Carl Stralow likes to give his assistant coaches at Keller some advice before the regular season begins.
Advice, in this case, can almost sound like a warning.
“You better go to Target and buy yourself a pillow,” says Stralow. “Because we are going to ride some buses.”
He is not kidding.
With his Week 1 game at Abilene Cooper (337.4 miles roundtrip) and a Week 3 game at Odessa (674 miles roundtrip), Keller will travel more than 1,000 total miles for two of his first three games. Those are two of the 10 longest trips any Dallas-area football team will take this regular season. A Week 2 home contest against Plano East is the only early respite.
Not counting traffic and stops, that’s more than 15 hours on the road in a span of three weeks.
“My pillow game is strong for charter buses,” Stralow said.
It must be at this point. Because while this season’s trips are a bit of an anomaly due to scheduling quirks, Keller isn’t opposed to an annual out-of-district trip.
Stralow, now in his tenth season as Keller’s head coach, first fell in love with the road trip style in 2014. Keller played in Midland Legacy (2014) and Midland (2015) in back-to-back seasons. They were each Week 1 contests. Each required a 10-hour round trip.
He quickly saw the value.
“Our teams came together in an amazing way on those trips,” he said. “Just getting out of the bubble, say, of seeing the same teams all the time.”
So when former Abilene Cooper coach Todd Moebles, with whom Stralow served on an all-star committee, suggested “we should just play,” Stralow accepted the offer.
“And that was our road trip,” Stralow said. “I like it [Abilene’s] shot well [Stadium]and it’s a good football team to gauge where you are in the first game.”
Outside of the COVID-19 affected 2020 season, Keller and Cooper have met in Week 1 every year since 2016. Keller has visited Abilene four times, while Cooper has traveled to DFW twice. Keller beat Cooper 34-16 last Thursday to even the series with three wins apiece.
How did this year’s match in Odessa come into the picture? Odessa coach Dusty Ortiz, the former Timber Creek defensive coordinator, needed a Week 3 game, so he reached out to Stralow. Keller’s coach agreed to play, even though he expected to host. But because the Keller ISD stadium had three home games in Week 3, Keller vs. Odessa would have tied the start on Saturday.
“We’ll just go to Odessa,” Stralow said.
Keller will leave for Odessa at 8 am on Thursday, September 8, the day of the game. The team will stop in Abilene for lunch and a tour, arriving at Odessa’s Ratliff Stadium around 4 pm Kick-off is at 7 pm, and they will travel back to Keller immediately after that night’s game.
“Getting on a bus works for us,” he said. “It’s an uncomfortable environment and I think it’s been good for the teams.”
Two charter bus trips to West Texas won’t be cheap, especially considering the price of diesel gasoline is about $1.50 per gallon more this year than it was in 2021. The buses have an average fuel economy of 6 miles per gallon (according to the US Department of Energy), so the cost of fuel to send a vehicle roundtrip from Keller to the Odessa projects is just over $500.
“But we’ll make up for it, we’re not going anywhere next year,” Stralow said. “I would have preferred it to be one [trip] a year, but we are road warriors in our district.”
Stralow, who coached in Florida for 12 years after college and often spent two to three hours on a bus to games, thinks it’s worth the cost and future scheduling adjustments, and he likes it. that trips to Abilene and Odessa can get his team out. out of his comfort zone.
Keller practices and plays at the Keller ISD Athletic Complex, which can create a sense of ease for players. But, “there’s nothing comfortable and familiar about football,” Stralow said. The teams you see in-district (and in some cases, out-of-district) play are often the same programs and players that Keller athletes grew up playing with at the junior, middle school, freshman and high school levels. junior varsity team
Abilene Cooper and Odessa offer different looks in an awkward setting (Stralow said Keller’s band doesn’t travel for those games, so often just the team and parents attend). Besides, it only serves as preparation for a possible deep postseason.
“If your season goes the way you expect, you’re going to have to get on a bus and go west at some point,” Stralow said.
Keller, who has made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, hopes the early-season miles will pay off.
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