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Sonny and Kate Dykes have transformed a lot next door into an ideal space for large gatherings, small family events and everything in between

By Rebecca ChristophersonJune 6, 2024No Comments

Sonny and Kate Dykes have transformed a lot next door into an ideal space for large gatherings, small family events and everything in between

By Tori Couch
Photography by Olaf Growald

Stepping through the sliding glass doors of what appears to be a guesthouse on Sonny and Kate Dykes’ property in Fort Worth’s University West neighborhood, it’s hard not to get caught up in a photo of former TCU quarterback Max Duggan displayed on a flat screen television.

Duggan’s running down the sideline, headed for the end zone at the 2022 Big 12 Championship in Arlington. The Horned Frogs ultimately lost that game in overtime, but earned the program’s first College Football Playoff berth after posting an undefeated regular-season record.

“The big thing with that group was the more we played, the more you didn’t want it to end,” Sonny Dykes, the TCU football coach, said of the 2022 team. “You knew it was a little bit special at the time, but then you kind of had a chance to look back and realize how much fun it was and just how special it was.”

Duggan’s photo — one of several mementos from Dykes’ first year as the Horned Frogs’ head coach — serves as a conversation starter for the 25-30 recruiting and team events the Dykeses host each year at the single-level, 2,200 square-foot home, which they call a “recruiting house.” Football provided inspiration, but the couple holds several non-football events there during the year.

Inside the main room of the recruiting house, there are plenty of places to sit, refrigerators stocked with sodas and ice cream sandwiches, and photos from the 2022 football season, Sonny’s first as TCU’s head coach.

The newly constructed building is on an adjacent property the Dykeses bought when purchasing their home, less than a mile from TCU. It sits back from the street on what looks to be on the same lot as the residence, and it blends discreetly with the neighborhood, known for its large, leafy, mature lots and mix of elegant homes. The Dykeses modeled the recruiting house after their main residence to make it appear as if both had been built at the same time.

“You would never know that these weren’t built together,” Kate Dykes said. 

The recruiting house and surrounding amenities were under construction during the historic 2022 season and completed in time for summer 2023 recruiting.

Having a place where anywhere from a few people to a couple hundred guests could easily interact, be entertained and not take over the main house was something the couple didn’t enjoy at previous coaching stops — Sonny was previously head football coach at SMU, University of California and Louisiana Tech. When he took over the TCU job in November 2021, a unique opportunity presented itself.

“We were really fortunate,” he said in an interview with his wife this spring. “We bought the house and there was kind of a teardown house next door that was for sale. It just made sense to go ahead and get them both.”

The recruiting house features two bathrooms, main entry room, guest bedroom, sitting room, storage on the backside and a patio facing the main house’s backyard and pool. Artificial turf borders the patio and includes a small putting green, fire pit, and steps down to a basketball and pickleball court.

The Dykeses hired the Fort Worth builder Doug Brooks to construct the recruiting house. He tapped Christine Figley, owner of West Fork Landscaping in Fort Worth, to spearhead the landscape design effort.

Her expertise was needed right away because a 10% to 12% grade change from the front of the property to the back posed several design challenges. Many times, Figley is not involved in these types of projects until the house is halfway built, she said. Her projects usually range from six to nine months, not the year-plus long effort this one required.

“We had major elevation changes from the street all the way down to that pickleball court, and then from their house to the [recruiting] house,” Figley said. “We had to spend a lot of time looking at those grade changes and how we embrace them.”

The recruiting house was designed to match the Dykes’ home (near right) to look like both properties were built at the same time.

The recruiting house ended up acting like a retaining wall, Figley said, while overlooking the basketball court on the backside. Initially, the court was going to be near the front of the guesthouse, closer to the street. The city of Fort Worth denied that design, so the court was moved and turf was placed up front.

More retaining walls were placed in the walkway to the court and used the same stonework that leads to the pool and retaining walls in the other yard. Fences around the court keep balls from going into a creek at the bottom of the property.

By the time the renovation got going, Sonny was engaged in summer football practices. When the 2022 season ended in January 2023, he could finally take stock of the structure taking shape. “It seemed like it happened overnight to me,” he said.

Kate was more involved throughout the process. She offered feedback, watched the retaining walls go up, and saw stones being meticulously laid down one by one.

“It was so fun to watch them build the arches” over the patio, she said. “I never knew how intricate that is. I just would stare from our windows up there [in their home]. It was so cool just to watch the whole thing happen from a bird’s eye view, kind of get to be a part of it.”

Inside the recruiting house, the cabinets, tile and hardware matched the materials used in the Dykes’ home. Everything about the outside was the same too, including the roof, gutters, window ledge trim, white brick finish and a black gate.

Meshing these design elements with the main house while hiding the elevation differences through landscaping achieved the seamless look the Dykeses wanted.

“We really tried to make it look like it was designed all at one time,” Figley said. “I think we did a pretty good job of that.”

Once the new house was finished, the Dykeses added a few personal touches.

The television showing Duggan is one of three that are side-by-side on a long wall in the main entry room.

Next to Duggan’s image, another photograph shows four former players — offensive lineman Steve Avila, defensive end Dylan Horton, wide receiver Quentin Johnston and linebacker Dee Winters — walking out for the coin toss at the Fiesta Bowl, the Horned Frogs’ playoff semifinal game versus Michigan. To the right, former cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson returns an interception against Texas in a regular-season game.

Each photo holds a special place in TCU football lore. A conversation centering around Duggan’s run reminds everyone of the heart and passion with which he played.

Several footballs sit on shelves inside the sitting room, including one covered in sparkles that says “TCU” and one with a quote from Spike Dykes, Sonny’s father. Spike was the head coach at Texas Tech from 1986-1999.

“When he fell into the end zone, that is a kid who’s literally giving every ounce of anything he has in his body,” Kate said. She also pointed out herself and the couple’s three children in the back of the photo, just above field level, watching the play unfold.

The televisions are also set up with gaming systems. Fridges in the main room are filled with soft drinks, water and ice cream sandwiches. The sitting room has several footballs on a bookshelf, including a sparkly TCU one and one from a 2022 Texas Tech Varsity Club football reunion event with a quote on it from football coach Spike Dykes, Sonny’s father.

Hints of purple are placed throughout the house, whether it’s a chair, pillow or a piece of artwork, like the one in the main room depicting a football player. Colorado-based artist Dolan Geiman made the player out of metal and leather. Careful observers can find football leather in the helmet and the words “TCU” and “Texas” in the jersey. A buckle from football pants is around the waistline.

It’s clear football is important, but the Dykeses hope anyone could be comfortable in the recruiting house.

“We wanted it to feel very casual and kind of welcoming,” Sonny said.

In addition to football events, the house and yard have become a destination for other large gatherings, such as Delta Delta Delta sorority bid day with 350 women or hosting 140 donors. Guests can easily find their entertainment niche among the various options: swimming, video games, television on the patio, basketball and pickleball.

The artificial turf handles the foot traffic, accommodates tables for parties and can be covered with tents in case of bad weather. For some of the larger gatherings, two food trucks can fit side-by-side inside the gate.

Smaller events, including birthday parties, baby showers or preparations for homecoming or cheerleading competitions, fit well in the space, too.

Being able to keep events separate from the Dykes’ primary home has benefited the entire family. The kids, daughters Ally and Charlie and son Daniel — ages 15, 13 and 7 — might need space to do homework on the same night as an event. They can do that without distractions and then join in the fun. Guests feel more comfortable as well.

“When we have people over, they end up staying for so much longer, which is so fun,” Kate said. “Because we can kind of go back and they hang out. They know how to work everything, and so it makes it, I think, for them, more accessible.”

Landscaper Christine Figley added TCU-themed decor for an event at the Dykes’ home last fall.

Depending on the event, Figley might spruce up the yard with streamers, a wreath, bow or other decor. Maintaining the plants and the yard are part of Figley’s duties as well. She expects to install streamers for special occasions at the home.

Evergreens and perennial plants line the outer rim of the artificial turf. Pots are filled with colorful annual plants. Keeping plants alive can be tough given the sometimes drastic shifts in Texas weather, but Figley said her team has found the right ones.

“It wasn’t that hard to figure out the plants because we were going to go with whatever was already there,” she said. 

Figley and the Dykeses became friends during the building project. An initial bond formed over their respective ties to Louisiana Tech University. Figley attended school there, and Sonny’s first head coaching job in 2010 was with the Bulldogs. The relationship grew from there.

Now, Kate and Figley text regularly. “I just fell in love with her,” Kate said. “She just oozes coolness and she’s so sweet and so fun.”

Kate even provided Figley with a new business idea. While living in Highland Park in Dallas, Kate occasionally decorated with streamers from a Dallas company. Kate hoped she could find streamers in Fort Worth, something she talked about with Figley. Figley decided she would learn how to make the streamers.

In April 2023, Figley hung streamers at the annual Fort Worth Garden Club’s flower show as part of a soft launch. She then spent several long, hot summer days in the West Fork warehouse making more streamers.

As the fall approached, Figley provided streamers for a Tri Delt bid day event at the Dykes’ house. That caught the attention of Chi Omega sorority. The sorority reached out, wanting streamers for its bid day, Figley said. She returned to the Dykes’ yard soon after bid day with streamers for a season-opening football event. 

“It was [Kate’s] idea,” Figley said. “Not only was it her idea, but she has been supportive throughout the whole thing, like helping me get the word out, just hanging it in her yard.”

Interest in the streamers has continued growing throughout Fort Worth. Figley counts the TCU Alumni Association, Jewel Charity and Fort Worth Country Day School among those who have recently used streamers from Elevate Your Celebrate at Figley’s West Fork Garden Market retail store.

The Dykeses find time to enjoy their yard on a more personal level between events, work commitments, school and extracurricular activities. They might play pickleball together or spend a night around the fire pit. 

The couple has also found the recruiting house makes for a great private date night.

“For us, I think it’s just kind of a place to escape to a little bit,” Sonny said. “It feels like you’re going someplace, but you’re not.”