Big and Bright- Chapter Two Excerpt

cover of B & B…Carthage lost a heartbreaker to Jacksonville last night. After the game, as usual, the coaches went to work breaking down the film, finishing up around 4:30 in the morning. Now, at 9:00 Saturday morning, defensive coordinator Darrin Preston and a few linebackers are in the fieldhouse watching the film. Preston is unhappy and looks disgusted as he repeatedly runs key plays on the screen. The linebackers and safeties are especially bad. The starting safety has a hairline fracture and will be out three weeks, the backup isn’t working out. The young replacement looks completely lost, dropping deep when he should come up and coming up when he needs to stay behind streaking receivers. The linebackers look tentative, going around blockers instead of taking them on and getting fooled by play action. The DC looks pained, watching such poor execution, knowing the blown assignments were a factor in turning a very winnable game into a loss. Preston has been around long enough to know that the first game is usually full of glaring mistakes. Coaches often don’t really know their team until they see them in a game, so it’s often trial and error in finding the right eleven to put on the field. Knowing this doesn’t make watching the Bulldogs blow the game any easier.
The staff worked so hard to put the Bulldogs in position to win and somehow they couldn’t find a way to finish, giving the game away again and again. The backbreaker came during the final minute. With a three-point lead, a sophomore Carthage DB intercepted a pass along the sideline that should have ended the game. Instead of going down or out of bounds, the young Bulldog ran the ball back, cut across the field and was stripped. Jacksonville recovered and a few plays later, scored the winning touchdown. The coaches can’t help but question themselves. With all the hours they put in and all the situations they prepared the team for, they’d never coached the defense about what to do when picking off a pass during the final minute with a lead.
Yes, the cornerback should have understood the situation, but the coaches know better than to expect a sophomore playing his first varsity game to be football savvy. Carthage just gave this game away and it shows on Preston’s face and in his body language. He sits hunched over and speaks slowly and sadly as though more than a zero-week non-district game was lost. After about an hour of watching film, the DC slowly tells the kids, with long pauses between phrases, “We gotta play aggressive…play assignments… and make plays…we’re looking for the best eleven… we were up here half the night…juggling names…if you can’t get it done in practice…” He leaves the last phrase hanging. Everyone knows changes will be made Monday.
The mood with the offensive coaches is slightly better. Returning starting quarterback Blake Bogenschutz had a poor game, overthrowing some open receivers, but Bogie threw 29 TD passes and for almost 2,700 yards as a sophomore, so Head Coach Scott Surratt and the offensive staff aren’t worried about a sub-par opener. The young offensive line and running backs looked good. They were a few inches and stupid mistakes away from putting this game away, but at least, unlike the defense, they know they have the pieces they need. As Coach Surratt tells the offensive coaches during the personnel meeting on Sunday, “We have a hell of a lot more talent than last year, and a hell of a lot more up front.”
Carthage is a clean little town of around 6,000, a traditional town square and a strip with restaurants, convenience stores and other shops, surrounded by residential neighborhoods full of mostly well-kept homes peeking through the trees; nice, but not ostentatious. If there’s anything remarkable about the city, it’s the school itself. Only 741 students are enrolled but it has the feel of a much bigger place. The gym is large, really three separate gyms, divided by folded up bleachers. The cafeteria, library and classrooms are all spacious, airy and modern. Natural gas money has made this one of the richest ISDs in the state and bond issues have built this school into a showcase.
Bulldog Stadium isn’t especially big by Texas standards, with 6,500 seats, but it’s comfortable with seatbacks in the middle section for season ticket holders. Unlike many newer stadiums, it has a one level pressbox.
“It was too crowded as soon as it opened,” The radio play-by-play man tells me. A new replay scoreboard has just gone up in the north end zone. The scoreboard is a point of pride for the people of Carthage but seen in a different light by those who don’t understand Texas football culture.
At 1,200 square feet, it is the largest high school scoreboard in the country. During a national recession, the scoreboard is an easy target for out-of-staters. The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated and AP all ran stories on it. The Wall Street Journal didn’t say it directly, but implied this was another example of misplaced priorities in Texas. The story cited the $60 million, 18,000 seat stadium built in Allen as another example of high school football run amok in Texas.
It’s easy and lazy to condemn Carthage for spending $750,000 on a luxury, pointing out things the money could be better spent on, math books, more teachers or whatever. It’s the same argument often made to deride any government spending one doesn’t like. In fact, it’s the same strategy used by the anti-bond people in La Marque. Find what you consider waste and use this waste to argue against entire institutions…

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