ALLEN, Tex. — Two landmarks, each impossible to miss along the otherwise unremarkable suburban landscape, tell you plenty of what you need to know about this place off Highway 75.
The water tower comes first, on your left, a giant eagle painted on its side to let you know you’re in the home of the Allen Eagles, the nickname of the lone high school that serves this town some 25 miles north of Dallas, population 100,685 according to Census Bureau data from 2017.
Take the exit on the right and that enormous high school’s enormous crown jewel emerges: a $60-million, 18,000-seat football stadium with a facade of gray and pinkish stone sitting on a 72-acre plot. Eagle Stadium is the state’s largest home to just one team — a high school program that has won 98 of its past 100 games, hasn’t lost at home since the stadium opened in 2012 and has claimed five state championships in the past decade.
But the greatest moment yet for the Allen Eagles, and by extension the high school and the town itself, could come Saturday night in New York, if the most important football player in Allen’s history wins the Heisman Trophy.
“There’s no doubt, everyone in Allen thinks Kyler Murray is very deserving of the Heisman,” Allen Athletic Director Steve “Bubba” Williams said. “Kyler’s still big talk in Allen.”
Murray, quarterback of the fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners, isn’t just a big story in Allen; he’s one of the best in college football this season — and not just because he managed to fill the clown-sized shoes of his predecessor at Oklahoma and last year’s Heisman winner, Baker Mayfield.
Murray led the Sooners to their fourth straight Big 12 title last weekend with a win over Texas that set up a College Football Playoff meeting with Alabama.
He put up staggering statistics along the way this season, passing for 4,053 yards and 40 touchdowns with seven interceptions and has a 205.7 passer efficiency rating. He needs 108 rushing yards to become just the second player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to throw for at least 4,000 yards and run for at least 1,000 yards in a season, after Clemson’s Deshaun Watson in 2015. But Murray is most notable not for his accurate arm or his unrivaled speed, but for the fact that college football gets him for just a single season.
After this season, the first in which he has the chance to prove himself after transferring from Texas A&M his freshman year, sitting out a year then playing behind Mayfield, Murray is walking away — to play professional baseball.
He signed a $4.66 million contract in June to play for the Oakland Athletics, who drafted him ninth overall following a spring in which he played baseball for the Sooners in addition to participating in spring football and hit .296 with 46 runs, 10 homers and 47 RBI.
College football fans lament their loss.
Kyler Murray fans, the ones in Allen who have three state championships to cherish and unforgettable Friday nights to recount, aren’t as concerned with what might have been. In this suburban outpost, where high school and college football matter just as much if not more than the NFL, Murray’s story is perfect as is.
“We’re always going to be supportive of anything he wants to go on and do, but we’re really proud of the legacy that he left behind,” Williams said. “The way he handled it … He went to the next level and proved everybody in Allen that believed in him right.”
Murray’s story at Allen originates with the opening of Eagle Stadium.
The quarterback’s first game coincided with the grand opening of that gargantuan stadium, and a standing-room-only crowd of 22,000 came to watch the Eagles play defending Class 5A Division I state champion Southlake Carroll.
Murray, whose family had moved to Allen his sophomore year about a week before fall camp, didn’t start the game. But he helped the Eagles polish off a 24-0 win in the second half when the starter left because of an injury. He took over as the starter in October and never let go.
Allen quickly found itself the subject of national attention, both for its stadium and its quarterback. Murray won all 43 games as a starter.
“He put the spotlight on for us in the nation,” Williams said.
Murray also gave an already good high school football team a stronger identity. His offensive coordinator at the time, Jeff Fleener, who is now the head coach at Mesquite High and remains close to the Murray family, said practices were “ridiculous” during Murray’s three years. The quarterback demanded everyone’s best effort.
“If you weren’t disciplined, doing exactly what you should, Kyler was going to jump your butt,” Fleener said. “He set the tone. It kind of made the whole team wired that way.”
For that, there are deep wells of gratitude and pride for Murray in Allen. The suburb bears little resemblance to the farming community it once was, but those who live there say Allen has retained its small-town atmosphere for one reason: There’s only one high school. With more than 6,000 students, 219 classrooms and a separate building for freshmen, it’s big enough for Allen.
“We’ll always be a one-high school town,” said Paul Coe, Murray’s baseball coach at Allen. “Everything revolves around the high school.”
And nothing quite captures the community’s attention like Allen football.
Murray’s legend in high school developed quickly. He became the first player to play in both the Under Armour all-American football and baseball games, and he won Gatorade Athlete of the Year as a senior.
“When Allen was on offense, you didn't go to the concession stand, you didn't go to the bathroom, because you might miss whatever Kyler story that people will be telling all year,” Fleener said, and this season, people in an otherwise Longhorn-dominant region have become Sooners fans.
Williams had no problem keeping up with the Big 12 title game Saturday during Allen’s 1 p.m. 6A playoff game because so many people in the stands were streaming it on their phones.
“It’s very rewarding for the community to see how it’s turned out for him this year,” Williams said. “He may not have but one year, but he’s made the most out of that one year. He filled it in very appropriately.”
Watching Murray flourish for Oklahoma in football has been “magic” for people in Allen, as Fleener said, but they know that after this year the reality shifts.
Soon, he will be in Oakland’s minor leagues, toiling in front of far sparser crowds than what he grew accustomed to in Allen.
No matter, Fleener said. Nothing can take away what Murray has accomplished, what he means to the community.
And who knows? People in Allen expect Murray will decide to stick with his contract with the A’s. But they’ve learned with Murray, the story never gets worse, and it could get even better. Those who know him best don’t count out a return to the gridiron.
“I don’t think there’s anywhere else he looks more alive, or he’s got that spark, than he does when he’s on the football field. I think he loves baseball, but football is just where he’s got that magic,” Fleener said. “I’ve never asked him about it and I don’t know the answer, but all I can do is say with him, never say never. The worst thing you could ever do is tell Kyler you think he can’t do something. That legend will never die."