When In Texas

When In Texas: State Bound by Guillermo Hernandez Martinez

With less than a minute left in a one-sided game, the Mason defense lines up across from the kneeling victors. Luis and Miguel Castillo, linebacker and safety, watch the final play of their high school football career end much too quickly. As their opponents jump away in celebration, Miguel and Luis take a moment to embrace their teammates before leading them back to the sideline, where they wait for their dreaded second-place medals. Miguel, a quarterback as much as a safety, consoles each of the lined up Punchers with a thankful hug, none longer than the one he gives his twin brother.

Born into a military family in the small town of Mason, Texas, the Castillo twins' life has been filled with sports, service and each other. The five-sport lettermen grew up with the same love for athletics as they did for the Navy, under which both their dad, Eliseo, and oldest brother, Victor, performed their military service. After three and a half years of hard work on the field and in the classroom, Luis and Miguel hope their dedication will pay off as they each apply for a coveted spot at The United States Naval Academy. Before that, however, Mason and the Castillo twins have to prepare for the football state championship game.

As they have for the entire season, Luis and Miguel spend most of their week either in school or practice, filling what little spare time they have by visiting their mother, Guillermina, at the family's convenience store for lunch. Everywhere they go, however, they are greeted by fans eager to talk about the game.

At the end of the week, Luis and Miguel find themselves standing in front of their team and their entire school as they speak in their final pep rally. Each of them reads a note from their phone, recounting their last practice and bidding good bye to a very successful career. After a cheerleader performance and a rendition of the school song, Luis and Miguel board the team bus and set off to Fort Worth, where they have a short practice before heading to their hotel for the night.

The next morning, the Punchers seem relaxed as they laugh and joke their way to AT&T Stadium, ready to face Canadian High School in front of what seems like the entire population of both towns. Holding hands, the twin captains walk to the middle of the field and brace themselves for the last time. Shortly after, Miguel leads his offense on a long drive, diving over the goal line for a touchdown. After that play, however, Canadian takes control and never lets go. The Punchers keep fighting but as time expires, it is the Wildcats who are celebrating the 34-7 score.

Although Luis and Miguel's high school football careers ended in defeat, they are ready for the next step. While the twins' acceptance into the Naval Academy is far from guaranteed, the possibility of continuing their football career seems even more distant, as competition for spots in Navy's varsity football team is extremely tough. Discouraging facts for some, they don't seem to dent the Castillos' determination. When asked if he thought they could play football in college, Luis's answer was quick and without hesitation: β€œYes, sir.”

Miguel (left) and Luis Castillo speak at the Mason Punchers' last pep rally of the football season on Dec. 17, 2014 at Mason High School in Mason, Texas. It was also the last pep rally of the Castillo's lives, as they will graduate from high school this year and hope to attend the Naval Academy in 2015.

Eliseo "Eli" Castillo (center) sits in between his sons Miguel (left) and Luis at Gigi's, the Castillo family's convenience store and gas station in Mason, Texas on Dec. 15, 2014. By trying to attend the Naval Academy, the Castillo twins are following in the family's military service tradition, with their father and oldest brother having both served in the Navy.

Luis Castillo talks to classmates in a hallway at Mason High School while he kills time before the first practice of the day on Dec. 16, 2014 in Mason, Texas. Luis and Miguel's life is consumed by school and athletics. "There's not much to do in Mason, so we try to stay busy with sports," says Luis. They have both excelled in the school's basketball, track, baseball and tennis teams, in addition to playing both ways in the football team. They have also each been awarded several places in both academic and athletic all-state teams throughout their career.

Luis Castillo (left) and cheerleaders Staci Habecker (middle) and Madelyn Glentz look at the regional newspaper's front page, where both Habecker and Glentz are pictured above Mason's semifinal victory recap. Luis would later tell his friends about a bet he made with Habecker, "if we win state, she has to kiss me.

Miguel (left) and Luis Castillo pack up their clothes on Dec. 16, 2014 at their home in Mason, Texas as they prepare for the next day's journey to Fort Worth, where they will practice before the state title game on Dec. 18. While both brothers were part of Mason's state championship team as freshmen, this game has much more significance for them. "We were on special teams that year," said Luis, so now that they are quarterback (Miguel) and running back (Luis), the pressure is much heavier.

Luis (left), Miguel (middle) and their cousin Kyle Zavala take turns answering questions during a telephone interview with a regional reporter at the Castillo's house on Dec. 16, 2014. Most of the Castillo's extended family lives in Mason, but they are the closest with Kyle, a fellow senior and star football player. 

Luis Castillo waves to cheering fans as he boards the bus that will take the team to Fort Worth, where the Punchers will practice in TCU's campus later that day. A large number of fans were out in Mason's streets to wave and wish good luck to the team as they start their journey out of Mason, Texas on Dec. 17, 2014.

Luis Castillo practices punting at Sam Baugh Indoor Practice Facility in the Texas Christian University campus in Fort Worth, Texas on Dec. 17, 2014.

Miguel Castillo and Garret Bibb, his roommate for the night, test the beds in the team hotel on Dec. 17, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. While both brothers dream of attending the Naval Academy, Miguel would seem to be a step closer to the dream after attending the Academy's Summer Seminar program for high school seniors, in which he excelled. "They even put him in charge of the other students, he came back so happy," said his proud mother.

Mason Punchers seniors and captains Rylee Owen (44), Luis Castillo (27), Kyle Zavala (77) and Miguel Castillo (2) walk towards midfield at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Dec. 18, 2014 for the Texas 2A State Championship Game coin toss. Luis and Miguel grew up very close to Owen and Zavala, and all four have played together throughout their high school careers.

Miguel Castillo jumps over the goal line to score Mason's only touchdown of the 2014 Class 2A Texas State Championship Game played on Dec. 18, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. The Punchers were defeated 34-7 by a dominating Canadian High School team in what was the final game of Luis and Miguel Castillo's high school football careers.

Luis Castillo stands in dejection seconds after the last game of his career ended with a 34-7 defeat at the hands of Canadian High School on Dec. 18, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. The Punchers were outplayed from the start of the game, only managing to score one touchdown in the first series of the game.

When In Texas: Week 16 by Guillermo Hernandez Martinez

Seventeen weeks after the first kickoff in August, the 2014 Texas high school football season is over. During those seventeen weeks, I drove over 7,500 miles (almost twice the length of the U.S.-Canada border, or almost four times the length of the U.S.-Mexico border) all over the state as I photographed sixteen high school football games in sixteen different stadiums in an attempt to document the high school football experience in a project called When In Texas.

For the final two games of the season I decided to photograph one of the first teams I encountered in my journey: the Mason High School Punchers. A class-2A school in the Northwest Hill Country with an enrollment of 205 students, Mason has the state's most successful tennis program of all time (with over 80 state championships), but had not found the same success in football until the last four years, when the Punchers earned their only two berths in the state title game: the first one coming in 2011, while the second one happened just this Thursday. Before that, however, the Punchers had to get past the Centerville Tigers in their state semifinal game. 

Mason came into Georgetown's Birkelbach Field after an undefeated season filled with dominating performances and having survived their toughest test yet in the Refugio Bobcats. They would control the game from the start and beat one of Centerville's best ever teams by twenty points with a final score of 27-7, punching their ticket to the school's second state championship game, hoping to repeat the success of 2011. 

Catch up with the previous episodes of When In Texas by visiting the entries below and stay tuned for the final post of the project, where I follow twin brothers Luis and Miguel Castillo, Mason's senior halfback and quarterback, respectively, as they prepared for the last game of their careers.

Week 1: Woodlands College Park vs Pearland
Week 2: Mason vs De Leon
Week 3: West Rusk vs Sabine
Week 4: El Paso vs Jefferson Silva
Week 5: Katy vs Katy Taylor
Week 5: St. Anthony vs St. Stephen's
Week 6: Lufkin vs Whitehouse 
Week 7: Midland Lee vs Odessa Permian
Week 8: Denison vs Sherman
Week 10: Southlake Carroll vs Haltom
Week 11: Sweetwater vs Lamesa
Week 12: Jayton vs Guthrie
Week 13: Weslaco vs Laredo United
Week 15: May vs Blum

A Centerville High School cheerleader runs the length of the visitor side bleachers at B. E. Birkelbach Field in Georgetown, Texas as she and fellow cheerleaders decorate the side before fans arrive to watch the Tigers take on the Mason Punchers in a 2A state semifinal game on Dec. 12, 2014. Mason would defeat Centerville 27-7 and punch their ticket to the state championship game to be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

Mason running back Miguel Castillo stands at the edge of the Punchers' dressing room as he and his teammates wait to take the field for their 2A state semifinal against Centerville on Dec. 12, 2014 at B. E. Birkelbach Field in Georgetown, Texas.
Miguel, a senior, was named to the 2A Associated Press all-state team as an honorable mention at linebacker as well as an honorable mention to the all-state academic team.

Matthew Kerr, 12, one of the Mason Punchers ballboys, cheers after a Mason score during first quarter action of their state semifinal game against Centerville on Dec. 12, 2014 at B. E. Birkelbach Field in Georgetown, Texas.

Mason sophomore Haddon Hudson celebrates with a teammate after the Punchers defeated the Centerville Tigers 27-7 in their 2A state semifinal game on Dec. 12, 2014 at B. E. Birkelbach Field in Georgetown, Texas., earning a berth in the state championship game to be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

When In Texas: Week 15 by Guillermo Hernandez Martinez

The 2014 high school football season is quickly coming to a close, with only two weeks left in the state playoffs and a long eight months before the next regular season game. Private school competition has wrapped up and the UIL six-man classifications will do the same after their state championship games this weekend.

When In Texas paid a last visit to six-man football this past weekend, attending the semifinal match-up between the May Tigers and Blum Bobcats, held at Pirate Stadium in Granbury, Texas. This was the project's second visit to a six-man game, after the Jayton-Guthrie contest during the first round of the playoffs.

Classified amongst the smallest schools in the state, May and Blum's version of football features a shorter and narrower field of play, no restrictions on who can receive a forward pass, some scoring differences and, most importantly, only twelve total players on the field at all times.

While both teams have consistently made the playoffs in recent years, it was May who came in as the more experienced team, having appeared in last season's state championship game, while Blum's team was making the deepest playoff run in school history. May's experience would help them to eventually take down the Bobcats 60-38, thus reaching the title game for the fifth time in school history.

Fans from both teams traveled over 50 miles to be a part of the game, with the estimated attendance of 600 being just short of the total combined population of both towns, hovering around 800 inhabitants.

After the win, the Tigers will travel to AT&T Stadium in Arlington to take on the Crowell Wildcats looking for May's second-ever state championship title.

Catch up with the previous episodes of When In Texas by visiting the entries below and stay tuned for the next week of the playoffs.

Week 1: Woodlands College Park vs Pearland
Week 2: Mason vs De Leon
Week 3: West Rusk vs Sabine
Week 4: El Paso vs Jefferson Silva
Week 5: Katy vs Katy Taylor
Week 5: St. Anthony vs St. Stephen's
Week 6: Lufkin vs Whitehouse 
Week 7: Midland Lee vs Odessa Permian
Week 8: Denison vs Sherman
Week 10: Southlake Carroll vs Haltom
Week 11: Sweetwater vs Lamesa
Week 12: Jayton vs Guthrie
Week 13: Weslaco vs Laredo United

The May Tigers and Blum Bobcats line up against each other during their UIL playoffs semifinal round played at Pirate Stadium in Granbury, Texas on Dec. 6, 2014. May won the contest 60-38, advancing to the class-1A state championship game.
UIL's 1A classification is reserved for the smallest public high schools in Texas and features six-man football instead of the traditional 11-man version of the game. This scaled-down version of the game is played with slightly different rules than its full-size counterpart, including a shorter and narrower field of play, no restrictions on who can receive a forward pass, slight scoring differences, among others. (NOTE: Image was processed using digital enhancement effects)

Blum players warm up before the start of their semifinal playoff game against the May Tigers on Dec. 6, 2014 at Pirate Stadium in Granbury, Texas.
This year's Bobcat team has gone farther into the playoffs than any other team representing Blum, a town with less than 500 inhabitants. The May Tigers, on the other hand, were trying to reach the state title game for the fifth time in program history and hope to win the school's second state championship.

A Blum Bobcats fan worriedly looks on as the May offense proves too tough to contain on its way to defeating the Bobcats 60-38 in their state playoff semifinal game on Dec. 6, 2014 at Pirate Stadium in Granbury, Texas and advancing to the 1A state championship game to be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Six-man football often involves a larger percent of a town's population, and the relationship between fans and team tends to be more intimate. This relationship was reflected in the number of fans traveling over 50 miles to watch their teams. The May and Blum matchup, featuring wo towns with a combined population of less than 800, drew an estimated attendance of 600 to Pirate Stadium.

Blum players warm up before the start of their semifinal playoff game against the May Tigers on Dec. 6, 2014 at Pirate Stadium in Granbury, Texas.
During the state playoffs, school districts often rent out their stadiums to host playoff games as neutral sites. While the rental fee normally goes to the district's budget, booster clubs for band, cheerleaders or other organizations often keep the money they make operating concession stands and other amenities. During the 2014 playoffs, Granbury's Pirate Stadium played host to four playoff games, with a total attendance estimated between four and five thousand, according to the Athletic Department.

May Tigers seniors Brant Harris (7) and Isaac Williams (24) kiss the State Semi-Final Champions trophy after defeating the Blum Bobcats 60-38 on Dec. 6, 2014 at Pirate Stadium in Granbury, Texas and advancing to the UIL class-1A state championship game. This will be the Tigers' fourth appearance in the last game of the season, which they have only won once: in 1977.

When In Texas: Week 7 by Guillermo Hernandez Martinez

This week's edition of When In Texas features one of the most storied rivalries in high school football, the Odessa Permian vs Midland Lee game. Played annually since Midland Lee opened in 1961, the rivalry was at its fiercest during a 20-year stretch from 1980 to 2000, when both schools were among the top state championship contenders each year and the game had serious playoff implications. During that stretch, Permian won the state title four times, with Lee claiming three championships and each school earning an unofficial national championship title. Since then, neither school has had the success they became known for and the rivalry became a lopsided affair, with Permian winning seven of the last nine games, while the Rebels dominated the Panthers during the previous 11 meetings, winning 10 of them.

The game is still the most important on both schools' schedules and still captures the imagination of people from Midland, Odessa and all over the state. Thanks in part to H. G. Bissinger's "Friday Nigh Lights" book and the movie it inspired, the Lee-Permian game is one of the most easily recognizable match-ups in the state.

The Panthers, known popularly as "Mojo" after the chant started in the late 1960's, count themselves as one of the elite programs in the state, with six state titles at the state's highest classification, seven undefeated seasons, close to 500 wins and two national championships to boast about. While the Rebels have not had the historical success of Permian, they proudly count a national championship, three state titles and multiple NFL stars among their accomplishments.

Catch up with the previous 6 weeks of When In Texas by visiting the blog entries linked below or by visiting the project's dedicated page: When In Texas.

Week 1: Woodlands College Park vs Pearland
Week 2: Mason vs De Leon
Week 3: West Rusk vs Sabine
Week 4: El Paso vs Jefferson Silva
Week 5: Katy vs Katy Taylor
Week 5: St. Anthony vs St. Stephen's
Week 6: Lufkin vs Whitehouse

Midland Lee senior defensive back Juwan Lee (6) and his teammates stretch prior to their rivalry game against the Odessa Permian Panthers on Oct. 12, 2014 at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland, Texas. The Panthers beat the Rebels 45-28 in this year's installment of one of the most storied rivalries in high school football nationwide.

Midland Lee fan Stephanie Fortune watches as young Rebels fans play catch prior to the Rebels' rivalry game against Odessa Permian played on Oct. 12, 2014 at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland, Texas.
While the rivalry is renowned for being a central point in H. G. Bissinger's book, and subsequent movie, "Friday Night Lights," the Permian-Lee game raised to national prominence after a 20-year stretch from 1980 to 2000 in which both schools were in the running for the state championship seemingly every year. During that stretch, Permian won the title four times, with Lee claiming three championships and each school claiming a national championship title.

Members of Midland Lee High School's drill Team, "The Dixie Dolls," watch as the Rebels head back to the locker room after warming up prior to their rivalry game against Odessa Permian on Oct. 12, 2014 at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland, Texas.
Although both schools are far removed from their heyday as perennial state contenders, the annual game still draws over ten thousand attendees every year and is the most important game in both teams' schedules.

Odessa Permian cheerleaders run ahead of the Panthers as they enter the field for the second half of their rivalry game against Midland Lee on Oct. 12, 2014 at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland, Texas.
In recent years, the rivalry has been a decidedly lopsided affair, with Permian winning seven of the last nine games, while the Rebels dominated the Panthers during the previous 11 meetings, winning 10 of them.

Midland Lee senior quarterback Wesley hall throws a pass during fourth quarter action of the Rebels' rivalry game against Odessa Permian played on Oct. 12, 2014 at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland, Texas.
This year's contest featured a Panthers team with only one loss, while the Rebels came in to the game dragging a four-game losing streak. The Rebels kept it close early thanks to their defense, but couldn't hold fully stop the Panthers' offense en route to a dominating 45-28 victory.

Odessa Permian Senior wide receiver Taylor Thompson (12), junior defensive lineman Aaron Briswalter (55) and sophomore offensive lineman Jayce Rush (64) celebrate among teammates and cheerleaders after the Panthers defeated their archrival Midland Lee 45-28 on Oct. 10, 2014 at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland, Texas.
Known popularly as "Mojo" after the chant started in the late 1960's, Permian counts itself as one of the elite programs in the state, with six state titles at the state's highest classification, seven undefeated seasons, close to 500 wins and two national championships to boast about.

When In Texas: Week 6 by Guillermo Hernandez Martinez

Week 6 took me to the easternmost point of my When In Texas journey: the Deep East Texas town of Lufkin and its Lufkin High School Panthers.

Often cited as one of the best high school football atmospheres in the state, Lufkin gathers over ten thousand fans in Abe Martin Stadium during Panthers' games, including this Friday's homecoming contest against Whitehouse, in which Lufkin survived a furious late rally by the Wildcats and held on by a score of 52-48.

Abe Martin Stadium is named after the head coach who guided Lufkin to four district championships and almost a decade of dominance over East Texas football during the 1930s and '40s, kickstarting Lufkin's continued passion over its football teams. The town produced its first state championship team in 1964, out of the segregated African-American school Dunbar High School, which would go on to win two more state titles before integration finally came to Lufkin High School in 1970. Since then, the Pack's most successful period came under the guidance of head coach John Outlaw, who compiled over 160 wins in 17 years, as well as three state semifinal appearances and a state championship victory in 2001 before untimely passing away due to a heart attack in 2011. The Panthers have been playing their home games in John Outlaw Memorial Field at Abe Martin Stadium since then.

Lufkin has produced several National Football League players, including current Dallas Cowboys star wide-receiver Dez Bryant, but none has been as successful as Dunbar alumnus Ken Houston, who was inducted to the NFL's Hall of Fame in 1986 after a 13 year career with the Houston Oilers and Washington.

Catch up with the previous 5 weeks of When In Texas by visiting the blog entries linked below or by visiting the project's dedicated page: When In Texas.

Week 1: Woodlands College Park vs Pearland
Week 2: Mason vs De Leon
Week 3: West Rusk vs Sabine
Week 4: El Paso vs Jefferson Silva
Week 5: Katy vs Katy Taylor
Week 5: St. Anthony vs St. Stephen's

Fans arrive at Abe Martin Stadium, home of the Lufkin High School Panthers, before the Pack's homecoming game against Whitehouse on Oct. 3, 2014 in Lufkin, Texas.
Renowned state-wide for its fans and atmosphere as much as for its football team, 41-year-old Abe Martin typically houses over ten thousand football fans during the Panthers' home games.

Panther cheerleaders walk through a tunnel in Abe Martin Stadium prior to Lufkin High School's homecoming game against Whitehouse on Oct. 3, 2014 in Lufkin, Texas.
Established in 1905, Lufkin High has a proud football tradition dating back to the 1930s and '40s, when head coach Abe Martin led the Panthers to four district championships and only ten losses in seven years. The town's football success was continued by Dunbar High School, the segregated African-American high school in Lufkin, and its conquest of three state championship titles in the 1960's. After Lufkin High's integration in 1970, the Panthers have continuously produced eventual NFL players, including current Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant, and were crowned state champions in 2001.

The Whitehouse High School drumline plays for excited fans and cheerleaders following halftime of the Wildcats' week 6 high school football game against Lufkin High School played on Oct. 3, 2014 at Abe Martin Stadium in Lufkin, Texas.
Down by 28 points in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats mounted a frenetic rally but were eventually eight points away from spoiling the Panthers' homecoming game and lost by a score of 48-52.

Whitehouse High School junior Cade Parrish (29) warms up prior to the Wildcats' week 6 high school football game against Lufkin High School played on Oct. 3, 2014 at Abe Martin Stadium in Lufkin, Texas.
While Dez Bryant is the school's highest profile graduate, Lufkin's most successful football player is Dunbar alumnus Ken Houston, who was inducted to the National Football League's Hall of Fame in 1986 after a career playing for Washington and the Houston Oilers.

A member of Lufkin High School's "Panther Pride" drill team sits in the empty stands prior to the Panther's homecoming football game against Whitehouse played on Oct. 3, 2014 at Abe Martin Stadium in Lufkin, Texas.
Classified as a 5A school by the UIL, Lufkin High serves the vast majority of the town's roughly thirty-five thousand inhabitants.

Lufkin High School kicker Javier Montes (14) converts a point-after-touchdown during first quarter action of the Pack's homecoming football game against Whitehouse played on Oct. 3, 2014 at Abe Martin Stadium in Lufkin, Texas.
Lufkin was rocked in late 2011 when it received the news that John Outlaw, its head coach for 17 years, passed away after a heart attack. Soon after, the Panther community dedicated its playing field to head coach John Outlaw, and since 2012 the Pack has played its games at John Outlaw Memorial Field at Abe Martin Stadium. Outlaw's legacy at Lufkin includes over 160 games won, three trips to the state semi-finals and a state championship victory in 2001.

Lufkin High School players huddle before the second half of their homecoming game against Whitehouse played on Oct. 3, 2014 at Abe Martin Stadium in Lufkin, Texas.