A fall to Class 3A made it difficult for longtime 4A power Stephenville to fill its 2012 and 2013 football schedules, so athletic director and head coach Joe Gillespie decided to take his team international.
Actually, he'll be taking the No. 1 Yellow Jackets just down the street from Stephenville High School for their season opener, but the big story lies in who they are playing at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Tarleton Memorial Stadium, not where.
Monterrey Prepa Tec recruits the country's top high school football talent to an upscale private preparatory school in Monterrey, the capital city of Mexico's northern state of Nuevo Leon. The Borregos Salvajes, which translates to Wild Rams, have won 11 Mexican national championships and travel regularly to Texas to face some of the state's top-tier programs.
"Anyone who is willing to face Stephenville, Highland Park, Aledo, The Woodlands and San Antonio Reagan has to be dang good," said Gillespie in reference to Monterrey's 2012 slate of Texas opponents. "And they are. I look at them as the Highland Park of Mexico. We're going into this under the impression we're going to face a very good football team Friday."
While little about the meeting is normal, Gillespie said football is football and the Borregos play it well.
"They sent us film of last year's national championship game and I found myself watching the other team as much as them just to see the level of play they are associated with," Gillespie said. "I was impressed with their athletes and their coaching.
"When we were in the process of scheduling them I wasn't real sure how well-coached they really are, but as I've learned more I see they are a well-coached football team," he continued. "And they have good personnel. Both their receivers out on the edge are (6-foot-2) and can run, and their quarterback is a good player who's back from last year. They have a 47-man roster and 37 of the players are returning. The more I learn, the better they get."
Each of those returning players endured an adventurous season to say the least last fall. Some games against Texas schools were cancelled because of fear of violence related to Mexican drug cartels who have been known to threaten the team's travel plans.
"I had a lot of questions when this was first coming together," Gillespie said. "The main one being, 'Are they really going to show up?'"
But the Borregos' travel plans appear safe, Gillespie says. The team is departing from Monterrey Thursday and staying in south Austin that night. They plan to arrive in Stephenville just after noon on Friday.
"The travel sounds like it would play to our advantage except that they are so accustomed to it," Gillespie said. "I'm sure they will be ready to go just like we will when we tee it up Friday night."
Monterrey's treks to Texas have yielded mixed results. They have won several times in the Lone Star state, mostly against lower-tier teams closer to the border. They fell to Allen 35-21 in their 2009 season opener when Allen was fresh off winning the 2008 5A Division I state title.
Last year, Prepa Tec opened against 5A power The Woodlands, a suburban school near Houston, and lost 56-32. Weeks later, the Borregos fell to 4A power Highland Park 46-7.
"I've visited on the phone with (head coach) Randy Allen at Highland Park and he says they are a first-class group," Gillespie said. "He had nothing but positive things to say about their whole experience with (Prepa Tec), and they're playing them again this year, so that tells you something."
Communication between Gillespie and Borregos head coach Roberto Rodriguez has been tough, but entertaining.
"He says their kids all speak fluent English, but he speaks about as much English as I speak Spanish," said a laughing Gillespie. "And I promise you that's not very much.
"I've had to run find coach (Eric) Rivas to help me on the phone with him, and he's had to go and find someone who could help him translate what I'm saying," he continued. "We were talking (Monday) and I didn't have Coach Rivas available, and he didn't have his guy. We did the best we could, but after a few minutes we both just started laughing."
But the coaching staffs have communicated enough to learn things about each team.
"It's a game, but it's the first game. We don't have to be in state championship caliber form in week zero," Gillespie said. "So we're sharing some things with each other because he wants to improve his football team and we want to improve our football team."
Gillespie said scheduling some type of mixer between the teams wasn't an option because of the Borregos' busy travel itinerary.
"I asked Coach Allen (at Highland Park) about that and he said they just met before the game for an extra handshake, so you may see that, but nothing real formal," he said.
In the end, both are there to win.
"It's neat to see there is good high school football being played down in Mexico, and I know they want to come up here and represent their school and their country well," Gillespie said. "But this is Texas, where we feel like we have the best football in our country, and we want to represent that, too."
Follow Brad Keith on Twitter @etsports