In sports, no matter what sport it is, everyone craves to become the same thing.
A dynasty. A powerhouse at your field of expertise. A bulldozer that runs over its competition like dirt in a field. A team so deadly that when it walks out, they strike fear in every opponents eyes.
What do all dynasties have in common though? Championships.
We wouldn’t think of the New England Patriots the same without their six rings. What if they were just as dominant in the regular season as they always have been, but had zero rings to show for it? What if the Golden State Warriors went 73-9 every single year but could never get the job done when it’s crunch time? Would we still call them a dynasty, what would we call them?
For now, we can refer to them as Ryan High School.
Being in this position is like sports purgatory. You’re amazing, everyone knows you’re lethal and can win almost any game. But, at the end of the day it’s almost a foregone conclusion that you will inevitably lose it all when it matters most. Some teams stay in this purgatory forever until they fall back down to the earth within the level of mediocrity. Others finally break through and wash the labels off of them for good
The Ryan Raiders football team have been here on and off for essentially an unprecedented 15 years. Now more than ever it looks like it’s finally their time to shine and break through the proverbial glass ceiling.
This is their story.
It wasn’t always like this for the Ryan Raiders as at the turn of the century they used to be a dynasty and the team to beat in North Texas. Head Coach Joey Florence had led the Raiders to four consecutive championship games, winning consecutive titles in 2001 and 2002. This was the peak of their success however as in 2004 they finished 12-2 with a loss to Carroll in the Quarterfinals.
From there on out there’s been some signs of greatness but the underlying theme throughout has been disappointment.
Coming off five years of successful seasons featuring deep playoff runs and championships, Ryan High School came crashing down for each of the next three seasons. They made the playoffs each year from 2005-2007 but never amounting to more than seven wins in a season. This was a bit of a culture shock to the Denton area as for five years they had been the team to beat and now it seemed like anyone could beat them. With every great program though there’s always a rebuild phase. Players, coaches and staff alike come and go so it’s natural to see a regression for a few years after success and this was Ryan’s.
The next year, 2008, gave some hope to the Ryan faithful. They went 9-4 including a fairly deep playoff run to the Regionals where they endured a three point loss to Frenship. This was a massive positive change for Denton Ryan. Yes, they only increased their win total by two, but those two wins signified huge playoff wins and a spot back in the final 16 of the Texas high school playoffs. They went from averaging 29 points a game to a hair under 50. They had found their identity once again.
The Raiders continued projecting upwards as in 2009 they finished 12-2. They had continued their immense scoring while also giving up more than 100 points less than the year prior. Ryan was finally back on track to being a force of nature. There was only one problem. They made it to the state quarterfinals, and lost to their arch rivals Denton Guyer. This was a devastating blow. The season at this point is almost meaningless. It doesn’t matter how good they were, they lost to their rivals. A team that plays in the same county as them. Guyer officially had bragging rights and had overtaken Ryan as the premier team in Denton.
That all changed the very next season.
In 2010, it marked the new decade and with it? The Ryan Raiders on a warpath to infamy. They had a perfect regular season, with no game resulting in anything less than multiple possessions. These Raiders were unstoppable and were oh so close to reaching the promise land until a December 18th visit in the state finals against Lake Travis.
Lake Travis won the 2010 State Championship 27-7.
This shouldn’t have happened. This was the Raiders time. They were undefeated, they were the clear favorite going in. But sometimes in sports, the predictable doesn’t always happen. The favorites don’t always win.
Lake Travis ran them off the field before things even got started. Ryan couldn’t move the ball against the Scot defense all night. They were stunned, paralyzed even, from the opening whistle. This would be the peak of Ryan’s success post 2003. They have never made another state final since.
That doesn’t mean however they sunk back down to obscurity.
The next season, bringing back mostly the same cast of characters, they had another perfect regular season. This time most of the core, seniors. Hungry to the point of famine off of the disappointment of last season this years squad was determined to leave their name in history. They did, but by repeating history again.
They lost to Midway who at the time was 9-2 in the state regionals by a score of 19-7. Another incredible season washed away by the sour taste of a postseason defeat.
The next season saw a bit of a dropoff, the first major slip up since 2005. The Ryan Raiders slumped to the end of the season with a 6-5 mark a catastrophic dropoff from the few years prior. They made a little noise in the playoffs with a first round field goal win against Hurst, but quickly got sent packing a week later by Cedar Hill.
The dropoff explanation can be seen by new, younger players taking the helm and getting their first taste of varsity football. It’s natural for them to have growing pains.
The next season this group rallied together to a much more respectable 10-3. A spot in the state quarterfinals, and this time, a much more embarrassing 52-29 loss once again to Cedar Hill. But the 2013 season didn’t just mark a nice bounceback season. It also marked the end of an era.
Head Coach Joey Florence, the man who led them to multiple state titles a decade prior, received a promotion. He was leaving to become the district athletic director. Thus, leaving the Head coaching job vacant in the process.
Dave Henigan, from 1989-1993 played on and off as the quarterback for Pacific University. He completed 55% of his passes for 3,220 yards with 21 touchdowns to 17 interceptions.
Not exactly statistics that scream off the screen at you, but nonetheless, the man has experience. College level, division 1 experience at playing the most important position in football, quarterback.
Dave Henigan, however, is a familiar name to Denton Ryan faithful. He was the Offensive Coordinator at Denton Ryan during the peak of their success. He was the man that orchestrated the offence to a 2002 state title. He took that momentum and in 2004 became the head coach at Corsicana high school.
After a 34-22 record however he moved on the become the head coach of Grapevine for five years. However, when the position of Head coach opened up at Denton Ryan, the former Coordinator at the school jumped at the chance to be the one to lead the ship.
In 2014 as his first season as Denton Ryan’s head coach, Dave Henigan led his team to a 5-5 record. They even missed the playoffs for the first time in the new century. Not a great homecoming for the man who’s used to success in Denton.
This team never could quite get out of the starting blocks as they allowed more points than their offense could score. It was largely a forgettable season. The story however, would change drastically the next four seasons.
Since his inaugural season, Henigan has led the Denton Ryan Raiders to an astounding 55-4 record. four consecutive perfect seasons. In most any sport if you go 55-4 over a four year period your bound to have some success. The natural next question would be, how many championships did they win?
Not a single one.
In 2015, they stormed into the playoffs beating the likes of Plano East, South Grand Prairie and Tascosa respectively. They met the dominant Allen Eagles in the state quarterfinals where they fell 48-27.
2016-2018 however, has been unprecedented. Back to back to back 14-1 seasons. Of the 45 games played across three years they’ve won 42 of them. They’ve put up a ridiculous 1,964 points in those games. Outscoring their opponents by a margin of nearly 4 touchdowns a game. Their a near perfect team. The problem? That one loss.
In each of the last three seasons Denton Ryan has made a trip to the Texas State 5A D1 semifinals. Each year going into the game undefeated. Each year, losing to the eventual champions, Highland Park and legendary coach, Randy Allen.
It’s the hump they just can’t quite get over.
In 2016, facing a 12-2 Highland Park, the 14-0 Ryan Raiders lost a nail biter 31-24 and watched from the sidelines as Highland Park went on to win the State Championship over Temple 16-7. The losses from this point out would get worse and worse.
The very next season, again entering at 14-0 this time taking on the 13-1 Scots, the Raiders put up a pretty good fight but by the final whistle had suffered a 10 point 45-35 loss.
Third times a charm? For Highland Park, yes. As in 2018 the two undefeated teams met again this time with the Scots routing the Raiders by a score of 43-21.
For Dave Henigan, this meant a lot more, Henigan not only coached at Grapevine and Corsicana, but also spent 3 years under the tutelage of Randy Allen. For three years, learning and studying the man himself and now for three straight years getting steamrolled by a man who was once a mentor.
Denton Ryan just can’t seem to break through. 2019 however, could be the year they finally get the job done.
The Raiders are right there, so close to infamy that it hurts. But, this is a step every great player or team has to take. Peyton Manning was amazing, a top tier quarterback for years but couldn’t quite get to the Super Bowl, why? Tom Brady and the dreaded New England Patriots always stopped him from getting there.
The Highland Park Scots are the New England Patriots, and with them? Randy Allen, Texas Football’s Bill Belichick.
It all comes down to this, the 2019 season. Ryan has been beaten up and bullied by Highland Park year after year, if they want to reach immortality status as state champions it’s up to them to beat this team. They have the firepower to do it too.
Quarterback Seth Henigan is the son of head coach Dave Henigan and has the arm to show he’s not just here because of who his dad is. He doesn’t throw a ton, but when he does, he’s deadly accurate. He completed an astounding 68% of his passes last season for 20 touchdowns to only two interceptions. The top quality you want in a quarterback is someone who doesn’t turn the ball over. Junior quarterback Henigan epitomizes that.
The offensive juggernaut however is senior running back, Emani Bailey. The two year starter has dominated the Ryan running game eclipsing the 1,200 yard mark both seasons with a total of 29 touchdowns. The offense moves through Bailey, if Ryan wants a state title, Bailey is the man to lead them them.
Ryan is loaded to the brim with athletes on both sides of the ball as well. Drew Sanders, who is listed as the best athlete in the state per James Lott’s Top of Texas, gets the job done on offense and defense. The Alabama commit last year ran for 13 touchdowns and caught three more. He also had 119 tackles for eight sacks and three interceptions.
Billy Bowman Jr. is another stud athlete to look out for as he’s already peaking interest from the likes of Florida State and Notre Dame. Bowman is another freak athlete who will only be a junior this upcoming season. Last year, not only did he lead the squad in interceptions with five, he also caught eight touchdowns and threw for another.
Ryan is oozing with talent everywhere you look. On paper, this looks like a team that should be a championship level team. Looking into 2019, assuming there’s no major injuries, Ryan could very well make a run at it again.
This is a pivotal season for the Denton faithful, will they finally escape purgatory and enter greatness? Or come up short once again?
They certainly have the firepower to finish the job. It’s all on the 2019 squad though to get the job done.