By: Cade Hamner
Fans enjoyed on Sept. 9 a perfect night for football on the quaint tree-lined streets of University Park where Highlander Stadium is nestled.
While celebrating its football program’s 100th year, Highland Park High welcomed home one if its most beloved sons and saw its coach reach another milestone.
Matthew Stafford, with the rugged good looks and charm of one of Hollywood’s leading men, returned so the Scots could honor the Super Bowl champion and 2006 HPHS graduate with a halftime ceremony culminating in the retiring of his No. 7 high school jersey.
The Rams quarterback was escorted by his beautiful family, including his wife Kelly and their four daughters, his parents, and his sister.
In the mild September air, a full moon rising over the east endzone, Stafford waved to the adulating standing-room only crowd. He was presented with a bronze plaque to be hung in the stadium among those for the likes of Doak Walker and Bobby Layne.
Stafford had earlier mingled with friends, family, and high school teammates.
“The great thing about football is it’s the ultimate team game, and to be able to get the team back together is really cool and it means a lot to me” Stafford said. “As we made our run to the Super Bowl last year, the support that they showed and the people of this community showed was unbelievable.”
Stafford and teammates played under the “Band of Brothers” motto in 2006 during their 4A Division I state championship run.
“The tighter nit the team is, the better the team operates,” Stafford said. When asked about what Friday night meant to him, “It’s just really special. I hope they know that each one of them has a part of what’s happening here tonight.”
With the Scots’ victory over Lake Highlands, Randy Allen, in his 23rd year at Highland Park, reached 427 wins, ranking second most in the state.
“More than the wins, he’s just such a special person,” Stafford said. “He’s an unbelievable football coach. What he’s been able to bring to this school and this program is incredible, and what all these kids turn out to be is a testament to his success.”
Stafford spoke of how Allen challenged him as early as the eighth grade. “As a coach he challenged me to set goals, but it’s easy to look at him and just try to be like him, knowing that you’ll be a good player and an even better person.”
Stafford threw for over 9,000 yards and 94 touchdowns as a Scot. A standout at Georgia, he was drafted first overall by Detroit in 2009. After 12 years as the Lions starter, in 2021 he led the Los Angeles Rams through the playoffs and hoisted the Lombardi Trophy on his team’s home field at SoFi Stadium last February, a first for any Super Bowl champion.
Stafford remarked to the crowd at the conclusion of the halftime ceremony, “I just want to say thank you. It’s fun to be back, and the magic is still here.”
Cade Hamner lives in University Park where he and his wife have three sons in the HPISD system. The avid Scots supporter produces and hosts the ScotsCast podcast.