The 2022 high school football season will be the third for Rick LaFavers as head coach of Ridge Point. His goal is to get to AT&T Stadium, site of the state championships. He feels his Panthers are ready for that next level in getting there.
He doesn’t just say as much. He’s proving it with his actions.
LaFavers and Ridge Point were one of the much talked-about topics coming out of the UIL’s 2022-2024 biannual realignment Thursday morning. LaFavers scheduled his non-district slate admirably and ambitiously, linking up a premier showdown with three-time defending state champion Austin Westlake in Week 1, followed by perennial area power Dickinson in Week 2.
The game against Westlake will be played Friday, Aug. 26. It will be a home-and-home arrangement over the next two seasons. No other details have been confirmed.
“I feel it’s good for our program to play those kinds of opponents, because we’ll have to face them in the playoffs eventually,” LaFavers said. “Those are good measuring sticks. I feel like we’ve got great talent and I believe we’re ready to take that next step. We’ll obviously find out real quick.”
LaFavers was all-in for a challenging non-district schedule that would bring his program into the spotlight. He tried to arrange a game against perennial state power Allen in Week 2, but “that didn’t work out.”
LaFavers initially had a game against 2018 Class 5A state semifinalist and 2019 5A state champion Shadow Creek set for Week 1. But then the opportunity with Westlake was presented.
Over the last 48 hours, Westlake’s new head coach Tony Salazar, who succeeded the legendary Todd Dodge, was looking for games for Weeks 1 and 2. Generally, it is hard for the best of the best—like Westlake, North Shore, Katy, and Allen, for example—to schedule non-district opponents. Teams aren’t too fond of playing them.
LaFavers contacted Salazar through the coaches message board SportsU to see if he’d be interested in playing Ridge Point. Salazar was. The only condition was LaFavers wanted to make sure Shadow Creek was taken care of.
If Shadow Creek could not find a Week 1 game to replace Ridge Point, Ridge Point was going to play the Sharks since that was the deal.
“I was not going to go back on my word,” LaFavers said. “I do not want that reputation.”
Shadow Creek coach Brad Butler understood when LaFavers said he had an opportunity to play Westlake when the two met Thursday morning. Within the hour, Butler had a Week 1 matchup set with Manvel. But he wouldn’t confirm it until LaFavers went back to Salazar to see if their matchup was still on.
It was. After LaFavers got official clearance from Fort Bend ISD superintendent Christie Whitbeck—a matchup like Ridge Point-Westlake requires more logistics due to the travel involved—Ridge Point versus Westlake was set. So was Shadow Creek-Manvel.
“Four schools working and everything kind of fell in place,” LaFavers said.
LaFavers knew his program was ready for what lies ahead after last season’s success.
The Panthers went 11-2 in LaFavers’ second year at the helm, but after his first full year of offseason and summer training. In the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, LaFavers’ first with the Panthers, Ridge Point went 8-3 before falling to North Shore in the regional final.
“It felt like this year, having a full year under our belt and the culture being there and familiarity with schemes and coaches, it clicked,” LaFavers said. “I knew what we had in our sub-varsities and what we have coming back, and I just believe in our kids. I know we lost a lot of ‘famous people,’ but I believe we have a lot of people who are going to introduce themselves. When you look at the North Shores and Katys, that’s what they do year in and year out.”
LaFavers said he and Salazar will work out details later on which team plays home in 2022. The sub-varsity teams will play at a neutral site at a city park in Brenham that has multiple football fields. Those sub-varsity games will likely be played on the Wednesday before the varsity game, with a day buffer in between because of traveling from the previous day.
“I want us to be in the same conversations with state-wide schools, not just in our district or the region,” LaFavers said. “It’s the culture we’re trying to create here at Ridge Point. I want to play the best people we can when we can. It doesn’t get much better than Austin Westlake.”