Tucker’s Turf

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With the changes we are making at the Monitor, I am moving to the sports desk full time, and I’ll be writing a sports-oriented column most weeks – my first journalism heroes were sports writers: the likes of Blackie Sherrod, Randy Galloway, Jim Dent and Gary Cartwright.

As we enter the first week of August, it’s time for high school athletes to face the dog days of summer and begin preparations for the upcoming season.

You need to understand this is not just about football: volleyball programs are already deep into practices for their matches in the coming months as are marching bands, cheerleaders, cross country teams, mascots, dance lines and flag corps teams. Each group has to put in hours to be the best they can be.

My introduction to high school football, playing it, came in the summer of 1966. I grew up in Southeast Dallas – Pleasant Grove to be exact – and I attended W.W. Samuell High School. Before starting two-a-days in August with the coaches, we knew we had to gather at Umphress Park across the street from Hawthorne Elementary School to work out, starting the first of July.

When August arrived, we had real two-a-days from 7 a.m. to at least 10 a.m. and back again from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. I will never forget getting to the green water hose first to grab a drink after the first day of workouts in pads. You would have thought I had just crossed the Sahara desert from the way I inhaled that warm water from a garden hose.

My teammates were incoming sophomores to Samuell, Class of 1969. We only had grades 10 – 12 in our high schools at that time (back in the 1960s, ninth grade was the last year of junior high). We did not have a JV, we had a “B” team made up entirely of sophomores.

It was nerve-wracking to face those upperclassmen who led the early workouts under the watchful eyes of our soon-to-be coaches. You wanted to impress those seniors, but you really tried to catch a coach’s glance. I impressed the coaches so much I was the last quarterback on the depth chart (fourth string, if you will). But I did get to be the scout team quarterback. That simply meant I got to run the weekly opponents offense against our starting defense. It didn’t matter because I was proud to put on my blue and gold Spartan jersey even if I got splinters from the bench. To this day, I wouldn’t trade for the experience.

Our helmets were relics from the past and did little to protect us. We were taught to keep our heads up and drive through an opponent’s chest on defense. Compared to today, injuries were not that common. What is a concussion today our coaches called “getting your bell rung.” We learned if your shoulders were not bloody after practice or a game, you were not doing your best on defense.

I grew up going to high school football games (Samuell Spartans and Pleasant Grove Bobcats), college (SMU and TCU) games and I was a proud member of the Young Dallas Cowboys and Young Dallas Texans from 1960 to 1963.

It’s true if you grow up in Texas, you know Friday nights are for high school football. I am looking forward to Aug. 31 and the opening kick-off of the high school season. Please don’t hesitate to call or email me with your have ideas for stories – or to razz me when I goof up.

Is this the year Quitman gets that first win (and I believe they will) to break the losing streak? Is it the season Mineola jumps back as an elite playoff team like we saw in 2016? Will Alba-Golden’s experience and talented quarterback Zane Smith lead the Panthers back to the playoffs?

Stay tuned, we will have it all in the pages of the Monitor.

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