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HOUSTON – There are always two sides to every story.
In this instance, one comes from the vantage point of Tomball defensive coordinator Dave Handal. The other from that of his son – senior middle linebacker and one of the Cougars’ team captains Keegan Handal.
The scene is the Alamodome. It is the third round of the playoffs and Tomball is facing Rockwall-Heath, a team that both Dave and Keegan knew players off of - including QB and TCU-commit Josh Hoover, as he grew up playing baseball with some of them in the Dallas-area. Late into the game, a pass is intercepted by the Tomball defense, which virtually sealed the deal en route to a 35-21 victory over the Hawks.
Within the celebration frenzy on the sidelines, there was Dave and Keegan having a moment neither will ever forget.
“My dad was the first person I saw, and I just jumped into his arms,” Keegan said. “My shoulder pad ended up hitting his nose and he went to the ground. I saw him get up and he was bleeding. We laughed about it and hugged. It was a really special moment that I’ll remember forever.”
Dave added with a laugh: “Blood was on my coaching shirt and my pants. It was well worth it.”
The father-son duo is now into the UIL State Semifinals with a meeting with Denton Guyer set for Saturday night (7 p.m. kickoff) in McLane Stadium in Waco.
But you must go back to the beginning of the story to get to how this duo got here today.
Dave was Dallas through and through. He played at Lake Highlands and then coached at Richardson Berkner High School for 12 years. Then, in 2013 he gets a head job at Galena Park, where he stayed until 2016.
It was then that current Tomball ISD Athletic Director Vince Sebo hired Kevin Flanigan to be the new Tomball head coach and called Dave to see if he’d come on as a coordinator. At that time, Dave’s oldest son Kasen was about to enter his junior year and Keegan into the eighth grade.
Dave took the defensive coordinator job. Kasen finished his time at Tomball, his junior year being named an All-State safety, and now plays at Waldorf.
It was then Keegan’s turn to work his way up the ranks.
“He’s gotten better each and every year from all the hard work he puts in in the offseason,” Dave said. “He plays baseball as well, so he stays pretty busy with whatever he’s doing. Whatever season it is he’s really committed. I’ve been proud of how he handles his business and he’s always trying to improve from the physical or the mental aspect of the game.
“Watching him mature as a leader has been fun to watch. His junior year he had more of a special teams role and was a backup linebacker last year. He’s a team captain this year and just his leadership and the things he does on and off the field for our defense and our team, I’m just really proud of him on how he handles himself in that matter.”
This year, Keegan, like mentioned, is the starting middle linebacker for the Cougars’ and one of the team captains. Playing the MLB position is much like being the starting quarterback on the offensive side of the ball.
And who would better know the offense and what to call on the field in the heat of the moment than the son of the guy who is signaling in the plays?
“All the time we put in together has been really paying off,” Keegan said. “Having my dad as the coach, all the film study we do it really gives me an advantage. All the game-planning he puts in, I get all the insight about it. It shows on the field. The knowledge he gives me really benefits my game.”
Dave added: “At a young age we always joked that Keegan probably knows the defense better than some of our younger coaches because that’s all he’s known his whole life. We’ve kind of had him pinpointed as our middle linebacker as soon as he got into football.”
Hello 2nd Round and another week of sweet “Playoff Mustaches”😎@FootballTomball @keeganhandal4 @coachRENEAU45 pic.twitter.com/QXluSG4iBI— Dave Handal (@handal_dave) November 12, 2021
Keegan has racked up the stats his senior season.
Entering the State Semifinals this week, Keegan has amassed 106 total tackles, with 78% of those (83) coming in solo fashion. He has also recorded three sacks and four pass breakups from the middle linebacking spot.
Tomball as a team picked itself up after a three-game losing streak to beat Klein in the final week of the regular season to just get into the playoffs. The Cougars finished fourth in the district but then just started playing with a “we have nothing to lose mentality” and it has worked.
Four-straight playoff wins has now gotten Tomball to a place it has never been before.
“The whole month of November we didn’t lose a single game and now that we’re playing football in December, it’s crazy to even think about it,” Keegan said. “It just feels like a dream. These memories will last for the rest of our lives.”
Within those memories will be ones with his teammates of course, but a lot will include his dad.
“It makes us stronger as a father-son duo,” Keegan said. “It really gives us bonding time. Most coaches and sons, especially during football season you don’t get to see your dad a lot. But being able to see him every day on the field has been great.”
For Dave, he has had to balance a range of emotions this playoff run.
With every game comes with it the reality that this could be the end of the season. This could be the last time he gets to coach his son. It’s because of this that Dave doesn’t let the opportunity pass to let Keegan know how he feels.
“Every time we get on the bus I send him a text,” Dave said.
Keegan responded: “He texts me how proud of me he is, how much he loves me and no matter what happens he’s always proud of me and just go out there and play my best. It makes me enjoy the moment. Those little texts encourage me and push me through and get me through the game.”
“That’s the dad side of I,” Dave remarked. “Just try to enjoy every minute of practice, the bus rides, and the time in the field house.
“I’m trying my best to play defensive coordinator and dad in that aspect.”
Well, the Handal’s have at least one more week of practice, that bus ride and that text exchange guaranteed and with it Keegan doesn’t have to worry about mowing the lawn for another week either.
“He has not, that has been his reward for keeping this thing rolling,” Dave said with a laugh.