If you’re a fan of sports at Lake Highlands High School and you’ve been wondering if the Wildcats’ new head football coach and athletic director has the chutzpah he needs to lead his team of coaches and players from the sidelines, wonder no more. After 14 years on the coaching staff, including several as offensive coordinator under Lonnie Jordan, Cory Campbell is like a man who’s won the Powerball drawing.
“I’m the lucky one,” he said with a grin. “I get to stay here at Lake Highlands.”
Campbell was speaking to the Lake Highlands Exchange Club and giving a sneak peek into prospects for the new season. Though his varsity team is young and lacks experience playing under Friday night lights, they’re as hungry to prove themselves as he is.
“I was super, super fortunate, grateful and humbled to be thought of for this position,” said Campbell, who coached in Denton, Lake Dallas, McKinney and other localities before coming to Lake Highlands. “I’ve had a lot of stops wanting to be a head coach. This is my seventh, and when I got to Lake Highlands, I stopped putting my stuff in U-Hauls and getting on down the road because of how special it is. I’ve been to a lot of big places, and they don’t feel small. Lake Highlands does.”
Campbell’s crew has been busy over the summer hosting football camps for 450 kids in first to ninth grades. There’s a pipeline of young neighborhood athletes longing to be part of the Wildcat experience, he said.
Coaches are working double-time to prepare for football season, which began with strength and conditioning over the summer and will continue with two-a-days early Monday morning. LHHS will scrimmage Coppell High, which finished 9-1 last season, at Wildcat Stadium Aug. 17. The first official home game is Aug. 24 against Mesquite Poteet. The first district game will be against Highland Park Sept. 8, also at home.
“We’re not going to shy away from the competition,” said Campbell. “Our goal is to win the district championship. It’s a lofty goal. There are great teams in our district, but that’s what we want, and that’s what we’re going to try and go get.”
Campbell retained 13 of his 14 staff members, and he interprets that a sign of the strength of his program and staff.
“These coaches love football, but they love your kids a lot more. That’s what we’re about.”
Earlier in the day, Campbell gave a campus tour to returning members of the 1963 district championship team – the first squad ever to win a district football championship for the Wildcats.
“I just walked around with them while they told stories and viewed our awesome new facilities. We talked about how the game has and hasn’t changed, and they explained to me — and I hear it all the time — how special this place was. I got to tell them in return how special it is to me.”
Campbell said this season’s early games will be an indicator of the team’s eventual success. Highland Park and Jesuit will be tough competitors, as always, and Berkner is on the rise.
“Our schedule is front-loaded, so our team is going to go how the first five games go — how we learn, how we get better and how we grow up. Highland Park will be the district favorite, but we won’t take a back seat to those guys.”
As offensive coordinator, Campbell has been calling plays for the team for 19 years, and fans can expect that to continue — for now.
“I’m not ready to give that up,” he said. “This season, I’ve got super-qualified [assistant coaches] to help me, and I’m going to try to grow them into that role, but I’m going to call the plays. I’ve had a lot of head coaches tell me I’m crazy, I can’t do it — and maybe they’re right. I’m going to find out.”
When asked how he’d define success, Campbell paused a moment before reflecting back on his afternoon with the 1963 district champs.
“I’ve played in the fifth round of the playoffs, I’ve coached in the state championship, I’ve been part of some special groups whether it’s playing or coaching, but my number one thing is, at the end of the day when these kids leave here, just like that 1963 team I met with today, I want them to look back and say, ‘This was a special, special experience.’ You’ll forget about, maybe, the touchdowns and the tackles, but you’ll never forget looking up in the stands where there’s ten thousand people. You’ll never forget the guys you lockered next to. Those are things that will last forever. Success, for me, is when these guys look back with really fond memories.”
That 1963 team was a dynamo, as Keith Whitmire reported for the Advocate in 2009. (Keith’s son, Connor, is a long snapper and backup center for the team this season, and he’s selling spirit shirts as a senior class officer.) The ‘63 team still holds the Wildcat record for most points scored in a game, having defeated Whitesboro 72-0 when LH was a 2A school. They beat Grapevine 64-6, Wilmer-Hutchins 64-6, Kaufman 62-6 and Duncanville 56-8. Rockwall knocked them out of the playoffs 40-0 — payback for LH’s 20-12 win in the second game of the season.
You can find the full 2023 schedule here.