Tag: football

A rundown on my 5 books

My full house is complete. 

Two fiction novels and three works of nonfiction. 

And due to work and graduate school, I may not be publishing another book for quite a while, despite having several ideas in mind. Who knows, though? Maybe I’ll have another published in the near future. It’s something I love doing.

So, in the meantime, why not provide a quick video rundown of Trussville, Alabama: A Brief History, Deep Green, Heart of the Plate, Valley Road: Uplifting Stories from Down South, and Ray of Hope?

In the video, I briefly talk about each book, summarizing the plot and letting you know where you can find each. I even profess my feelings for the Atlanta Braves, a tumultuous relationship that I can’t seem to quit.

Please share this post with your friends!

Check out the video below.

My top 10 moments from 2017 high school football season

Postseason lists seem to be popular, so, on a whim, I decided to make my own. 

These are the top 10 moments I experienced from the 2017 high school football season. Please know that these are only stories I wrote from games I attended. I can’t legitimately comment on a game I didn’t attend. 

So here we go.

10. The question mark about Briarwood Christian coming into 2017 was the quarterback position. Replacing William Gray was going to be tough. Michael “Magic Mike” Hiers stepped up to the challenge. Look for a feature on Hiers on http://www.280Living.com soon.

9. Mountain Brook’s Harold Joiner shows how great of a running back he is in the season opener, rushing for 195 yards and four touchdowns against Gulf Shores. One of his scores, a 19-yard touchdown run, included juking a defender and diving for the pylon from four yards out. 

8. Carson Eddy leaves a strong legacy at Briarwood Christian, including a pretty funny nickname. One of his teammates, Carson Donnelly, will beat you at ping pong.

7. The trilogy matchup between Briarwood Christian and Wenonah was supposed to be epic. Instead, the Lions roared.

6. Chelsea fell to 0-6 after a 41-28 loss at Gardendale, but that record meant absolutely nothing. The Hornets fought hard.

5. Mountain Brook scores 25 unanswered points against Huffman in a game the Spartans could have quit on. 

4. It was the only time I saw Hoover in 2017, but the 59-7 win over Oak Mountain showed you everything you needed to know about the Bucs, who went on to win the Class 7A state title.

3. The Spartans fall at Thompson in Class 7A second round, where Taulia Tagovailoa showed how great of a quarterback he is.

2. David Robertson gets hot in the freezing cold to lead Homewood to a thrilling comeback over Fort Payne in the Class 6A playoffs.

1. Pinson Valley and Clay-Chalkville battle in the Class 6A semifinals, a game that meant so much more than a trip to the state championship

That’s my list. What are your favorite moments from the 2017 season?

Communities win Clay-Chalkville, Pinson Valley semifinal game

PINSON — I’ve waited seven years to write this story, and I hope I get it just right.

I have wanted this game for so long, an intra-ZIP-code tilt between the team with the terrorizing defense anchored by the future SEC defensive tackle against the clicking-on-all-cylinders offense led by the future — most likely — SEC quarterback.

I wanted to write about so much more than just the game. I wanted to write about these communities, their people, and what they went through when I covered their tense city council meetings, spoke to their creative writing and journalism classes, and cringed through the words I typed about school lockdowns and teachers arrested for inappropriate relationships with students.

So, here goes.

I became a local news editor here in November 2010, covering Trussville and Clay. Not long after, Pinson was added to that coverage area.

I covered a lot in Pinson, good and bad.

I sat for a couple hours on an uncomfortable couch with an old man in a house on Main Street, talking about the weather records he kept for more than six decades. I wrote about crashes on Highway 75 and Highway 79 that took young lives.

I wrote about an upstart public library that won a grant for a 3-D printer and asked people to come fill out Valentine’s Day cards to be delivered to kids at Children’s Hospital. I covered robberies, burglaries, stolen utility trailers and methamphetamine trafficking.

I watched as a middle school principal was duct-taped, literally, to a hallway column by giddy students who paid one-dollar bills for twelve-inch strips of tape to raise money for office operating expenses. I was yelled at over the phone by the wife of a man I had written about. He had been charged by the sheriff’s office with a horrible, unspeakable crime against children.

I wrote about Pinson Valley High School’s unique art class, which put on a special effects performance one night that both thrilled and horrified me. It was great. I also typed words about a coyote attacking a Dachshund, and a hit-and-run involving a car and a three-hundred-pound pig. Seriously.

I put words in newsprint about a silver pot that cooked a Guinness World Record number of butterbeans. I also had the unfortunate task of reporting on a Pinson church, among others, vandalized with red spray paint scrawled across its front doors.

You’ve had it all, Pinson. Good and bad.

And now your Indians, 14-0 for the first time ever, will play for the Class 6A state championship at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa against Wetumpka. Another first, and potentially the best story to ever come out of your town.

I spoke to a former Pinson City Council member just hours before kickoff. He was ready.

“We are fortunate to have the buzz in our community,” he said. “We’ve never played in December, never won more than nine games in a season. To be able to play your No. 1 rival in this situation is what lifetime memories will be made of for the players, the fans and community. Sometimes just believing in yourself can lift your town, and today Pinson believes.”

Pinson had reason to believe, despite a slow start.

The Clay-Chalkville defense had a lot to do with that. The Indians led 10-7 at halftime, and scored 27 second-half points to win 37-7. Junior quarterback Bo Nix completed 24-of-34 passes for 256 yards. He threw three touchdowns and was intercepted once. Senior Khymel Chaverst rushed 16 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

I asked Pinson Valley head coach Patrick Nix if this game was what high school football was all about — two great teams, separated by just a few miles, playing in the December cold.

“Absolutely,” he said. “The kind of atmosphere it was, you can hardly hear what’s going on on the field with everything going on. It is absolutely what it’s all about. Overall a very clean game against two passionate rivals, teams that on paper and proximity don’t like each other a whole lot but respect each other greatly. I think you saw that in the play and how it was handled tonight.”

I asked Clay-Chalkville head coach Drew Gilmer, a Pinson Valley High School graduate, the same question. It was as if the two head coaches consulted each other on the answer.

“This is what it’s all about,” Gilmer said. “This is what makes it fun. You need two teams like us, so close together, to get to play in an environment like this. It’s good competition. We get after each other a little bit but we have a lot of respect for one another. They do a great job, and we wish them all the luck.”

But before Pinson Valley plays Wetumpka for the blue map Dec. 8 at 7 p.m., we must cover the dynamic between Pinson and neighboring Clay, at least in terms of what I covered for a few years.

I was mostly drawn to both schools’ athletic teams, particularly football. There has been a lot of crossover. Gilmer spent one year as a volunteer coach at Pinson Valley, his alma mater. Cougars offensive coordinator Jon Clements had the same position at Pinson Valley for three seasons. Gene Richardson, on the Clay-Chalkville staff, was the wrestling head coach and an assistant football coach at Pinson Valley for years. Chris Mills, a Clay-Chalkville High School assistant principal, previously served as the offensive coordinator and soccer coach at Pinson Valley.

Pinson has its own ZIP code — 35126. It shares that with Clay, which, due to not having completely set city boundaries, does not have its own. The Clay Post Office came close to shutting down in 2013. When purchases are made from online retailers that require a ZIP code to be entered, some of that revenue goes to the cities with the ZIP code listed — Pinson, and in some cases, Trussville. Clay misses out.

In 2014, Clay-Chalkville High School debuted a swanky new artificial turf football field, which came to be from a partnership between the city and Jefferson County Schools. The city ponied up a couple hundred thousand dollars for the project. Meanwhile, the field at Pinson Valley High School’s campus was overgrown with weeds in some places, just spots of dirt in others. Pinson missed out.

That same year, 2014, Clay-Chalkville went on to complete an undefeated season and won the Class 6A state championship. It didn’t come without struggle. Prior to the season, a promising linebacker died suddenly. A running back’s mother died in the middle of the season. The Winn-Dixie on Old Springville Road closed, an enormous tax revenue hit for the city. The Cougars’ team captain and stellar running back tore his ACL in the playoffs.

That was a lot to overcome. As a city, as a school, as a team. But Clay-Chalkville did it.

Now it’s Pinson Valley’s turn. The Indians have defeated their rivals from Clay three times in a row now, after the Cougars reeled off wins in the first ten matchups. A state championship, especially in football, brings so much positivity to a school, a community.

Just ask Clay-Chalkville High School Principal Michael Lee.

“The significance of a successful athletic program in a school and community is a vital factor in a healthy school environment,” Lee said. “Athletics, along with strong academics and the arts continue to be the backbone of a school and the thing that brings us together in our communities.

“Friday night football is powerful and means so much to so many people. Often times it brings people with nothing in common together. An AHSAA state championship brings pride and a sense of belonging to your school and citizens in the community. It also brings state and national notoriety to your school and the other great programs such as band, cheerleading, and school news groups that other students participate in. The relationships, opportunities and benefits are profound.”

These communities and schools are the real winners from Friday’s Class 6A semifinal game at Willie Adams Stadium, as Lee stated. A packed facility, a tremendous sense of pride, neighboring cities pitted against each other — this is what high school football is all about. And you carried yourselves well, Pinson and Clay.

“The memories run deep with Pinson,” said a former Clay-Chalkville player who was at Friday’s game. “Also, it was fun because everyone always knew everyone. It’s basically the same town. Same ZIP. Same type families. Now that Trussville doesn’t play Clay this has become the team kids look forward to.”

Bring it home, Indians. Regardless of this heated rivalry, I’m willing to bet those you share a ZIP code with will be pulling for you.

I will be, too.

Being a champion

It was quite ironic, the note resting on the corner of his desk. 

I had come to interview the head football coach, to talk about his experiences as a coach in Texas and Alabama. I found out that Matt had made quite a few stops in his career. He was a walk-on wide receiver at the University of North Alabama before becoming a student assistant at the University of Alabama for two years. From there, he headed to Pittsburg State in Kansas as a graduate assistant. He moved to Tennessee to take a job at Carson-Newman University, where he learned to really get to know the hearts of his players. He left from there to head west again, this time to Missouri Southern State University as a wide receivers coach. After two years, he was promoted to offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. That is when his love for high school football was rekindled.

He was assigned to recruit central Texas, a hotbed for star football players. Missouri Southern State’s head coach handed him a huge three-ring binder, full of schools and names. He was instructed to just start calling around, asking high school coaches if they had players worthy of being recruited. The list of schools was arranged alphabetically. Matt closed his eyes, slid his index finger down the first page and landed on a school. He called the head coach, who told Matt that he had a wide receiver that no one was recruiting. He had been one of the most prolific wideouts in the state’s history, but he was short. Matt traveled to Texas a few weeks later on a recruiting trip and met with the coach. There were pictures all over his office. The two had an hourlong conversation, just about life. Matt says it was likely the most genuine conversation he has ever had. Football, in terms of Xs and Os, did not come up.

“There was a heart about it,” he says.

After the visit, Matt, who was single at the time, called his mother to tell her about this coach and how impressive he was. He returned routinely to recruit the area and visit. He went to games with this coach. He stayed at his house instead of a hotel. He learned how important relationships were.

“That relationship just stuck,” he says.

That coach’s son was hired at a Houston-area high school. His choice for offensive coordinator? Matt, who took the job. He spent three seasons there, the first of which included meeting his future wife. They now have two daughters. As his third season as the offensive coordinator came to an end, an opportunity to move back to his home state of Alabama arose. He chose to take it. On his final day in Texas, as he was clearing things from his desk, a piece of paper caught his attention. It was a note from a player.

Matt tells the story from the beginning. He was teaching a weight training class for non-athletes, students who wanted to work out but did not play a school-sponsored sport. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, students in his class went outside and ran. One of his students was five feet, eight inches, maybe one hundred forty pounds. 

“He doesn’t look like a high school football player, especially in the state of Texas,” Matt says.

On one of those running days, the boy ran a forty-yard dash in a very quick 4.5 seconds. Matt asked him if he had ever thought about playing football. He told him that he could run down the field on kickoff coverage, maybe be the team’s twelfth man. The boy had never thought of playing. Matt took him to meet the head coach. The boy’s schedule was changed, and he became a member of the football team. He was never a starter. He practiced mostly on the scout team and played on kickoff coverage, though he did score a touchdown once.

“He was on the team, and it meant a lot to him,” Matt says.

Fast forward to Matt’s last day on the job. He finds the handwritten note on his desk. It reads, with just a couple typos corrected, “Hey coach, you probably weren’t expecting this but I’ve been wanting to tell you for a while. I hope you know you changed my life. Remember when you first recruited me, in weight training? That changed everything. You might not have known but before that happened I was in a lot of trouble, already been in (juvenile detention) and involved with a lot of bad stuff. You changed that you made me feel needed, needed on a football team. I think it was the best decision I have ever made. And you gave me the option, if you didn’t I wouldn’t know where I would be right now.” 

Matt keeps that note to remind him of the relationship side of football. It was on his desk recently because he had shared it with his Alabama team a few weeks prior. He told his players that they could talk to him that way, through a note, if they were not comfortable talking out loud. 

Sometimes, of course, he has to be firm with his players. Recently, he was working on a manifesto, of sorts. It would essentially serve as the football program’s Bible, a set of regulations and expectations every player was required to meet. There were rules for practices, conditioning, weight training, games, playing time, game days, spring training, offseasons, fundraising and, of course, academics. Everything is identified and clearly stated. If the players follow it, then everything else will take care of itself. 

“I used to think that I could motivate a fence post,” he says. “I used to think that. And I have learned that I don’t have all the answers.”

One answer he does have, however, is the message he shares with his team every Friday before games. He tells his players, “Men daily represent qualities associated with courage and strength. Boys make mistakes that men have to fix. So what are you?” It is an attention-grabber. What tough football player wants to be called a boy? On Fridays, this is solely applicable to football. But during the week, this is applicable to life. He wants his players to have courage to do the right things on a daily basis, to have discipline, to put in the work that greatness requires. 

“That’s being a champion,” he says.

As a head football coach, he does not get to spend as much one-on-one time with players as he would as an assistant. He has more administrative responsibilities. This also keeps him away from his wife and two daughters more than he would like. But they make it work. On occasion, his daughters spend time in his office just beyond one of the football stadium’s end zones. They go to practice with him. He wants his daughters to see that he is not missing time at home just for jet sweeps and all-out blitzes. He wants them to see that he is investing in other people’s lives.

“I’m hoping that I can be a good example that not just it’s important to work hard at whatever you do, but let’s make sure that the job we’re doing is investing in other people’s lives,” he says. “My hope and prayer is that my daughters see the investment that I put in other people’s lives, that it teaches them one day to do the same thing.”

Calling all high school coaches, players for new book

I’m calling all high school coaches and former student-athletes for potential inclusion in a new book that I’m working on.

I’m interviewing any and all high school coaches and former student-athletes who have great stories to tell that transcend wins and losses, 40-yard dash times and recruiting. This book will focus on the other side of coaching, the relationship side.

This is not just football. If you’re a baseball coach, I want to hear from you. Same if you’re a basketball, soccer, volleyball, cross country, bowling or hockey coach. Anything.

It could be a coach’s story of helping a kid out in various ways. Maybe the coach toted the kid to and from practice. Maybe he helped with homework. Maybe he floated a player a few bucks here and there for food. Maybe the coach has a specific way of motivating his players that is unique. Anything. Nothing is uninteresting.

So if you are a coach, or know a coach with great stories to tell, have them contact me at garylloydbooks@gmail.com.