Bang! Bang! Bang! That's the big metal spoon striking door after door, spreading dread through Burt Reynolds Hall at 5 a.m. Bang! Bang! Bang! That's the traditional wake-up call for Florida State mat drills. Bang! Bang! Bang! Devard could almost hear it four months later as he stood and peered at the door at 3 a.m. on a summer night, because someone else lived there and he could no longer search inside.
There they go, out that door on their final morning together, trudging down those stairs, bludgeoned by fatigue. Into the darkness, onto the dirt road through the construction zone, taking the short walk to Moore Athletic Center.
No time for breakfast or to brush their teeth. No time for more than a few swallows of water. Silence between them, except for Devaughn's one remark: "I can't wait for this to be over and for us to go home for spring break." Devard nods. They enter the trainer's room, where Devaughn gets his sore ankle wrapped. They go upstairs and stretch on the mats in the Rubber Room. The bullhorn shrieks at 5:45. Time for hell.
Devaughn and Devard go separate ways with their position groups. Devaughn completes his first two segments in the gym downstairs. Short sprints, running drills through ropes and agility drills, crouched beneath PVC pipes. The twins pass each other in the hallway between stations. Devard sees the faraway look in Devaughn's eyes. No time to speak or gulp from the water fountain as the coaches hurry the players to their next tasks. Devard touches Devaughn's hand to give him strength.
Devaughn ascends the stairs. Into the fire. Into the Rubber Room, where players form lines of four on the mats, legs pistoning furiously, and at the order or gesture of a coach...hit the floor! Roll left! Roll right! Jump up! Sprint! Again and again, and then once more if anyone in your foursome can't keep up. Peer pressure builds, because no one wants to make his buddies repeat, or get a failing grade and an order to report at 5 a.m. for an extra session back-to-back with a scheduled one. No one wants the coaches to win, to snap his will, because that's the dynamic at work: Us against Them.
No one, most of all Devaughn, who's feeling it happen again: the cramps and the dizziness and then the blackness, the world going dark the way it did the week before, when he vomited and passed out. Quit? Be the weak link? The kid who coded his computer to pipe out the FSU fight song every time he turned it on, the kid who never missed a day of classes in four years of high school, the two-way player they called the Beast in high school because he kept coming back from the dead like a monster in the movies?
Pain rips through his chest. He bends and presses his hands against it. Yes, the coaches have told the players to see the trainers if they're in trouble, but what have the upperclassmen poured into the freshmen? You don't quit mat drills. You can't quit mat drills. They're how we build unity and how we build pros. They're who we are in the fourth quarter on a 90° September Saturday afternoon in Tallahassee. Devaughn begins to stagger, to sway, to gasp to teammates that his chest hurts, that he can't breathe, that he can't see. But he keeps going. The coaches and trainers wall say later that they never heard him, that they wish to God they had, that he looked no worse than other players struggling to finish.
A coach commands Devaughn to hit the floor. He falls forward like a board. He needs help to get up. "Come on!" his teammates cry. "You got to go four quarters!" They clap to try to rally him, they grab his arms and hold him upright and do the drills with him—just as they've done in previous mat drills when he has struggled—never dreaming that they're dragging and exhorting him to his death. His foursome is ordered back to redo a set of drills, and when he falls behind again he's sent back once more, the last man, finishing alone.
In the gym downstairs Devard finishes. No vibe, no sixth sense that his twin's in trouble one floor above. Why? Didn't people say that twins do that in a crisis?
Devaughn staggers to the wall at the end of the drill and drops to his knees. Randy Oravetz, the head trainer, goes to his side and begins to ask him questions. Devaughn's breaths are shallow. He doesn't reply.