"Our boys run on heart," says Judith N. Wooten, a psychologist at the school. "And because they run on heart, they're more easily beaten than a typical team is—defeat, you see, is something they know, it's familiar. We've watched them at times, trying to gut out a win, when their exhaustion is emotional as well as physical. Most of them don't even have the capacity to dream beyond this place and this moment. It's not like they're running for something out there in the future. They're running because today is the game, and the game is all there is."
Brown has high hopes for this year's team. The Indians are 4-0 entering the Trinity Christian game, and the coach is confident his boys will win it and go all the way to the state title. "We're ready," he says. "If we can stop their passing game, we'll beat 'em by 28, 35 points. It should be a close game until half, then we'll take over."
"Coach Brown is a fine, Christian man," says Barry Morgan, the Trinity Christian coach, who's won four state championships in the last six years. "And he may be right, they might beat us. But I expect a tough ball game, and by the second half we'll have worn them down. That's what I remember happening last year. That, and we had three kids with ice packs just from getting beat up. Those Giddings boys play hard, and they always play classy. Short guys and kind of muscular, always moving in a single line, real polite. When you look at them, you think, Why are you here? What did you do? Except for that, they're just kids like all the rest."
Not everyone who looks at the Giddings boys sees them as kids like all the rest. Some see them as criminals who gave up their right to play sports in the free world the moment they committed their crimes. In 1996, after the Indians won the state championship in track, a group of coaches at rival institutions mounted a campaign to boot Giddings from the league. Their boys were scared, the coaches said. It was also wrong to allow convicted felons to compete in a league with kids whose closest brush with crime was sneaking a beer on Saturday night. "Our kids are afraid the boys from Giddings are going to pull a knife out of their pocket and do something during the game," says Andy Bonheyo, coach at the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin. "They ask me all the time, 'Can that happen?' How am I supposed to answer? I don't want to sound like a crybaby, but it bothered me when Giddings won the state championship in track. It's hard to put in the right words, but the bad boys coming up as winners? It sends a conflicting message to the good kids."
Pat Henke, coach at a Catholic school in Hallettsville, says parents complain to him all the time about having to play Giddings. "The reason they send their kids to a private school in the first place is to get away from people like that," Henke says. "I don't mind telling you, our girls feel uneasy when the boys from Giddings are around. We tell them not to go anywhere by themselves. I wouldn't want one of our girls going by herself to the rest room because who knows what's going to happen?"
Trinity Christian coach Morgan, for one, can't understand why there's been so much opposition to having Giddings play in the league, especially from so-called Christian schools that should be espousing forgiveness. Besides, Morgan argues, on the field the Giddings players are good sports and better disciplined than many of the players at the nonstate schools. "Our kids need to be exposed to kids like the ones at Giddings," he says. "The league took a vote last year on whether Giddings and Gainesville [Giddings's biggest rival, a state school predominantly for nonviolent offenders] should play, because they're not private or parochial schools, but my question is, If we don't let them play with us, where do they go? The public schools aren't going to take them. These guys need athletics. For some of them, that's all they have. I consider it a ministry for us to play them. And I like our kids hopefully rubbing off on them in a positive way."
On Friday at 1 p.m. Brown and Ward and their boys leave Giddings in a yellow school bus packed two to a seat, headed at last for Trinity Christian and their showdown with Morgan's top-ranked squad. They drive north on I-35 through Austin, Temple and Waco and arrive in Addison after nearly seven hours on the road. What they find there is a world so different from their own that it sends a hard chill through some players and leaves others speechless. "They got themselves a real nice place here," Matuzek says as he steps off the bus at Trinity Christian, his eyes wide with nervous anticipation.
"We got to stay focused," says Richard Hayes, 18, the quarterback. "We'll get distracted if we look too long at all the people and the scoreboard."
Trinity Christian seems to have a big everything. It has a drill team and a band. It has cheerleaders, most of them girls. Its stadium is named for Tom Landry, the former Dallas Cowboys coach who served for years on the school's board of directors. Tonight the academy is celebrating its homecoming, and fans are arriving in droves. Many of them seem dressed for church, their perfume commingling with the smell of barbecue smoke. At halftime four new convertibles, each a different color, will parade the members of the homecoming court around the playing field on a red track marked with white race lanes. In its 20 years of football Giddings has never had a homecoming. Who gets sentimental about returning to the place where he was locked up?
"Coach, I got to Five-O," says one Giddings boy.