Clean Out Your Locker, Bring Me Your Playbook: A Championship Tale
Photos by Mikey V
Two months ago, Rocks Off wrote about the less-than-auspicious start of the under-15 football team we have been coaching. Two nights ago, they played in the championship game.
It was a remarkable turnaround, really. The coaching staff knew going in that the team was going to at least be competitive; for the first time in several years, we had more than one legitimate athlete. Still, much of the early season was filled with blunders, lapses in judgment and a general display of low football intelligence. They were like kids who had been given keys to cars they couldn't control - their engines were impressive, but they kept running over traffic cones.
Last season, we had a quarterback who saw the game in slow motion. He picked apart secondaries like Matt Damon did math problems in Good Will Hunting. He was likely the only 8th-grade football player in history who completely understood the spread offense, and dominated the air for eight glorious Thursdays last fall. In two separate games, he was singled out by the opposing coach as our primary threat and placed on a Headhunter's List. Grown, fat, ugly men terrified of the 8th-grader with the golden arm.
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This season, our quarterback was considerably more athletic, but considerably less cerebral. Why should I worry about telling my backs to pick up blitzes when I can jump over humans?, his brain seemed to think. But he grew quicker than anyone could have anticipated. Each game he became more precise with his passes, more vicious with his intent, a more intimidating presence.
In our third game, we were down by two with three minutes left in the game, and he drove the team 73 yards, scrambling once on a broken play (the ball was snapped over his head) on third and 15 for a first down, throwing thunderbolts on the other plays. With 56 seconds left, he broke free for a 22-yard touchdown run, only to see it wiped away because of a holding call. He fell to the floor in exhaustion during the timeout that followed. With 0:24 left, he punched it in again.
In our homecoming game, he snagged an interception amid a crowd of receivers, shed four would-be tacklers like they were 6-year-olds, then ran it back 50-plus yards for a touchdown. It was the most remarkable play of the season. He wasn't even winded. Later that game, he had to be told to stop scoring touchdowns because the other team was powerless against his onslaught.
He grew bold and confident; and the team followed his lead. Receivers knew they were going to catch anything that came close to them, the linemen bullied anyone silly enough to stand in front of them, the running backs made hard cuts and exploited gaps. By week four, they were football dynamos.
So we played in the Championship Game on Wednesday, facing F, perpetual powerhouse and, as fortune would have it, the same team we played last year in the Championship Game.
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F was good, but our boys were dogs of war.
We scored quickly when our standout cornerback, a sweet young man with a chest made of titanium, forced a fumble that rolled into the end zone and was recovered by our pitbull linebacker.
From there, the game was tightly played. F's coach recognized immediately that our defensive ends were too tough for his O-line, so he spread the field out and asked his star running back to carry them to victory through the trenches in the middle.
With 0:24 left in the first half and team F on the four yard line, the line held firm four straight plays, forcing a turnover on downs by inches.
With 0:13 left, Quarterback threw a 90-yard touchdown to our race-car of a receiver as the clock expired. F's back was broken. It was only halftime, but the game was over.
We held the ball for the entire third quarter, with the O-line and the running back beating up F's players.
At the start of the fourth quarter, we scored again, then simply slowed the game into a mush-fest. It was hand to hand combat and it was glorious. The boys were tiny, bloodied deities, soaking in all the "Attaboys" they could find.
The same team that couldn't remember that kickoff and kick return were two different things outscored their final three opponents 91-0.
It's been two years since our team has lost a football game. Our boys are trying to grow a football dynasty. Traffic cones be damned.
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