by Bud Finlayson
High Hopes, Bucking Bales, and Sophomore Jinx
Lamar high school in the early '70's was a 4-A school, the largest class at that time. The football program had a lot of money and there were a lot of kids involved. There were enough participants to make up two freshman teams, a sophomore team, a JV team, and a varsity team.
Most freshman who stuck with the program graduated to the sophomore squad, but the few really outstanding frosh were promoted up to JV or even varsity if they were good enough. It could depended on the position one played and if they were short in that particular spot on varsity. I also found out, later, that a kid with exceptional size or ones influence and status in the community, would allow him to be singled out by the coaches and given special individualized instruction, in the hope that he could be molded into the type or caliber of player they wanted.
My hopes of making varsity that next year were not great. There were some tough lineman that I was not equal to yet in size or ability. So I settled with the thought of making JV. I knew I could whip many of the juniors that would be there next year and my outstanding freshman season and diligent work during the off season would surely make me a candidate for JV. I didn't even think of being on the sophomore team.
The sophomore team was hardly even noticed by anyone. Nobody really cared. The freshman teams were anxiously anticipated by all, and closely watched, to discover new recruits that would figure into the future of a district dominating team. JV was a training ground for gifted sophomores and late blooming juniors before stepping up to the varsity. But a sophomore team was just the unwanted that were already considered out of the picture. It was just an opportunity to let them play.
We got through spring training in pads, and no groupings were made about where you'd be placed the next year. Everybody worked out together. It was the probable varsity against everybody else. I was in the group of everybody else and got in my licks against the varsity and was noted by coaches that hadn't worked with me as a guy that wasn't afraid to mix-it-up and liked to hit. I stood my ground against the varsity lineman and even received recognition from them. I was feeling pretty confident at the end of that school year that I was at least a candidate for JV, but I'd have to wait three months to find out for sure.
That summer I didn't frequent the field house like I did the previous year, for I landed a job that would provide me with plenty of exercise and weight lifting. Along with Marc and David, I got on a hay hauling crew hefting 75-100 pound bales all day long, and getting paid two and a half cents for each one. The best part was the company. Our boss was one of our school's best starting lineman, Charlie Morgan, destined to be all district the next year. The rest of our crew were varsity lineman too, Freddie Perkins and Ronald Joceck, who would both be starters and have a fine year.
I literally moved in with Marc that summer to make getting to work easier, as we had to travel almost 20 miles to the ranch where we worked. I was unaccustomed to such hard work but I eventually learned to heft those bales where I wanted them to go and my strength grew daily. Besides the business of getting the hay to the barn, the majority of the conversation was kept to girls and football.
Charlie took it upon himself to be more of a coach than a boss. Loading a trailer was an exercise in strength, speed, coordination, and endurance; executed for the sake of the team. With the same skill that we handled those bales, we would handle our gridiron opponents. It was merely an extension of the football program. When one of us would tire, we'd be encouraged by the others with regard to football, "Suck 'em up, you'll need it next year to win district." Our every effort was done in preparation for that coming football season.
Once or twice a week Charlie would come into town with us, and the whole crew would stop by the field house. I remember walking so tall in those days, with my well worn gloves hanging from my back pocket, and my clothes stained by the sweat and grime of honest work.
We weren't there for another workout: we'd done our day's worth of labor. We just stopped in to see what was going on, who would be working out, and (Although I didn't know it at the time) to score brownie points with the coaches. Some call it brown nosing. I was just along for the ride, and I did as Charlie did.
First it was a hearty welcome from coach Lucky followed by some small talk about the weather, and upcoming football season. Once, Lucky even asked about me,, "I'll betcha ole Finlayson can handle them hay bales perty good, eh Cha-lie?" Charlie replied, "It's more a case of the bales handling Finlayson!" to my chagrin. Coach Lucky roared with laughter. A deep bellow, showing gold bridged teeth, resulting from playing football too many years. Just to be recognized by the big chief was reason enough to be there. I never became involved in the conversations, unless spoken to. I didn't want to appear too forward or disrespectful. I merely assumed a silent reverence and figured to let my performance on the playing field do my talking for me.
After a little chit-chat we'd mosey over to the weight shed and do some bench-press. There was a Bench press club which every team member was encouraged to join. A certain amount had to be pressed, though, before membership was granted. There were three categories, with a starting weight of 200, then 250, then 300 pounds. Charlie had long before reached the 300 pound level, but the bench press was a means with which to show one's machismo, a means by which to keep their prowess intact.
Marc and I had just that year in off-season been introduced to weight lifting and the bench press. We were not even close to being members of the club, either. Both of us were lifting a measly 140 pounds or so. I dreamed of the day I could get my name tacked up on the sign that hung outside of the field house for all to see, for the names of all members hung under their particular weight category that they had lifted.
After that, we might jog a few leisure laps just to build up our wind, and then take advantage of a free shower. One day in August, as the season drew near, we'd put in a light workout and showered. The temperature read 90+ as it had for weeks, and we escaped to the cool confines of the air-conditioned coach's quarters. Wet hair chilling in the refrigerated air, and thirst quenched by the ice cold drinking fountain, we lounged in wonderful comfort and read through the newly released 1971 edition of Dave Campbell's TEXAS FOOTBALL magazine. It is the official guide book to Texas high school ball, with every team in the state written up. He had the Lamar Consolidated Mustangs ranked one of the top 5 in the state, and Charlie's name was highlighted along with our other stars, including "BIG" Ed Franklin.
Ed Franklin, simply known as "Big Ed", was the biggest, meanest, and most feared guy in school. It also carried over to the football field. He was built like Hercules, about 6' 2" and 250-260 pounds, and not an ounce of fat on him. Unlike body hair shaved and oiled, steroid aided, balloon muscled, body builders, Ed was just naturally "cock strong". He didn't spend hours in a mirrored weight room to build his physique but could have put the best of them to shame with his sinewy frame.
He would show his strength by lifting up the back end of a '67 Chevy Impala off the ground, or he would bench press 450 pounds plus. He also showed his power by throwing bodies around on the gridiron. The only strike against him was that he was too big and strong, and in high school he had no one to challenge him. Because of this, he never lived up to his potential.
Oh, he made All District in football and track, and won 1st place in state throwing the shot put his senior year, but when he got a scholarship to college he bombed out. No longer was he the biggest and strongest on the team. There were guys that could compete with him equally and he couldn't cut it without a coach like Lucky to suck-up to him and feed his whimsical ego. But the years he attended Lamar Consolidated he made all the rules and nobody dared mess with Big Ed.
As the beginning of the 1971 school year grew near, our hay hauling business came to a close and in football we began our official two-a-day practices before the school term began. Starting at 8:00 in the morning we worked out about three hours, mostly just conditioning, and in the afternoon we worked on plays and learning our positions. We were still unclassified as to our team placement, but a couple of days before school began we got the news.
The locker rooms were being put in order, and lockers were assigned to individuals. Wherever you found a locker with your name on it, that was what team you were on. In the main field house were three rooms, varsity, JV, and Soph. David and J Soloman made varsity, but I didn't bother looking in there. I did search for my name in the JV locker room, but it wasn't in sight.
I got a sinking feeling in my gut, standing shocked, wondering if there hadn't surely been a mistake made. I shot a hesitant glance toward the door of the Sophomore's lockers, realizing that I might end up there. Their lineman coach, Coach Clark stood there smiling, beckoning me in, "You're with us Finlayson."
My heart sank as I realized that I wasn't considered good enough to make JV. I knew I was though. Why hadn't I been picked. Marc, Robert and Bearden had all made it and I was mad. I felt betrayed. My hopes and dreams began to fade. My confidence and faith in the system was beginning to wane. I tried to remain optimistic though and felt that maybe I would be promoted if I worked that much harder and remained dedicated.
So there I was stuck on the mediocre Sophomore team, with a mediocre coach, Coach Worth Ross. Most everybody called him "Worth-less" Ross, and that just about summed him up. He wasn't that bad of a guy, he was just too wishy-washy and without personality. He could not command one's respect, and no one feared him, which left him pretty ineffective at inspiring his players.
Coach Clark, the lineman coach, I had as a freshman B team coach in basketball. He didn't know a whole lot about basketball, but he always treated me fairly. I didn't like being with the sophs though, so I didn't like being with him. He was just an ole country boy from Kermit, that had made All-American at Baylor. He was big but gentile in personality. He could get mad, and would get his point across, but he didn't scare people into performing for him.
I didn't know to appreciate his wisdom at the time, but in a few years I would realize that he was one of the only coaches at that school that would not sacrifice his integrity to win himself promotion or security in the system. But he wasn't outspoken and loud, he just did his job and gave everybody a fair chance no matter who you were. He was enthusiastic, even though we were a scrub team, and that enthusiasm just angered me. My spirit was not broken yet, from my years of conditioning, so I fell into putting forth my best effort to win a promotion to the JV. That was my ultimate goal.
Not making JV was another major letdown, after my belated placement into the first string the year prior. I thought I'd really proved myself through the year, but this at this overt chicanery my faith in the system began to falter. I began to question it. It had wronged me. I felt cheated, but my dreams couldn't be snuffed that easily and I really wasn't consciously aware that there was an anger building in me.
Even though discouraged, I didn't doubt myself, and the thought of quitting never came to mind. My pure love of the game was too great to consider life without it. Maybe being with the sophs wasn't so bad after all. I was told things like, "Your better off there, where you can get plenty of experience and playing time, rather than being on JV and not getting to play." But those words offered minimal solace, branding me as unexceptional as the next sophomore regular..
Winning a starting position on the sophomore team was the easiest thing I'd ever done in my life. There wasn't much competition, since the best players had been sent to JV, except me. I was downright ashamed of some of the guys I was lined up with. Most of them had been around since seventh grade but had rarely had a chance to play, because they were so bad. We could hardly support an experienced first team, and we had to turn those bench warmers into players. A few were hopeless, but others rose to the challenge and turned out to be worthwhile competitors.
James Flake had slimmed down somewhat and was put in at left tackle, right beside me. He wasn't blessed with much natural ability, but he was so gung-ho because of the faith Coach Clark showed in him, that his confidence grew and his own desire enabled him to win a starting position. Ever since seventh grade, he had been humiliated and ridiculed because of his weight by both players and coaches. Most coaches had considered him a joke and the only encouragement he got from them was to quit. Now Coach Clark gave him his chance and he came through. The only thing was that he could never remember a play; so, I learned his assignments and pointed out who he was to block as we lined up for each down. He wasn't scared to hit anybody, I just had to point him in the right direction, and cut him loose.
We might not have been in the lime-light with the Varsity, but we put together a scrappy group of rag-tags that played together with reckless abandon. One of our main duties, along with preparing for our own season, was to be cannon fodder for the varsity team by running plays against them. That meant the threat of getting hit by Big Ed. We showed no fear, but were cautious to avoid him, because one good shot from Ed and you could end up in the hospital.
I though, being under the watchful eye of Coach Lucky, didn't care about my own physical health. All I wanted to do was impress him and show him I wasn't afraid, and possibly get moved up to JV. So when Big Ed came along during a play, I would lay into him with all my might. He usually would fend me off with a forearm, as if only annoyed at having to waste his time against a sophomore team.
On one particular play, the varsity offense was practicing a tackle trap, where the tackle pulls out and blocks an unsuspecting defensive lineman who thinks he has been ignored by the man head-up on him. Big Ed was the trapping tackle, and I was the trapee, as I had shifted from over the center, to the gap between the guard and center. The first time I didn't know it was coming and he blandished me easily out of the hole. I recovered and plowed into him after the play, just to show him that I could take anything he could dish out. Coach Lucky roared with laughter at the sight of me pestering Big Ed, and told the offense to run it again, because of some foul-up that he didn't like and besides, he wanted to see me fight off Ed's block a second time.
Well, this time I knew I was going to get hit and everybody had their eyes on me, grinning with anticipation of how far I was going to fly after Big Ed got through with me. Coach Clark encouraged me with ferocity, and instructed me to get as low as I could and hold my ground. I couldn't have gotten any lower than I was, and when the ball was snapped Ed came at me like a runaway locomotive, hissing, puffing, and steaming. When contact was made he let out an explosion of a growl, and easily straightened me up and out of the play. Coach Lucky wanted to see it run again though, and we lined up and did battle again, with the same results. I gave Ed all I had, and showed no fear, but I think it was just a joke to Coach Lucky, and Big Ed too.
We, as a team, gave the varsity all we had and even made them look bad sometimes. As I think back though, it seems liked nobody but us really cared. When we would be signaled to go "Live" against the varsity, I'd start getting butterflies as we would trot over to their field. My adrenaline would start to flow, thinking about being observed by Coach Lucky and proving myself to be promoted to a higher team. We would get dead serious about showing them up and give it our all.
We did that out of instinct, and that's just what Coach Lucky wanted, but he really wasn't seeking prospects; he just wanted a fired up team to practice against. Occasionally he would tell one of us on an outstanding play, that he would have to move us up to varsity to a starting position. That kept us pumped up and would disgrace the certain varsity starter into putting forth greater effort. We never shied away; being strung along faithfully by Coach Lucky's physiological ploys. But we did have our own season to contend with, and by our first game, I remained with the sophomores, having been unsuccessful at my attempts to gain a position with the JV.
It really didn't console me that much that I was starting both ways, was on every specialty team except kickoff, and again was the punter. My desire was to be on JV. Not being there meant I couldn't cut the mustard. Like I have said though, I didn't mope when we got ready to play. We had put together a close knit team, of maybe not the best, but of those that pulled together with a strange camaraderie of the unwanted and discarded ones, that played with nothing but heart. My discontent with the program, made me fit in well with my sophomore team mates, even though I considered myself a cut above them. Resentment was settling in.
We started off strong with four straight wins over Alvin, Angleton, Dickinson, and Victoria Stroman; consecutively. Each win we racked up 28 points exactly per game, while holding our opponents to one touchdown each in the first three, and two touchdowns in the fourth win. Little did we know that those would be our last victories of the year. The 4-0 winning streak was pure fun, and it helped take the sting out of not being on JV. We offensive lineman were opening the holes, and a couple of our running backs were showing remarkable prowess by chalking up 100+ yard games every week.
Warren Reeves, Roy D Ellison, and Frank "Muchie" Perry were their names. Warren was a slashing, upright runner that didn't look the part. His pads hung loosely and crooked on his angular body. His legs were strong as a horse's' and he could deceptively slip past would be tacklers and then turn on the speed, and be gone. When game time came he was serious business and wanted to win as bad as anybody, but in practices he showed a streak of laziness and happy-go-luckiness that was frowned on. He was good enough for varsity but many say his lackadaisical attitude kept the coaches against him. They also say that he complained too much about minor injuries. But to see the intensity in his eyes as we huddled, and watch him weave and dart through a defense, left little doubt in my mind that he loved to play football.
Roy D. was also an unlikely looking running back. Our freshman year he played defensive tackle, but his speed and strength made him an effective runner. His style was awkward but he got results by running over would-be tacklers and it took a crowd to bring him down. He could out leg them, too, once he got free. Roy never showed a lot of emotion but he was a coaches dream, for he always gave 100 percent in practice and games and was always trying to improve himself.
Muchie Perry was a little bull dog. Smaller but built more stoutly than Warren, he tended to go through tacklers rather than skip around them. If he got into the clear although, there were few that could catch him. He never expressed much of anything about the game. He was just out there, showing up to do his duties as our fullback, but when he made a lengthy run and was feeling good about it, he wore an ear to ear smile that showed he was enjoying himself.
So, Warren, Roy D, and Muchie were racking up the points for us and our defense was holding our opponents at bay, but then we met the Brazoswood Buccaneers from a place called Clute. It was a new school, made up of well-to-do children of Dow Chemical executives and employees that worked for the giant Dow plant in nearby Freeport. They were a strong school in athletics and quickly became the powerhouse in our district.
With a 24-28 score, they didn't trounce us, which they were accustomed to doing to most opponents, but we really thought we could have won after coming that close. Even though being disappointed with the loss, we still maintained our pride by giving those rich boys all they could handle.
The following week we played a big school from Houston by the name of Springwoods. They, too, were much feared and known for greatly lopsided scores that showed in their favor. They were outside of our district, which made no difference whatsoever for a sophomore team, but we wanted to show those city boys what us country boys were made out of.
We ended up with our second loss in a row but felt no shame because we only fell to them by one point, 7-6. They didn't think that us country boys could hold a candle to them but we did. We even got ideas about beating them after leading at half-time 6-0, but in the third quarter they evened the score and went ahead to stay by making good on their extra point attempt. It was such a hard fought battle, and I was so exhausted after going both ways that I didn't have the energy to morn the loss. The following week, though, things would really start to fall apart in more ways than one.
We traveled to Victoria to play the Stingarees and ended up on the short end of a 22-0 trouncing. It was true, we scored not a point and fell shamefully to the Stingarees who wiped us out. We had no excuse for the loss. We just played sloppy on their home field and could not execute anything correctly. We played like losers and they shut us out. It was the first humiliating loss for us. We had lost before but they were by very slim margins. Now we were convincingly put to shame and didn't even put up a single point in our favor. We floundered severely and deserved to loose so badly.
One particular play in the game would mar my career severely but at the time it was happening, I thought nothing of consequence had resulted. We were kicking off to start the second half, and since the kickoff team was the only specialty team that I was not on, it was the one time during games that I went to the sidelines.
Our man kicked the ball down the field, but before the receiving team got a chance to begin their run back, the play was blown dead by an early whistle and penalty flag. I had not realized the penalty and began to take my position on the field. About halfway out onto the field I was called back to the sidelines because it was thought that we would kick the ball over again, for the penalty was against us. I returned to our bench and figured that I had plenty of time to get me a quick drink of water, so I popped off my helmet and headed for the water buckets.
Oblivious to me on the field, Victoria had refused the penalty and the ball was placed and play was ready to resume, with me calmly drinking my water. Next thing I knew Coach Ross was approaching me wildly and screaming, "Finlayson!! What in the Hell do you think you're doing?!! Get your ass out on that field where it belongs!! Pronto!!" It took me a few seconds to realize what had happened, and as soon as I did I darted out onto the field just in the nick of time before the play started.
The rest of the game was finished without any further incident, other than us being held scoreless, and I forgot all about the strange play. It was a long 90 mile trip home in a yellow school bus that maxed out at 55 mph. We had our first degrading loss and it was nothing but depressed silence all the way home. I was down pretty low, and the next day I would personally be down-graded even more, for that miscue on the kick-off play.
Going to school on Friday after a victory was pure ecstasy. I could show off my bruises and abrasions and they wouldn't even hurt. And I could walk tall knowing I was a winner, but after a white-washing like we got, I didn't even feel like showing up. I did though, and dragged through the day feeling every bump and bruise, just being glad that we wouldn't have to work out that afternoon. We did have to go out to the field house though and check in and hang around till the seventh period bell sounded before we could go home.
The varsity had a home game that night and Coach Lucky was nervously pacing around outside the field house door, readying for the pep rally. Now Lucky had always treated me right, talked to me pleasantly and often times praised my play. For the first time though he humiliated me, based on a lie, and called me a coward.
He greeted me with his big wrinkled face in an expression of incredulity and remarked, "Finlayson, I was told something about you that highly disappoints me. I thought you were tough and could take the punishment of the game and now I find out you can't." I told him respectfully that I didn't understand what he was talking about. He quickly replied with a half chuckle, "C'mon Baby. You know what I'm talking about. Yesterday, in the game against Victoria, Coach Ross tells me that you crawled off the field like a worm and begged to be taken out of the game because you couldn't take any more. I never thought you, Finlayson, would turn yellow on me!"
I desperately denied the charge because it simply wasn't true. It must have been some miscommunication of the kick-off play. I couldn't believe I was being accused of such a ridiculous stunt. No matter how exhausted I ever became on a football field I never asked to be taken out, for I respected too much the privilege of getting to play. I exclaimed that it was an out-right lie, but Lucky said that he didn't think one of his own coaches would lie to him.
Well, that really topped off a rotten day. An anger began to brew inside me that would strengthen my faithfulness against Coach Lucky and his system. For some reason or another I had been the victim of a clear cut lie and an attack on my character. I was definitely discouraged and upset but my deeply ingrained dedication to the game helped me to shake it off and make sure that in the future they would never have cause to blame me of cowardice again.
I tried that much harder to prove my worth as we traveled to Freeport for our second to last game against the Brazosport Exporters. Freeport is located on the gulf coast right at the mouth of the Brazos river and whenever we played there the ocean breezes would whip through their wooden stadium and the salt air could be felt and smelled. It made it always seem cool there and made for good playing conditions, except for the passing and kicking games, against that wind.
The trip was futile though as we battled to a mediocre 12-12 tie. It was even more frustrating because we had usually beat Brazosport, ever since jr. high. At least we had broken our three game loosing streak and I was not accused of being a coward afterwards. Our last game was at home against Port Lavaca, and we figured on closing out the season on a winning note since we had smeared them the year before.
That year it was different though. The Sandcrabs came seeking revenge and they got it with an easy 28-12 victory over us. There wasn't a whole lot to be said other than that our year was over and we'd compiled a haphazard 4-4-1 record which wasn't a whole lot to brag about. It was over though and I had next year to look forward to, to hopefully make varsity.
One upbeat note was that I was recognized for outstanding play in the form of a foot-high trophy. Lucky had started, that year, awarding a trophy to the best running back and best lineman on each of the sub-varsity teams, as voted by their coaches. For me it was hardly a cherished achievement because I was clearly the best lineman amongst those scrubs, even though Coach Ross thought I was a coward. Additionally, I felt little satisfaction by being the best of the sophomores for I felt it degrading to even be on that team. I would have much more preferred a JV position than that worthless trophy.
I did accept it though, at the yearly football banquet, with a smile and a handshake from Coach Lucky himself; everybody decked out in their Sunday best. Little did I know that my buddy James was upset for he felt himself to be a more worthy recipient for the award. Actually if it had been based on effort and most improvement, he clearly would have been the deserved winner. I felt ashamed because it really was important to him and I couldn't have cared less.
The varsity ended the season with a winning record that year, at 7-3, but backers were not consoled by the fact. They had been ranked amongst the top five in the state, but couldn't even win their own district. High expectations went unfulfilled and there was beginning to be talk. Lucky had been in charge for three years then and the townsfolk were getting doubtful. How much more time should they give him to bring back the district championship to Lamar Consolidated, where it belonged? Apparently they still had faith in him for he would stay around a few more years to come.
End of Chapter 11
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