Posts Tagged ‘High School Football

17
Sep
13

if he just hadn’t intercepted that pass

Now all is right in the great state of Texas.  No, it’s not that we solved our transportation funding needs. Sorry, not yet anyway.  And we still have to scurry when hurricanes come calling on our gulf coast – that may be a hard one.  And while we are at it, no, we have not found enough fresh water solve all our problems either.  It’s much bigger than all that, it’s Texas schoolboy football and it’s off and running!

And thank goodness – not a moment too soon.  It’s the first indication that fall, and more importantly, fall weather is lurking nearby – at least we sure hope so.  I can hardly repress my own excitement seeing how my own children are also so deeply ensconced in the sport as well.  And this time of the year, it’s a good thing the clock moves quickly when you’re having fun – that’s very important when it’s still 100 degrees at kickoff by the way.

It’s not that it’s just that time of year to be focusing on football, but to compound the fact, I received an article from dear friend that she read in the Amarillo Globe-News that gave me great pause.  One quote in particular resonated.

The quote comes from the former White Deer Head Football Coach, Windy Williams at a reunion of sorts for a team from the Texas Panhandle that for me will always remind me of what might have been.

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Courtesy of the Amarillo Globe News

Players from the 1988 1A State Champion White Deer Bucks gathered in Amarillo this summer to reminisce about their perfect season.  I was a 17 year old tight-end and defensive end on a team that fell two points short of advancing against them in the UIL State High School Football playoffs – one lousy point to tie, two to win.  And actually in those days when games were tied up you didn’t go to overtime or flip a coin, instead you turned to who had the most offensive penetrations.  That was simply how many times your team advanced the ball into the opposing teams territory, inside the 20 yard-line.

It was a classic battle – two talented teams, destined to slugging it out on the grid-iron since two-a-day practices started in early August, winner take all.  We scored late in the fourth quarter to match them and the potential game-tying extra-point was about to step onto the field.  We knew we were about to tie the game because our own sure-footed All-State Quarterback doubled as our kicker, and the kid just didn’t miss.

Our head coach called a time-out to study what I call the “what–if” factor.  And he was right – scoring was a premium that night and having just matched White Deer in scoring the 3rd touchdown of the game with little time left, our coach surmised we were down by one penetration.  The statisticians with UIL on the sideline confirmed it, and in a tied Texas High School playoff game in 1988, that was as good as a loss for us – and we were going for the win!

Still the right decision today as it was 25 years ago.  But that doesn’t make the sting any less.

White Deer’s own ace quarterback and defensive back, Bart Thomas, thwarted our efforts to score that two-point conversion.  When the last second ticked off the clock that night, it ended in a 21-20 defeat for us.   It was the day after Thanksgiving at Lowrey Field in Lubbock, Texas, on one cold and very crisp West Texas Friday night.  Bart intercepted that pass and changed the fate forever of brothers on both sides of the ball, bonded by a wonderful sport.

It was a magical ride that goes down in Panhandle Lore even today for the White Deer Bucks.  While the Bearkats would go on to see two state titles in the coming years and dozens of playoff trophies, White Deer would only see one playoff win over the next 17 years.  But for that night, and for me and the rest of the 1988 Garden City Bearkats, the state quarterfinals were just not to be.

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Courtesy of the San Angelo Standard Times

There isn’t a day that goes by when I watch a high school football game that I don’t think of my old teammates.  Last week, the Amarillo Globe-News writer Lance Lenhart asked Coach Windy Williams about that interception – 25 years later, “I’ve always thought how different things would be if he hadn’t intercepted that pass.”

You see, the rest of the games in the playoffs for White Deer that year were won handily, all the way up to the State Championship.   Coming from the losing side of that equation – the quote is quite the understatement.

But football taught me many things about life that I can only hope to pass along to my own sons.  My wish for them is that they may have their own experiences like this also, and hopefully learn from them as I have. You have to know what failure tastes like to learn to hate it so much.

Loss can be a great motivator, but unfortunately it motivates by it’s lasting impression.  On that particular night.  There in that visitor’s locker room in the north end zone after the game, knowing I was taking that jersey off for the last time with the brothers I had bled with, sweat with and broke bone and bread with, I knew it was the end of the road.  I had gone to battle with these guys time and time again since junior high, and the stark reality of it hit me.   And for the first time since the first day of summer two-a-days my freshman year – I lost my lunch.

I have never forgotten that burn ever since.  If team sports taught me anything it was that.  The pulitzer prize winning writer, H.G. Bissinger would soon begin working on his most acclaimed piece,  Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream, about the 1988 Odessa Permian Panthers.  Years later it spawned a successful television show in which the saying, “clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose,” was popularized.   Well, I still hate to lose to this day, but that experience also taught me something of great value – to expect the unexpected.

In preparing for White Deer, one of our defensive coaches kept warning us – harping actually.  Everybody in the state was talking about their quarterback and defensive star, Bart Thomas.  Bart went on to play for Coach Fisher DeBerry at the Air Force Academy the following year.  Meanwhile coach kept insisting that we had better not underestimate Bart’s younger brother, a freshman starting at the linebacker spot. The upstart was also the leading tackler on the team, a freshman – that really got my attention.

I recall coach walking over to me during a skills walk-through session and slapping the side of my helmet with his playbook and dry-erase marker lid in mouth barking something to this effect while scribbling on his laminated notes full of X’s and O’s:  “I’m telling you guys, this kid plays like no freshman I have ever seen on film or scouting anywhere in the state – he will put his nose right in your ear and your going to find yourself suddenly looking up from the grass at him grinning.”

Well, as it turns out, Zach Thomas left White Deer after his sophomore year and finished his high school career at Pampa.  He traded his schoolboy cleats for Collegiate All-American ones at Texas Tech and later spent a 12-year career in the NFL as an All-Pro with the Miami Dolphins and finished his career with the Dallas Cowboys.  Putting his nose in the earholes of much larger and faster men than the ones of the 1988 Garden City Bearkats that late November day, on Lowrey Field.  I can personally attest, on that particular day, he did a pretty good job of doing just that.

Our paths crossed again over time while we were both students at Tech and we always talked about that game.  The consolation for me was it was the toughest game I had ever been a part of and the closest when the stakes were the highest.  That’s exactly where you want to be.  Unfortunately there has to be a winner and a loser, despite what the rest of the world today thinks when it comes to competition at 12 years of age, 17 years of age, 32 years of age or 92 years for that matter.  It’s not “everybody wins” – its win, lose or draw folks.

Zach’s assessment in the Amarillo Globe-News last week was pretty profound and bears repeating here.  “That’s the best experience of my whole career,” Thomas said of White Deer’s 1988 season. “No doubt. I never sniffed another championship my entire career.  I know how hard it is to win a championship no matter what level. I learned in football it’s not about one individual but about winning as a team.”

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Jake celebrates a play-off win over the Weslake Chaparrals with a family friend

When young Jake P. Esparza and his Southwest Austin Bulldawg team won the 2012 Central Texas Pop Warner Football Division Championship last year, his head coach gave a great speech to a captive audience of 11 and 12 year-olds and their families at the December football banquet following the season as a proud papa looked on and reminisced.

“Boys, look around at each other, you will always be able to say you are champions. You may play football for another 20 years and never see another championship season.  Champions are rare and the love you have shared with your brothers here this year is like that championship medal on your necks – you have all been bonded by something that can never be taken away from you.”

Jake’s coach was right – as was Zach Thomas.  The accolades are special but the bonds are something that can never be taken or broken.

We spend our careers striving to be champions at something.  Whether it’s Football, Technician or Truck-Driving.  Or just trying to be the best boss or owner we can be.  It’s important that we celebrate our achievements along the way.  Crow about them, because as we like to say in Texas, “It aint braggin if it’s true!”

But do celebrate them, and along the way you will grow to appreciate the bonds you forge with the people in this industry that make your daily work worth doing.  To borrow a line from a great sports movie, Bull Durham, “…sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes – it rains.”  And into each life a little rain will certainly fall, but everyday you toil at it – you learn and strive to be better than the day before.  That’s a champion my friends.

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Southwest Austin BullDawgs Central Texas Division II Champions 2012




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