- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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James Wright has been around football the better part of his life. At 66, he's been coaching for 38 years, the last nine at Hughes. He won a state championship with Rison, was a runner-up with Lakeside and Gould, and also coached at Marked Tree and Fouke. Short and stubby, he has a blocky head that's covered by a faint swirl of white hair and eyes that look as if they've been squinting for the last 40 years. He's easygoing and has a host of self-deprecating sayings. For example: "My wife's smart--'bout the only dumb thing she ever did was marry me."
Wright doesn't understand why the kids don't want to come out. "When I was growing up, if you didn't play football, you weren't anything," he says, echoing the lament of Gary Williams at EPC. "You couldn't get a date. You had to play football."
You can tell he's lost some of his passion. Part of it is his right knee. Five years ago he tore something while trying to get out of the way of a halfback sweep.
Each summer he meant to have surgery, but he never got it done, so he carried crutches in his car and dragged that leg when he walked. (He is scheduled for surgery this week.) He has thought about making this his last season, just teach next year, but there's not enough money in the school budget for both a history teacher and a football coach.
Wright, who lives in a big brick house on the eastern edge of town, is often asked if, like many longtime residents, he plans to leave Hughes. "Why?" he says. "I go to the pharmacy, and he knows what I take and everything my wife takes. I go to the grocery store, and if I forget a check, they charge it to me. Go to the bank, and they give you anything. I know all the cops; all the kids know me. Why would we want to leave when everybody knows us?"
THIRD QUARTER, 4:12 to play
Smith does it again. EPC had stopped him on three consecutive plays, then he broke off a 53-yarder on fourth-and-seven to make it 54--40. Again Coach Meek feels the game slipping away. And again Hardin answers. He runs for a touchdown (EPC gets stuffed on a two-point try) and, after the Warriors grab the onside kick (their third recovery in eight tries), drives the team again. All night Hardin has been reading the corners, running a play called 94 in which the inside receiver runs a flag and the outside receiver runs a hitch. If the corner comes up, Hardin throws the flag; if he doesn't, he throws the hitch. This time he zips a screen pass to Bucky Chamberlin, a tall sophomore receiver, and now it's 54--52.
Hardin jogs to the sideline for a short breather--as safety, QB and return man, EPC kickoffs are the only time he comes off the field--and is greeted enthusiastically by a short, slight player in oversized shoulder pads who has tucked pads into his socks to give the appearance of calves. Hardin gives him a high five, and in return senior Gus Johnson whops Hardin on his helmet, then lets out a celebratory whoop.
Dusty Meek grew up watching games in Lepanto, then went on to play linebacker for the team after it became EPC. His senior year, 1995, he was class salutatorian, and the Warriors won their first conference championship. Now, a decade later, he's back. Although the losing has worn on him, Meek looks young for 28, with kind eyes, short dark brown hair and a wide face. He prides himself on being professional, on building a program the right way. Before the season he bought a host of signs for the locker room, among them: THOSE WHO EXPECT TO WIN HAVE ALREADY BEGUN TO CONQUER and TRADITION NEVER GRADUATES.
Williams, the school principal, backs Meek, but neither Williams nor anyone else disputes that it's been a rough year. "Everybody at school makes fun of us for not winning," says Chamberlin, the sophomore receiver, "but I don't think they understand how hard it is to win with 15 players."