Max Hall’s bloodlines are tied to state football legend Danny White.
Travis Dixon can’t even verify that his dad played Pop Warner.
Hall owns a 5A state championship, a 27-0 record as Mountain View’s starter, and an athletic scholarship to Arizona State where his uncle, White, played prior to a pro career with the Dallas Cowboys.
Dixon has never played in a state title game, is 0-1 against Mountain View in his Hamilton career and is still trying to convince recruiters he’s tall enough to play at the next level.
At face value, Saturday’s 5A state championship quarterback matchup looks more like a mismatch. But perception hasn’t stopped Dixon from keeping pace with his more hyped counterpart.
Since an opening-night loss to the Toros, the Huskies have won 12 straight to reach the title game for the second time in the last three seasons. Dixon’s progress in his first season as a starter is perhaps the biggest reason for that turnaround.
In 13 games, the 6-foot-1 junior, who looks more like 5-foot-10, has thrown for 1,776 yards and 22 touchdowns.
"I knew from what he did in the summer that he could do everything we asked," said Hamilton coach John Wrenn, who watched Dixon lead the Huskies to several tournament wins during summer passing leagues. "I think maybe I put too many expectations on him early in the year against a defense as good and experienced as Mountain View’s, but after that loss he just came on and he’s been getting better and better each week."
The biggest difference, Dixon said, is in his decision making.
"A lot of things were happening at a different pace for me early in the season, but everything has slowed down since then and I’m making much better reads," he said. "That first loss was good for me because it taught me I had a lot of work to do — not to be satisfied with just being the starter."
Hall had to avoid a similar form of complacency. After leading the Toros to an undefeated championship season in 2002, he was the most recognizable player on the East Valley prep football scene.
As the expectations grew, so did Hall’s responsibilities. The Toros returned just two starters on offense. The team also suffered myriad injuries throughout the season, leaving as many as three offensive linemen out of the lineup at one point.
"Dealing with all the recruiting and all the hype about me over the summer definitely created more pressure coming into the season. I had to live up to it and become a leader because I’m a senior," Hall said. "But I’ve always had a competitive mind-set. I’m the commander in chief out there and I like being the guy who the other guys are watching for direction on where to go."
In the Toros’ case, that meant right back to Sun Devil Stadium, playing for the school’s ninth state championship.
Hall’s overall numbers aren’t quite as gaudy as last year’s, but his touchdowns increased from 25 to 33 and his completion percentage also rose as his reads became more refined.
He already owns the school career record for touchdown passes with 58. He needs just 113 yards to break Tate Gunning’s career passing record of 4,682 yards and seven attempts to break Gunning’s record of 426.
"There’s times when we sit back and watch him make a great throw and we all chuckle and say, ‘That’s great coaching.’ " Toros coach Tom Joseph said. "Coaching has certainly helped him, but he’s got a lot of God-given ability and I think he appreciates it a lot more than he did last year."
Dixon already appreciates the opportunity before him.
"It’s a great challenge to see where we stand and where I stand with the top guys in the state," he said. "They’re the top dogs, but we’ve come a long way since that first week."