Drew Sanders will begin the first football Friday well before the team gets on the road around 7 a.m.
The Vandegrift coach will take his team to Ratliff Stadium in Odessa for a real life Friday Night Lights experience against Permian in the opener. While the game on the field is the main focus, how they get there and back is just as complicated.
“There's a lot of planning that goes into it,” Sanders said. “We’re making sure we’re eating two meals on the road. Then you’ve got charter buses and loading the charter buses. Then someone getting back early so they can upload the tape.”
The Vipers chartered buses to get them more than five hours to West Texas. They’ll stop in San Angelo to eat and do a quick walkthrough at San Angelo State. Rams coach Will Wagner was an All-American defensive back at Hardin-Simmons University, where he and Sanders were teammates. The Vipers will eat again a couple hours before the game kicks off at 7 p.m.
Ratliff Stadium is one of the largest, most historic stadiums in Texas. It holds nearly 20,000 fans and was the primary filming location for the 2004 movie Friday Night Lights, telling the story of Permian’s 1988 season.
This won’t be the first time Sanders has taken his team to a historic stadium. In 2015, Vandegrift took on Abilene Cooper at Shotwell Stadium, which was built in 1959. The Vipers won 43-42.
“I’m hoping that it heightens their focus because of the excitement of playing in a historic place,” Sanders said. “I’m fine with them being excited and ready. Hopefully, they’ll enjoy playing and winning in one of the oldest most historic stadiums in the state.”
When it comes to the budget, the district has strict rules on how tram travel is paid for.
Outside of the playoffs, charter buses, meals, and hotels are paid for by the school’s booster club. The district will set up charter buses and give quotes to the school, but it’s ultimately up to the boosters to foot the bill.
Each school has a $4,800 dollar budget for school buses for football that must last the entire regular season. With coaches driving instead of the designated bus drivers, the team is charged a lower rate per mile.
Each high school has a reclassified transportation budget of $36,728, which covers all sports for the regular season. The total transportation budget of $74,068, which includes employee fees for professional development and student entry fees, accounts for 27 percent of the total athletic budget.
Leander ISD also has a post-district amount set aside for the playoffs. It’s hard to budget for teams going far in the postseason, so they set aside some money to an account for as many teams going as far as possible.
Across the board, any travel funds that are not spent at the end of the season revert back to the general fund.
The Viper’s trip to Odessa is financed almost entirely on the boosters.
Vandegrift booster club president Scott Hanna said there is an operating budget the group works with to pay for game meals, charter buses, and host tailgates.
“There’s a lot that goes into fundraising, from booster club memberships to corporate sponsorships,” Hanna said. “There are also individual contributors that donate money. There are almost 300 kids in football so there are a lot of needs.”
The team will take charter buses, but the fans will not. After polling the group, Hanna decided that each family that wants to make the trip will drive themselves so they can leave at their own leisure.
Permian came to Vandegrift last season in the first game of the home-and-home schedule and Hanna said the Vipers fans welcomed the traveling Panthers with open arms and helped out however they could.
“We’re not going to give them the playbook, but we want them to have an enjoyable time,” Hanna said. “At every game, we honor a veteran and a couple of games we’ve combined with the opposing team to honor one of their veterans. It’s not a hostile environment.”
Vista Ridge doesn’t have nearly as long a trip as Vandegrift, but the Ranger still had to call an audible on the first week of the season. With Hurricane Harvey wreaking havoc on the Gulf Coast, Corpus Christi Flour Bluff won’t make the trip to San Antonio. Vista Ridge will play Southwest San Antonio on Friday night.
But that doesn’t change the Rangers’ travel plans and the buses they chartered for the trip. Head coach Rodney Vincent said a trip like this helps with preparation for playoffs because the team is going into a relatively unfamiliar place against a new opponent.
“Every week we try to challenge our guys before they get on a bus,” He said. “We show them exactly where we’re going and what we’re doing and we make sure they know where the 25 and 40-second clocks are located. Then we try to help them understand it's just a football field like any other place.”
Road trips are generally well-liked by coaches and players alike because it can be fun to experience a new place and be in a cool environment that they’re not used to.
Whether it's Vista Ridge taking on the Dragons in San Antonio or Vandegrift traveling to face the Panthers in Odessa, the bus ride home after a win is more enjoyable than the other outcome would be.
“Some of my favorite memories as a coach are when we go on the road, win, and then have an enjoyable bus ride back,” Sanders said. “We go over all the details of the game. That’s what I think about when it comes to road trips as a coach.”