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First Game Weekend in Ravensburg

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It was a weekend of first for me in Germany… some good, some bad and some just interesting.

First, I’ll get the bad out of the way. Last weekend, I lost two more games as a German coach than the entire time I was here in 2015. Saturday’s ‘friendly’ loss against the Karlsruhe Engineeers was frustrating and unexpected.

We had every reason to beat this team… playing in front of our home crowd and a member of the GFL 2, while the Engineers are new to the 3rd league. We have two import coaches and four import players, while Karlsruhe is entirely made up of German volunteers. Statistically, at least on offense, we looked good, gaining 500 total yards, with quarterback Will Benson completing 17 of 22 passes for 300 yards and running back Lennies Mcferran rushing for around 200…but six turnovers were the difference.

A muffed punt return led to Karlsruhe first score, a fumble by on our own ten early in the 4th gave the Engineers a late lead and two intercepts stopped potential answering drives. Adding to the frustration were two touchdowns brought back by penalties and having the clock run out on us on the opponents’ 10 yard line at the half… We had a dozen execution mistakes that made the difference between a win and the 42-35 loss.

None of this takes anything away from the Karlsruhe Engineers. They deserved to win as much as we deserved to lose. Despite having less talent, they plugged away and didn’t shoot themselves in the foot, taking advantage of what we gave them. Congratulations Engineers, it was a great win for your program and I wish you success the rest of the way.

For us, I’m glad this was a ‘friendly’ (European for a non-league game, with even less status than non-league in the States, as friendly’s don’t go on the official standings). The game exposed a lot of weaknesses and should be a great wake up call for the Razorbacks.

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Now the good. It’s unusual to say any loss is ‘good’, but the developmental Razorbacks loss to the Kuchen Mammuts was very encouraging, and, but for the final score, a lot of fun.

This was the first ever game for the farm Razorbacks. Many of our players only put pads on for the first time a month ago. With different parts of this team practicing on different days in cities an hour and a half apart, we had no idea what we had. My starting o-linemen were determined an hour before kickoff, by one-on-one competition during warm-ups.17523329_1757552187891994_6467431409336803359_n

Given that the Mammuts are an established team, I was afraid that the game might be ugly. But, the Razorbacks played outstanding defense and moved the ball well at times. After taking a 6-6 tie into the half, the Mammuts put the game away in the 4th quarter to win 20-6. I’m excited that we plays four full quarters and that we did so many good things. Yes, we also made some awfully big mistakes, but what can you expect from a brand new team?… some of whom were not only playing their first game, but playing in the first game they had ever seen.   We have a lot of things to work on, but it was a great start for the new team.

Now the interesting… This is the first time in my coaching career that I’ve called offense for two teams on consecutive days… how often do you have that opportunity in the States? Where my last trip to Germany felt like a vacation with a little work…due to the spread out schedule and fewer practice days, this is much more intense, some leisurely mornings, but few days off. I’m good both ways, I miss being on ‘vacation’ but the coaching is challenging and a lot of fun.

Other interesting…at least to me.

After the developmental game, I got my first brief look at our towns’ baseball team, the Ravensburg Leprechauns as they warmed up for a game against the Stuttgart Reds. It was strange but cool to hear baseball sounds in Germany, bats hitting the ball and the slap of leather of a glove. I was impressed that many of the Leps actually could swing the bat.  I’m told that Stuttgart is the national champion and have no idea how the game turned out. I had thought about staying to watch…but it was a long weekend for me and I was tired.  Happy Easter!IMG_1404

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Razorback Update and random stuff from Germany

I’ve been here a little more than a month. The pace has stayed steady with practices, 7 on 7 tournaments, developmental team practices, both in Ravensburg and an hour and a half north in Albstadt, home of our sister developmental program, the Albstadt Alligators.We’ve had something almost every day since I’ve been here, but we still get some free time, as we American Razorbacks are the only ones here without real jobs.

It’s about to start getting real. I’m excited about the progress we’ve made so far. Last weekend we had our last scrimmage, against the Stuttgart Scorpions from the GFL (the top league in Europe.) I don’t want to sound too cocky, so I won’t say much about the outcome, but we did very well.

Tomorrow is our first actual game, a ‘friendly’…what Europeans call a preseason game, against the Karlsruhe Engineers. It will be great to coach at our home stadium in Weingarten. I have a lot of great memories there from 2015.

IMG_1386The weather has been outstanding all spring. One of the great pleasures of living in Germany is just taking leisurely walks  in the countryside. Where ever you go there are trails connecting towns… just start walking and follow the Wanderweg signs to any destination.

Though I’ve been busy, I have had time to finish the revision to my book about the 2015 season in Ravensburg. I think it came out well, I’ll let this blog know when I learn any new details about Year of the Razorback’s publication.

Below is last night’s developmental practice… We have around 60 total players, but will only suit 50 for their first game on Sunday … They are very raw but also excited for their first action against another team. I’ll write again next week about our game. GO Razorbacks!!!IMG_1398

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Back In Germany–The same…but different

 

Razorbacks vs. Geissen #10

Yeah, It’s an old picture, but I haven’t had time to take any new ones yet.

I’m back in Germany, again coaching the Ravensburg Razorbacks. It’s great to be here, see old friends and be working in Europe again, but a lot has changed with the Razorbacks in just two years.

A wide spectrum exists within Euro-semi-pro football. Some top teams play in front of huge and passionate crowds; hold well-organized practices with outstanding coaches from both Europe and North America and train in outstanding facilities. These programs have may have hundreds of locals playing and learning the game on youth and farm squads, all wearing their parent clubs’ decal on their helmets.

At the other end are teams…groups of buddies more accurately, who come together, scrape some pads and helmets together and try to figure out how to play the game. These programs rarely have American players or coaches…sometimes no true coaches at all, just player/coaches who happen to know more football than their teammates. Many of these teams only have a few dozen players and rarely get enough bodies together to even practice a full offensive or defensive unit…and forget about actual 11 on 11 scrimmaging during practice.

An interesting feature of this landscape is how programs rise and fall, seemingly overnight. A major sponsor dropping can make a powerhouse crash and burn…while increased numbers, ambition and support lift other programs quickly up the ladder.

When I was here in 2015, the Razorbacks were easily in the top half of the spectrum, a quality organization, but below the top echelon. We still haven’t reached the heights, but the program has made a definite push in that direction.

In 2016, the Razorbacks were promoted to the GFL 2 and were respectable, but decided to upgrade and make a push towards the stars. They hired my successor, John Gilligan as the new head coach, brought me back to run the offense and created a farm team, allowing new players to learn the game a few levels below the GFL 2. The results from these changes were obvious as soon as I arrived.

In 2015, we usually practiced two days a week…this season we’ve upped it to three. With camps and film sessions we’ve held 16 practices in the 12 days I’ve been in country.

In 2015, there were around 40 adult Razorbacks, this season, with the founding of the farm team, we have over 100.

In 2015, the team brought four imports (three players and one coach), this season it’s six. (Four players and two coaches)

It’s too early to know the outcome of this experiment, but the signs are outstanding. The practice tempo is beyond anything I saw during my last season here, guys are flying around and exhausted. Practice attendance is still always a concern, but much better than two years ago. The football we’re playing is far above what I saw in 2015…and three of your import players aren’t even here yet. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when we line up for our first game a month from now.

For me, this is now a lot more like a real coaching job. The last time I was here, Mondays and Tuesdays were usually off days, and I had a lot of free time. Not this year. With the new practice tempo and extra practice days, I’ve gotten buried in film breakdown and practice prep…just like coaching back home.

I don’t have as much time to sightsee, sleep in and have lazy breakfasts as I did on my last trip, but the loss is offset by the excitement and challenge of helping the Razorbacks become a top tier football program. It’s going to be a fun ride.

GO RAZORBACKS!

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Book Update–Good News!

Razorbacks vs. Geissen #9I’m sure some of the Germans started to doubt it will ever happen, but it looks like I may have a publishing deal soon for Year of the Razorback…(although the title may change).

A University press in Texas is interested in publishing the book as part of a series: (Sports in the American West) I’m working with their editor now to make some revisions to make it fit the western theme.

In other news, I’m very excited to be returning to Ravensberg in a few weeks to help the Razorbacks prepare for the 2017 season. It will be exciting to be back in my German home and coach the Razorbacks again.

Anyway, looks like there might be a light at the end of the tunnel as for getting the book published.  Here’s an excerpt–

…I drive 10 miles south to Friedrichshafen and look across Lake Constance to see the snowy Alps in Switzerland and Austria. Next, I head 20 miles north to Ravensburg. Driving through rolling hills, I see a curious mix of farms, small towns, factories and residential neighborhoods. Germans don’t segregate land by use the way Americans do. Clumps of steep-roofed houses often sit among hops fields and industrial plants.

            Every town seems to have a few factories, but I never see the glut of industrial land common in the US. Manufacturing has dropped in the States, but what’s left is generally in neighborhoods entirely given over to it. Germans seem to have married residential, commercial and agricultural in a way not seen in the US.

            Residential neighborhoods themselves are harder to pigeonhole than back home. In the US, it’s easy to immediately identify the socio-economic status of a location by the housing. Poor neighborhoods, lower-middle class, middle-middle class, upper-middle and various strains of affluence are all separate and recognizable, by neighborhood.

            Here, rich and poor are closer together. No ostentatious palaces, (a few castles,) but no slums either. Most homes and apartment buildings look clean and comfortable, but modest by American standards.

            I don’t have a roadmap or GPS, but the two-lane highways winding through hops fields and small towns are well-marked, with arrows pointing to Ravensburg and other neighboring villages at each roundabout.

            The Razorback’s hometown of Ravensburg is a medium size town of 50,000 known for its jigsaw puzzle company and the Medieval towers surrounding the downtown core. I’d find that Ravensburg is a very typical German city.

            Though the weather is cold, locals clad in dark coats and hats sit at the many outdoor restaurants and cafes. Germans eat outside whenever possible. Blankets are left on the chairs for customers to use on cold days. It’s impossible to walk more than a block in any German city without finding an ice cream shop selling cones for a Euro a scoop.

            The downtown core of Ravensburg is also typical in that it’s mostly off-limits to cars. The streets are lined with small fountains that will flow in spring. Unlike Friedrichshafen and many larger towns, Ravensburg largely avoided Allied bombings during World War II, so many of the buildings are hundreds of years old.

            It’s a damp and overcast day and after walking the town for an hour, I’m ready for a nap. I landed less than 24 hours ago and my first practice with the team is tonight.

            Our first import player, Jeremy Stewart flies into Munich late tonight, so I’ll be the only non-German at practice.  Due to family commitments, it will be two weeks until quarterback Garret Colao arrives from Florida. No matter, it’s nearly a month before our opener and my first goal is to meet players, begin learning names, positions, strengths and weaknesses. Our acting quarterback is receiver Alex Borgmann. He had played QB the previous season until he blew out his ACL against the Frankfurt Pirates; and he’s still injured. With a stiff brace immobilizing his left knee, Borgy can only hobble and throw weak passes from the pocket. This is a big problem for my offense, an offense that requires the QB to be a running threat. It’s frustrating, but we’ll just have to pretend we can run. During these two weeks I say, “Trust me, this will work when we have our quarterback,” more times than I can count. I just hope I’m right.

            We practice at the Ravensburg Turn-und Sportbund (TSB) The TSB is a sports complex consisting of six outdoor fields, a small stadium for the soccer team, an indoor gym, an indoor four-storey climbing wall, tennis courts, a roller hockey rink and a bike/skate park. Also on site is a small restaurant and bar.

             The TSB is a busy place. Soccer is the main sport, but the Razorbacks and a baseball team, the Ravensburg Leprechauns play here as well. (Yes, they actually have baseball in Germany.)  When I arrive at practice, I usually navigate dozens of soccer teams in training, boys and girls, from very young to middle-aged. During junior practice, we often share our field with an adult soccer team.  

            Tonight, I notice how poor the lighting is. Dim lighting is common on Euro practice fields.  This probably doesn’t matter much for soccer, as the ball is large and usually near the ground. But for American throwing and catching sports like football and baseball dim lights make it difficult to perform. After practice, offensive lineman Dominic Johann invites me to have a beer with him the following night. This is the first time I’ve ever been invited for a beer by a player. It’s still a novelty, but one I quickly get used to.      

            I vaguely hear stomping and commotion when Jeremy arrives well after midnight. I’d planned on getting up and meeting him, but my clock is still screwed up and I’m barely conscious… it will wait until tomorrow…

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A Defense of Football

The sport of football is under attack. Participation numbers are on the decline as parents refuse to allow their children to play. The media is full of stories about concussions and the barbarity of the sport. Even the NFL is seeing its TV ratings drop and many are saying the game is on the decline. Some even wonder if it should be abolished.

I just finished reading a study about how the NFL targets kids from a young age, creating sophisticated marketing campaigns to lasso children into becoming players, (and more important, NFL consumers.) The NFL’s PR effort is likened to Big Tobacco’s effort to hook kids on Camel and Marlboro. Convincing moms that football isn’t that dangerous is a big part of the campaign, with a concerted effort to downplay the risk while admonishing overprotective parents to allow their children to pursue their dreams. Parents are also reassured that the game is being made safer by programs like Heads Up Football, placing emphasis on training coaches in teaching safer blocking and tackling techniques. According to the study, Heads Up Football is mostly a sham, designed to allay fears, but doing little to make the game safer.

In this study, they briefly touched on the sports benefits, calling them anecdotal. This is the problem with such studies. Anecdotal implies that the benefits aren’t real, or that any benefits gained by football may be achieved from safer activities.

I love and respect the game as much as anyone, but perception is reality, and the reality is that football is in trouble.  The NFL is engaged in a cynical campaign to create another generation of consumers without any regard for real safety. As a coach, I was horrified by much of what I saw on the documentary series, Friday Night Tykes, an extreme example of youth football at its worst.  I don’t see the benefit of tackle football for 5-year-olds and would probably advise anyone who asked, to stay away from tackle football until middle or high school. Younger kids are going to get more from flag football.

But football is not the NFL marketing department or an overzealous youth league like the grotesque example displayed in Friday Night Tykes.  Football is a game; a culturally important and powerful tool that goes far beyond selling team gear and the worst examples of its excesses.

Labeling all the good that comes from the game as anecdotal may be accurate, but enough anecdotes make a pattern, a pattern impossible to quantify. I know the game taught me toughness, discipline, commitment and teamwork. I know it made me a better student and showed me that I could achieve great things, if I was willing to work for that success. Anecdotes maybe, but also truth.

I’m not alone. Many, if not most, former players will say the same things. How many successful people were at least partially shaped by lessons learned on the football field? The downside of football is ugly and easy to see, injuries, concussions and poor social behavior from ‘star’ players. The good is harder to attribute to football, but is just as real.

Anti-football people might respond with, ‘OK, football does teach values, but can’t those values be taught by safer activities?’

Yes…For many. For others, probably not.

Discipline, teamwork, toughness and commitment are best taught in venues where students are motivated to succeed. It would be wonderful if everyone was motivated to learn discipline in math or English classes, but that just isn’t reality.  Fairly or unfairly, in the United States, football has a status to attract many who are looking for something, many who wouldn’t be enthusiastic about other options. Those motivated by music can learn discipline in the band or orchestra. Artistic students may learn these traits in the theater or dance squads.

Athletic kids may learn character playing basketball, soccer or baseball. But what about those not talented enough to play those sports?

Through the high school level, football is a no-cut sport almost everywhere. In my research of the best high school programs in Texas, one common feature was that football was available to every male student. Baseball, basketball, and soccer all have limited rosters and cut kids who can’t contribute. The positive benefits of football are accessible to kids who will never be great athletes. Including those who never see the field. This gives football the unique ability to reach a huge cross section of kids.

Another unique aspect of football is specialized positions. Boys with many body types are needed and can contribute; small, quick kids can play in the secondary and as receivers, bigger boys are linebackers, running backs linemen. Many of the adult linemen I coached in Germany told me of how excited they were to find football, ’finally a sport where I can excel!’ Not like soccer, where they were always too big.

Can football be made safe? Not entirely. There are dangers to every physical activity. Soccer, skiing, bike riding and many other sports all have significant concussion risks. Concussions were surely as prevalent when I played during the mid-80s, but nobody worried about it then. That the risk is no acknowledged is progress in itself. Equipment has improved, so has training staffs and coaching.  I expect rules will continue to change to protect players.

It isn’t my place to say the game is right for everyone. It isn’t. Just as the basketball team, the debate club or the marching band aren’t for everyone. But comprehensive education means options for   students to find their niches. Football has been the path for many young men to learn character not taught in the classroom or even, in many cases, at home. I doubt those who would like to see it abolished know how important the game has been to so many. Yes, concussion numbers would likely diminish, but undoubtedly so would many anecdotes from those who’ve become better people because of the game.

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Year of the Razorback Query Letter

Razorbacks vs. Geissen #9Hello Readers,

It’s football season, so that means I’m busy. But we have a bye this week and I had time to get some work done.

The good news is that the edits are finally sufficiently done and I’m ready to show Year of the Razorback to publishers and agents.

The bad news is that Taylor Trade, my publisher for Big and Bright, took a pass on Year of the Razorback.

I’m a little disappointed but not surprised. Though I can immodestly say the writing is superior to my first book, (You learn some things your second time around)  the market for a book about football in Germany isn’t as built-in as the market in football-crazy Texas, and unfortunately publishing is as much about sell-ability as writing.

This means it’s back to the drawing board, and writing a query letter to attract agents and publishers. I’m kind of happy with the letter and decided to post it here for you to read… and to pass along to any literary agents and/or publishers you might happen to know.  Thanks!!!!

 

To whom it may concern;

Does any sport fit any one country as well as American Football fits the United States? Celebrating toughness, excess, organization, power and violence, the game fits our nation as a hand fits a glove. But as Hollywood, Disney and McDonalds have become international brands, American football is making strides overseas.

Year of the Razorback: Football in the Land of Schnitzel is the true account of an American’s journey coaching semi-pro football in Germany. The story of the 2015 Ravensburg Razorbacks describes how this very American sport has been translated into the German culture, creating something recognizable, yet different, than the game we grew up with in the US.

Year of the Razorback is my second book. Big and Bright: Deep in the Heart of Texas High School Football was published by Taylor Trade Publishing in 2015, and chronicles eleven outstanding high school football programs in a place where football is king. After seeing my sport in the state where it’s most revered and deeply ingrained in the culture, I wanted to see it at it’s early stages, through the eyes of people who weren’t raised on it.

As a 25-year veteran coach, I found a job coaching in Germany and set out on this new adventure. It was a season I’ll never forget.

I hope you enjoy the attached copy of Year of the Razorback and might consider representing me.  I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Gray Levy

Reno, Nevada

 

 

 

 

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Year of the Razorback- Intro

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The first few pages of the book… Hope you like it!

It’s dark and cold under the dim lights of the practice field. I’m in a fog, disjointed, out of place and jetlagged from a 26-hour travel day.

            “I’m coaching football, in March… in Germany,” I keep reminding myself, the sentence hardly making sense in my head.

            After 25 years, coaching is mostly second nature. Familiar phrases come out of my mouth without much thought… “Get your asses together,” I tell two offensive linemen working on combo blocks, forgetting they may not understand English.

            Football is football in any language and on any continent, but this is a strange context. The pads, the sounds of contact, the look of the players are all familiar, but in sharper focus the differences are plain. The side talk is in German. Many players are approaching middle age and many aren’t very fit. The bluish football lines on the artificial turf barely stand out from the green on a field set up for soccer. The “locker room” is a utility shed with a shelf of scary looking, battered, old helmets, a cart piled with ancient blocking bags and other miscellaneous hand-me-down football gear. After practice, a dozen players take off their helmets and light up cigarettes. Welcome to Germany.

            For all the strangeness, I’m excited to be here. Whatever I’ve gotten myself into, one thing is certain, this is going to be interesting.  The experience of doing this work in a foreign land will be completely different than any coaching I’ve ever done. I have the opportunity to help export the game I love into a different culture and to see what it looks like from a European perspective.

            Since I took the offensive coordinator job for the Ravensburg Razorbacks, the coaches and players have been beyond cooperative. They’ve treated me like a rock star. Long before arriving, I learned that simply being an “American Coach” gives me status in Europe. Respect I’ve yet to earn. Expectations are that any coach from the sports homeland will know the game better than the locals.

            It’s my first day in country. But between Facebook and Hudl, I’ve been working with the Razorbacks from the United States since October, doing my best to earn the trust the team has placed on me. The other coaches have been very receptive, implementing my suggestions immediately. In the US, other coaches and even players are often skeptical until a new coach has proven himself. German players and coaches, however, are hungry for coaching, and I feel lucky and excited to be here.

            Tonight, everyone quickly makes me feel welcome. Right tackle and Razorback captain Sebastian (Trabbi) Trabold introduces me to the other offensive linemen. Except for right guard Christian Bromund, they speak English.  At 6’2” 330 pounds, Bromund is the biggest player on the field.  Generally known as Bam Bam, he’s a giant-sized version of the Flintstones character.

            Communication is easy enough that I quickly forget I’m the one speaking the strange tongue… something it’s easy to forget, but I must keep in mind.  After individual drills, Coach Leo Grenz asks if I can please speak more slowly, as some players have trouble with my rapid-fire English. Ten minutes later, I’m given my first taste of what I’m to find is typical German sensitivity when Coach Leo asks, “Is it okay, what I said about your speaking slower?” clearly worried that he’s offended me. I tell him, “Of course, I’m not angry.  I need to know if my words aren’t getting through and please let me know if anything is confusing.”

            Beyond the foreign setting, I feel awkward and out of place with a team who’ve been working together for months before I arrived. Coaching jobs usually have definite beginnings and progressions; pre-season meetings, the first day of spring ball, summer workouts, two-a-days, the season and the whole thing again the following year. The Razorbacks are basically a year-round operation:  a month off after the season, directly to indoor practices followed by outdoor workouts when the weather clears up enough to allow them. I’m stepping into a work in progress.

            Unlike US school-based programs, players here don’t graduate. Most have been with the team many years, retiring only when the pain gets too great or other commitments take priority. I’m the outsider, but given my status as an ‘American Coach’ I’m immediately given the reins, despite knowing little about my new team or what I’ve gotten into. It’s a crazy situation, like being trusted to lead a lost party out of the wilderness, without being quite sure of my bearings.

             I’m in over my head, and I feel the teams’ expectation of me. Now isn’t the time to show doubt in my ability to do this job. We’re beginning the team offensive session; I call plays and correct mistakes as though I’ve been here for years.

            “Get to the line! Martin, you have to overtake the one tech so Bam Bam can climb. Run it again!” I’ll check to see what they understand later…

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I’m Back!

No posts since early March, probably had people thinking that I’d given up on my blogging and writing. Not at all.

I finished the first draft of the German football book, tentatively titled “Year of the Razorback: Football in the Land of Schnitzel” until someone comes up with something better. Even more, my editor has given me some great notes and I’ve just finished the re-write.  Next step is to  start shopping it around to publishers. I will let you know how that is coming.

During my free time, between working field crew for Reno’s AAA baseball team and coaching HS football in Reno, I’ve also begun working on a novel about my teaching and coaching experiences in the Washoe County School District. Fiction allows me to be a lot more nasty and negative than I enjoy being when writing non-fiction. And I have a lot of crazy experiences to draw from.

This blog may or may not ever see this as I’m not quite sure I CAN write a novel, but you never know unless you try.

Next blog… and not five months from now will be an excerpt from Year of the Razorback.

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Big and Bright Reviews

I saw this on Facebook this week. Sales for Big and Bright are going well, but the truth is that being an author is an ongoing business. Reviews are important. If you’ve read and enjoyed Big and Bright, please take a moment to post a review on Amazon. The reviews are good, but there are only eight.

Thanks for your support!

book review

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Another Interview about Big and Bright and Texas HS Football

 

 

 

SL Interview: The State of Texas Football with Author Gray Levy

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