Allen is football crazy. For proof, look no further than the high school's new, $60 million football stadium. For further proof, there's the Allen Hawks, which Texas Monthly labels "the best 12-year-old football team in Texas."
There's no objective way to prove that, of course, no state tournament like there is for their elders at Allen High School, which just rolled to its second title in four years. But Texas Monthly, which followed the Hawks through their final season together, makes a pretty convincing argument. The team is so good, the players are basically tired of winning.
For four years, the Allen Hawks had been the best youth football team in the most football-mad suburb in Texas -- which is to say, the world. In season after season, they'd been so untouchable, so dominant, that trophy-collecting had actually gotten slightly monotonous. "After the first one, I got excited," Eric Engel, a linebacker, told me. "And after the second one, I got excited. After the third one, I was like, okay ..." But this Super Bowl had the Hawks' full and undivided attention -- it was the last game they would play together. The sixth-graders had grown up together, fought together, gotten their shins skinned together. Next year most would become seventh graders and start playing for their middle school teams. "This is about the Hawks winning on this field for the final time," said their head coach, Kevin Engel (Eric's father), before the game. He sounded like he might cry.
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Eric's teammate, Celdon Manning, is proclaimed by his personal trainer -- yes, he has a personal trainer -- to be the greatest 11-year-old football player in America. Before games, his mother makes him watch Top 10 Football Moves, an NFL highlight film, and instructs him to apply two during the game. Cullen Perkins, a Hawks tackle, watches Blu-ray game film in bed at night and takes notes.
That dedication probably isn't unique to the Hawks. It's just Engel, the coach, was able to assemble a lot of dedicate players on a single team. Texas Monthly explains:
He'd put the Hawks together like a college team, starting out with a few great players, like the running back Maurice "Mo" Perkins (no relation to Cullen), in kindergarten, and every year, "recruiting" a few more. Recruiting is how you win in Allen. You can't steal a player from another team -- any player vacating his squad has to go into the draft, where lousy teams like the Cobras and Cardinals pick first. But Coach could find would-be Hawks who were new to football or, like Chris, the running back, have just moved from out of town. He looked in malls, neighborhoods, everywhere. "I roll with blue Powerade and Now and Laters," Coach liked to joke. He had found Chris chasing a rabbit around his neighborhood.
Allen, on the whole, doesn't seem to trouble itself with the thought that there might be too much emphasis placed on football. One parent summed it up as "a vehicle to raise our kids." Of course, that's that kind of dedication that breeds success. The Hawks ended their season having won 40 games in a row and -- spoiler alert -- their fourth straight Super Bowl.