Craig Way has never forgotten his high school football roots

Mike Lee
Special to the San Angelo Standard-Times
Craig Way

The preeminent voice of Texas high school football from Amarillo to Brownsville isn’t from the Lone Star State. Craig Way grew up in North Carolina and started college there.

“My parents moved to the Dallas area, and I came to visit them over Christmas vacation and decided to stay,” Way said of the fateful holiday season in 1980.

Now in his 42nd year in his adopted home state, Way is in many ways the face of high school football for fans in the homeland of Friday Night Lights – even as the University of North Texas graduate enters his 21st season as the radio voice of the Texas Longhorns.

Way regularly appears on the Bally (formerly Fox) Sports Southwest High School Scoreboard Live TV show on Friday nights. He also is the television play-by-play announcer for many of the UIL state championship football games each December. He even makes time for high school football amid all the UT chatter on his Austin sports radio talk show.

He has achieved a balance of being knowledgeable, entertaining and authoritative without being arrogant or self-centered. His insights focus on the communities, coaches and players.

Oh, and the mascots.

From the Armadillos of San Saba to the Zebras of Grandview and everything in between, Way made a name for himself by reeling off nicknames of score after score, week after week, for decades.

“The nicknames started from original research while covering games way back when,” Way said. “I was very impressed with the variety and uniqueness of school nicknames in Texas. You’ve got the Itasca Wampus Cats, Hutto Hippos, Knippa Rock Crushers and Rocksprings Angoras to name a few.”

Way learned even more mascots when he began hosting a Friday night football scoreboard show on KRLD radio in Dallas in 1985.

“The nicknames were kind of a necessary thing to learn,” Way said. “At KRLD, we started recognizing a Mascot Name of the Week, and we even expanded it beyond Texas. We had the Devils Lake Satans in North Dakota, the Gabbs Tarantulas in Nevada and the Yuma Crims in Arizona. Crims was short for criminals since the school was in the old Yuma State Prison.”

For the record, Devils Lake changed its mascot to the Firebirds in 2002.

Way’s fascination with Texas schoolboy football began shortly after he moved to the Dallas area. While attending junior college in Dallas-Fort Worth, he was hired by the newspaper in Carrollton to cover high school football.

“The first game I covered was Lake Highlands against Dallas W.T. White at Loos Field,” Way said. “They had just put new turf down at Loos Field, and those were two great Class 5A programs at the time. Lake Highlands won state the next year.

“I thought, ‘Wow!’ The teams played a really good brand of football. They had good high school football in North Carolina, but not like Texas. The players were bigger, faster, stronger. I was hooked immediately.”

He soon found himself attending more high school games, just for fun.

Way wanted to do sports broadcasting, and so he eventually enrolled at UNT, which had one of the premier programs around.

“You could DJ and do some things in the studio, but they didn’t really have anything for young sportscasters wanting to get into play-by-play,” Way said. “I talked the station manager into letting me broadcast the Pilot Point football games. It was my first live play-by-play experience in the fall of 1982, and I was hooked on broadcasting games.”

Pilot Point, located 20 northeast of the UNT campus in Denton, was a Class 2A team that had just won state in 1981. The size of the school didn’t matter to Way; he just wanted the play-by-play experience. 

As he watched and studied high school football, Way gained an appreciation of what the sport meant to the culture of Texas – from the biggest cities to the smallest towns.

“It starts with the community, the school, the student body, the players and coaches,” Way said. “Then there’s the citizenry and the parents that have supported it for years. You drive through the smaller towns and see the storefront windows painted. That’s what the spirit of Texas high school football is all about.”

Thirty years ago, Way landed a role as analyst for University of Texas sports. Ten years later, he became the play-by-play voice for football, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball.

Most broadcasters getting a UT gig would have forgotten about the Texas high schools. Not Craig, no Way.

He has remained a staple on the High School Scoreboard Live show since joining in 1996. If he’s on the road with UT football, he still calls in on Friday nights for an extended segment on the show.

He still does play-by-play for many of the UIL state championship football games. He still knows the mascot for virtually every Texas team – even with dozens of new suburban high schools opening in the last 20-30 years.

“It has become second nature to me,” Way said of staying connected to high school football. “I enjoy it too much. I know what it means to those communities and kids, and what it means to me.

“As my kids became high school age, I had daughters in the drill team. One of my sons played football, and another shot the video for his school’s team. I just didn’t want to walk away from it.”

In November 1992, Way called the late Friday night playoff game at since-imploded Texas Stadium that wasn’t over until after midnight. The next morning, he was in the press box at since-demolished Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco as radio analyst for a noon kickoff between Texas and Baylor in coach Grant Teaff’s final home game. That night, he was back at Texas Stadium for the late Saturday playoff game.

Incredibly, Way still makes the rounds for four major sports at UT to his weekly and annual high school commitments. He’ll proudly tell you that he called 29 of the 35 UT women’s basketball games last season, even with the overlapping schedules of men’s basketball and football.

The once youthful college student calling Pilot Point football games is now 60, but Way’s passion for Texas high school football hasn’t wavered. And there’s no retirement date in sight.

“There’s about three weeks in late June and early July when we can take a vacation and recharge,” Way said. “Then I’m ready to go for the next 11½ months.”

Mike Lee writes a weekly high school football column for the USA Today Network's Texas newspapers. Contact him at michaellee7@att.net.