The Passing Revolution - The Mission Eagles

*The Roundup is examining the shift in offensive football by going back in time and through the lens of the revolution that occurred here in the state both at the high school and collegiate levels,  starting with the dark ages of aerial assaults, the 1960's and moving into the modern era of Air Raids and Spreads.

Mission, Texas is a link in the chain of Rio Grande Valley towns that run up against each other on Highway 83, right between McAllen and Sharyland. The Rio Grande bumps right up against the southern border of the city, as it does most cities in the Valley. Driving down 83 Mission doesn't look like the seat of a passing revolution, but it is, and it was started by a group of coaches from the Midwest. 

They Came From Nebraska

David Lee arrived in Mission by way of Nebraska in 1983 with his coaching staff in tow, including Jeff Dicus and Rusty Dowling. Lee had been a successful coach at a couple of schools in Nebraska, but he wanted to get to Texas; "If you're gonna coach, you've gotta coach in Texas. That's where it's at." At the time there were two openings, Seguin and Mission. Lee boarded a plane in February from freezing Omaha to South Texas to interview with the Mission AD Roy Garcia. When he stepped off the plane, it was 72 degrees, and he got his first taste of real Mexican food. He was hooked. He saw Mission's stadium and thought it was a college venue, plus the pay was better. 

If you’re gonna coach, you’ve gotta coach in Texas. That’s where it’s at.
— David Lee

Lee took over a Mission program that hadn't made the playoffs since 1968. Lee had a vision for turning around the Eagles, based on the pariah of Texas High School coaching, the forward pass. At Mission Lee and his staff found warm weather year-round where quarterbacks and receivers could ply their craft.

Around that same time Mouse Davis, one of the undisputed leaders of the passing revolution, came to present at a coaching conference in San Antonio. As  Davis presented to the assembled coaching staffs from around the state, one by one, coaches began to get up and leave the lecture. After the lunch break, only two staffs remained, the Mission staff and Hal Mumme's staff from Copperas Cove. 

This was Texas, after all, the home of I formation tailbacks and three yards and a cloud of dust. The home of the wishbone, the veer, and a mindset that said three things happened when you passed the ball, and two of them are bad. 

Back at Mission Lee would implement much of Davis' Run and Shoot offense or the integrated system of passing. He also found three scrawny kids who would become synonymous with the power of the pass. Lupe Rodriguez, Nati Valdez, and Frank Hernandez aren't household names north of Cotulla, but in the Rio Grande Valley, they are legends. 

By 1986, Lee's rebuild was gaining traction and Mission was ready to make the next step. Rodriguez, who been a back up as a sophomore stepped into the starting role and the Eagles (8-3) would make the playoffs for the first time since the Johnson Administration. Rodriguez threw for 2,473 yards and 33 touchdowns. Both were unheard numbers for the era. 

Then suddenly, David Lee was diagnosed with cancer at age 39. He passed away in January of 1987. The Mission community was devastated. He left a legacy as an offensive trailblazer.

The Eagle Rap

Rusty Dowling took over for his friend, and mentor Lee and Mission kept soaring. Dowling's version of the shotgun spread was an offshoot of Long Beach State's playbook. Dowling's Eagles threw the ball 40-50 times a game, sacrilege to traditionalists. Lupe Rodriguez would set a national record after passing for 4,179 yards. That was 1,000 yards more than any other Texas quarterback threw for during the decade. He also threw for a national record 50 touchdowns. Rodriguez wasn't built like your typical pocket passer, all 5'11, 175 pounds of him, but he could wing it. By the time he graduated he held three national records passing yards, touchdowns in a season, and touchdowns in a game (seven). For his efforts, Rodriguez was named 5A Player of the Year.

By the time Lupe Rodriguez graduated he held three national records passing yards, touchdowns in a season, and touchdowns in a game (seven). For his efforts Rodriguez was named 5A Player of the Year.

The Eagles went 11-2 and lost to Sugar Land Willowridge in the third round of the state playoffs. Valdez and Hernandez would form one of the most dynamic receiving duos in Texas schoolboy history. Valdez caught 104 passes in 1987 while Hernandez caught 98. Those numbers were good enough to rank the 2nd and 3rd nationally. 

For his career, Valdez' 252 receptions are still among the leaders both at the national and state level. Hernandez 44 touchdown receptions are still among the best careers in the state. 

Sonny and the Detmer Boys

By 1990, Dowling, Rodriguez, Valdez, and Hernandez had moved on, but the passing revolution didn't stop, enter Sonny Detmer. Detmer was familiar with the concept of throwing the football around, he along with Joe Clements at Huntsville, Ronnie Thompson at Port Arthur Jefferson and the Mission guys were the torch bearers of the passing revolution. Detmer's son Ty had done a pretty good job of his running Sonny's offense at San Antonio Southwest in the mid to late 80s. Good enough to get a full ride to BYU and a Heisman Trophy. 

Detmer's approach matched perfectly with the athletes Mission produced. There were no menacing gazelles who played I-back, but there were a ton of quick, skilled pass catchers and intelligent quarterbacks who could make quick, accurate throws. Detmer went to Mission with one more ace up his sleeve, youngest son Koy. Koy would quarterback his old man's offense from 1989 to 1991 and take the Eagles to unheard of Valley success.

The 1990 Mission Eagles were special and driven. In 1989 the Eagles missed the playoffs in part due to Koy missing half the season with a back injury. His replacement, Willie Rodriguez filled in and, to start the 1990 season, Rodriguez and Detmer would split time. The duo would lead Mission to its first district title since 1968. By the playoffs, Koy Detmer was at the helm, and the Eagles ended the regular season having lost just once, to Alice, a game they would avenge in a 50-49 shootout victory in the postseason. 

The Eagles got past the dreaded "Valley Week" 3rd round by crushing San Antonio Madison, scoring five touchdowns in eight minutes. The aerial onslaught led the Eagles all the way to the State Semifinals in the Astrodome where they would fall to eventual State and National Champion Aldine. In the loss to Aldine, Detmer aired it out 73 times completing 41. His favorite target Angel Alvarez caught over 1,500 yards worth of passes in 1990.

Detmer set a state record for passing yards with 4,829 yards, his 43 touchdowns second only to Rodriguez' mark. Mission's 1991 team went undefeated in the regular season but were upset by Corpus Christi Miller in the first round of the playoffs. Detmer threw for 522 yards in the loss. For his career, Koy Detmer would throw for 8,221 yards with 82 touchdown passes.

As the passing seeds spread, they were tended to by coaches like Dowling, Dicus, Detmer, Thompson, and their lieutenants. From 1980 to 1991 eighteen Texas quarterbacks threw for 5,000 career passing yards or more. From 1992 to 2016 that number would rise to 395.

From 1980 to 1991 eighteen Texas quarterbacks threw for 5,000 career passing yards or more. From 1992 to 2016 that number would rise to 395.

Dicus would take over at Mission for two seasons before turning a Lake Travis program that had gone 1-19 before his arrival into a perennial state title contender, winning the championship in 2007 and setting the table for Chad Morris and Hank Carter to win six state titles. He did it all with the roots from his days at Mission. 

3,000 Yard Passing Seasons

Lupe Rodriguez served as quarterback coach and offensive coordinator around the Valley; he was recently hired as the head coach at Mission's old rival Pharr San Juan Alamo.

Dowling would lead Texas City to two state titles in the 90's and eight straight playoff appearances. He left Texas City to head north to McKinney. Dowling left the sideline to take over administrative duties for McKinney ISD and later Katy. 

Sonny Detmer retired from Mission in the early 2000s, only to come back and take over the Somerset program south of San Antonio. The Bulldogs continue Detmers vision of moving the ball through the air. He's also been able to coach a couple of his grandsons as they've quarterbacked the Bulldogs including Koy Detmer Jr. Somerset made the state quarterfinals back in 2010, the first playoff victory for the Bulldogs since 1971. The coach in 1971? Sonny Detmer. 

Several of his prodigies have gone on to successful coaching careers.  Sonny groomed another pretty decent coach, Koy, who served as his offensive coordinator after a stint in the NFL. Last fall the Mission Eagles opened the 2016 campaign with new head coach Koy Detmer at the helm. Yes, they threw it around a bunch.