on the freshman team would do Milroe, and phenom defensive end Tunmise Adeleye some good
“We left the JV and freshman teams intact so guys like Jalen (Milroe) and Tunmise (Adeleye) could experience success.” said McVey “I wanted them all together at the lower levels to have success. Those guys were our guys, they only knew our way and that was beneficial to them.”
Sure enough, the Falcons experienced success early at the lower levels with the freshman team finishing 7-1-1 and the junior Varsity team finishing 8-1 in 2017.
The varsity team on the other hand, was another story.
Expectations for year one weren’t high by any stretch, especially after a 2-8 campaign in 2016, but no one could have expected what McVey’s debut season had in store.
In game one, the Falcons fell short 24-17 against Porter. Games two and three were lost by one score. Then, Tompkins hit their low over the next four games, losing by an average margin of 40.25 points.
Mcvey admitted it was tough but, “We took it week by week.” he said. “19-6A is obviously a very tough district we kind of broke things down into new week, new opportunity. We got better every week”
In their final game of the year, looking to avoid a winless season, the Falcons ran out to a 28-14 halftime lead over Cinco Ranch. Entering the final 24 minutes of their season, Tompkins blew their lead, losing 35-28 to seal an 0-9 season.
For the first time in program history, Tompkins didn’t win a single game, but the foundation had been laid.
Those guys laid the foundation for what we’re trying to build because they played as hard as they could with everything they had and that was all I could ask.” McVey said.”I saw that growing in the program even though the record didn’t show it so it was just going to be a process and we had to trust it”
With the foundation laid, success in the lower levels and a new mindset, it was time to go to work.
As the playbook continued to grow, so did the energy within the program.
Milroe and the other underclassmen watched the winless season and were only motivated.
“I took the good and the bad through the 0-9 season I wanted to help the next year.” said Milroe “I took the good things and made it a strength the weaknesses I tried to turn around.”
Entering their sophomore year, Milroe and Adeleye were becoming leaders on their respective sides of the ball. All they had ever known was McVey’s culture and matched with their talent, they were ready to accelerate the rebuilding timeline.
Expectations for year two weren’t high by any standard. Within the program, the brick-by-brick, day-by-day mentality didn’t stress immediate success but instead trying your hardest and leaving it all on the field.
The team took it to heart, turning into the Cinderella story of 2018.
September came around and the Falcons could not be stopped. Just one year removed from a winless season, Tompkins could not lose, racking up wins against Fort Bend Austin, Klein Cain, Alvin, Clear Creek and Seven Lakes in the first month of the season.
They were quickly brought back down to earth with a 66-13 loss against Katy. It stung, but the team wasn’t going to let one bad loss leave them reeling. Finishing October with three straight district wins, it seemed a historic playoff berth was in line for the young Falcons.
One game out from the playoffs, Cinco Ranch got the best of Tompkins once again, this time by a score of 39-14. As magical as the season had been, it seemed the Falcons were still a level or two behind Katy and Cinco Ranch. However, it didnt take away from the fact that for the first time in school history, Katy Tompkins was in the playoffs.
The Bi-District round touted the Falcons against a Fort Bend Elkins team that had finished fourth in their district. Tompkins made quick work of the Elk with a 35-20 win.
Round two would prove to be a test. Cypress Falls had themselves a historic year and were considered one of the best teams in the state. Once again, it proved no matter for the Falcons who soared to a 31-21 win.
Them came Beaumont West Brook. Played under the bright lights of NRG Stadium, there were no shortage of offensive fireworks.
The Falcons sprinted out to an early 21-0 lead, scoring on their first three possessions. The Bruins didn’t back down, finally responding with a touchdown to carry momentum into the second quarter. By halftime, Tompkins’ lead had all but been erased as the Falcons only held a 24-21 lead.
The second half was a true back-and-forth affair as Falcons running back RJ Smith and Bruins quarterback L’Ravien Elia were putting their teams on their backs. Entering the fourth quarter, Tompkins led 31-28.
On the first play of the final quarter, West Brook scored, taking their first lead of the game 35-31. Both teams exchanged touchdown drives and with 6:41 left in the game, West Brook led 42-38.
The Falcons weren’t backing down, as Smith scored for a 45-42 lead with just three minutes remaining. Then, just 60 seconds later, the Bruins scored a go-ahead touchdown to take a 49-45 lead.
With just two minutes left to score, time would run out on the Falcons, who’s incredible season ended at 10-3 in the Regional round.
The Falcons had fallen just four points short of the eventual State Runner-Ups, an incredible turnaround from 0-9 and yet, no one was satisfied.
“The kids have a desire to go out and work very hard which is, bottom line, what it takes to be successful.” McVey said. “Now that they’ve seen it and had a taste of it, obviously the buy in is even more because what we’re doing is validated now it’s about not being complacent”
Milroe finished the year with 1420 yards and ten touchdowns through the air to go along with 609 rushing yards. Entering April, he holds six offers, including Houston, Florida State and Nebraska.
Adeleye made the most of his varsity debut, finishing with 56 tackles and eight sacks. Through March, he holds 20 offers and is widely regarded as the best defensive end in the state for the class of 2021.
McVey has emphasized to both of them, and the rest of the team that while the offers and the turnaround has been amazing, but the work doesn’t stop.
“I told them, last year’s roster is last year’s roster, we’re making a brand new roster.” McVey said. “I have it posted in my office where I’ve taken away all my seniors and told them ‘we have to fill all these spots’ and it’s done in the offseason. It’s going to be a different team next year, right now we’re in that one day at a time, being in the weight room. Trying to get bigger, faster, stronger, but trying to do it together. That’s a big thing for us, this offseason is about team accountability and leadership. We try to find new leaders.”
Entering year three of the McVey era, there’s still work to be done but, the standard has been set. It’s still a learning process for McVey; the game, on and off the field, has changed since he last coached.
“One thing has changed more than anything else is social media.” McVey explained. “That was different coming back in because today’s kids, that’s there normal and that’s okay….These kids have a lot more pressure because of social media because everyone’s so connected. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with that to perform. I try to tell them, the thing that i want to develop is that family atmosphere where they feel good about the work they’re doing no matter all the other pressure.”
McVey’s done what he can to emphasize the positives of social media. From promoting the progress being made to using the new connectedness to learn from coaches nationwide, he’s been very open to social media.
Another change has been the kids themselves according to McVey
“The kids are different, not in a bad way, so you have to coach different.” McVey said “They want to know why they’re doing things because they want to do a good job, and that’s not a bad thing….Instead of me just saying and them doing it, it opens up a lot more conversations with the kids because they want to do a good job.”
Coach McVey continues to adapt to the times, but he’s quick to add that the game is still the game and if the work ethic is there success will follow.
What he’s done cannot be understated. In just two years, he rebuilt the culture, turning a team that went 5-34 in their first four years to a regional playoff berth with presumably bigger and better things ahead. All that, after being away from the sidelines for seven years.
If this trajectory continues, teams better hope to catch the Falcons now, because they’ll be competing for state titles soon.