LAST WEEK: 2016 Schedule Wallpaper
It's time for more wallpaper. One of the biggest stories this offseason has been the switch from Adidas to Nike/Jordan. Earlier this month, we finally saw all the new apparel. After many years with Adidas, it was refreshing to see some new designs.
A few of the new designs really stood out to me, so I decided to convert them into wallpapers. These designs include the football/field graphic, "Wolverines Against the Nation," and the lightning bolt football icon. I also really like the new blue bumper and Maize Block M on the helmets, which can be seen in the first wallpaper.
I know a lot of people don't get excited about new apparel, but to me it signifies a new era. Michigan is being presented to the rest of the country with a fresh new look. Join them with these wallpapers.
NEXT WEEK: Harbaugh Wallpaper
This next guy came in on a mission, with a determination to prove himself on the biggest staqe in college football. Like all of the men I’ve written about, there was a personal experience I shared with the guy that left an impression that sticks with me 30 years later. This particular guy made a career of out-punching his weight and out-working the competition. He was a cornerback of average size and speed from a high school not known for churning out D1 prospects (other than he and his brothers). To stack the odds even further against him, he was a walk-on trying to stake a claim in a defensive backfield that featured Vada Murray, Corwin Brown, Tripp Welbourne, and David Key just to name a few. Many people would doubt him – including yours truly – but he wouldn’t let that keep him from reaching his goals of earning a scholarship and leaving his mark at Michigan. Before it was all said and done, I wouldn’t be the only fool to dismiss #6.
Todd Plate grew up less than an hour west of Ann Arbor in Brooklyn, Michigan. He played for a team that only won one game his senior year. In spite of that, he earned Class B All-State honors and was recruited by Army and a few D2 schools who offered partial/non-athletic scholarships. It was nice to have those options, but he wanted a bigger challenge. He grew up a fan of Michigan and wanted to see what he could do in Ann Arbor. Without a scholarship offer however, he had to make a choice between accepting grant-in-aid at a smaller school or pay his own way as a walk on. His dad offered to pick up the tab if that’s what his oldest boy really wanted. There were no guarantees other than Lloyd telling him he’d get an opportunity to prove himself. That’s all he needed.
Nearly every player pays their dues on the demonstration team (demo squad – pronounced “dee-mo). As you’re probably aware, the demo squad’s job is to emulate the formations and plays of the coming week’s opponent. It’s grueling work, sometimes painful, oft times thankless, but important nonetheless. It’s also where players learn to play college football. You cut your teeth on the demo squad while getting your ass kicked by older players – many of them all-conference, some of them all-americans. It's a year of hell, and for some (usually walk ons) it can last longer. Sometimest two, three, and even four years. If you remember in John Bacon’s book “Endzone”, John Wangler tells a story of how 5th year senior Jim Hackett motivated the rest of his troops to “give 'em a good look, guys. We have to get them ready for Saturday.” He was a career demo player who CHOSE to play a 5th year, knowing he wouldn't crack the two-deep. As I've said before, it takes a special player.
When I was a junior, I was starting my 3rd year on demo. I thought this kid with the chip on his shoulder and scar on his face was a little too cocky and unaware of his place on the team. He once told me, “I’m won’t be on demo next year, I can promise you that.” I said, “look man, nobody wants to be on demo, but everyone has a role.” He was adamant that one day he would start for Michigan. Yea. Right. “Good luck, I hope you do” as I walked away shaking my head at the young kid who clearly had no clue what he was up against. From that day to this, I never forgave myself for doubting the guy.
Todd’s plan was to shadow DB coach Billy Harris during every practice. He learned every position in the backfield, knew all the assignments, and was glued to Harris’ hip. Whenever one of the starters screwed up, Plate was right there when Coach Harris looked for a replacement. By his sophomore year, he was getting noticed and even earned a few snaps in a couple blowouts, though he still didn’t make the travel team. He bided his time on demo one more year and by spring, he worked his way into the conversation as a legit contributor to the defense. Every time he got on the field, he was in the right place to make a big play.
By the time the 1988 season got under way, Plate had broken through the ceiling and earned his first career start, as well as that coveted scholarship. His days on the demonstration team were most decidedly over.
As a senior, in the biggest game of the year, #3 Michigan faced #20 Ohio State in Ann Arbor with the Big Ten Championship and trip to the Rose Bowl on the line. Plate had solidified his spot as a starter at cornerback and seemingly proved all of his doubters wrong. He was part of a unit that helped win the Big Ten the year before and beat USC in the Rose Bowl. He would earn all-conference honorable mention. And yet, some people just didn't get the message. John Cooper and the Buckeyes needed a little more convincing.
"Our plan was to go at number six (Plate) all day," freshman OSU wide receiver Greg Beatty said. "It wasn't that we thought he was a sorry defensive back, just that he wasn't quite as good as their other guys. We picked on him, and he had a great game. It turns out, he was one of their best.”
Plate would have a day. Already with one interception in the first half (his career first), Ohio State would challenge him again with just a few minutes left in the game and trailing by 3. John Cooper told his team that they "had them right where we want them."
With the ball at midfield and the Buckeyes on a possible game-winning drive, they decided to pick on 6 again.
"I saw him waving his hands before the snap because he wasn't sure what coverage he was supposed to play," Beatty said. "I thought I was going to make the catch. I thought it was a great throw. The next thing I knew, the ball was in his hands."
His second interception sealed the victory and sent the Wolverines back to the Rose Bowl for the 3rd time 4 years. He would finish his career with FOUR Big Ten Championship rings and a 33-6-1 conference record (including 4-1 vs OSU) in his 5 years at UofM.
Todd also had the unique opportunity to play against his brother Scott who was a DB for Iowa. Scott was a 4 year letter winner and 3 year starter for the Hawkeyes. Scott would go on to play in the Canadian Football League and then coach at the high school level. His oldest son is currently a freshman receiver at Ball State University.
Sadly, life after football was a struggle. Concussions from football, a head injury suffered in an altercation, substance abuse, and the effects of CTE led to his sudden and tragic death in 2013. It was a devastating loss for the Plate family. “I miss him dearly" said Todd.
Todd, Scott, and Erick Anderson
Todd’s other brother Rick was a cornerback for Central Michigan and was a member of both teams that defeated Michigan State. He has one son who is a starting DB for Grand Valley and another who is committed to play linebacker at his dad’s alma mater.
After graduation, Todd began a long and successful career in the steel industry. He went to work for Al Glick at Alro Steel in Jackson. Al taught Todd the industry from the bottom up, and became a great mentor and friend. As he learned the business and paid his dues, an opportunity at Ryerson became available that moved him up the organization and put him through the Kellogg School of Business Management at Northwestern University. From there his career took off and today he’s the President and CEO of Tricon Wear Solutions in Nashville, Tennessee.
He’s married to his wife Heidi whom he met at the Michigan-Notre Dame game in 2009. She’s a MSU grad and is a school teacher in Tennessee. He has two children, the oldest who graduated from Western Michigan and a son who is a junior at Grand Valley.
When Todd’s not running his business, or participating in church activities, he’s just out....you know....setting multiple world records in drag boat racing. No big deal.
“My dad used to race when we were kids. I started racing as a hobby for me, my dad, and brothers to have some fun and compete” he said.
Like everything he’s done, he started at the bottom level and worked himself to the top. His first boat was in the 9 second/118mph bracket, then to the Blown Gas Hydro class at 5.95seconds and 195mph. The next step was Top Alcohol Hydro at 5.35 seconds and 225mph, and finally the Top Fuel Class where he went TWO HUNDRED SIXTY-ONE MILES PER HOUR in 3.49 seconds!!!
As you can imagine, it’s an extraordinarily dangerous sport, and with his new job responsibilities, he’s had to dial it back this season. “I figured I have burned 8 of my 9 lives and dodged some close calls."
Since the first day he stepped on the football field, to the last day of racing, and throughout his rise up the business ladder, Todd Plate has proven time and time again that he is a Leader and Best.
Those who stay….
Todd played from 1986-1990 and wore #6
His favorite restaurant in Ann Arbor is The Chophouse
The best dish he makes is Beef Tenderloin done on his Big Green Egg.
Obviously he’d allow his son to play football but it has to be tough under the circumstances.
[Ed-S: Bumped to remind you this diary is basically a front page feature]
So we’re back for another year of Michigan football, and with it another year of Best and Worst columns. For a number of reasons, chief amongst them increased work responsibilities and two kids under 3, I’m not sure how deep some of these columns will be this year. In years past I usually tried to knock out 5-6k words even during a bad game, since I felt like there were always storylines and discussion points. But now, if UM crushes Hawaii by 30 and we don’t see much, I’m (probably) not going to write 500 words comparing the win to the time the Rockers beat the Hart Foundation for the WWF tag titles but were never officially recognized because it was at a live show. Sorry.
As for this column, I’m going to attack the general themes of the offseason and the expectations for the year without necessarily diving into each position group. This is mostly due to the fact that (1) the vast majority of my information is from this site anyway, and I assume Brian and co. will have MUCH deeper articles in the coming weeks, and (2) I already read most of the recent HTTV and it would devolve to cribbing notes. As always, I welcome any and all comments (including ones that point out a much better writer at another site created the conceit of this diary series).
Best: Everybody’s Back*
I never know how to start these pre-season diaries, especially when it hasn’t been a particularly momentous off-season (and yes, I know that saying 2015 was “momentous” is like asking Mary Todd how the play was). But after almost a decade of upheaval and uncertainty, of a displaced legend, a dismissed vanguard, and a depressing totem of halcyon days, UM (seems) to be on a trajectory back to the top of college football with Harbaugh at the helm.
And in many ways, it shouldn’t be surprising; the last three coaches all embodied different characteristics of what fans hope makes Michigan “Michigan”. With Carr, you had a model of consistent, sustainable if-not-excellence-at-least-really-goodness. He led the team to their first title in half a century, mostly fought OSU to a draw, and held it all together with class and dignity. He had his flaws strategically (I think he still views mobile QBs as a fad) and definitely valued loyalty over competency with a lot of his staff, but he kept UM in the upper tier of college football when lots of other programs suffered various degrees of downfalls.
[After the JUMP: The story goes...]
Been looking at the schedules for various Big Ten teams over the past few days and have noticed that Week 3, the last week of the vast majority of non-conference games (besides MSU’s weird mid-October game against BYU), is a huge week for the Big Ten. There is the potential for a very big blow to the conference's reputation and Michigan's strength of schedule.
Since we are exactly one month away from September 17th and the offseason is painfully slow, figured I’d do a write up on what’s at stake in Week 3, by far the most important week of the non-conference schedule.
Michigan looks to have a relatively lowkey week hosting Colorado at home (3:30 PM EST, BTN). Although I think the Buffaloes will be better than last year and won't be as easy to walk over as Hawaii and UCF, we still should win with relative ease; on the other hand, almost the entirety of the conference, and especially the conference teams key to our strength of schedule, face big tests or treacherous trap games. I think this is especially important for our Wolverines in 2016 as this is the first year in a while (and for the forseeable future) that we have zero non-conference opponents of note; thus, our intra-conference strength of schedule becomes even more important than usual in the eyes of Bowl committees, including the CFP.
I go through and categorize the Big Ten's 11 games in Week 3 as follows:
National, High-Profile Games:
• Ohio State at Oklahoma (7:30PM EST, FOX)
• Michigan State at Notre Dame (7:30PM EST, NBC)
• Oregon at Nebraska (3:30PM EST, ABC)
Oregon, Notre Dame and Oklahoma are all big time programs nationally and all of the games will be televised on major cable networks, two of which will be in primetime. I think that the Big Ten teams will almost certainly all be underdogs in these matchups. For MSU and OSU, the fact that they have to reload so much and have lots of inexperience means they likely will be much better teams in November than in September and these are two early road tests that are tough for young teams.
While I don't think anyone on here would necessarily be upset to see both our rivals fall in the same week, it unquestionably wouldn't be good for the conference's image and, more importantly, Michigan's strength of schedule. Nebraska is less important here, but it's obviously better for us if the Big Ten team prevails. While I'm hopeful the Big Ten goes 1-2 in this stretch, 0-3 is certainly very possible.
WATCH OUT, IOWA:
• North Dakota State at Iowa (12:00PM EST, ESPN/ESPN2)
North Dakota State has won 5 FCS National Championships in a row and has beaten SIX Power 5 teams in a row, including Minnesota and Iowa State, the Hawkeyes' two closest Power 5 neighbors/rivals. This game will be broadcast nationally and the Bison will be sure to want to impress. They are the Alabama of the FCS and Iowa is known for having massive screw ups immediately following impressive seasons.
This has "National Media mocks the Big Ten for weeks for having one of its division frontrunners lose to an FCS team" written all over it. Iowa is the third best team on Michigan's schedule. A Hawkeye loss here does significant damage to Michigan's SOS.
Mediocre Big Ten Teams vs. 2015 Bowl Teams
• Temple at Penn State (12:00PM EST, BTN)
• New Mexico at Rutgers (12:00PM EST, ESPNNEWS)
• Western Michigan at Illinois (4:00PM EST, ESPNNEWS)
• Maryland at UCF (7:00PM EST, CBSSN)*****
Here we have games that the Big Ten team *should* win, but there is a significant possiblity they will not.
Rutgers is Rutgers and New Mexico is decent. Illinois is Illinois and WMU is a strong MAC team with perhaps the best coach in the MAC who will no doubt be fired up on the B1G stage. Temple does lose a lot, but they creamed the Nittany Lions last season and it's very possible that Penn State is reeling coming off a loss to rival Pittsburgh in Week 2.
Even going 3-1 in this grouping would be "not great, Bob" for the Big Ten's image, but going 2-2 or 1-3 would be very damaging. Michigan plays all four of these teams this year as well. We need this group to hold serve in Week 3 so that when Harbaugh creams them all later on our detractors cannot validly say "but they are basically MAC level teams, who cares!"
*****Obviously UCF was not a 2015 Bowl Team, and I think Maryland has the highest chance of winning of this group. However, a loss is possible on the road and I didn't have a better category to place them in.
Tossup: Midlevel Power 5 Opponent vs. Midlevel B1G Team
• Duke at Northwestern (8:00PM EST, BTN)
While a conference loss here is not necessarily embarassing by itself, if we are already having a bad (or very bad) conference day this would be the icing on the cake as it will likely be the last game of the day to finish given its 8PM start. Northwestern was better than Duke last year, has home field advantage and the ACC is not supposed to be better than the Big Ten, so Northwestern should be expected to win.
We're probably safe on these fronts
• Colorado at Michigan (3:30PM EST, BTN)
• Georgia State at Wisconsin (12:00PM EST, BTN)
PURDUE HAS A BYE THANK GOD
- That should save us some embarassement
- Minnesota and Indiana also have byes
Overall, the possibility is there for the Big Ten to use this day to boost the conference's image as 2nd best in the nation. However, I'm much more worried of the opposite happening. The high profile games are not good matchups for us and there are a lot of losable games to non-Power 5 teams that kill a conference's perception.
Will definitely be important to see what happens in Week 3. More than any other week of the season, this could be the week that's pivotal as to whether or a not a 1 loss Big Ten Champion makes or misses the playoff. Of particular importance to Michigan, it’s possible that all three of our toughest opponents lose in Week 3. That would really not be good for us.
Overall, the Big Ten has 9 games that have greater than negligible chances of a loss for the conference team. In my opinion, going 6-3 or 7-2 in this stretch would be satisfactory for the conference's image/hold serve. 8-1 or 9-0 would improve the conference's national image and solidify us as second best in the nation for now. Going 5-4 or 4-5 would definitely hurt the B1G, but probably not in a massive way. If we go 3-6 or worse in this stretch, it would be incredibly damaging for the conference and could easily keep a 1 loss Big Ten championship out of the playoff.
I was only planning to make the Mike McCray diary a one-off. But Bodogblog suggested I take a look at Devin Bush Jr. as well, so why not? Again, I used the MGoVideo every-snap videos from the spring game. Bush was on the blue team, so I used the Wilton Speight footage this time.
As you might expect of a guy who’d been wearing the winged helmet for only a few weeks, he looked a bit tentative and had some issues with getting overpowered—especially by some of the juniors and seniors. But he also looked like a guy who knew what he was doing out there; he did make a couple really nice plays and demonstrated the kind of potential that shows why Harbaugh made him such a big priority in the recruiting class. Here’s how I saw it:
Play #1: White running something resembling Power-O to the left, but with the LT kicking the EMLOS (Charlton). Bush makes a good read and gets to the point-of-attack quickly, but Khalid Hill comes through and clamps onto Bush, sealing him inside for the duration. No harm because Charlton won his block and white ran this into a corner blitz. Grade -1; Hill dominated Bush on this play.
Play #2: Play-action pass from an offset I-form. Bush reads and drops into underneath coverage. Ball thrown deep and Bush irrelevant.
Play #3: Shotgun formation with pocket moving right at the snap. Bush in man coverage on the RB, who stays in to protect. Bush attacks the QB late but is irrelevant as Speight releases the pass well before Bush arrives.
Play #4: White running some kind of trap or counter play that Wormely annihilates from the backside. Bush is charging downhill at the snap; he impacts Newsome, sheds, and works to the point-of-attack to assist on the tackle. Grade: =
Play #5: White fakes an iso to Isaac then tosses to Perry on the end-around, coming to Bush’s side. Blue wants to spill this to the sideline; Newsome gets out on him and shoves Bush ten yards downfield, but Bush does keep an outside arm free and doesn’t allow a cutback lane. Grade: =; made the right read, gave up a lot of ground to Newsome but the play was always going outside.
Play #6: Passing play; Bush covering the short middle zone and gets good depth; Isaac leaks out late but irrelevant as Speight throws to a WR on an out cut.
Play #7: Bush blitzing B-gap. It’s a running play. Jake Butt had come in motion behind the formation and set up as an H-back at the snap; Butt picks up Bush and stones him. Isaac has a huge hole to the backside on what looks like a designed counter, he hits it for a big gainer. Grade: -0.5; another play where Bush got his ass kicked but it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
Play #8: Play-action pass; white runs a mesh concept with TWJ and Mitchell coming from the left and Butt coming from the right; Blue busts and Butt winds up all alone in the left flat for a TD. I think this is on Watson, who followed Mitchell inside instead of passing him off to a safety. Bush was fine, I guess.
Play #9: White runs the banana-type play with the QB faking a pitch left, then rolling right and throwing to the fullback on a shallow cross—except in this case, the “fullback” is Khalid Hill, who started the play flexed out in the slot on the opposite side of the formation. Bush was off-camera for most of the play but is the LB chasing down Hill after the reception, FWIW. Grade: ??
Play #10: Inside run to the opposite side of the formation from Bush. He checks his gap, then pursues; Bush is not relevant as the tackle is made well before he arrives, but Bush does nicely shed an offensive lineman who tries to delay him.
Play #11: Quick-hitter to the fullback on Bush’s side. Bush and the fullback disappear into the same pile at the LOS. Not the most difficult play but I’ll give Bush credit here for a fast accurate read and for sticking his nose into the melee. Grade: +0.5.
Play #12: Bush’s best play so far. White does the same thing as on Play #7, where a TE (Sean McKeon) comes in motion behind the offensive line and sets up as an H-back right in Bush’s gap. This time, they run right at him. McKeon comes out and hits Bush, but Bush keeps his outside arm free, sheds, and fills to force a bounce. Good play, and I really like how he dealt with this the second time after seeing it earlier. Grade: +1
Play #13: This is either a bust by walk-on Mike Wroblewski or Blue got seriously RPSed by the alignment. White has three receivers in a bunch to the right side of the formation. The lead receiver, TWJ, runs a hook route; Wroblewski is lined up over him and follows TWJ the whole way. I think when TWJ released to the left, Wroblewski was supposed to have stayed home let Bush pick TWJ up—but since Wroblewski stayed on TWJ, Bush is covering air and Perry comes open in the area Wroblewski vacated. Both Bush and a deep safety head over there to bracket Perry. There is no way they can make it in time. Speight steps up in the pocket and could easily have Perry, but Bush has opened up a huge running lane, which Speight takes. Hard to ding Bush too much on the play, since neither of his choices were good—but if he’d stayed home, then Speight couldn’t have scrambled and the safety would probably have done more about Perry than Bush anyway. Grade: -0.5
Play #14: White runs a counter to the left side, away from Bush. An OL comes out on him and seals Bush away for the duration. Grade: -1.
Play #15: Another counter, with two OL pulling to Bush’s side this time. Godin, Mone, and Kemp destroy the blocking, however and Isaac is trapped in the backfield. Bush comes down and tackles for loss. Grade: =; competent play but not worthy of a plus.
Play #16: Bush times a blitz well and is quickly into the backfield; Gentry (seriously, did Blue draft ANY of the tight ends?) whiffs on him, then breaks Brian’s cardinal rule by going upfield and trying to still block him; Bush then knocks the mystery fullback (#33?) off his pins for a 2-for-1. Grade: +1; it was a good play by Bush, but mostly the function of the blitz call and the fact he was going against Gentry and an obscure walk-on fullback.
Play #17: Passing play, Bush comes on an outside blitz, isn’t going to get home. Speight throws in the opposite direction so Bush irrelevant.
Play #18: Power-O to the right side of the formation. Bush is aligned to the left; he can’t get off the downblock and is sealed the entire play. Grade: -1.
Play #19: The Wilton Speight bootleg touchdown. Bush not particularly relevant to the play, shoots his gap and gets hung up inside; Speight rolls outside and has clear sailing to the end zone.
Overall grade: -1.5. Felt worse than it was, I suppose, as Bush got pushed around pretty good by the upper classmen. But he usually seemed to be in the right spot, which is pretty impressive for an early-enrolled freshman in his first spring game. With more reps and some college S&C, looks like Bush will be a real factor down the road.
Surrounded by walls of cornfield and amidst deteriorating roadways and stop signs, are four one-hundred foot light poles rising from the ground. They're cracked and weathered, probably one good thunderstorm away from collapsing to the very field they were built for. The grass of this gridiron is withered and brown, as the ole, trusty sprinkler system hasn't really been "trusty" in years. There once was a rubber track around this field, only now, it is barren dirt and rock which is overlooked by a white, sad-looking press box that can be seen hovering above the rusted stands errected years ago. Positioned unevenly across the press box are the words "Mississiniwa Valley Blackhawks", with the school logo printed underneith.
I was sitting on their old, beat up couch, visiting my parents in the summer of 2014 when my step-dad came into the living room and asked if I wanted to help him coach the junior high football team at Mississiniwa. I didn't know too much about the school at the time, only that he had graduated there and played with the local legend, Curtis Enis. It didn't take much convincing on his part, however, as I've always wanted to coach football; the greatest damn game on the planet. After agreeing and receiving my one-year contract, I quickly found myself on the field, overseeing a bunch of young men on their path for self-fulfilment or the fulfilment of their father's wishes as I would come to find out. 17 kids total, outfitted with outdated equipment and old, filthy white jerseys. A rag-tag group if I've ever seen one. I was a little apprehnsive when camp started my first year. I didn't know what to expect or how to convince young kids to take my word for anything. I didn't know how to be stern without being harsh or calm without being too lax. In fact, I still struggle with finding the right balance. Some kids need guidence on the field. How to throw a ball, make a cut, force a block. Others ask for advice for complicated situations at home. Coaching, as I came to realize, is a job within a job within a job.
The first game was one to remember. With only two seconds left in the fourth, down by six in the red zone, our 7th grade QB threw a perfect fade in the corner of the end zone. One two point conversion later, we were walk-off winners. The FIRST WIN the junior high program has seen in 3 years. Brimming with confidence, that quickly faded, we went on to lose every single game afterwards. It crushed the kids, and me as well. I almost spent more time playing psychologist than I did playing with actual X's and O's. I felt that, somehow, it was my fault. I let the kids down. But despite my relative ignorance in a few essential elements of coaching, my dad and I somehow did well enough to earn another contract --- and a few more athletes --- the following year.
I walked into the lockerroom for the first day of 2015 camp to be greeted by 28(!) kids. The now 8th graders from last year were bigger, stronger, faster. Practices had more energy, I had more experience. Everything just, well, fit together. My optimistic feelings about the overall outlook of the team in the pre-season came into fruition as we started 5-0. A school first. Our extremely athletic tailback, coupled with a talented quarterback, strong line and recieving corps spearheaded this historic charge. The high school hadn't even accomplished this feat, even with Enis. Parents and fans noticed and became more active. Tuesday evenings on the field started looking and feeling like Friday nights. I've never seen so many fans at a Junior High game.
Then, like most stories, a turn for the worse.
Sitting on the same old, beat up couch, we were discussing football when my dad got a phone call. A few seconds later, he dropped his phone on the ground and fast-walked outside. Concerned, I followed, and found him on his knees in the front lawn, sobbing.
"My brother's dead, my brother's dead!", he managed to say between horrific outbursts of screams.
I still hear those words in my head. Seeing my 300 pound, bearded manly-man of a father so hurt. He NEVER cries. Never. As it turns out, my uncle had commited suicide. A move no one saw coming.
We had a game the following Tuesday, which we both still coached. This game in particular was a big one, not only because of a death in the family, but because in the history of MV athletics, no team has ever beat Miami East at anything. We rode the bus to their expensive, better equipped stadium. The kids were silent on the way there, something of a rare occurance to not hear twenty-eight 14 and 15 year-old boys. During warm-ups, they did not speak. A fire was lit behind each one of their eyes. In 32 minutes, these boys did something for my father that can never be paid back. All the times my dad had personally took in a kid for dinner because he had no food at home, or the uplifting, hour long conversations with a few kids about their struggles with family, or just giving each kid the opprotunity to vent and ask for advice was re-paid in full. This game, a junior high football game, defined a legacy that still hangs in the school and in the local bowling alley as a picture with the score of Miami East- 8 Visitor- 20. These kids won the game, but more importantly, each wore the color purple for suicide awareness. They broke out of each huddle with "for Ronnie!", my uncle's name. They've never met this man. In fact, the pure brutality of suicide is a topic that most young teens can't fully grasp. Yet, here they were, to pick up my dad when he needed it most. I don't think he could have found joy in any other way at that time.
You could see it in his eyes. His dark and hazy eyes bared all. My dad, whom never cries, cried the day he heard the news, and he cried again after that game.
We finished the season 6-2. An all-time high for the sport of football in this school which sits in the middle of nowhere. So many things can happen in those places, in the middle of nowhere, that can be missed. It is here, off the beaten path, that winning found its way. Winning in life, in death, and in football.