Lone Star Gridiron

Joy found under the Friday Night Lights

Fans of Kerrville's public high school like to shout, "Tivy Fight Never Dies!" and much of the football that I've seen since moving here confirms that.

Example: Officials called back Johnny Manziel's 70-yard touchdown run and tacked-on 10 yards for holding, so the sophomore quarterback and wide receiver calmly initiated the same play and scooted 80 yards for the score.

Example: Junior running back Quincy Kibbett, senior wide receivers Matt Ayala and Logan Vick, senior quarterback Colton Palmer and Manziel are showing teammates and opponents what "second effort" means, as they routinely break two or more tackles before being brought down.

Versatility and speed figure as much in Tivy's success on offense as that ability and eagerness to fight for extra yards. When he's needed, Manziel moves smoothly into the quarterback slot in place of Palmer, who in turn can put his impressive speed and agility to good use without giving the other team time to get set for him. In what turned out to be the winning drive against Cibolo Steele, Palmer threw a 50-yard pass to Vick on the 11, then ran the ball in himself. That 50-yarder was among 29 completions for 438 yards out of 37 attempts by Palmer that night and gave Vick a total or 15 catches for 197 yards. Vick also is a power runner and kicks field goals from as far out as 50 yards,

Speaking of kicks: the Antlers' Connor Overby puts extra point and field goal attempts through the uprights so automatically that my notes have begun to read "O OK."

Some theorists insist that defense wins football games while the offense gets most of the glory. I don't know that I agree with that totally, but I can attest that Antler defenders such as Mike McKenzie, Mikhail Ironside and Marc Cantu routinely make life miserable for ball carriers from the visiting teams.

I hope that what I've written thus far conveys my appreciation and respect not only for the hometown team, but for the institution of high school football. I love it because I feel strongly that while it isn't flawless, it's as close as we're likely to come to pure sport: no endorsements, agents, contracts, holdouts, shootings or stabbings in bars or nightclubs, paternity suits, estranged spouses suing for millions of dollars, etc. Most of the young men on the field are playing simply for love of the game; relatively few expect to be recruited by colleges, and fewer still have any illusions that they'll wind up in pro football.

I know that much of this praise is applicable to the rest of high school sports, and I commend their coaches and athletes, but I have to say that the hometown heroes of football always have a special place in my heart. College football is next -- and didn't we have some games last weekend! Four overtimes to decide the Notre Dame-Pitt winner; Baylor's throwing a scare into Missouri, and Texas Tech's pulling the win out in the final six seconds with a Hail Mary after Texas appeared to have it won. Wow!

When I lived in New York, co-workers and other friends were mystified at my taking a train up to West Point or down to Princeton, or the subway way uptown to Columbia University's unimposing stadium, to see and sometimes cover college football games. Didn't I know that the Jets and football Giants were playing?

Well, of course I did, Howard Cosell and others reminded me of that just about every time I turned the radio on.

Nevertheless, the amateur game was for me. It wasn't until the Dallas Cowboys became America's Team under the admirable Tom Landry that I was bitten by the pro football bug -- an addiction that Jerry Jones keeps threatening to cure.

I suppose that psychologists might attribute my enduring love for high school football to my boyhood in West Texas, where something akin to religious rituals were and still are performed for 48 minutes at a time under the Friday Night Lights.

It's not something that I worry about, or try to explain. As Louis Armstrong said of jazz, "If you have to ask, you'll never know."

Joseph Benham
Kerrville Daily Times

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