SI Vault
H.G. Bissinger
September 17, 1990
The oil-patch town of Odessa, Texas, lives for one thing: the start of the high school football season
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September 17, 1990

Friday Night Lights

The oil-patch town of Odessa, Texas, lives for one thing: the start of the high school football season

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He got into the game in the second quarter and gained four yards on his first carry of the season. He got the ball again, spinning for a gain of two yards, and then he blocked from the tailback position as Comer scored his third touchdown to make the score 28-0 at the half. Comer had already gained 125 yards on nine carries. Boobie had gained six yards on two carries.

In the second half, with a third-and-two at the Abilene 23, Boobie took a handoff and suddenly you could see why Dave Campbell's Texas Football, the bible of high school football in the state, had touted him before the season as one of the 10 best running backs in Texas. He cut up the middle and broke past several tacklers for an eight-yard gain and a first down. The old fire was there again.

But it was only a flash. Several plays later, Boobie left the game limping with a cramp. Permian eventually won 49-0.

To L.V., watching Boobie that night was a harrowing experience. He couldn't help but worry that his nephew would do further damage to his knee, even though the brace provided good protection. Should he let Boobie continue to play for the sake of a major college scholarship? Or should L.V. put the dream in jeopardy by having the major knee surgery done now, before there was more physical and psychological damage?

"High school is important, but this is a stepping-stone," said L.V. "If he gets hurt here...." The thought made L.V. shudder.

Most of the Permian staff, with the notable exception of Hearne, didn't see any dilemma for Boobie. A doctor had given him the option to play, which in the minds of the coaches meant he could play. And all the things that went along with the injury—the psychological blow of becoming a white-shirt substitute, the certainty of major knee surgery after the season, the fluid that had to be drawn from the knee, the fear of getting hit there—were prices Boobie would have to pay. Others had done it. He wasn't the first.

As the coaches discussed Boobie, it sounded as if they were talking about a pro running back with a multimillion-dollar contract, not a high school senior. "I think he can come back," said O'Connell. "It's a mental block. He has blinded himself. His attitude is, If I can't be the center of attention, I don't want to be anything at all. He's not just letting himself down. He's letting the team down, he's letting his uncle down."

"It takes a special kind of kid to overcome an injury like that," said Mike Belew, who coached the running backs. "I don't think he'll do what it takes to be 100 percent."

For L.V, the decision seemed almost impossible to make. "I'd rather hold him out and let him take his chances in college," he said. "If it wasn't the football season, it would be much easier." But L.V knew how much emotion and energy and expectation Boobie had invested in his senior year, how much of Boobie's life, as well as his own, seemed to hinge on those Friday night lights. How long had they waited for their chance?

He decided to let Boobie continue.

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