Knights of the Hill Country

Knights of the Hill Country

3.8 20
by Tim Tharp

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In a small Oklahoma town, one star linebacker must decide what kind of man he wants to be--both on and off the field.
Welcome to Kennisaw--where Friday night high school football ranks right up there with God and country, and sometimes even comes in first. This year, the Kennisaw Knights are going for their fifth straight undefeated season, and if they succeed,… See more details below


In a small Oklahoma town, one star linebacker must decide what kind of man he wants to be--both on and off the field.
Welcome to Kennisaw--where Friday night high school football ranks right up there with God and country, and sometimes even comes in first. This year, the Kennisaw Knights are going for their fifth straight undefeated season, and if they succeed, they'll be more than the best high school team in the eastern Oklahoma hill country--they'll be legends.

But the Knights' legacy is a heavy weight to carry for Hampton, linebacker and star of the team. On the field, he's so in control you'd think he was able to stop time. But his life off the field is a different story. His father walked out on him and his mom years ago, and now his mom has a new boyfriend every week. He's drawn to a smart, quirky girl at school--the type a star athlete just isn't supposed to associate with. And meanwhile, his best friend and teammate Blaine--the true friend who first introduced Hampton to football back when he had nothing else--is becoming uncomfortably competitive, and he's demanding Hampton's loyalty even as Hampton thinks he's going too far.

This unforgettable novel is the story of a boy whose choices will decide the kind of man he becomes, and raises powerful questions about sportsmanship, loyalty, and the deceptiveness of legends.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - John D. Orsborn
Hampton Green can stop time. At least that's how he describes his amazing abilities as a linebacker for the Kenisaw Knights football team. A local hero and star, Hampton is only comfortable on the football field. Dependent on his best friend and Knight's star running back Blaine Keller, Hampton never thought about his future. That is, until he meets Sara Reynolds, better known at school as "Bush Girl." For Hampton, she is a breath of fresh air. Yet he is reluctant to show who he really is, especially as Blaine's promising football career is slowly disintegrating due to a knee injury from the previous season. A fifth straight undefeated season in Oklahoma high school football is at stake for the Knights. For Blaine and Hampton it is the chance to leave Kenisaw. Author Tim Tharp creates a believable, lovable character in Hampton Green. Like so many football tales, this is a story about the promise of release due to football success, and the emptiness of life without football. However, unlike many of the movies, Mr. Tharp has created realistic characters. Hampton is not particularly smart but can get by. He is not a complex character, but there is depth, which comes through in the interesting detail and dialogue. The character Sara, unlike many female characters in such stories, is not out to be a savior of the dumb jock, but rather sees value in Hampton. This is an excellent story with an amazing climax, and a good addition to any middle or high school library.
A football story from Oklahoma, set in a small town that lives for its high school team. The narrator is Hampton Green, the star linebacker, who is so humble it hurts. He and his mother have been barely functioning since Hamp's father abandoned them; they live in a rental house on the poor side of town, and Hamp is totally dependent on the attention of Blaine's family, who has nurtured his interest in football. Blaine is the quarterback, but an injury is keeping him from a college scholarship and his rage is hurting the team. So the story is as much about a friendship that is confining as it is about football. Hamp's life is improving. His mother is dating an interesting, good man. But the town gossip is that this man once betrayed them when he quit the football team abruptly a generation ago. Finally Hamp gets the true story about that so-called betrayal, which gives him a new way to look at the traditions of his town. Hamp makes a new friend, Sara, which is evolving into a romance, even though Blaine ridicules her. Hamp is of course troubled when his loyalty to Sara conflicts with his closeness to his best friend. There is plenty of football action; but essentially the story is about an outgrown friendship and Hamp's gradual belief in his own skills and intelligence. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2006, Random House, Knopf, 233p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Teachers don't recognize his smarts, he struggles with his mother's unsuccessful romantic relationships, and he is unsure of himself around girls, but when senior football star Hampton Green is on the field, everything clicks. His Oklahoma team, the Kennisaw Knights, has a five-year winning streak they are trying to take to the record books by securing the state championship one more time. Hampton's best friend, Blaine, has a shallow relationship with the prettiest girl in school and tries to drag Hampton into a similar stereotypical dating scene. Hampton, however, finds himself attracted to self-assured, intelligent Sara, whom Blaine says is not good for his image. As the championship unfolds, things get tense, and Blaine drags Hampton into a confrontation with an enemy from the opposing team, during which Blaine pulls a gun and Hampton must finally assert himself. The teen's voice comes in loud and clear, revealing a sensitive, likable character. Hampton's budding romance with Sara is touching and adds an interesting dimension. The conquering of insecurities and gradual self-realization Hampton experiences are reminiscent of Bert Bowden in Terry Davis's If Rock and Roll Were a Machine (Delacorte, 1992), and readers will root as much for his team as for Hampton to be true to himself. The dynamic football scenes will draw readers who enjoyed H. G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights (Da Capo, 2000). The cover's hazy silhouette of a football player reflects the strong character inside who will eventually bring his own hazy life into focus.-Diane P. Tuccillo, City of Mesa Library, AZ Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Kennishaw Knights personify Oklahoma hill country, where guys play football, drink beer, talk about sex (but not love), and players seek local immortality by achieving a fifth straight undefeated season. Tharp unveils the anger, frustration and uncertainty covered up by the Knights' swagger. Star linebacker Hampton Green is a force on the field but finds himself kowtowing to Blaine, the team's cocky running back. Narrating the story, Hampton feels like Blaine's henchman, someone there to carry out the boss's erratic orders. Loyalty prevents him from distancing himself from his lifelong friend. Blaine, desperately pursuing glory and playing George to Hampton's Lenny, charges into reckless decisions assuming Hampton will always have his back. Jealousy, rage and tenderness are wrapped around the story's core theme of self-discovery. An excess of down-home similes ("squirming like a bunch of copperheads on hot asphalt") is a minor drawback. However, this intriguing work demands an audience. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
“JEALOUSY, RAGE, AND tenderness are wrapped around the story’s core theme of self-discovery. . . . This intriguing work demands an audience.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“The teen’s voice comes in loud and clear, revealing a sensitive, likeable character. . . . Readers will root as much for his team as for Hampton to be true to himself. The dynamic football scenes will draw readers who enjoyed H. G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights.”—School Library Journal

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Random House
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
6 - 9 Years

Read an Excerpt


I done it. I stopped time.

Every single player on that football field locked up stiff as them wax figures they got over in the Pawtuska Wild West Wax Museum. Made quite a picture, the stadium lights blazing overhead like fractured stars and the football froze slick and hard as a rocket against the night sky, our outside linebacker's fingers stretching just an inch too short to do a thing but let it fly over. I had to admit it was a thing of pure beauty, that pass, even if it was the enemy quarterback that thrown it. Tight spiral. Perfect arc. That boy had talent. But, sorry to say, it wasn't going to be enough. Not with me freezing time like I could.

Course, time didn't really stop. I didn't wave no magic wand or poof out a cloud of fairy dust or crank up some science-fiction machine with spinning gears and flashing lights on it. Thing was, I'd focus so hard that I'd squinch everything down so it seemed like time froze just long enough for me to look and see what I'd have to do next. That was my talent, the one and only thing I knew how to do better than anyone else around.

I had me this math teacher one time back in junior high, Mr. Moon, told me it was too bad they'd passed them child labor laws 'cause I'd do a lot more good hauling coal up out of a mine twelve hours a day than I done wasting desk space in his classroom. Big, redheaded dumb jock, that's all he seen, and he wasn't the only one probably neither. But none of them folks knew what went on in my head. Not one had the least idea who the real me was.

The scene whirled back up to full speed, and over by the sideline, the ball snapped right into the Wynette receiver's hands. Our little old Vietnamese cornerback, Tommy Nguyen, grabbed at the receiver's jersey, but he couldn't get ahold of it firm and spilled off to the side. Poor Tommy. That was bound to earn him a good chunk of grief at practice on Monday. After that, number eighty-eight tucked the ball under his arm, juked, and zigzagged into the open. Had him twenty-five yards of open pasture clean to the end zone, and I knew he was thinking surefire touchdown. He was thinking, I'm the hero now, buddy boy. Nothing left but to figure out which way I'm gonna spike the ball and dance around the goalpost.

One problem. Old eighty-eight had no way of guessing I'd done predicted every one of them moves before he even seen he was going to make them his own bad self. I aimed at just the right angle to cut him off and charted my route so perfect, all your math geniuses with every protractor and compass in the world couldn't have mapped it out better. His reputation as an all-state sprinter didn't make an ounce of difference and neither did the fact that he'd scored him something like a sixty-yard touchdown in the game before this one. I had me the perfect angle and just enough speed so that at the exact right moment, I launched through the air, a high-powered torpedo straight on target, and--bam!--I slammed into him broadside, both of us crashing hard into the ground, dirt flying up in my face and chalk dust stinging my nostrils.

Getting up to my feet, I had just about every teammate of mine on the sideline slapping my back, telling me, "Good tackle. Attaboy, Hamp, you killed that sucker--attaboy, attaboy, Hamp." The stands flat-out boomed with cheers. But eighty-eight, he was still laying on his back, this kind of stunned look glazing over his eyes behind his face mask. He looked about like a lost little first grader down there. I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. He come so close to being the hero. It was like he'd tried on a new outfit and seen how good it looked and everything, and then someone come along and told him he had to put it back on the rack. Poor guy. I reached my hand down and he took it, and after helping him pull hisself up, I slapped him on the butt and sent him back off across the field.

Big mistake.

"Hampton!" It was my buddy Blaine Keller barking at me. He strictly plays offense, so he had his helmet off and his black hair was pasted to his forehead, the black slashes of war paint under his eyes starting to run some from the sweat. "Don't give your hand to the enemy like that. This is a battle, son. Don't ever give your hand to the enemy during a battle."

He meant business too. You could tell by the way the sparks flared up in his brown eyes. He wasn't faking. He was mad. I jogged back to the defensive huddle, feeling like I'd had the air half let out of me. Tell you what, Coach Huff and his assistants was some of the best coaches in Oklahoma--and I figured you might as well throw Texas in there too. Everything about them was polished and sharp as a new pair of scissors--their clothes, their hair, and their orders most of all. But they was always distant, up on another level looking down. Blaine was my best friend, my brother almost, and his words cut deeper than anyone else's.

He was right, I thought. That always was my shortcoming right there. Too much sympathy. It was like Blaine used to tell me, "Feeling sorry for folks never won no football games."
This wasn't any time to go weak neither. This was a time a guy needed insides about as tough and gnarled and hard as one of them old blackjack oaks on the hills outside of town. Me and the rest of the Kennisaw Knights had us eighteen yards and twenty-seven inches of battleground to defend. Three minutes and thirty-four seconds left in the game. First and ten. Kennisaw 20 and the Wynette Titans 17.

Every game this season, the pressure weighed down more and more. It was like carrying around a sack full of rocks, only every time you got to thinking you could lay it down, someone would throw another sack full of bigger rocks up on top of you. If we could keep it going, this would be Kennisaw's fifth undefeated season in a row. For thirty-some years, no Knights team had strung together that many wins, and them old-time players from back then was still heroes around the hill country of eastern Oklahoma. More than just heroes, they was flat-out legends.

Now, people love their legends in the hill country. I don't just mean the ones that run up and down the green fields there in Biggins Stadium with its crown of golden lights neither. I'm talking about the old-timey Wild West legends like the Doolins and the Daltons and Belle Starr, the queen of the outlaws. All them famous characters in the wax museum. And then you got your bull riders and bronc busters, your Five Civilized Tribes and your wildcat oil strikers. Pretty Boy Floyd and Woody Guthrie, Will Rogers, Mickey Mantle, and the original great football player Jim Thorpe hisself. Kennisaw's a dusty little old town, but even the smallest scrawny kid can feel big if he's got hisself a legend to hold on to.

And believe you me, not a player on our team didn't think about what kind of legends we could end up being our own selves if we finished off this fifth straight season undefeated. Boy howdy. The Kennisaw Knights was the best damn football team in all the hill country, where Friday-night high school football ranked next to God and country, and, truth be known, sometimes come in first. It'd be one hell of a big sack of rocks to carry around if you let the Knights down.

Every mouth on the Kennisaw side of the stadium let loose a roar of "Defense! Defense! Defense!" Taking my position there at middle linebacker, I could feel it rumbling through my chest and stomach, all the way out into my arms and legs. It was almost like that crowd was creating me out of thin air right on the spot. Outside the stands, the rest of the town would be as bare as a soup bone 'cause everyone was right here at the game, chanting up their spell. Bankers and mechanics, dental hygienists, the glass-plant gang, farmers, store clerks, and doctors. Even Miss Nikomos, the dance- school teacher. Everyone.


I knew my folks wasn't up there chanting. Not a chance. No telling where my dad was these days. No telling who my mom was with tonight. And Sara Reynolds--girls like her didn't give a day-old donut about football.

For a second, my concentration flickered out on me. Gone, just like that.

A quick snap jarred me back into the game. The quarterback was already wheeling to his left, shoving the ball into the tailback's belly, the tailback plunging towards the gap off tackle. Only he didn't really have the ball. The handoff was a fake, and I fell for it hook, line, and sinker, charging the gap, leaving the middle of the field wide open for their split end. Too late to stop time now. My instincts took over instead. I rolled off the block and cut back left, keeping my eye on nothing but the quarterback's throwing hand. No doubt the end had made it to the opening I'd left for him by now, but I still had one chance.

As soon as that quarterback's arm sprung forward, I took flight--up and sideways, stretching out my arm so far I thought it might pop right out of its socket. Then I felt it--the hard leather against my fingertips. A second later, I skidded across the ground, my face mask plowing up grass, the ball bouncing end over end a few yards away. Incomplete pass.

Man alive, did them stands explode in cheers then. But they wasn't yelling "Defense, defense, defense" anymore. Now it was "Hampton! Hampton! Hampton!"

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