In a season preceded by an unprecedented event, Friendswood head coach Robert Koopmann, the 2017 Galveston County football coach of the year, kept the Mustangs doing what they typically do — namely overcoming more athletic and talented foes.
“Our strengths are that our kids are going to be here everyday, they’re going to do exactly what we ask them to do, they’re going to give an honest effort everyday,” Koopmann said. “That’s how you compete against teams that are so athletic.”
As football season approached, Hurricane Harvey ravaged the entire Houston area, and Friendswood was one of the towns where the storm’s floodwaters hit hardest.
While figuring out just how to return to normality, Koopmann said that new Friendswood ISD superintendent Thad Roher was highly supportive of getting the high school’s athletic program back on track.
When the team met for first time since the storm, they all just shared stories of their Harvey experiences, Koopmann said.
“That first night we came out here, there wasn’t much football going on, and I think that was an important part of the healing process,” Koopmann said.
Despite the storm’s impact, Friendswood opted to play on the opening night of the season when many teams were canceling their games. Friendswood found a new Week 1 opponent, Barbers Hill, and kicked off the season, but the Mustangs weren’t ready, falling by the score of 45-28.
“The mistake I made is that I should have never played that first football game,” Koopmann said. “We weren’t ready mentally or physically. … Our kids had been working in houses from sunup until sundown and then coming to practice. We just weren’t ready.”
The Mustangs coaching staff quickly put that game behind them, though, and the team won its next two games before district play began.
“We came in Saturday morning and just told them that was an aberration, that wasn’t who we are,” Koopmann said. “We weren’t going to lose our minds over it, and the coaching staff didn’t. We were going to learn and go from there. And the coaching staff I have is so sound and so strong and so principled in how they teach, they knew that was just one of those kinds of nights.”
While Harvey provided Friendswood’s first major challenge, the Mustangs still had another one to overcome and that was finding a new quarterback to lead the offense. By season’s end, Friendswood went through three different signal callers.
“I’m not sure I’d recommend it for anybody,” Koopmann said. “I think any coach wants to know who that guy is going to be, and we certainly didn’t. Everyone that played that position for us gave an honest effort and were really doing what they thought was best for the football team.”
In the District 24-6A opener against heavily favored Dickinson, Koopmann made his first quarterback change, pulling senior Garrett Hurst mid-game in favor of sophomore Christian Lee.
“We just didn’t like the way the offense was moving, so we made the switch,” Koopmann said. “Then we started getting first downs once we went to Christian, and we just thought we’d play the hot hand from there on out.”
Friendswood ended up pulling out a 27-24 double overtime win, stunning the preseason district favorite Gators.
“Dickinson is everything we’re not, athletically,” Koopmann said. “So, for us to be able to compete and fight and challenge like we did, said so much for our senior class and our entire team. And that got everybody believing. They thought that if we can beat Dickinson, there aren’t a whole lot of teams that we can’t play with.”
Friendswood went on to win its next three district games, but the offense sputtered in consecutive losses to Clear Lake and Clear Springs. Next in line at quarterback was talented, but very young-looking, freshman quarterback Luke Grden.
“We’ve all seen that freshman that looks like he should be a junior or a senior; that’s not Luke,” Koopmann said. “Luke had just progressed so much, you could just see it in practice with what he was doing against our varsity secondary, and then you saw it in the fourth quarter when we let him play against Clear Springs. He was just ready to get some snaps.”
Initially, Friendswood chose to alternate quarterbacks in the season finale against Alvin, but Lee suffered a broken collarbone, and the Mustangs were left with Grden as their primary option. Grden helped seal a win over Alvin, rewarding the leap of faith players made when coaches opted to use a freshman QB.
“They had to have a lot of trust in us,” Koopmann said. “I met with the captains before we announced that we were going to do this, and I said, ‘Guys, I’m not in a feel-good — I’m in a winning-football-games business. And this is strictly business. This is how I think we’re going to get better.’’
With Grden at the helm, Friendswood won two playoff games that many did not have them favored to win against Pearland Dawson and Humble Summer Creek, before the Mustangs eventually ran into a buzzsaw in undefeated eventual state champion Cy-Fair. The Mustangs hung in there with Cy-Fair in the first half before the Bobcats pulled away in the second half.
In his 34 total years of coaching, Koopmann has spent the past 22 years at Friendswood, and just finished his sixth season as head coach. Before that, the Hitchcock native had stops at La Marque, Hitchcock, Port Lavaca Calhoun and Santa Fe.