It's still football. It's still Texas.

Josh Peter
USA TODAY Sports
A banner commemorating 50 years of Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine hangs in the office of Sports in Action in Carrollton, Texas. Magazines from the first edition of 1960 to the current edition of 2016 are housed here.

McKINNEY, Texas — About 30 miles north of Dallas, a real estate investor named Mike Giles decided last year to go toe-to-toe with Texas football.

Local officials here proposed building a $63 million high school football stadium. Giles, outraged by the costly plan, led a grassroots effort to defeat the $220 million bond measure that included the new stadium.

They went door-to-door to persuade fellow residents and visited more than 1,000 homes. They bought campaign-style signs that read “It’s OK to just say NO.” They sought support from the local newspaper. Then in May, with Giles saying he sensed among residents support for his position, came the vote.

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The stadium and bond measure passed overwhelmingly, getting nearly two-thirds of the vote. It will be the third high school stadium in Texas built at a cost of more than $60 million, and its projected price tag has increased to $70 million.

“People are very religious around here,” Giles, 71, told USA TODAY Sports, “and football is definitely a religion in Texas.”

Mike Giles opposed a bond measure that included funds for a $60 million high school stadium. But this is Texas.

The football gods here go by names like Landry, Staubach, Dorsett, Aikman and Smith. In addition to America’s Team, the state has more Football Bowl Subdivision college teams (12) than any other, led by the Longhorns and Aggies. It has “Friday Night Lights,” the book, TV series and movie based on the football team at Permian High School in Odessa. And it has football cathedrals far more lavish than what’s being built in McKinney.

Reliant Stadium, the $350 million home of the Houston Texans, will serve as site of Super Bowl LI when the New England Patriots play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Then there is AT&T Stadium, the $1.2 billion home of the Dallas Cowboys and the first NFL stadium built at a cost of more than $1 billion.

With safety concerns over concussions research casting a specter over football, perhaps no state continues to embrace the sport quite like Texas does. About 130 miles south of this city lives a man who understands the fervor like few others do.

***

WACO, Texas — Dave Campbell, 91, arrived at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame last week carrying a small stack of magazines — Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazines. He dispatched someone to find a Sharpie.

As usual, he intended to autograph the copies of a magazine cherished by Texans.

At the annual Texas High School Coaches Association meetings, high school football coaches in the state routinely wait in line for Campbell to personalize an autograph on the cover of the latest issue of the magazine.

“Texas is very passionate about football,”’ Campbell offered.

The Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco includes a replica of Dave Campbell's Texas Football office, complete with a Dave Campbell mannequin.

Two summers ago, Campbell said, he autographed a copy of the first magazine’s issue, published in 1960, that the owner bought from a collector in Houston for $800. The copy originally sold for 50 cents.

A longtime sports editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald, Campbell said he and a few friends trying to supplement their incomes decided to start a magazine but initially picked another sport: bowling. When they couldn’t find enough advertisers, Campbell said, they settled on football. After losing money the first two years in operation, the popularity of the magazine in Texas grew like football itself.

Since the magazine debuted in 1960, the number of high school football teams has doubled to more than 1,400.

Dave Campbell today

“You know, there’s an old saying in Texas, particularly in small towns,” Campbell said. “Friday nights, if your team is playing out of town, there’ll be nobody left. Just turn out the lights.”

Tapping into that passion, Campbell said, he was making $100,000 a year by 1985, when he sold the magazine to a company in Kentucky for more than $1 million.

“I was wearing out,” he said.

The magazine has since changed hands four times and is now owned by Sports in Action, a company near Dallas. The company has launched a TV show with Fox Sports, a web site and podcasts. But the business still centers around magazine, with circulation approaching 100,000, according to company president Adam Hochfelder.

Campbell still writes the annual Letter-from-the-Editor for the magazine cherished by Texans. Mike Perrin, athletic director at the University of Texas, has the first nine issues of the magazine bound in leather and within easy reach at his office in Austin.

University of Texas athletic director Mike Perrin thumbs through a copy of Dave Campbell's Texas Football.

“I don’t read it like a bible every day,” said Perrin, who played high school football in Texas. “But I do frequently refer to it.

“Somebody will say, ‘Well, what about old so-and-so?’ And I’m, ‘Wait a minute, let’s go look at that.’ ”

Each year, the magazine previews every high school in the state, and that includes the six-man team from tiny town about a 125 miles west of here.

***

RICHLAND SPRINGS, Texas — Residents warn visitors driving at night to watch out for the deer and the possum that will dart across the road and into oncoming traffic. But opposing football teams headed for this town of 333 residents and zero stoplights are more concerned about the coyotes — the Coyotes of Richland Springs High School, that is.

The football team, which plays its home games at an old rodeo arena, has won back-to-back state championships and eight state titles in the past 13 seasons.

“What does the team mean to the town?” asked Sandy Reed, mother-in-law of the Coyotes’ head coach. “The team is the town.”

The home stands of Richland Springs High School.

In 1979, because of dwindling enrollment, Richland High School football joined the ranks of six-man football. The Texas high school association eliminated eight-man in the 1970s, leaving schools with too small of an enrollment to field 11-man teams only two options: play six-man football or the equivalent of a Texas sacrilege — no football at all.

High schools in almost 250 small towns play a brand of football that produces basketball-type scores. In the past two seasons, teams have scored more than 100 points 15 times. In the state championship game this year, Richland Springs beat Balmorhea 96-50. Eighteen of the 20 boys enrolled in the high school this academic year played on the football team.

Having gained widespread acclaim, Richland Springs recently purchased additional bleachers and has attracted as many as 3,000 fans to home games.

“Six-man football helps keep a lot of communities and schools open,” said Jerry Burkhart, head coach at Richland Springs. “Because I’m telling you, this town don’t have anything. This school is it.”

Taking over the team in 2004, Burkhart, 44, led the Coyotes to their first state title and now needs just one more title to reach nine, which would tie him for the most won by a high school coach in Texas.

Among the many trophies in the Richland Springs High School "War Room" are eight state championships since 2004.

To help develop future players, Burkhart created a league in which children as young as 4 play flag football, and they suit up in helmets and pads when they reach the third grade

With those pre-K football players running six-man plays, Richland Springs is proof that not everything is big in Texas. But 270 miles southeast, in a suburb of Houston, there’s something enormous.

***

BELLAIRE, Texas — As a photographer set up equipment near the football field at Episcopal High School, Marvin Wilson and Walker Little stood side-by-side, a picture of enormity.

Little, at 6-foot-7, 300-pound senior, is rated among the top high school offensive linemen in the country. He has committed to Stanford. Wilson, a 6-foot-5, 320-pound senior, is rated among the top defensive linemen in the country. He said he will name his college of choice Wednesday on National Signing Day.

They are the best pair of linemen at any high school in the country and further proof of the power of football in Texas.

No high school in the United States has a line pairing like Marvin Wilson (left) and Walker Little at Episcopal in Bellaire, Texas.

As a freshman, Wilson enrolled the private school intending to play basketball before the school’s head football coach, Steve Leisz, saw Wilson doing jumping drills during summer workouts. “Marvin was at 260 pounds jumping higher than anybody else,” Leisz said. “He said, ‘Coach, I’m ranked 75th in the country in basketball. I don’t play football.’ And I go, ‘Marvin, you will be number one in the country in football.’

“So I talked to his mother that day.”

The next day, Wilson joined the football team. He is ranked by 247Sports as the sixth-best high school player in the country.

Ranked No. 10 is Little, who said he began playing tackle football in elementary school only after his older brother implored him not to “be a baby.” Little feared the prospect of getting hit.

At Episcopal, a private school in the Houston suburb, Little and Wilson have taken and dished out big hits when they are standing not side-by-side but face-to-face at practice.

“Marvin and Walker are generational type players,” Leisz said.

On campus, one of the few things noticeably bigger than the two linemen is an athletic complex heavy on football facilities. It's being built near the school's $24 million math and science center at at a cost of $80 million. But that understates the apparent value of football in this state.

It’s priceless.