I’ll be honest, this time of year is always bittersweet for me.
Most of you may not understand – and that’s okay. However, I’m sure there are some of you who will get it.
It’s football time.
Oh, the joy of spending Saturdays glued to the T.V. – and Sundays if the Cowboys are playing. Trash talking your friends all week about how your team is going to kick their team’s tail. The game is just pure excitement. (The game is exciting – not the kneeling during the National Anthem, which is ANOTHER story).
Spending Friday night’s at your local high school, watching the hometown boys grind out a ‘W’.
To me, it’s about as good as Christmas.
…And that’s the bittersweet part.
It’s been right at 10 years since I last had on the pads at Lambuth. Of all the practices and games that this person has endured from flag, middle school, high school, and college – you would think that knocking heads would be something that you wouldn’t miss. You do.
However, I think, if any of us who played organized sports are honest, what we really miss is the family aspect of the team.
Let me explain…
Take my senior year (2006-2007) at Lake County High School.
Were we ALL close? No.
Did we know each other? Yes… and their parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.
Did we always get along? No.
Did we know that everyone was going to do their job come Friday?
You better believe it.
When I think of the season of the 2006-2007 Lake County High School Falcons, I think of a particular 4-week period of the schedule.
Game 10 – final regular season game
We were rounding out the regular season against a tough Bruceton-Hollow Rock team – one that most would consider our school’s rival in the 1980s to early 90s. Freeing rain and snow hit just before the game. I can remember going for the 2-point conversion to (I believe) try to win the game. The conversion failed.
The loss knocked us from a potential number 2 seed and hosting a first-round playoff game to going on the road as the 4th seed to a team who had beaten us 2 consecutive years in the first round – Fayette Academy in Somerville.
Rd. 1 – TSSAA Single A playoffs
Travelling to Somerville, there were probably, maybe, only a handful of people that thought we had a chance – and a majority of those were the ones wearing the green and gold jerseys. Fayette Academy had a Mr. Football candidate, a number 1 seed, and home field advantage.
At kickoff, their crowd dwarfed our visiting fans (in total there were between 25-30).
We scored first, but it wasn’t without consequence, as yours truly cost the visiting Falcons 15 yards on the kickoff for taunting… oops. (Those Memphis-area officials call everything!)
Fast forward to halftime – we were down.
We went back to the visiting locker room (Fayette’s gymnasium), and what happened next is what has stuck in my mind – some 11 years later…
Not a word was spoken from any one member of the team.
Coaches were silent.
We players sat in those bleachers – ready for time to go back out on the field.
Walking back to the field, helmets on and prepared for battle – still – no word was spoken.
It was evident that we knew something that Fayette and their fans didn’t.
We were GOING to win THIS game.
The cool part about it – our 20-some-odd fans that made the trip did as well. They had made their way down onto the field – and whoever initiated that, thank you by the way – and lined the sidelines. The crowd of 20 seemed like thousands, because as some of you may not know, Falcon fans can be a little rowdy…
In the end, we did win the game. The Falcons finally got over the Fayette Academy hump, winning the first playoff game for Lake County since mid 1990s. We were the only 4th seed team in Single A to take down the number 1.
I remember boarding the bus to head back to Tiptonville. One of the players had a cell phone (which at that time WAS a big deal), and they called someone back home. The conversation was on speaker phone. When the person answered they asked how bad did we lose. I can’t repeat all of the actual words that were used, but the player’s response was, “We won”. The bus erupted.
However, by morning, we were already focused on our next opponent – Trinity Christian in Jackson.
Rd. 2 – TSSAA Single A playoffs
The win against Fayette fired our community up – big time. I don’t think I realized how big until we reached the field for game time.
Our locker room was inside the school, which was a long distance from the field. So long in fact that we had to take a bus to the field. Once we stepped off the bus, it seemed that every person from the county was there – lining the walkway entrance and the back of the endzone. And in true Falcon fan style, they were, well… rowdy.
Fast forward to just over a minute remaining in the 4th quarter. We found ourselves down, ball in our possession, and deep in our own territory.
So, what did the veer option running Falcon team do to advance the ball?
We threw it.
(FYI, at that time in Single A football, most teams ran the ball. It was rare to ever air it out – unless you were someone like Union City or McKenzie where you had more kids on the roster)
Yes, we threw the ball, and even converted two 4th down conversions to stay alive.
With seconds left on the clock, the playcall came in: ‘Falcon slot left, 3 across, 91 layup – on 1’.
Our running back (the 3 man) was the slot man to the left, and he motioned back across the formation to run a go pattern (or straight down the field). The play, originally, designed to hit the tight end (the 9 man). Our QB must have seen something different, and fired the ball to our running back.
I didn’t see the play, but man, I heard the reaction. End result: Falcons win.
Geez, 3rd round. And holy cow, WE get to play at home – in Lake County! Visiting us would be Jackson Christian.
Rd. 3 – TSSAA Single A playoffs
The JCS game is one that I’m proud of. It still hurts to talk about it over a decade later, and there are even some of the guys who refuse to mention it.
I call it the game of missed opportunities. Both teams had a chance to make it difficult for the other. I can remember twice being in the redzone, and we couldn’t score. JCS had their issues as well.
We had just scored very late in the 4th, and it seemed that we were going to advance. But it’s never over until the clock hits 0. There’s always a chance.
JCS proved that to be true. On a 4th and 13 play, they took it to the house.
Boom… game over. Season over. And for 11 seniors – the final game as a Falcon.
In my opinion, did the better team win? I don’t know. It was one of those games, to me, that if both teams could win – both deserved to. I haven’t a clue where any of those JCS players and coaches went on to do after that season, but if by chance any of you are reading this – thanks for being such a class act. If we had to lose to someone, I’d rather it had been to an organization such as yours.
The most painful part of it was that JCS went on the eventually win the Single A State Championship. Knowing that we hung with them, tooth and nail… in my mind, if we got the ‘W’ that gold ball would be sitting in Tiptonville.
But that’s why you play the game… and you bring your best every night.
If there is something I could say to the area senior athletes now – whether it’s football, volleyball, soccer, cheer… or even with all the other sports that hasn’t started yet – enjoy the moment. No matter if you’re a Trojan, Choctaw, Falcon, Tiger… whatever, there will come the day where you wear that jersey one last time. Enjoy it. Savor each and every moment. Play your tails off – give it your best… file away those memories.
Good luck to all area high school senior athletes and your respective squads!
This month’s blog is in honor of the 2006-2007 Lake County High School Falcon Football team and the following senior members and coaching staff:
Senior Players: Derek Campbell, Kevin Copelin, Brandon Hutcheson, Quentin Jones, Dakota Miller, Sam Mills, Brandon Springer, Cranston Tyler, Sep Valentine, Damio Yancy, Josh Zabel
Head Coach: David Barger
Assistant Coaches: Eddie Cain, Neil Cruce, David Gallagher, Sonny Rechtin, Greg Ross