Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Introducing Coach Gordon Nehls, narrator of Fourth Down in Texas

It doesn’t take long for Gordon Nehls, the narrator and lead character of Fourth Down in Texas, to get across how much he loves high school football. As the novel begins, the longtime football coach is standing in one of the team entrance tunnels at AT&T Stadium, minutes before the start of a playoff game. He looks at the players, including his oldest son, and remembers how these moments felt as a player.

"This stadium will be rocking soon, and the players standing next to me are the reason why. They’re shoulder-to-shoulder, internally pacing, waiting to take the field. They’re both thrilled and terrified, the unforgettable combination of being simultaneously fired up and scared shitless that I remember from the last time I put on shoulder pads in high school. Even then, as a teenager who rarely thought farther ahead than my next Whataburger order, I thought about becoming a coach."

It’s fair to say that Nehls is a conglomeration of the coaches I've known over the last two decades, but he’s a unique character. The former lineman, who got the nickname "Tuffy" as a teenager, sees his high school players as his family, and as big as those players get, they’re still kids to him. They might feel invincible, and they might act like they know it all, but Nehls knows their potential and their vulnerability – and not just as football players. He can see the anxiety on those baby faces that players try to hide with wispy mustaches and scraggly beards.

Tuffy Nehls loves football, but even more, he loves the impact that football can have on kids. He understands all the good that a coach can do, and that’s why he is so affected when his football program is threatened. The cost for high school football is rising and there are safety concerns, his school superintendent says, and it “might be that the high school athletics program is not the right environment for a football team.”

Nehls knows what will happen if high schools no longer have football teams. He sees that scary reality in people such as Driphus Coleman, the coach of the INTENSITY! select football team, who tries to recruit players from Nehls’ program. It’s Nehls’ fear of where high school football could be headed – into the sleazy world of street agents and predatory opportunists – that pushes him to the emotional edge.

From his confrontation with Coleman:

"I wasn’t thinking clearly. Certainly not logically. I was allowing myself to be consumed by a moment of emotion, the exact thing I warned my players about. Be disciplined, I always told them. Don’t let your emotions lead to a personal foul. Just walk away.

I should’ve followed my own advice as I headed down a path toward something much worse than a fifteen-yard penalty. The guy wasn’t worth embarrassing myself or endangering my career. I actually remember thinking that, even as my head and heart raced.

Still, I took another step toward Coach Coleman. Our faces were only inches apart now, and his back was nearly against the bricks of the auditorium."

Nehls faces quite a challenge, and not just regarding controlling his emotions as he confronts a coach he sees as a danger to players. Nehls' challenge is to lead his team through what he hopes will be a memorable season while fighting to have more seasons. He’s fighting for the sport he loves.
Fourth Down in Texas is now available exclusively direct from the publisher at www.fourthdownintexas.com.

Fourth Down in Texas on Facebook.

What happens if high schools stop offering football?

Read Chapter 1, along with reviews and other information about the book, at https://mattwixon.blogspot.com/2018/09/first-chapter-of-my-novel-fourth-down.html

Saturday, November 17, 2018

What happens if high schools stop offering football?

High school football participation has decreased nationally over the last five years. High schools in dozens of states have canceled varsity or junior-varsity seasons, and in a scattering of cases, schools have cut entire football programs.

And so football is doomed, some people say, from the pros to the pee-wees. It’s destined to get spiked like a football in the classic touchdown celebration.

Well, here’s another view:

Football isn’t going away.

Not anytime soon, anyway. Football is too ingrained in the history, culture and rituals of America to get run out of the stadium. It’s a huge part of the country’s attitude. And, oh yeah, football still brings in a ton of money.
It’s like Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs in that GEICO commercial, where everything sticks to his hands. The NFL has its hands in everything, and the money just sticks -- layer upon layer of it. That’s how the NFL generated about $14 billion in revenue last year. And college football is lucrative enough that a finance professor last year valued three programs – Ohio State, Texas and Oklahoma – at a billion dollars or more.

With that much cash flow, the NFL and NCAA are still raging rivers. The question is, how long will youth and high school football provide the reliable streams of talent to keep those rivers deep?

That’s where the question about high school football comes into play.

Kids still love football. They’re still filling up flag and tackle football leagues here in Texas; they’re still looking forward to their chance to play under the Friday Night Lights; they’re still dreaming of being the next generation of college and NFL players. Those kids are going to play football, whether it’s through high schools or another less organized, more dangerous avenue.

High school football coach Gordon Nehls, the narrator of my novel Fourth Down in Texas, is scared of how football might look without high schools involved. He envisions a dark future in which entrepreneurs and street agents control the sport at the high school level, and he gets a glimpse of that future when confronting a select coach (Coach Coleman) who had been recruiting his high school players. From the novel:

                As Coach Coleman stood in front of me, he was more than just a coach I didn’t like. He was the greasy underbelly of youth sports. He was the screaming jackass coaches of third graders, who think they’re Nick Saban or Bill Belichick because they’ve got a whistle, clipboard, and personalized workout gear for their team of eight-year-olds. He was the sleaze behind the traveling recruiting combines that prey on a kid’s hopes and dig into his parents’ wallets. He was the sponsors and money-hungry organizers of national seven-on-seven tournaments, all-star showcases, and bloated made-for-TV events that turn teenagers into profits.
                Coach Coleman was all the bullshit surrounding the game I love. And he was the future of it.
                “Stay away from my players,” I repeated.

Although low participation levels are rarely a problem in Texas, a lack of players has led some schools to drop teams around the country. Some have suggested that the spike in football-related lawsuits, especially at the NFL and NCAA levels, will lead insurance companies to eventually stop insuring schools against football-related lawsuits.

That wouldn’t make football go away, however. It would just threaten high school football – and all the benefits and protections that a teenager gets from certified teachers as coaches, experienced training staffs, the best facilities and safest equipment.

Another excerpt from the novel (which again is from the perspective of Coach Nehls, the narrator):

If you want to be a high school football coach in Texas, you need to get a college degree, go through years of training, work your way through the lower grades, work as an assistant, and then eventually you can become a head coach. And that’s oversimplifying the process.
What do you need to coach some youth football team?
A whistle, basically.
Some youth sports organizations have background checks and a few safety courses. But most of those coaches are Monday Morning Quarterbacks, dads of the players, well-meaning guys who are as out of place as me coaching the Creekside Debate Team. I can live with that when the kids are young, and they’ll eventually have middle school and high school coaches who make sure they’re doing things the proper way.
And that’s not the worst of it. Not even close.
“Football will go on,” I told Lee, “but if the high schools aren’t involved, you’ll put kids in the hands of the Intensity, or the Extreme, or those other club teams. Those clubs are already sprouting, and if high school football steps back, the clubs will grow like weeds. That’s where football will go. It’ll be like those traveling AAU club teams in basketball with all the shady characters.”
“There definitely are some vultures there,” Lee said.
“Hey, there’s money there. You’ve got guys trying to act as agents for kids, and look at basketball with all the transferring and recruiting. And now all these agents or whatever they call themselves -- mentors, handlers -- are getting involved with seven-on-seven. These all-star, traveling teams. When high school coaches aren’t involved, it’s open season on the kids.”

*Fourth Down in Texas is now available exclusively direct from the publisher at www.fourthdownintexas.com.

*Read Chapter 1 here, along with reviews and other information about the book.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Eric "Mosey" Posey: The Heart of Fourth Down in Texas

Coach Gordon Nehls is the narrator and protagonist of Fourth Down in Texas, but Eric “Mosey” Posey is the heart of the novel. He’s also the character I enjoyed writing the most, partly because he’s inspired by a former high school football player that I covered as a reporter for The Dallas Morning News (more on that in a minute).

Coach Nehls describes Mosey -- a nickname shortened to “Mose” by those who know him best – as a once-in-a-generation player. Mose was a kid who could launch a thousand coaching headaches, but he could also do it with a smile and a charm, and his immense competitiveness and ability made him a high school star.

That comes across when Coach Nehls talks about the final touchdown Mose scored in high school:
     One thing that has stuck with me from Mose’s last touchdown is the sound. Players and coaches around me were cheering, of course, but I could still hear the cracking and creaking of pads as the defenders changed direction and gave chase. They wore their pads like a set of armadillo plates and Mose wore his like a track suit. Maybe it was all the noise of the game —and if you’ve never been on the sidelines, football is a very loud game—but I couldn’t hear Mose running. I couldn’t hear his pads rubbing, or his cleats digging, or his body straining as he rounded the corner in front of me. He skated by, turned his head to the right, saw one defender to beat, and shifted gears.

     The diving defender didn’t get within a foot of Mose, who was all alone by the twenty-yard line. He high-stepped the last ten yards, crossed the goal line, spun the ball like a top, and turned toward our stands. He was posing for the crowd, arms folded across his chest, nodding and show­boating, when penalty flags flew like roses from adoring fans.

Mose was a legend as a high school football player, and now as a young man, he’s a mentor to Creekside’s rising star, sophomore quarterback Tyreke Abrams. Mose is an unofficial assistant coach, but he has a lot to offer the team and Coach Nehls.

He’s like a third son to Nehls, although the Coach sees the entire team as his family. Mose is an inspiration to the players and the entire community, who he dazzles with an impromptu speech about what football means to him during a dramatic scene in the book.

Mose is the player who can draw the emotions out of Coach Nehls, and it’s their conversations – about cornerbacks, about football, about music, about life – that show the incredible potential in a relationship between a player and coach. Coach Nehls and Mose have changed each other’s lives, and they both know it.

Writers sometimes talk about how, after creating a character, it’s difficult to believe that the character isn’t real. That's because of the time and effort you pour into creating a character, considering his or her thoughts and feelings, and trying to view the story from his or her perspective. But the character of Mose might feel even more real because, as I mentioned above, he is inspired by an actual person.

During my time at The Dallas Morning News, I got to know Corey Borner, who played for his beloved DeSoto Eagles until suffering an injury. Borner is a very inspiring guy who I wrote several stories about – here’s one of them – and we’ve stayed in touch over the years.

No, Corey is not Mosey. But Borner’s spirit, and spirituality, are definitely in Mosey. I’ve told Corey that.

As you’re checking out my book at www.fourthdownintexas.com and the first chapter online, also check out Corey on Twitter @lilcorey_trill.


Read Chapter 1, along with reviews and other information about the book, at https://mattwixon.blogspot.com/2018/09/first-chapter-of-my-novel-fourth-down.html