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How a group of Dallas-based high school kids turned into Utah State's marching band for a day

Over 120 kids from Cedar Hill High School became the substitute Utah State marching band at the First Responders Bowl in Dallas on Tuesday.

Over 120 kids from Cedar Hill High School became the substitute Utah State marching band at the First Responders Bowl in Dallas on Tuesday. (Jacob Nielson, KSL.com)


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DALLAS β€” An hour prior to kickoff of the First Responders Bowl, dozens upon dozens of high school students sprawled out in the shadows of Gerald J. Ford Stadium and gobbled up a pregame meal of Chick-Fil-A.

The 120 gray- and blue-clad teenagers, who for the moment looked like an unassuming group enjoying a lunch break on a school field trip, would soon be the stars of an otherwise disappointing show.

The teenagers, who are members of the Longhorn Red Army marching band of Cedar Hill High in Cedar Hill, Texas, transformed into the Aggies' marching band for Utah State's bowl game on Tuesday afternoon against Memphis.

While the on-field Aggies appeared to no-show in a 38-10 loss to Memphis in the, the substitute Utah State band certainly did not.

Not only did the band entertain the crowd by playing a song popularized by LSU called "Neck" several times throughout the game, it also learned both the Utah State fight song and "The Scotsman" in just a matter of weeks to play for the nationally-televised game, and entertained the crowd and sideline throughout.

Utah State decided the logistical and financial hurdles it would require to get an entire marching band to Texas for a game two days after Christmas wouldn't be worth it, so Aggies band director Dr. Lane Weaver took it upon himself to find a replacement.

The Cedar Hill band, which has performed in the First Responders Bowl once before, as well as a handful of American Athletic Conference Tournament basketball games, was right for the job.

"Dr. Weaver and the athletic director (Jerry Bovee) called (about) three or four weeks ago to see if we'd be available because they heard we actually did this bowl before, for Boise State," band director Derrick Walker said. "And so I did a poll with the kids and I said: 'How many can come?' So I think we got about 120 of the 200 that we normally have because everyone's on vacation."

Led by assistant band directors William Johnson and Alexander Riggins, the band got to work.

"We got the music, I think, about two and a half, maybe three weeks ago," Riggins said. "And as soon as we got it, we hurried up, printed out the music sent at home and have been playing it over and over and over again."

Despite having to miss a portion of winter break to brave the chilly December weather, the teenagers seemed excited to be there. Several bragged about knowing both fight songs and inquired what hand signals they needed to flash to represent Utah State.

The Aggies' athletic department was sure they were taken care of, too, and made custom-made, navy blue long-sleeved Nike shirts that repped both the Utah State and the Cedar Hill logo on the front to send their way.

They took to the northwest corner of the stadium and played their hearts out for three and a half hours straight.

"Just a fun atmosphere for them to play in a college bowl game, of course," Walker said. "They were gracious enough to make those T-shirts for us. And Mr. Johnson went and picked them up at the band meeting, and so the kids are excited about it."

Although it was the second First Responders Bowl the school was able to attend, it was the first the band got to see to completion. The inaugural First Responders Bowl at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in 2018 between Boise State and Boston College was canceled due to severe weather conditions.

"It was funny, because right before the game they said 'Do y'all want to do your performance at pregame or halftime?' And I thought, 'Let's just go and get this over with,'" Walker said. "So we actually got a chance to get on the field. The game started, Star Spangled Banner and they play maybe what two minutes of the game? Then it started lightning and raining and they canceled it after that. But we got our chance to get our performance in."

There was no on-field performance opportunity this year; however, there was an opportunity for a grudge match of sorts. The Longhorn Red Army had the chance to represent the UCF and Houston bands at the AAC basketball tournament in Fort Worth in March and performed against Memphis' band twice. According to Walker, they ended up in a heated back and forth music-off with the Tigers band.

If the bowl game was the decider of the best two out of three contests with Memphis, Cedar Hill certainly won the third bout, and brought the energy all game long. They also delivered for Utah State and provided a memorable experience for fans and players during a forgettable game.

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