Everyone has favorite years in their lives. Mine centered around football; my junior year in high school when we went to the Maryland State Championship, my senior year in college, and 1992, when I was coaching at Gardner Webb University and we played for the NAIA National Championship.
I began coaching as soon as I was done playing football in 1988. Well, I took a little detour first, basically failing all of my classes my senior year after football was over for me. Every fall for 14 years, I played football, and the prospect of being without the game that I loved messed with my head so badly that I went from a body weight of 245 to 189 in a few months, punishing myself in some warped way because I would never play again. So I failed out and went home to Maryland. But that was no good. I was living at home, a 20-something grown man living with his parents. After a summer of working at a golf course, I came to the realization that I better get my shit together, and graduate college. So I went back to Gardner Webb University and apologized to all my advisors and then volunteered to coach football. I did it for no money, but I had to be around football. I worked; delivering pizzas, clearing land, and odd jobs. Clearing land for my pharmacist buddy was the best one.
He would say, Ed was his name, Ed would say, dig a trench from here to there, and lay that PVC pipe down in it. I'll be back in a few hours.
He was building a new house and he had a spread: Around 20 acres of land with a pond and woods to hunt. He would pay me 10 bucks an hour. I'd go to the convenience store when I got off work and buy some fine-cut Kodiak and then go to the beer store (coldest beer in town! The sign read) and buy some long-neck Bud. Or if I was really broke, some Milwaukee's Best.
I was never known for making smart decisions, but I was smart enough to know that I could not work a "real job" and also coach football. I started coaching in 1989 as an assistant defensive line coach and worked my way up to head defensive line coach and head strength coach by 1992.
1992 was magical. I had a great defensive line that I worked with every day. I had some tough, hard-nosed country kids that would run through a brick wall if I asked them to. I was tough on them. We came out to practice 30 minutes before everyone else, and in the North Carolina heat, we did bag drills and we did full-speed blocking drills and we ran and we hit some more. If one player even grazed a bag, the whole group started all over after some grass drills. It wasn't about the bags.
In football, you do stuff for team camaraderie, for toughness, for making the players realize that they must work together or they will suffer together. I also wanted them to be in such great shape that they never got tired in a game. I had Gabe Wilkins, who started for the Packers for a few years as one of my defensive ends. He was 6'5 and 300 pounds and ran a 4.6 for the pro scouts. I used to tell him to run people over and he could do it every time. And then there was Lance, BA (9 sacks in 3 playoff games), Chappell, Chicken man, Clay, and Brad all of them were tough as nails. These kids were all southern kids, most were country kids, and most understood authority and respected it and fucking listened. In these families, the father's word was law, or if there wasn't a father around, it was Momma who you respected above all else. Or you got the belt or something worse. I hunted with them and hung out with them. A few, I drank with, like BA and Lance. We were close friends and hell, Lance lived with me. Somehow, maybe because they were all mature, I could be a dick on the field to them and we always left it on the field. And I could be a real dick.
We went undefeated in the conference that year, and it was magical. I loved those guys, and although I was tough on them, I looked forward every single day to coaching them. Back then, we didn't follow many rules, hell, I didn't know what half the rules were. For instance, every Thursday night, I had the defensive line over to my spartan apartment to eat and hang out. BA's mom and her friend would drive down from Hickory, North Carolina to feed us. She used to bring me a fifth of Evan Williams and some Sundrop ( like Mountain Dew) and she and I would stand in the kitchen and drink and talk. The boys would eat and we would watch some television and just talk about everything. Damn, those are good memories.
I have so many stories from back then. Some, I would not tell because I'm not sure of the statute of limitations of the particular actions that went on.
We lost the National Championship that year, but it doesn't matter. It was a great year and great memories. Maybe the best memory was when it was a 4th down in the playoffs and Concord was driving to score and they went back to pass to throw a touchdown to win the game, and good old Lance, my roommate, and he of the multiple knee surgeries, hustled and waddled like a madman and sacked the quarterback to win the game. It was amazing, the determination that he showed. I can see it now. I was crying so hard that I could barely address the guys after the game. I was so proud of them.