For the people of Strawn, Texas, high school football is a religion deserving of feverish devotion. But —, their congregation is much smaller than many others in the Lone Star State — so they practice their faith a little differently.
In Strawn, they play six-man football: a variation of the sport embraced by a group of rural Texas schools that don’t have enough kids to field a regulation 11-man squad. The game originated in Nebraska in 1934 and is played in a handful of other states including Colorado, New Mexico and the Dakotas.
“The biggest difference [from 11-man] is the speed and the kids are playing both ways, which is an endurance feat,” said documentary filmmaker Jared Christopher, whose riveting six-part docuseries, “Texas 6,” follows the Strawn squad’s 2019 season. “The hits can be more violent in six-man because they pick up so much speed. They are hitting, running and catching, but the field is 80 yards instead of 100. It still feels very much like football.”
The show, which premieres Thanksgiving Day on CBS All Access, chronicles the team’s quest to capture their third consecutive state title while bringing attention to life in a tiny, blue-collar town without even a stop light. Christopher, who lives near Fort Worth, didn’t know six-man existed until he went looking for an idea for a new project. He discovered Strawn through word-of-mouth.
“The whole point was to find a football story I hadn’t seen before,” said Christopher, who is also behind the award-winning web series “Titletown, TX,” about Aledo High’s perfect 2016 season.
He drove to Strawn, met their hyper-competitive coach Dewaine Lee and immediately knew he’d struck gridiron gold.
“As a documentary filmmaker, you are looking for access and characters. It was apparent he was going to be magnetic.” Christopher was even more convinced after Lee introduced him to their star player, J.W. Montgomery, who is only 5-foot-6 and 145 pounds — the human embodiment of the small but powerful Strawn Greyhounds.
“He lives about 50 yards from the school, and I could see him with his dogs. But when I got closer, I realized he was playing with pigs,” said Christopher.
Christopher also focuses his lens on mild-mannered quarterback Blaze Duncan, who never met his father and is being raised — along with his siblings — by his devoted grandmother.
“This isn’t just about football. This is about family. It’s about meaning something to this town, and the town shows the kids they matter. I think that gets lost in these bigger schools. In Strawn, it’s so intimate,” said Christopher.
Intimate is an understatement. In 2020, Strawn — which is equidistant between Abilene and Dallas — had only 16 kids in their graduating class. The school’s principal also drives the school bus and teaches two algebra classes. Residents work at the local cinderblock factory, in ranching or at Mary’s Cafe, famous for its chicken-fried steak. There isn’t much to do beyond sports, and the kids know that they’re unlikely to play another down of football after their senior year.
‘This isn’t just about football. This is about family.’
– Jared Christopher
And then there’s the team’s beloved, passionate coach: “[The story] is football, but at its very heart is Coach Lee,” says Christopher.
Or as townie and series regular Jim Elmore said of Lee: “He’s the best thing that ever came to Strawn.”
Lee grew up in Crane, Texas, which is adjacent to Odessa, the town featured in the 1990 H.G Bissinger best seller, “Friday Night Lights.” The book — and later the popular television series, which ran from 2006-2011 — introduced the particular brand of Texas high school football fandom to the world.
He played Division II ball at Eastern New Mexico University and stumbled into six-man football after being hired in his early 20s as an assistant at a small high school in Texas.
“I was like, I am not going to coach this sissy football,” Lee told The Post. But, “it was a job, and I am going to stay because I am poor.” However, he quickly became a convert to the fast-paced variation, something he expects will happen for viewers, too, once they watch the series.
“When people start watching it, they love it. It’s addicting.” He coached at two other schools before arriving in Strawn with his wife Denise in 2003 and won a championship that first year.
“When I moved here, it was another level. People come out, and they know football and they support it. You can’t fool them. When I arrived, one kid told me, ‘Coach, this is real football. We do it differently in Strawn.’ I said, ‘Good, me too.’ ”
‘These kids live and breathe football. They are bred into it.’
– Dewaine Lee
Indeed, Lee has his own formula. Its main ingredients are fiery intensity and tough love, which he dishes out regularly during practice and on game day. Off the field, he shuttles his players to doctor appointments, buys them food before games and in Duncan’s case, acts as a surrogate father figure.
On Mondays, Lee welcomes locals to watch game film with him — an open-door policy which could be career suicide in larger programs.
“When you lose a game you should have won, the last thing I want to do is show that dang video. It’s not always fun, but you have to face the music. You have to look people in the eye,” he said.
He’s clear that the team belongs to the town. ln fact, there are no names on the backs of the players’ jerseys — only “MIS” for Made In Strawn, a premise that reverberates throughout “Texas 6.”
“These kids live and breathe football,” said Lee. “They are bred into it.”