Editor’s note: This is another installment of “Extra Points,” a weekly series of stories that look at high school football away from the Friday night spotlight.
MAIZE — It is 15 minutes until kickoff and the Derby High football team is stacked, four and five deep, amongst the benches in the visitors locker room.
Eminem blares from the speakers, a song called “Cinderella Man.” It is the song their coach, Brandon Clark, has picked for them. Their surroundings are not insignificant only because they are here together. They are 0-2, so this is not just another Friday night. It can’t be. They already hear the questions everywhere they go. Is their confidence shaken? What’s wrong with the offense? What’s wrong with the defense? Are they even any good? And they don’t have answers.
“æ.æ.æ. who can catch lighting in a bottle, set fire to water.”
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They are teenagers, just boys. They know all the words to this song and they mouth them in unison, smiling at each other and pointing in recognition. These lyrics speak to them.
“Smash an hourglass, grab the sand, take his hands and cup ’em. Spin around to freeze a clock, take the hands of time and cuff ’em.’
They want to do well. They want to make their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters proud. They want to be like the boys they watched growing up, the ones people still talk about to this day. They want to know what it’s like to taste that kind of glory, to walk into school on a Monday morning and feel the stares of envy and admiration that come with wins, not the glares and whispers that come with losses.
They already know how that feels.
“I was down,
when I was down I was kicked.æ.æ.æ.æ”
There is a knowledge amongst them that in a few hours they can be 0-3. The team they are ready to go out to play, Maize, has not lost a game this season. The Eagles are huge, from their star tight end/linebacker Derek Lee (6-foot-5, 245 pounds) to mammoth 6-7, 290-pound lineman Steven Wolgamott, who towers over anyone the Panthers could possibly toss out.
“They are so big,” Clark says. “I kind of can’t believe how big they are. I mean, look at (Lee).”
“Thanks for being patient, I will make no more mistakes.”
The song ends. It is 10 minutes until kickoff. Somebody flicks the lights off and on. The team crams into the middle locker bay, starters to the front. The locker room goes dark. Someone begins the Lord’s Prayer and the team recites it in unison.
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
The lights come back on. Clark is standing in front of his team now. He does not try to write down his pregame speeches anymore. It did him no good, he says. Just didn’t work. Every time he tried to write one down, it was a mess. Every eye in the room is focused on him. You could hear a pin drop. He starts off simple. Defense needs to tackle. Special teams need to be special. He expects at least two touchdowns out of them tonight.
Then he addresses the offense. Something previously unknown rises from the back of his throat. His words catch fire.
“I want you to fire off the ball! I want you to feed off each other!” Clark says, each syllable gaining more steam. “People ask me how our confidence is and I say it’s fine, I say that we’ve had the best week in the weight room, the best week in practice, that we’ve had all year.æ.æ.æ. all we care about is 1-2. Now let’s go do our job.”
His team erupts, converging in the middle of the locker room, sweeping out the door toward the field with the assistants.
Clark lags behind. He still has the stride of an athlete, like the wide receiver he once was, first at Valley Center for Mike Smith and then at Kansas State for Bill Snyder. Snyder, he says, had nothing on Smith when it came to pregame speeches. “Coach Smith was just incredible in the locker roomæ.æ.æ. he was the person who inspired me,” Clark said. “A great man.” The pebble-strewn path leading up to the stadium comes to an end. In the distance, the Derby side of the field is packed, green from top to bottom. His team is waiting for him. A little over two hours later, they will be 1-2. This was not just another Friday night.
Reach Tony Adame at 316-268-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org .