Casey Pachall stepped out of the Baylor visitor’s locker room, the tattoos on his chest and arms up close and visible and his shaggy strands of hair slicked back, still wet from the showers.
Twenty minutes earlier, the sophomore had thrown a game-ending interception against the Bears that handed TCU its first regular season loss in three years. The 25-game streak, longest in the nation at the time, went back – way back – to Nov. 12, 2008.
But not all was lost in Waco that night. Pachall may have been the losing quarterback against the Bears, but he won something that usually takes games, even years, for other quarterbacks to do.
Pachall won his team.
"Casey's an Animal"
With TCU trailing 47-23 at the end of the third quarter, Pachall, making his first career start, led the Frogs to 25 unanswered points, throwing for three touchdowns and setting the team up for a field goal that gave TCU a 48-47 lead over the Bears.
Senior tight end Logan Brock, who was on the receiving end of one of those fourth quarter touchdowns, said the rest of the team followed Pachall’s lead late in the game.
“Casey’s an animal,” Brock said. “He don’t ever quit. He played hard all night (against Baylor). He stayed in the pocket and took a lot of hits. He won the team over.”
How, though? How does a sophomore replace the most successful quarterback in school history, lose his first start and still earn the respect of an entire locker room?
Well, playing in the shadows of legends isn’t anything new to Pachall, who grew up in Brownwood, Texas and was a three-year starter in high school.
The Legend of Brownwood
Situated about two and a half hours southwest of Fort Worth, the town of 20,000 has been a breeding ground for championship-winning football teams and top-notch athletes for 50 years. No one, though, won more games than former Brownwood High School head coach Gordon Wood.
Wood coached the Lions from 1960-1985 and, in the process, set state and national records for wins and state championships. In all, Wood won 15 district championships, seven state championships and 257 games as Brownwood’s head coach.
The legacy left by Wood, who died in 2003, still lives on today.
Brownwood is football and football is Brownwood, Pachall said.
“Growing up, we always had something to look to because we held the record for most state championships,” he said. “In Brownwood, football was everything. Without football, I don’t think the town would have been what it was.”
But the one thing nearly as strong as Wood’s impact may be Brownwood’s recent tradition of producing top-notch talent, especially at the quarterback position.
Former BHS head coach Steve Freeman came to Brownwood in 1996 and coached the Lions through Pachall’s senior year before resigning at the end of 2008. Freeman, now the head coach and athletic director at Breckinridge High School, led Brownwood to the state playoffs nine times and coached a string of Division I quarterbacks. Both of Freeman’s sons, Colby (Texas A&M) and Kirby (Miami), signed with Division I programs, while current LSU starter Jarrett Lee quarterbacked the Lions his sophomore year before moving to Brenham, Texas.
So, by the time he stepped in as starter in 2006, Pachall was just walking through the revolving door of star signal callers to come through the program.
Pachall gets his start
Continuing that tradition put pressure on him, Pachall said. But it was something he embraced, even as a sophomore.
“Once I became the starter in Brownwood, I knew I had to carry on the tradition that had been going on,” he said.
After an impressive outing in the Lions’ first district game against Copperas Cove, Freeman said Pachall firmly established himself as the Lions’ leader.
“Casey took the role from that point then ran with it,” Freeman said. “And he never looked back.”
Pachall and Brownwood finished the regular season with a 4-6 record that year, but made the playoffs before losing to Waco High School in the state quarterfinals.
Luckily for Brownwood, Pachall would have two more years under the helm for the Lions and he’d make the most of it. He threw for 1,339 yards and 10 touchdowns his junior year before exploding in 2008 as a senior, throwing for 2,808 yards and 31 scores. That year, Pachall won the disctrict MVP award, was named to the All-State team and was ranked by Rivals.com as the ninth-best dual-threat quarterback in the nation.
Brownwood play-by-play announcer Dallas Huston said Pachall was one of the more special players to ever come through the Lions’ storied program.
“We’ve been blessed over the years with some outstanding quarterbacks,” said Huston, who’s been calling Brownwood games for 50 years and was there for the success of the Gordon Wood Era. “But you take a list of the great quarterbacks at Brownwood High School in the 50 years I’ve watched them and Casey would certainly be in the top 10, maybe even the top five of that group.”
Aside from the numbers Pachall piled up over his high school career, Freeman said one of the quarterback’s greatest attributes was his team-oriented approach to the game.
“Casey was a good program guy for us,” Freeman said. “And that was our number one objective.”
Freeman said he emphasized to his quarterbacks the importance of facilitating the game while stepping up and making plays when the time called for it.
“We wanted (our quarterbacks) to be good operators,” Freeman said. “But when it was time to perform, it was surely time to perform. There wasn’t any pregame ever that those words did not come out of my mouth.”
"Casey isn't Andy"
But then, there’s the issue of Andy Dalton.
Pachall’s predecessor was the winningest quarterback in TCU history and capped off his record-breaking career with an undefeated season and a Rose Bowl victory.
So, how do you replace the irreplaceable?
You don’t, Freeman said.
“Casey isn’t Andy,” Freeman said. “Both of them are very talented people, but we’re talking about two different people. However Casey chooses to fill (Dalton’s) shoes is obviously truly up to Casey.”
That’s something Freeman said he preached to his quarterbacks at Brownwood.
“My youngest son (Kirby) didn’t need to fill the shoes of my oldest son (Colby) and Casey didn’t need to fill the shoes of my youngest son (Kirby),” Freeman said. “I leaned on that hard as we would have new quarterbacks come into our system and taking over the reigns of being the quarterback.”
Pachall agreed and said he has to play within himself and not try to replicate what Dalton did in his time at TCU.
“Now that Andy’s left, I kind of feel the same here (as he did in high school),” Pachall said. “But I can’t worry too much about that. I just have to go out and do my best and play my game.”
Appearances aren't everything
Much has been made of Pachall’s tattoo-clad body, long hair and his image’s striking contrast to Dalton’s. Even Huston said he was surprised when he saw a recent picture of Pachall, who in high school was clean-cut and ink-free.
“I saw a picture of him the other day in the newspaper and I kind of had to do a double take and make sure it was him,” Huston said. “He doesn’t look quite the same anymore.”
Even so, Huston said Pachall’s appearance doesn’t affect who he is.
“He was a good kid and a real solid kid,” Huston said. “And certainly has a solid family.”
But, standing in the bowels of Baylor’s Floyd Casey Stadium, Logan Brock was even more supportive. Despite what people outside the program think of Pachall’s appearance, Brock said, there’s one thing no one can argue with.
“He’s got a lot of people outside of the team that don’t understand him,” he said. “But no matter what, he plays hard. He plays hard for his team.”