The Gathering Storm
MCHS Bulldogs bond at football camp
Friday afternoon, 5 p.m., and the boys are streaming into the Morgan County High School parking lot, a few at a time. They come with rolled up sleeping bags and gym bags. In the mix there is a television. A few cots. Many air mattresses. Quilts. Flowered bedecked sheets. Snacks, drinks, flip flops, a cowboy hat, swim trunks. Oh, and pillows. Lots of pillows.
Senior Jackson Beckham walks toward the weightroom-turned-youth-hostel holding his accoutrements and a container of Gold Bond Powder.
“It’s got a story,” he says, but stops himself from expounding on the subject.
Senior Carter Shultz carries a box containing his newest football fashion statement: personalized cleats.
Sure enough, his name and jersey number are emblazoned on the shoes.
The others stop and look, but remove themselves quickly to set up their pallets (and the Xbox. The television is for games, not for watching). From the spaces in between weight racks, they carve their living spaces. Their home-away-from-home for two grueling, hot, sweat-suffering days.
It’s football camp weekend for the MCHS Bulldogs.
Malone tells the upperclassmen to get to the locker room to pick up t-shirts. “You will wear these shirts to every meal this weekend,” he instructs.
“And you will say ‘thank you’ every single chance you get,” he says. “You will practice an attitude of gratitude for these folks who are making sure you are fed.”
The junior and senior athletes are strewn across the floor, listening. Many of them are already wearing the exact same t-shirt that they will be receiving, but, most of their shirts have had the sleeves cut out.
“Size doesn’t matter,” Malone says. “Just get a shirt with sleeves in it, and wear it.”
In the locker room, Malone asks who hasn’t received a shirt. A number of underclassmen raise their hands. They push their way gingerly to the front and wait for a shirt close to their size to be tossed their way.
Saturday, 1 p.m. It’s not about t-shirts now. It’s about new jerseys, new britches, a new look for the 2012 Bulldogs. It’s about mom and dad and brother and sister and the cheerleaders perfectly coiffed and glossed. It’s picture day. The team has already sweat-grunted their way through a morning practice, but now they’re decked out in the finery that won’t see action again until the Bill Corry Stadium lights kick on Friday, Aug. 31 for the team’s home-opening game against Monticello. For this day, there are individual pictures, group pictures, team pictures. There are cameras clicking and flashes firing faster than the parents’ iPhones can process the moments unfolding before them and slipping away into the great, morphing thing called life passing by too fast.
“Look over here,” parents say to their sons-almost-men, their daughters-almost-women.
Rain soaks the football field early evening. Now, heavy-humid, August air hovers and you smell the team before they appear, sporting practice gear day-two-sweat-soaked and proud of it. Malone calls this 8 p.m. match a scrimmage, but as he explains, what will transpire here is that because this year’s Bulldog team has quality depth at many positions, the half-field game is an opportunity for the first, second and third string players to all get in quality reps.
The boys’ fresh-painted and newly conditioned silver helmets are covered by state-of-the-art Guardian Cap protective gear. But their practice jerseys are tattered, and the scrimmage blues are threadbare.
They assist one another in getting the mesh over their jerseys, pulled over the helmets and down past shoulder pads, then guiding sinew and strength through the armholes.
Parents scatter into the stands and a cloud, a bruise stretched along the horizon, ominously creeps over the roof of the gym, escorts a breeze onto the field, and summons the attention of the players who await their reps.
“It’s a UFO.”
Ultimately, they run the plays that the coaches call. That are listed on their wrist bands and that have been drilled and practiced for days, weeks, months, and for many of those who stand on the field, years.
Defensive Coordinator Doug Huff shouts, when his defensive line is penetrated with more ease than he expects.
“That chasm was wide enough to drive a truck through!”
He is quite serious.
On the next play, his line pushes the receiver back into no-man’s land. His boys shout, whoop and holler.
“Huddle!” Offensive Coordinator John Robbins commands.
The offense huddles.
The purple cloud passes. The stadium lights illuminate the rest of the night.
Community coach and pastor of Centennial Baptist Church, John Darcy stands in front of the entire Bulldog team, now gathered en masse on the steps below the field house.
He speaks of Luke 12:48.
He reads: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Every season, Malone chooses a verse from the Bible to serve as the spiritual and moral compass for the team’s work both on and off the field. For the 2012 campaign, Luke 12:48 is the guide.
Darcy offers his message related to the scripture, a message briefer than one might expect for a Baptist preacher. He loves this team, he explains, and he asks each young man to understand that for every life, there is a time of reckoning, and a life wasted will not hold up when that reckoning comes.
The team applauds him.
Monday, 10:55 a.m.
Malone somehow manages to write and send text messages, talk with team chaplain and equipment manager Tom Duff, make notes to himself on the whiteboard in the coaches’ room and complete this interview with ease. Each question is answered:
“78 players participated in the weekend.
This was the fifth year of camp.
The team is ahead of where we were last year. The defense is as good as it’s ever been. The offense is ahead of the game, too. We’ve been able to develop depth at every position.”
All strong answers from a head coach about the work his team is doing to prepare for the season.
But as he talks, texts, reads, and scribbles changes to a shoe size on the equipment list, Malone rubs his forehead.
Camp is completed. He's pleased with the progress. But it seems that head coaching is more than worrying over the team’s depth or plays or reps.
“Right now, I'm thinking about how to get some of our young men to truly realize their abilities,” he says.
Printed in the August 9, 2012