Posts Tagged ‘friday night lights’

For any outside visitor looking in onto the area of Lakefield, Texas, it could have been seen as abandonment as the town itself was left lifeless on Friday nights. The reason for it: the Lakefield varsity football games at Towne Square Field. Signs that read “Closed: Gone to game”, countless vacated sparking spots, and with the only sound being the windchimes in front of the mom and pop stores meant one thing and one thing only, the Mustangs had a  game that night.

That enormous game was the home opener against their cross-town rival, the Riggington Cowboys, and it meant the world and more to the small town in central Texas to take home the W; it was a sense of pride, dignity, something they could hold over their “enemies”. To see such a divided area was almost a re-creation of the Civil War, once fellow brothers and sisters now turned mortal adversaries. The thought of the other side brought disgust and abomination.

The time was 6:00 P.M., one hour before kickoff, where Zach wrapped himself up in the team locker room, running through the playbook in his head, figuring out the best move to counter the stellar defense Riggington brought to the field. His hands stung of numbness like novacaine while drops of sweat rained down his back and he hadn’t even taken a snap. Could a 17-year-old such as himself be able to bring this team to victory where pressure breathed down his neck in the chase of glory?

Before the Mustangs took the field, while Zach was going over the PA draw with Jamar and Glenn-their seamlessly fool-proof plan-Zach felt a surge of pain in his throwing shoulder, the same kind of pain he had felt the other day at practice. While Glenn had asked with concern if Zach was able to play, the quarterback shrugged it off as if it was a simple growing pain, strapped on his helmet, and took to the field.

The September wind whipped around the field, dusk had finally rolled in, and the packed stadium filled with thousands of prideful fans were ready to endure the gruesome battle. Zach could hear both sides of the fans-the ones cheering him on and the ones that were going to make the next 40 minutes a long one. Lakefield won the coin toss and chose to receive the ball, a textbook decision by Coach Stamford, a part of his ideology on getting on the board first.

Taking the ball on the 32 yard line, Zach knew that to win this game he had to control the tempo, keeping the Cowboy defense at bay. With a quick halfback toss to Jamar for a six yard gain, the running game seemed to be a crutch for the Mustang offense. Run after run after run-Jamar sharing carries with senior fullback Taylor Johnson-it seemed that Lakefield had already figured out the flaw to the once-impenetrable defense, until they made a minor readjustment.

Throughout the entire drive, Riggington were banking on the fact that Zach, with his nervous tendencies, was going to force the ball and throw to double covered receivers, which is why they had started off in a cover 3 package with their defensive backs in zone coverage to keep an eye out for up-for-grab balls. Realizing that wasn’t going to happen, the Cowboys head coach-Tanner Williams-made the call in switching to a cover 2 and bringing the backs closer while emphasizing the blitz from their All-American defensive tackles, the Stoughton twins: Billy and Tim.

At first, it seemed as if their was no change at all as Lakefield took in the first six points with a slant route Glenn had run perfectly to create an option for Zach to throw t0. Quickly catching up was the Cowboy’s pistol offense, and within a blink of an eye, it was a tie game, barely enough time for the offense to catch their breath.

There was no time to run, Zach had thought to himself, if he had wanted to keep up with the swift Riggington offense. A play that had seemed fitting-where Glenn faked a curl and ran a post while Jamar acted as an option in the slot called “Tahoma 19”- was a play that could not have gone more wrong. On the tap of Zach’s right foot for the silent count, Glenn had been shoved by the right cornerback past the five yard mark- a clear penalty in any referee’s eye-the junior quarterback was still determined to make the throw to his to go-to-guy.

Unaware of his pocket came Billy Stoughton, beating the offensive line with his near-perfect bull rush. Diving into the quarterback’s right shoulder, the same spot where his agonizing pains had originated, time had seemed to slow down. The piercing sound of Zach’s shoulder snapping, the fall of the quarterback hitting the turf like lead, and the silence gasps of the crowd could have been copied and pasted from a horror movie. The town of Lakefield had just watched their season come to an end in just one simple yet devastating play.

Coaches and medics had rushed to the field to aid Zach, but it was evident he was not coming back to the game of football for a while, if ever. Carted off the field and binded by straps, the tears in Zach’s eyes had clogged his vision of the worried and plundered crowd. A sense of disappointment flooded his emotions as he helplessly laid in the back of the ambulance.

With their backup quarterback being a freshman, Coach Stamford made the call of moving Jamar to quarterback and having him run draw plays to wide down the rest of the game which resulted in a 24-14 loss. The bigger loss for the town of Lakefield was Zach Tempsen, their holy grail to a state championship, the athlete that was going to represent Lakefield for years to come, had been damaged in front of their eyes. Their was no immediate answer, which gave an insecure feeling to the townspeople, a desolate emotion none of them had ever felt before.

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Football is more than just a sport, especially in the small town of Lakefield, Texas, it’s an upbringing; a way of life that has been the lulling trend since the small town of 4,500 was founded for it’s oil reserves in 1909. Once just a giant plot of land used as public property for Midland County, the Mustangs now holds six state championships, 13 ex and current NFL football players, and one overzealous community.

The cookie-cutter, traditional Lakefield family consisted of a father slaving away at the scorching reserves, putting away 10-12 work hours a day, while the mother stayed at home, keeping everyone and everything in check. Their would be a son who either played football or a son that wanted out of the town and the daughter would be worked up in either cheerleading, the school drama, or student council. Some call the lifestyle monotonous and unexciting, others would call it simple and pleasant.

One standout in the Lakefield football hotbed is the Mustangs’ junior quarterback, Zach Tempsen. A prodigy since the day he could throw a spiral, Tempsen had always been an avid follower of Lakefield football, dreaming of the day he could dawn the crimson red and midnight black on his jersey. The only game Zach had missed was when he was four years old in ’97, the day his sister Sarah, now a Mustang cheerleader, was born. That was the year the Mustangs missed the playoffs by one game.

Tempsen had been fielding scholarship offers since the day he stepped foot on Towne Square Field, Lakefield’s varsity stadium, as a freshman in ’08. The stereotypical build- 6’2”, 210 lbs, a cannon of an arm with a mind of a field general, complimented by the intangibles of a father’s dream date for his daughter- charming, respectful, and most importantly, a strong demeanor. Even with Tempsen’s nose stuck in the playbook and not the textbooks, there was every reason for big name scouts to be drooling over QB1 of the Lakefield Mustangs.

It was a small town like Lakefield that had treated Zach like a big name celebrity. Burgers and drinks were free, girls came by the numbers, and autographs were treated of holy significance. But if there was one person keeping the feet of Zach on the ground, it was his father, Joe, that did not let his son’s super-stardom presence get to his head. Coming from a military family and a current sergeant at the local military base , Joe had taught his son the concepts of “keeping the eye on the prize”, humility, respect, and responsibility.  Joe supported his son like any proud father would, but there was a “glitch” in the Tempsen family-they weren’t the typical Lakefield parents to breath down their son’s back, expecting the unexpected out of him.

The reason for Lakefield’s preseason hype was not from just Zach, but junior running back Jamar Windsor- Zach’s best friend since grade school, a sidekick that always had his back. With Windsor’s blazing speed and robotic build, it looked like an All-Pro back in the backfield, but with character issues from a broken family and grades that didn’t impress even the local community colleges, Jamar had his work cut out for him. But with these two anchoring the helm of the Mustang offense, the world was at their feet.

And the brains behind the Mustangs? That would be Coach Bill Stamford, a Texas native who had recently moved to Lakefield in search of a coaching job, yearning to mold the minds of young student athletes. Coach, as players and residents alike had called him, was not one to buy into the whole “football-centered” town model, but rather asking his players to give back to the town that consistently gave to them, a major reason why he and Zach had clicked from the get-go.

All seemed ideal in the small “utopia” of Lakefield, except for one thing- the residents themselves. As radical as evangelical Christians, the townspeople rallied around their football team at all costs, and voiced their opinion by any means. One day a player can be the hero of the town, while in the blink of an eye and a careless fumble that costed the game, he would be the local punching bag-taking vicious vocal jabs while clearing off “For Sale” signs in front of his house. External pressure was always an obstacle players had to cope with while social status and representation being a bittersweet privledge.

Friday nights were like national holidays- stores and local businesses shut down while families made the pilgrimage to Towne Square Field and enjoying the one common interest all 4,500 of them had- high school football. The breezy, sub 70 degree Texas weather at dusk with the buzzing roar of the home crowd became a niche for Lakefield players. That jittery feeling was almost calming-they knew they were home.

Local radio broadcasters and newspapers were already stirring up a commotion about the opening game to the 2011 season- the nationally-televised rivalry game between Lakefield and their crosstown foes, the Riggington Cowboys, a team glamorized for their hard-nosed, impenetrable defense with two pre-season All-American seniors holding down the line. Coach Stamford tried to downplay the hype and maintain the daily focus of practice and drills, but it’s all Zach could think of. Essentially a national showcase for the public to truly see what the junior quarterback was all about, Zach couldn’t sleep with the idea of being the main target of attention outside of Lakefield.

There was no time or place to choke and with the decorated pride at stake, Zach wasn’t about to let himself, his family, or his town down. In a routine throw-and-catch drill with his receivers Thursday afternoon, that same Thursday before “the big game”, Zach tweaked his throwing shoulder on a skinny route pass to his main receiver- Glenn Daly-but brushed it off as if it didnt’ happen. He had a bigger picture to worry about, and something as small as a tweak wasn’t about to bring down the quarterback the night before the biggest game of his life.

Stay tuned for Part II in the near future

For more sports information, opinion, and shameless banter, follow me on Twitter: @sportsbyjersey