I watched for the snap out of the corner of my eye. As I guessed, Kelly moved at me lazily. I caught him under the chin with my forearm and moved him back. We went at it three times. Second time it was a dogfight, but I got through again. On the third, I lost my footing and tripped over Coffee's leg. I went face down in the dirt. As I started back toward the end of the line, Mr. Cantrell barked out, "Hey you, stay in there!" He hadn't done that with anyone else.
Now I was up against Converse and Urias. Converse was a good end, but Urias was a cream puff. I worked on Urias, and he was easy.
Cantrell called out, "What's your name?" I told him. He nodded and I walked away.
It was a long practice. At the end I saw Coach Miller, our head coach, standing by the wooden footbridge that ran across the creek. As I approached, he looked up with just a touch of a smile on his face. "Coach Cantrell says you were getting in some pretty good licks out there today." I shrugged. His smile stayed there. "Going out for tackle?" This time I nodded. "We've got some pretty big tackles," he said.
I don't know what made me say it, but I felt good when the words came out. "Powers is fat and Martin's dumb."
His smile broadened a little. "Well, we'll be watching you," he replied. I walked on across the old bridge.
Two weeks later we were out at the rodeo grounds where we played our home games. Late in the first quarter, they helped Martin off the field. He was dazed and had blood running from his nose. Then I heard that one magic word. Coach Miller was calling my name.
My dad was up there in the stands, while across from me a moonfaced farm boy got down into a crouch. We looked at each other. "I'm gonna beat you," I said softly. And that was when the clock started ticking on the happiest day.