Chad Conine, who earned his degree from Texas Tech in 2000, has published the book “Republic of Football,” examining high school athletes before they were stars.
Chad Conine knew before he set foot on the Texas Tech University campus in 1996 what he wanted to be ¬– a sports journalist.
And he didn't wait until he graduated to begin that career. He worked in media relations in the Texas Tech athletic department and also as a freelance correspondent covering high school games for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. It was there a 20-year love affair with high school football began.
"Covering high school games on Friday nights, and eventually covering a lot of different sports for the A-J, were some of my favorite experiences from my college days," Conine said. "I honestly enjoy covering high school football, especially in November and December, more than any other sport, and that includes bowl games and the Final Four."
Over the next two decades, Conine worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and was a full-time sports writer for the Waco Tribune-Herald before returning to his freelancing roots. It allowed him to build relationships with some of the state's most recognizable sports figures back when they were unknowns.
Conine, who earned a bachelor's degree in journalism in 2000, turned those relationships into a series of interviews that he has compiled for his second book, "Republic of Football," published by the University of Texas Press, which compiles stories of some of Texas' legendary high school football players, coaches and teams spanning seven decades.
"The idea clicked," Conine said. "I have a friend who has an agent in New York. I contacted the agent and she said she couldn't sell it to a New York publisher but that there was definitely an audience and I should take it to regional publishers. UT Press got it right away, and it's been fun working with them."
Interviewing the state
Compiling an estimated 150 interviews of players and coaches was a time-consuming process. That included former high school players who are now playing or coaching professionally or in the college ranks, meaning some of the interviews were more complicated than just picking up the phone.
Conine's trek began in 2014 with a pair of more recognizable names in Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, who played his high school ball in New Braunfels, and former Baylor coach Art Briles, a native of nearby Rule, Texas who played at the University of Houston and Texas Tech.
But the process also included getting permission to do interviews from professional teams like the Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. Conine said former Palestine standout and Vikings star Adrian Peterson and former Austin Westlake standout and Saints quarterback Drew Brees were more than happy to talk about their high school days.
Other big names he interviewed include Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, former Idalou and Texas Tech standout Tracy Saul and coaches Lovie Smith and Ray Rhodes, just to name a few.
"One of my favorite parts of covering high school sports is seeing high school athletes show signs of stardom," Conine said. "Some people didn't call back and a couple of people declined, but the ones I interviewed were enthusiastic about talking about high school football in Texas."
Conine wrote the first four chapters of the book – "Hamlin," "New Braunfels," "Waco" and "Rockport-Fulton" – and submitted them to UT Press, which he signed with in July 2014. In all there are 41 chapters in the book, each designed to be short reads.
"Each chapter is a story in itself, but I think the collection of chapters tells a bigger story about high school football," Conine said.
Conine added one of the more rewarding aspects of writing this book was not just talking to the players themselves but also to their former high school teammates, who contributed a wealth of knowledge and stories about playing with the soon-to-be stars.
Narrowing the focus
Because he had such a large volume of tremendous stories of high school football glory, figuring out the format and doing so in the time frame agreed to with UT Press became a challenge. Conine discovered the biggest difficulty was time.
"I didn't intend to drag out the process of interviewing," Conine said. "I told UT Press I would turn in the manuscript by Sept. 1, 2015 and that's what I did. I originally thought of doing 50 high school football stories from 50 Texas towns, but one of the first things the editor-in-chief told me was not to be governed by the idea of 50.
"So in the spring of 2015 I saw I could get to 40 but not to 50. It turned out that my last two interviews were with Robert Griffin III and Colt McCoy at Redskins camp, so that got it to 41."
Conine also said he encountered quite a few surprises in his interviews, teasing to one regarding Hayden Fry, the former SMU, Iowa and North Texas State coach who quarterbacked Odessa High School to the 1946 state championship.
He debuted the book this summer at the Texas High School Coaches Association annual coaching school in San Antonio and received positive feedback. He also received satisfying responses from those he interviewed, some of whom also heard about the book from other sources.
"I would like to think that most of them revealed something about a personality that is new," Conine said. "I know I'm not the first person to hear these stories, but I'll settle for it being new to the reader."
Conine, whose first book was about his experiences at St. Andrews in Scotland when he covered The Open Championship in 2010, is working on his third book, tentatively titled "366 Days of Texas Sports." It has been peer-reviewed to a positive response. The book will examine something that happened in Texas sports history on each day of the year, from the Dallas Cowboys to Little League baseball.
And, who knows. If "Republic of Football" does well, there could be room for more. In a state as big as Texas, there are always stories to tell.
"I think I could easily write another volume of it because I know the process so well at this point," Conine said.