His team didn't give him that chance tonight. Instead, Colin Mears decided that it was a good opportunity for the first fumbled kickoff of his career. It slipped through his gloved hands and between his legs and skittered backward, rolling all the way down to the five-yard line, and there Spencer Heights recovered. No first and ten from the twenty for Kent tonight; it was first and goal from the five, and his defense was taking the field in front of a suddenly hushed crowd.
The defense held, stuffing three straight running attempts to the strong side, swarming to the ball carrier, and then the crowd was back into it, because holding Spencer Heights to a field goal from that starting position was no small feat.
Only they didn't go for the field goal. They lined up again, going for it on fourth down, and Kent had to admit that while he never would have made that callhe took points whenever he couldhe liked the guts of it. What he didn't like was the way his safeties bit on the subsequent play-action fake, the way they came roaring in expecting another running play as a Spencer Heights receiver glided into the end zone on a seam route and caught the ball untouched.
The crowd was silent again, the Cardinals were down a touchdown, and Colin Mears was going to have his second attempt at catching a kickoff in just a matter of minutes. Kent thought about going to him, then dismissed it. Sometimes you showed your faith through silence.
Colin secured this one, though he didn't do much with the return, and then they had their first down and Lorell McCoy was under center and things were surely about to improve.
They didn't, though. His 100 squad was rattled, and spent the rest of the half proving it. Lorell and Colin misfired on several plays, the Spencer Heights pass rush was better than anybodyincluding Kenthad expected, and late in the second quarter the Cardinals' junior tailback, Justin Payne, fumbled the ball on what should have been a big gain, holding it low and away from his body as he tried to spin away from a tackler. Instead, the ball spun away from himhigh and tight, high and tight! Kent shouted, sick of watching fundamental mistakes at a point in the season when fundamental mistakes should not be madeand then Spencer Heights went to work making them pay for the turnover again. It was 140 at the half, and the home crowd was silent.
Not this year, Kent thought as he walked to the locker room. They had made mistakes, yes, far too many of them, but they were correctable mistakes. They would be corrected, and his team would not lose this football game. As he left the field, Kent's focus was on his own demeanor. Steady stride, steady stare. No pleasure in his face, of course, but no anger, either, no disgust, and above all else, no fear. While some coaches liked to feed players a testosterone-fueled fury, Kent wanted to teach them how to drain it away. The approach he wanted wasn't wild aggression, it was clinical discipline. If you prepared well enough, if you studied and anticipated and understood the opponent, there was no need for fear. When your opponent saw calm, when your opponent saw understanding and preparation, your opponent could not find fear. And so they felt it themselves. In the strength of your will, in your composure, they felt it.
Outside the locker room, the coaches paused for a few minutes, broken up into offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Here they had a brief opportunity for technical adjustments, a chance to look at the charted plays from the first half and consider what wasn't working, and why it wasn't. Once inside, Matt Byers took the first speaking role and started it off by punting an empty Gatorade jug across the room. This was standard fare. Byers was a holdover from the days when Kent himself had played on this field, a thirty-three-year assistant, and to say that his style differed from Kent's was a laughable understatement. Kent was cool precision, Byers was hot emotion. Matt couldand didintimidate the hell out of the kids with furious and profane reactions to mistakes, theatrical demonstrations, and imposing size. They butted heads, sometimes so much so that the rest of his staff took bets on the likelihood of a firing, but in the end, Kent needed Matt. He'd let someone else throw clipboards and scream himself hoarseit delivered a message to the boys, certainly, but what it also did was emphasize the occasions when Kent was the one shouting. Those caught more attention because it was not a constant. Players learned to tune out the consistently raving coaches. When Kent's voice rose, the field went silent fast. That was how he liked it.
Excerpted from The Prophet by Michael Koryta. Copyright © 2012 by Michael Koryta. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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