There are two football pregame talks from Coach Paul Lane that still give me the goosebumps. Quote number one was from the very first Friday game of the Paul Lane Era at CCCHS in 2000. We were home against Beloit. I remember right before the National Anthem, with all the team and coaches in the south end zone, Coach Lane tell the boys how special it is to be right here, right now, getting the opportunity to play football.
“This is Friday night in America. ”
(After starting that first season with my head spinning, feeling way out-of-place, I knew right then I was working for the absolute right coach. I knew right then I would work my butt off to justify him taking a big chance to hire me.)
Pregame talk number two was the last game of the 2007 season. We had to win a district football game on the road at perennial powerhouse Holton Wildcats in order to make the playoffs. We had a rough week leading up to this game. Two starters suspended, a couple hurt and/or hurting and two seniors quit the team because I asked them to play scout team offense in practice. We were underdogs on a good day and with all this other stuff, the dog was going even further under. So, we loaded up the bus and headed to Holton. After we arrive, Coach Lane has a relaxed air which pervades the entire team. We go through our pregame preparations at Holton High School Stadium, one of the most underrated and often maligned high school atmospheres in the state of Kansas (I loved that playing in that old stadium). I know it is not macho to describe a football game as “happy”, but it was just a “happy” atmosphere. In the locker room, right before heading out for kickoff, Coach Lane lets these fly to the boys:
“The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.” -Earl of Beaconsfield
You could just see the kids who were starting their first varsity football game sit a little taller, breathe a little easier and transform into varsity football players. Then he addresses the team again:
“They don’t write children’s books to teach children that dragons exist…They write children’s books to teach children the DRAGONS CAN BE KILLED.”
The kids just sat there for a second. The words began to sink in. Then a determined group of football players strap on their helmets, walk to the field and compete with purpose, pride and passion. Holton eventually wore us down for a couple late 4th quarter touchdowns to win. I know we lost, I know parents, fans and administrators were disappointed, but I have never been more proud of a group of kids after a game as I was walking with those boys off that particular field on that particular night. I will never forget that feeling. The very essence of what high school sports are all about.