MISSION — Mission High head coach Koy Detmer has held on to a lot of memories from his playing days. Detmer remembers taking snaps at the University of Colorado and several NFL teams, but more than anything, he looks back fondly at his time at Mission High the first time around.
Detmer played quarterback for the Eagles’ in the late 1980s and early’90s and was part of a spectacular run when Mission dominated high school football in South Texas.
“My time in high school was awesome. I had a great experience here,” Detmer said. “A big reason why I wanted to come back here is because I had such a great high school experience. The support from the community and all of those things were great; obviously, back then, a lot of the schools were in one-school towns and had packed stadiums, so it was a lot of fun.”
Detmer comes from a long lineage of prolific passers who have passed through the football-centric town, including his predecessor Lupe Rodriguez, now the head coach at PSJA High.
The Bears are set to travel to Tom Landry Stadium — the place where it all got started for Rodriguez and Detmer — to face the Eagles as two of the Valley’s top current quarterbacks will go head-to-head under the tutelage of two of Mission and high school football’s greatest ever signal callers.
“Both teams are obviously both capable. I know this from looking at them: They return a lot of guys that played ball for them last year — on both sides of the ball,” Detmer said of Rodriguez’s offense at PSJA High. “Offensively, all the skill guys are back except the quarterback. You can see they’ve taken a step from last year to this year even. You can tell they’re experienced guys out there on the field; it seems like they’re doing a little bit more formation wise, and that comes with experience. They’re doing a good job and they’re going to be a tough team to beat. You can tell.”
It’s no coincidence that the Bears and Eagles share such similar offensive systems and pass the ball so proficiently when you take into account Rodriguez and Detmer’s shared experience quarterbacking at Mission High.
In the 1980s, Mission became one of the first high schools throughout Texas to embrace a pass-first, run-and-shoot style offense under then-head coach David Lee.
Lee’s offensive style called for throwing on first, second, third and sometimes fourth down to move the ball downfield which was considered both unorthodox and innovative at a time when most high school teams would prefer to line up under center and grind it out on the ground.
“Back then a lot of schools were primarily run-heavy teams and we, Mission, were one of those teams known as a team that was going to throw the ball on you. Obviously being a quarterback it was fun to be a part of that style of offense. Being different from other teams also gave us an advantage because it wasn’t something they were seeing against themselves in practice,” Detmer said. “It was a lot of fun because we were having success and it was new and different to the teams you were playing. We had a great time during that stretch of a few years.”
Rodriguez took over behind center as a junior in 1986 and wowed crowds everywhere, finishing the season with 2,473 passing yards and 33 touchdowns and propelling the Eagles to their first playoff appearance in nearly two decades.
Lee suddenly passed away before the 1987 season and in stepped coach Rusty Dowling. Dowling doubled down on Lee’s offensive philosophy and went all in on the team’s passing attack.
During his senior season, Rodriguez ratcheted his play up to an entirely different level, carrying Mission to the third round of the playoffs and an 11-2 record.
He finished his final season by setting national high school records for passing yards in a season (4,179), passing touchdowns in a season (50) and in a single game (seven). Rodriguez tallied over 1,000 more passing yards than any Texas high school quarterback throughout the decade and was named the 5A Player of the Year by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine for his achievements.
“We had some really good teams during that stretch and I played with a lot of good players, good receivers, and good defenses. We just had good teams during that stretch,” Detmer said. “I know Lupe (Rodriguez) and those guys kind of started it off there in the late 80s. It kind of just continued through the 90s there and Mission was playing pretty good ball. It was a lot of fun to be a part of that time here.”
Detmer took over as the primary signal caller two years later with his father, Sonny, assuming head coaching duties.
He took the Eagles to new heights in 1990 during his junior campaign and second year as the starter at quarterback. Mission nearly completed an undefeated regular season and avenged its lone loss with a playoff victory over Alice.
The Eagles advanced all the way to the state semifinals where Detmer threw a state-record 73 passes to keep pace with Aldine.
He ended the season with 4,829 passing yards to best Rodriguez’s state-record and his 43 touchdown passes were second only to Rodriguez. By the end of Detmer’s high school career, he and Rodriguez would hold the top two seasons ever for Texas high school quarterbacks.
He acknowledges the effect his high school playing days had on him and how it has carried on into the present day.
“My dad was our coach back then, so I grew up watching high school football from the time I could walk. I grew up in that scheme and my brother played in the same system. There are a lot of things that we do now that we still call through the same system,” Detmer said. “You pick up things and add different pieces to what you do and it’s evolved, but the base terminology and system is still what we did back then, so it’s kind of neat that way.”
Detmer and Rodriguez have gone from two of the premier quarterbacks in South Texas high school football to coaching two of the current best in PSJA High’s Justin Morales and Mission’s Jeremy Duran.
Morales has thrived in his first season as the Bears’ starting quarterback in Rodriguez’s air-raid system. The senior has thrown for a district-leading 2,271 yards and 20 touchdowns, making him one of the area’s sharpest passers.
“You can tell he knows what he’s looking at it in the route concepts and things like that,” Detmer said of Morales. “He does a really good job of throwing a completeable ball where his guy has the best chance of catching it even when there’s tight coverage. He’s an athlete, so he’s elusive and he does a good job of buying time to give those receivers a chance to work.
While PSJA High might have the district’s most proficient passing game, Mission’s Duran might be the most well-rounded young signal caller in the Valley.
He’s thrown for 1,577 yards on 59% percent passing, both good for second best throughout 30-6A. He’s the only quarterback in the district to rank among the top two at his position in both categories.
“For him to be able to do what he’s doing as young as he is at a 6A level is pretty remarkable. I’ve seen him come a long ways from Year 1 to Year 2, mostly with understanding our system in depth,” Detmer said. “Who knows what this guy is going to be capable of over the next couple of years because he’s just a sophomore. He’s got a great mind on him and his physical tools are only going to keep getting better and better. He’s going to be a lot of fun to watch for a little while.”
“I don’t just throw to one receiver and it’s a spread offense,” Duran said of Mission’s system. “I’ve got to spread the ball around to different people, make plays and give it to everybody.”
The Eagles, however, are a little more concentrated on mixing up the run and the pass which they believe opens up the passing game even further and vice versa.
“We’re not just running the ball; we can block, we can catch and we can do anything,” junior back Andrew Maldonado said. “All of us can — anyone on our offense, especially the skill position players — we can just go out there and play ball.”
When Duran and Morales meet on the gridiron, it will not only pit two of the Valley’s top gunslingers against one another, but it will reunite two sprawling roots of the same quarterback tree back where they first started to branch out.
Whether it’s in the play of old-school veterans like Rodriguez and Detmer, current Eagles’ signal caller Duran or Morales, Mission Veterans’ Landry Gilpin and Ricky Reyna or Sharyland Pioneer’s Eddie Lee Marburger, every excellent gunslinger ultimately ties back into the same quarterback tree.
Tonight’s matchup will feature four of that tree’s finest fruits duking it out, doing what Mission has always done best: airing it out.
“With both teams, the secondaries are going to be involved and the passing game is going to be going for both teams,” Detmer said. “The ball is going to be in the air on both sides.”
The Mission Eagles will take on the PSJA High Bears at 7:30 tonight at Tom Landry Stadium in Mission, with an Eagles’ loss creating a three-way tie between a trio of one-loss teams.