Coach Lineweaver was the toughest, strongest, scariest man I ever met.
And he loved every single one of us.
His willingness to say whatever he was thinking, his commitment to telling them straight...I guarantee you many of the boys he coached will never be loved like that again in their whole lives. Because that's who he is for young men - an unwavering, rock-solid stand.
Friday Night Lights took place the same year he took us to his first of seven Texas State Championships, at three different schools. He has gone on to become one of the most winning coaches in Texas history. And Texas highschool football is special. A Friday night game might have 20,000 fans in the stands.
Basically, I kept getting hurt, and he didn't feel like I could be in the starting rotation, so he had me as the fourth receiver. I was a senior, so in my head I was like, "m****er-f***er!" After a couple of games, I had taken a long time to think, to plan...I talked to my father, to my mother, and my friends about talking to him about being one of the top two guys. I was petrified...
Real quick (my kids favorite), The Fire Ant Story...
It's 7am. The field, still wet from watering, is starting to boil and steam under us. It's already pushing 95 degrees and will be 110 by the end of morning two-a-days. We're in dark green uniforms baking under the morning sun and my buddy Skinner and I are whining and complaining as we roll and stretch with the team...and now the Texas Red Fire Ants are finding there way into our uniforms..."F**k!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Obviously, this is not cool and we are starting to get loud in our complaining, disrupting the morning rhythm of the team. Out of the corner of my eye I see Coach Lineweaver coming towards us...shit! My heart rate is picks up. The ants are burning and aggravating an already uncomfortable morning. Coach Lineweaver walks right up to Skinner and I, quickly assesses the situation...standing...he just looks at us...says nothing...bends down...picks up a handful of Texas Red Fire Ants in his bare hand....................and puts them in his freaking mouth!...............And, starts chewing em!..........he keeps looking at us right in the eyes while chewing.........and then walks off.
We shut up, wipe off the ants best we can, block out the discomfort and keep stretching...
We had to have the toughness as a team to slam through 16 straight wins and a state championship against at least five teams much more talented than us.
So, nobody calls meetings with Coach Lineweaver.
And somehow I mustered the courage and I had the real belief that I was a top two guy. Despite a few things...
Yeah, I had had two hamstring pulls, a broken finger, an ankle sprain, a sprained sternum & a bad back...
Did I mention I really believed I was a top two guy?
I remember gaining momentum in practices. There was a great long pass and I knew everyone was watching and I dropped it. I was pissed, running full-speed and I threw down my arms. My right hand hit my heel and I broke my thumb. Pouting! I can still see Coaches' reaction, right now.
He wanted me to be a top two guy, and I was good. And there I was injured again for another two weeks.
And yet...I made my case. The meeting was on Saturday.
Coach Lineweaver said, "I will consider it, here's the next things to do. You have to be in two hours early for film study. Come to earlier, 5am practice with the starters."
To this day, I do not know what happened that Sunday. My alarm was set, I ate a good meal the night before. I was inspired and I was excited. And not only did I not get up two hours early, not only did I not get up on time, I slept thru the entire normal practice and film. I slept thru it! I just f*ing slept thru the whole thing.
So, it gets worse. I get up totally distraught, my heart's beating, I'm sweating, I'm panicked, hop in my car, and rush down to the field house.
I wasn't close to him like my Dad, but this was a man that I very much wanted to follow. I deeply wanted to contribute to him and be a part of what he was doing. I was playing in the games, but I was eager to be a part of the bigger picture.
I'll never forget. He walked out of his office, and he just looked at me. He didn't say anything, he didn't yell at me, he didn't berate me, he just looked at me, shook his head subtly and walked off to what he had to do. And I was completely devastated. And wasn't even sure I could trust myself.
In California-land we offer kids other chances. Not there, not then.
The fact that I even held the meeting, and the fact that he even said yes, was significant. It was understood in that culture, it was a huge olive branch he had granted me, and I blew it.
Fast forward ten games, I busted my ass every single day in every area I could, just to stay part of the team in any way I could. Hoping to gain some trust back in my own heart. I caught passes here and there, made little contributions, but ultimately they were little in the scheme of our team's success.
I want to indulge in all the little details, but I won't. When we beat the number one ranked team in the state of Texas in Dallas Cowboys Stadium half way through the playoffs, I was happy to just be a part of the team, little or big contribution.
At 15-0, heading into the Texas championship game at Baylor University Stadium, we were abnormally struggling on the first few possessions on offense to move the ball and things were getting tense. On our third possession, we faced 3rd down & 15. By divine intervention, Coach Lineweaver calls my favorite play 16 Jet Slide while I'm in the huddle...I remember thinking this must be an accident, I'm sure he doesn't want me in this position at such a pivital moment in the game, he must really want someone else in here.
As I lined up, I remember thinking, "well I'm sure the ball won't come my way anyways he must be thinking someone else will be open"...low and behold I'm wide open and The MVP of the State of Texas Quarterback Mike Uldrich throws a perfect throw that anyone could have caught...the roar of the tens of thousands of fans and the energy of the tens of thousands more listening on radio etc.. has stayed with me forever, forever, forever...
At that moment, the neural pathways in my brain permanently set up a pattern for contribution, fulfillment and adding value in a team setting - even if I screw up major along the way or let my leader down. As I ran to the sideline with the crowd still roaring, coach was busy calling the next play but for a brief moment he made eye contact with me and maybe even a tiny crack of the beginnings of a grin started to appear.
That drive ended in our first touchdown of the night and the momentum carried us on to a huge win, and 16-0 Season. It was the first Texas State Championship for the Southlake Carroll Dragons, now one of the top 10 high school football programs in the country. Second chances are real. Whenever I can assist anyone at truly experiencing a second chance at whatever stage of life they are at, I will be there to set them up like Coach Lineweaver did when he believed in me.