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Matt Allen leaned on a 4-foot tall chain-link fence for much of Friday night at the football field at Somerset High School. He stared out at what is holy ground to him, reliving memories of two men he leaned on throughout his life.
Hundreds more were in the stands or scattered around the field and paying their own tributes, saying their goodbyes in the gloaming. What happens on the field on Friday nights in the fall is always the centerpiece, but on this night it seemed beside the point for many in this small community southwest of San Antonio.
Wimberley beat the Bulldogs 43-0 in what was a much harder-fought game than the score would suggest. It was a bitter cap to a crushing week in which football coach Sonny Detmer, 76, and powerlifting coach Marvin Allen, 78, died within a day of each other.
Matt Allen is Marvin Allen’s son and he played football for Detmer.
“Whenever I go to a football game, it’s always hard because I miss the game,” Matt Allen said. “So I’m already amped up just wanting to play. And then knowing what my dad has done here with the strength program and what Sonny means to Texas football – it’s hard to explain. This is bittersweet. It’s difficult. A lot of emotions going on. I love both those guys. They helped make me who I am today.”
That sentiment is shared by thousands of people who were coached or taught by the two men over their combined 90 years in education. Matt Allen said since his father’s death Wednesday, one day after his longtime friend and colleague Detmer died from complications with bronchitis and pneumonia, he has received dozens of calls and text messages from people who were impacted by the two men. Some came from people who were students under the two coaches as long ago as the 1970s. The coaches spent the majority of their careers working together.
“Sonny relied on him and trusted him with all the strength and speed and conditioning,” Matt Allen said. “My dad always said to Sonny, ‘If you ever leave, I’m retiring.’ He’s always said that. They both worked until they died.”
At halftime Friday, life in the bustling stadium came to a standstill as a short tribute film to the two men played on the video board. Conversations stopped, cheerleaders sat on the field, fans stood backward in concessions lines. There were few sounds other than the voices and music from the video.
When it ended, fans of both teams applauded. Some stood. A few wiped tears from their eyes.
Detmer coached high school football for 35 seasons at Southwest, Mission, and Somerset high schools, winning 235 games. He spent 52 years in education and is best known for raising two NFL quarterbacks. His sons, Ty and Koy Detmer, both played quarterback in their father’s program.
Ty Detmer went on to play college football at Brigham Young, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1990. The award is given annually to the best player in college football. He played 14 seasons in the NFL.
From 1992 to 1996, Koy Detmer played at the University of Colorado, where he set numerous school records and helped lead the Buffaloes to five consecutive bowl games and top-20 rankings.
Both of Sonny Detmer’s sons followed him into coaching after their playing careers ended and they remain coaches today. Detmer’s grandson Koal Detmer started at quarterback for the Bulldogs Friday but suffered an injury that prevented him from playing the second half.
Marvin Allen coached thousands of students at numerous schools, including Mission and Somerset where his powerlifting programs set a standard of excellence and the foundation for winning programs. He produced numerous state qualifiers.
Kevin Villanueva played for the two men at Somerset from 2008 to 2011. He went to the stadium Friday with his mother, Michelle Villanueva, because he felt like he had to be there. Villanueva said both Detmer and Allen found ways to get the most out of everyone. He said their superpower was recognizing that people are different and one approach won’t work with everyone.
“Every time we stepped on the field was a memory with him,” he said recalling what it was like to play for Detmer. “Even if it was off the field. Every time I got a chance to talk to him, it was always a memory. He was just a great person to be around on and off the field.”
Sitting in the highest row on the home side Friday night, Turner McGarity surveyed the field beneath his Vietnam veterans cap. McGarity officiated high school games for 27 years and now serves as a supervisor of officials.
He officiated numerous games in which Detmer coached. Back then there were four- and five-man officiating crews (seven-man crews work games now). Detmer’s teams ran them ragged. Detmer was among the first coaches in the Texas high school ranks to rely heavily on the passing game.
“He was a gentleman,” McGarity said. “He wasn’t like some of these coaches running down the sideline to cuss at you. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t tough on us. I remember the one thing he would always say is, ‘If you’re going to make that call, you need to get there.’ He didn’t want you making calls from across the field.”
Somerset Mayor Lydia Hernandez graduated from the school in 2003, shortly after Detmer and Allen began coaching there. Her husband, Chevy Hernandez, played one season for them. Hernandez said she was always amazed how each time she saw Detmer, he would recall something from when she or her husband were students.
“He always started with a memory,” she said. “I don’t know how he remembered some of the things he remembered.
“This is hard. Everyone is struggling. Both of these coaches were about hard work, respect and accountability. I feel like no matter what, they were class acts.”
Officer Johnny Salazar of the Somerset Independent School District has worked the gate between the stands and the field at Bulldogs football games for 12 years. His sons, Johnny and Nathan Salazar, played football for Detmer and Allen a decade ago.
Salazar used to drive Detmer and two of his assistants to road games. He would listen to them strategize on those rides and he marveled at how detailed they were. They discussed game plans, how to attack the opponent and how to defend against them. At first, he had his doubts.
Salazar played for Somerset in the 1990s and recalls “there were just certain teams that played here and always gave us a shellacking.”
“It seemed like there were games where, me on the outside looking in, I’d think like, ‘Man, we don’t have a chance,” Salazar said. “And we’d win. It just showed me the power of what they were doing.”
But the conversations were about more than football. Salazar said he heard Detmer routinely talk about which players on his team needed extra tutoring or help in their personal lives.
“It was more than just Friday nights,” Salazar said. “They were just there for all their kids. …I see them as irreplaceable.”