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THAT SENIOR SEASON
Bil Gilbert
November 14, 1977
A nostalgic visit to a Michigan town, where the author follows the high school team and has old memories rekindled
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November 14, 1977

That Senior Season

A nostalgic visit to a Michigan town, where the author follows the high school team and has old memories rekindled

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Steve Hunt has developed a personal style for running this drill. Despite his size, he's the second-fastest man on the team, only a shade slower than Noel. However, the big lineman shows off his speed only once in each circle drill. Normally, he lopes along just fast enough to prevent anyone from catching him from behind, but once in each set he turns it on, sprints the whole way, sometimes catching nearly everyone else. The last man he passes, he shoves hard and knocks flat. Neither the flattened player nor anyone else complains about Hunt's private game. Being flattened occasionally is the unavoidable consequence of having a horse like Hunt on your team.

Watching one of the hot afternoon practices is the large father of a small underclassman who, it has already become apparent, will be no more than an occasional reserve. This is probably the reason the father, an ex-player, is sour. "How do you expect to have a team if they don't work up a sweat?" he says. "When I was playing, those coaches worked us until our tails dragged. Games were nothing after our practices. How are they going to hit in a game if they don't sweat in practice?"

As the practices continue, it develops that Tom Bowyer, a junior, is probably going to be a starter on the offensive line. Bowyer is a 200-pounder, but he appears to be more chubby than muscular, and he looks very young. He is quiet but candid when asked about his assignment.

"Mostly I'm frightened," he says.

"You mean about playing in a varsity game?"

"I guess I'm nervous about that, but I'm frightened by Steve Hunt. I have to play across from him in every scrimmage. I've been frightened for three weeks."

Vicksburg's opener is an away game against South Haven, a semi-resort community on Lake Michigan, 40 miles to the west. The Kalamazoo Gazette, the daily paper that serves southwestern Michigan, has picked the South Haven Rams to win the Wolverine Conference, and it makes the Rams 13-point favorites over the Vicksburg Bulldogs.

The final school period each Friday is set aside for a pep rally. It is held in the gymnasium and attendance is obligatory. "Football and the football spirit help bring the school together," says John MacDonald, the Vicksburg principal and himself a former player and coach. "It is a fact that we have fewer discipline problems during football season. It gives the whole school something to be excited about, and it is stimulating in a constructive way. Another thing, you seldom have serious discipline problems with varsity athletes. They can be wild and rowdy, but they are seldom malicious."

"Maybe because everybody, especially coaches, is trying to keep them out of trouble so they can play?"

"There may be some of that, but I think it is more that sports appeal to boys who have a little self-discipline. They have to be motivated to show up every day for practice, give up some of their individual freedom to achieve a collective goal."

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