The young man has his mission call—he will enter the missionary training center on October 27. He cannot return to school, so he is working at Pizza Hut and hanging around the house. His brother is a senior and is playing defensive tackle for the same head coach he had graduated under, Coach JH.
Coach H took the position in the young man’s senior year—the third head coach and offensive system for their grade to learn. They limped to a 5-7 record, though they won a Bi-District Championship. The next year, Coach H had a better record but the team still bowed out of the playoffs in the second round.
This year is a disaster. They are 0-4 by mid-September. The young man attends Big Cat Club meetings and can see the strain on his former coach’s face. They talk periodically about the past two years and what this team is dealing with.
The young man likes the coach. He was more of a motivator than the previous head coach, more into praise and positive reinforcement than constantly belittling guys for tiny mistakes. The young man wants to pick his coach up, let him know that he appreciates him and all that he learned, even though they hadn’t been that successful. So he writes a letter:
“Dear Coach H,
“I know it’s tough right now, but I wanted to tell you what playing for you meant. You told us that we should write five things on our hearts: 1. Hustle, 2. Show courage, 3. Know your assignments, 4. Care about winning, 5. Be loyal.
“Going away to school took me out of my comfort zone. But I relied on these things every day. When I didn’t feel like going to class, I reminded myself to hustle. When a professor tore apart my novel draft, I reminded myself to show courage, and I took her advice and rewrote it. When I was preparing for finals, I reminded myself to know my assignments (I got all A’s by the way). When I wanted to let go of a physical science class I struggled with, I reminded myself to care about winning (I moved from a C to an A). Lots of kids on my floor had a really tough time. I helped as best I could because I remembered to be loyal.
“I know things aren’t going how you hope, but you are teaching bigger things than winning games. That’s more important.
At the next game, Carroll is behind by 2 in the fourth quarter to Moody, a perennial doormat. They drive the length of the field and with little time left, they have first and goal from the 1. The QB pulls the ball on an option play, fumbles it, and Moody recovers. Game over.
After the game the young man waits around the locker room to say hi to his brother. A woman is standing around wearing a jacket with the coach’s name.
“Are you Coach H’s wife?” he says.
“I am,” she says.
“I’m Gordon Laws.” He shakes her hand.
She smiles. “You’re the one that wrote the letter.”
She touches his arm. “It meant the world to him. Really helped him think bigger about things.”
“That’s great,” the young man says with a smile.
On Monday, the young man goes to the Big Cat meeting. Before he starts the film to review with the parents he says, “This was a tough week and a tough loss. But I got a letter this week and it really made me think about what we are teaching and doing.”
After the meeting, the young man and Coach H hug and talk.
A few weeks later, the young man leaves on his mission.
Two years later, the young man is home, and Stephen gets leave from the Marine Corps to come visit him. They get in an old green Chrysler sedan for a late-night Whataburger run. Stephen drives.
“Hey, what ever happened to Coach H, man?” the young man says.
Stephen shrugs. “Fuck him. I hate that guy and his staff. Total frauds.”
They drive slowly through the neighborhood toward Everhart.
“Woah. Why? I thought he was a good guy.”
Stephen comes to a stop sign, looks both ways, then keeps going. “First of all, the old DC when you were there leaves, and he hires a new guy who has a son who is a QB. That guy sucks. Slow as cold tar and can’t throw. But Coach H plays him and moves Alejandro to receiver just to be on that guy’s nuts. Then we play fucking Moody, the one team we should definitely beat. We’re finally gonna win one, and instead of giving the ball to our All State tailback who got a scholarship to UT, he has slow-ass Hector keep it, who fucking fumbles.”
The young man sighs as they get to Everhart and wait at a light. Traffic is light, the unprotected green comes on, and they are able to turn right away.
“I remember that. I wondered about that play call. Guess I didn’t think much about the why.”
“Shithead was trying to get Hector the glory even though it was Taz who carried us. But that’s not the best part.”
They pass through a stoplight and move up the well-lit empty road until they approach the Whataburger.
“What’s the best part?”
Stephen turns in. “You want your usual?”
“Number one with ketchup.”
Stephen digs into his wallet as he enters the drive through. The young man extends a ten to him but Stephen says, “Nah, I got this. I ain’t got nothin to spend my money on anyway.”
“I’ll tell you the best part after we get our food.”
Stephen rolls down his window to place his order. A few minutes later, they have their food and Stephen says, “Wanna head to Ocean Drive?”
“Sure,” says the young man.
Stephen turns right on Everhart and speeds up.
“So you were gonna tell me the best part.”
“Oh right. Well the old OC you had went into school administration, so we got a new OC. Murph the Smurf. Young guy. Late twenties. Fucking prick. Anyway, after the season, it comes out that he had a cheerleader sucking his cock between classes he taught. So he got ten years or something.”
“Actually caught him, huh? Cuz there were rumors about Coach B on an earlier staff for years.”
Stephen nods as they zoom up to the intersection of Everhart and Staples. He grabs a couple of fries.
“Yeah, they got him,” he says. “Ended his marriage pretty quick. And when the whole scandal hit that spring, well, Coach H like flipped or something.”
The young man takes a long pull of his chocolate shake. “How so?”
“One day, he was just gone. Poof. Turns out, he had a thing going with the girls’ assistant track coach. Ditches his wife, runs off with her, winds up at some shitty 4A school. That’s the last I heard of him. So yeah, great staff.”
The young man takes a big bite of his burger. After chewing and swallowing, he says, “That’s really sad. I guess after my mission nothing surprises me anymore. But I liked him. And I liked the other coaches.”
Stephen turns left on to Ocean Drive. “Dude was a total political animal. Got hired because of HY’s dad on your team after they ran off Coach R. Totally sucked them off while losing all those games with your team. Then, he played Hector and fucked my team. Then, he didn’t stand there to be accountable when his staff went to shit and then fucked his wife over in the process. All that hustle show courage was bullshit.”
The young man takes another bite and looks at the bay off to his right. It is dark and murky, rolling gently under the stars and pier lights.
“Who knows what was going on with him. Seems like he had a tough time here. It’s sad.”
Stephen shrugs. “Whatever, man. There’s bigger stuff in life. Fuck him.”