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2006 SEASON: STATE SEMIFINALS
There really was no off-season. The Faith Christian Lions' football season did not begin on the final Friday of August. In reality, it began months before the first scrimmage game two weeks earlier. Before the first two-a-day practices in Texas's midsummer heat. Before even those ten days of after-school practice the previous May.
You could say that the 2007 season, with the Lions a favorite to win the school's first football state championship, actually began December 2, 2006, following Faith's loss in the semifinals of Texas's private-school playoffs. Somewhere between the opposing quarterback's kneeling to expire the clock and the end of the 150-mile trek back home to Grapevine, each player mentally stepped into the next season.
There was no distinct start-finish line between those seasons. No clean break or clear transition point. Not considering the way the 2006 season had ended-with a 27-19 loss to The Regents School of Austin, in a game Faith had led in the second half. And especially not considering when it had ended-one weekend before the state championship game, in which the Lions had expected to play.
That loss, in manner and timing, would become a nine-month-long hornet sting. Only the new season could push back the old season's closing scene that still plays out through the players' mental TiVos ...
Faith Christian has the ball near midfield, the game clock inside its final thirty seconds, and the Lions need a touchdown and two-point conversion to send the game into overtime. It is possible-seemingly anything is possible-with Faith's collection of exciting playmakers. But it is fourth down and a half yard to go for a first down.
One-half of a yard.
Football is funny that way. For almost three hours, two teams cover the expanse of a proving ground measuring 120 yards long by 53 1/3 yards wide. And then both teams' futures-one dream will be extended, one extinguished-are decided by less than a step. Half a yard does not seem like much, but oh, the stories squeezed into that half yard.
* * *
As a running back growing up, Chance Cochran never thought in terms of half yards. He thought in much bigger numbers. Football had always been easy for him. Laughingly easy. In youth games, he broke free for long run after long run. Opposing teams could not stop him, so his coaches did-taking him out of games, often before the second half, to prevent running up the score and embarrassing opponents. When Cochran reached Faith's varsity, he became the first freshman ever to start for coach Kris Hogan. The first five times Cochran touched the ball, he scored touchdowns. And he scored in five different fashions-a running play, a pass reception, an interception return, a kickoff return, and a punt return. After one score, he came off the field laughing, arms outspread. "I love football," he told his coaches, and laughed some more.
But then came the night he experienced every player's nightmare. It was the first scrimmage of his sophomore season, and Cochran was picking up where he had left off as a freshman. He carried the ball left and had one defender to juke for another clear path to the end zone. He planted his left foot to cut back to the right. But the cut never came. His left knee buckled, and he collapsed to the ground. "Like a sniper got him from the bleachers," his coach recalls. Just like that, with one bad step, before it really began, his sophomore season ended.
Problems lingered into this, his junior season. He had hoped to be back at full speed by now, but he was not. Cochran had always had an innate ability to move laterally to create space, and then when the defense ahead of him yielded the slightest opening, the play became a straight-ahead dash to the end zone, and the fastest player-Cochran-won. The knee injury, however, had relegated Cochran from fastest player on the field to also-ran. He was only about 60 percent, at best, in lateral movements. He could see the openings in the defenses, like he always had. But by the time he could make the cut to start his dash to the end zone, too often a defender had beaten him to the spot and slammed shut that opening. Late in the season, the pain in his repaired knee began to increase. His doctor discovered a Baker's cyst-a collection of fluid on the back of the knee-that required arthroscopic surgery. Cochran missed the final game of the regular season and the first playoff game.
Now he was back on the field-just not all the way back. This play call on third down and five yards for the first down was for Cochran, a screen play that would allow him to catch a short pass in an isolated part of the field and use his speed to gain the first down and temporarily stop the clock, allowing Faith's offense to reorganize.
Cochran left his running back spot to line up at receiver, on the far left side of the formation. He took a step downfield, then retreated behind the line of scrimmage and back toward the quarterback. It was a "jailbreak screen," with Faith's linemen allowing Regents' defenders to rush the quarterback in jailbreak fashion. Before the defenders could reach the quarterback, Cochran caught a soft pass and turned upfield. The play was working as designed: Cochran had the ball beyond the first wave of attacking defenders with a wall of blockers ahead of him. But one Regents player got a hand on Cochran's right foot. Cochran hit the ground one-half yard short of the first-down marker.
Cochran pounded the ball into the turf. It was more than a half-yard's worth of frustration. This was frustration of a season lost, of a second season greatly limited, and of God-only-knows what will happen in future seasons. Two years ago, everyone who saw Cochran play called him a can't-miss college prospect. He was completely healthy then. A different player. And, he admits, a different person. The happiness, the love of playing football, had been replaced by doubt about his ability to recover and uncertainty about his future. He felt it. His coaches and teammates saw it. He no longer came off the field laughing. A fully healthy Chance Cochran would have eluded that one defender. He would have gained that half yard and more, possibly much more. But that Chance Cochran was not on the field, and Faith did not have its first down.
There was confusion. As the official marked where Cochran was tackled, it appeared from the Faith sideline that Cochran had gained the first down. "Spike the ball! Spike the ball!" coaches instructed quarterback Landon Anderson. Once the sideline markers were set to reflect the first down the coaches believed Cochran had attained, the referee would signal for the clock to restart. Because the Lions had no timeouts remaining, the coaches wanted Anderson to spike the ball into the ground to stop the clock so the Lions could set up the one big play the players felt they had been on the verge of making all day.
But it was not first down. It was fourth down. If Anderson spiked the ball, Faith would lose possession of the ball and the game, and its season, would be over. Senior offensive lineman Brian Gibson turned to the junior quarterback and told him, "It's fourth down! Go for it!" From the sideline, Hogan saw the officials spot the ball short of the first down and shouted for Anderson to run Option Left, a run play around the left side of the offensive line in which Anderson would have the option of keeping the ball if he saw an opening or pitching to Cochran at running back. Option Left had produced big yards all season. Now the Lions needed only a half yard from the play.
Having the ball in Anderson's hands always was an outstanding option. In addition to passing for 1,883 yards on the season, he had rushed for 585 yards, averaging 8.5 yards each time he ran the ball. Half a yard? Easy. Except on this play.
Anderson called for the snap. Faith's linemen had become set in their positions so as to avoid a penalty, but the snap came before they were ready to block. Anderson sprinted left as his linemen scrambled to catch up to the play and block their assigned defenders. He reached the point where Option Left's opening had been all season. But this time, when Faith needed that opening most, a Regents player was there. He brought down Anderson, short of the first down. Half a yard short. It might as well have been the length of the field.
Faith's defensive unit entered the field to stand helplessly as Regents' quarterback executed football's most mistake-proof play, from what is known at all levels of football as the "Victory" formation-the kneel-down. Just like that, void of drama, the comeback and the season were over. Dream denied.
As the final seconds counted down, Anderson looked to the team's seniors. He would have another chance to win that first football championship, but the five seniors would not. "Seeing their high school careers just tick away," Anderson would later recall, "it was like five, four, three, two, one ... Taylor Hazlewood's never going to step on the field for Faith again. Brian Gibson's never going to step on the field. Austin Huffman's never going to play defensive end, ever again. We're not going to have Johnny Juliano on the practice field. We're not going to have Elijah Hall stuffing those A-gaps anymore. It's really a sobering feeling." Teammate Clayton Messinger, looking back along with Anderson, nodded and added: "It's the kind of feeling like you've let them down."
No one experienced that feeling more than Alex Nerney. He was the defensive back who had allowed a long touchdown pass in the third quarter with his team protecting a 19-14 lead, and another in the fourth quarter that pushed Faith's deficit to its final margin of eight points. As far as he was concerned, his team had lost because of him.
It seemed unfair that football fate would pick on Nerney, too. Less than three months earlier, he had suffered a hip subluxation-a complete dislocation of his right hip-during a game. As he lay on the field, told by the team trainer to remain motionless, and with the pop still echoing inside his head, he considered for the first time that, only seventeen years old, he might never play football again.
Looking at his six-foot-three, 190-pound frame you wouldn't think it possible, but Nerney had been an offensive lineman in eighth grade. By his sophomore season, dedicated workouts had helped him make the unusual conversion from lineman to skilled-position player-a receiver on offense and a cornerback on defense. His first season at receiver, opposing coaches selected him all-district by unanimous vote. But then something happened. More precisely, a lot began to not happen-those dedicated workouts that had taken him to his peak.
Nerney enjoyed his success. He took it easy a day here, a day there. Gradually, the taking-it-easy days grew closer together. Then consecutive. The coaches could see a difference, even if early in his junior season his statistics still ranked him among the area's top receivers. And he was on his way to another long touchdown down the far sideline when the injury occurred. He cried on the field as he waited for the cart that would take him to an ambulance. That night he lay in his hospital bed, asking God, "Why me? Why would You do that to me?" He later recalled, "I was distraught because I felt like everything had worked out and God had just slammed me back to reality. I guess I had been getting too big of a head. God tends to do that."
He expected that his season was over. He hoped to be able to return for his senior year. Doctors, however, told him he had gotten a pass. The bone had a small crack, but no chip. If it had chipped, he would never have played again. In eight weeks, he was told, he would probably be back on the field. Nerney rededicated himself to working out to make sure he would be back for the playoffs. Three weeks after the injury, he was cleared to play.
But now he suffered from a different kind of pain-the pain of believing he had lost the game. So amid the players embracing each other on the field, amid the tears of sorrow, Nerney's embraces and tears packed the most emotion. Next season would be different, he already had determined. He would give it his best again for the whole season.
There were five seniors, however, who would not be around to enjoy the benefits of the old Alex Nerney's return. He embraced each one. "I'm sorry," he said through his tears.
* * *
Three consecutive season-ending losses for Kris Hogan as a head coach.
Actually, most football coaches would take that. There are only two ways to end the season with a victory. One is by winning the state championship. The other-and this is the case for thousands of teams in high school football-is by winning your final game, but not being good enough in your overall season to qualify for the playoffs.
Hogan's teams make the playoffs. He has been a head coach for eight seasons. Six of the last seven have been playoff seasons. That means six seasons that would end with either a loss or a state championship. Not to say that being eliminated from the playoffs ever becomes easy to accept, but coaches understand that only one team in each classification can have that movie-type ending.
For the rest, there are car rides home like this one. Quiet.
Amy Hogan occupied the passenger seat. Kris and Amy's three children-at ages eight, five, and one-were in the backseat. For fifteen, maybe twenty minutes, the only words were Amy's. "I'm sorry," she said several times. Eventually, Amy began to say more. "Just trying to ease the pain of the situation, that's what she was trying to do," Hogan recalled. "Trying to help me through the situation, comfort me."
They talked about the game, interrupted by consoling cell phone calls from fellow coaches who know the feeling all too well. They read text messages from players thanking Hogan for being their coach, their mentor, their friend. They considered some of the what-ifs of football, they discussed the highlights of another playoff season, and they allowed themselves to imagine aloud-together, as coach and fan, as husband and wife-what could have happened the following week if only they had won this game. Then the ride ended, and suddenly this season-ending loss no longer felt like the others. "It just hit him when we got home," Amy remembered.
Unlike previous years when it was disappointment that dominated Hogan's face, this Saturday night it was sadness. He played with the kids, helped get them ready for bed and for church the next morning, but in the quiet moments, the sadness was there. "He looked like he wanted to cry," Amy said. And at one point, she saw her husband go into their bedroom, sit on his knees, and, alone for the first time since the season had ended, softly cry. Amy had never seen her husband so hurt by a loss.
Before each season, Hogan gives each assistant coach a manual that outlines the football program's goals, rules, expectations, and offensive and defensive schemes. Not once in those fifty-six pages does the head coach who has taken four teams to the state semifinals list "win" as a goal. The front page of the manual asks each coach to consider what kind of Christian he is. What kind of husband and father he is. What kind of son he is. What kind of friend and teammate. But nowhere does it mention winning games.
Yet the creator of that manual, the coach behind that philosophy, shed tears now because his team had not won. This was a state championship-caliber team, he thought, and even after replaying the game in his mind, he could not find one reason why his team was not playing for the state championship. Other than the fact that, somehow, it had lost.
This was Hogan's fourth team to reach the state semifinals. Teams at his previous school possessed better chances to win state and did not. But he had never had a team that he wanted to win state more than this one.
Faith Christian opened its doors in 1999. When Hogan arrived in 2003, the Lions had not won a playoff game. Yet they did so in his second season. Then in 2005 and again in 2006 they reached the semifinals round, one step from playing for the state title. His previous school was accustomed to such success. Sportswriters label those programs "perennial powerhouses." Faith Christian is becoming one. "Here, the success is what's happening right now," Hogan says. "The records are being set right now, and these kids know that."
Excerpted from REMEMBER WHY YOU PLAY by DAVID THOMAS Copyright © 2010 by David Thomas. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted March 5, 2014
This is a compassionate piece of writing that describes one Texas high school football team's successes and disappointments throughout a 2008 season that entails much more than just The Faith Christian Lion's pursuit of a state championship. The head coach, Kris Hogan, teaches his players about love, teamwork, faith, and not just faith in God, but also faith in each other. They learn to trust each other and form a tight knit family. One of the team’s mottos was "sell out". This demanded the players to sell out and commit to each other and their coach. I really thought that this was an interesting aspect of the team's chemistry. The coach created an atmosphere for the players to be successful and that’s exactly why they were. Another important detail that struck my attention was how Coach Hogan held his players to such high standards despite the situation. In the Lion's season opener game, their star defensive back made a big play and immediately got in the opposing player's face and gloated. Hogan caught wind of this and made the player sit the bench the rest of the game to teach the player that no matter what; he always needed to conduct himself in a classy and respectful manner. This really defined what Hogan stood for, as far as behavioral standards. Every athlete that has a relationship with God, and every athlete in general should read this book. It's a story that speaks volumes to what a high school football coach can teach his player's about life and living graciously. The book keeps readers coming back because of its emotional appeal. It grips you and won't let go until you feel like you are apart of the team. The book does lack action despite all of its positives, and sometimes the story leads away from the main points. I loved the style and the familiarity of the writing, and how I could really put myself into the situations. I would give this book a 5 out of 5 stars, because of it’s inviting themes and personal messages that lots of other books lack. Reviewed by: (Kevin Meadows)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 11, 2012
The author, David Thomas, did a stellar job of describing the story of the love, persistence, compassion, and determination of one Texas football team. Throughout the football season, the Faith Christian Lions won all of their regular season games and were a favorite in the State tournament; however, it was not their athletic success that got them publicity. The actions of the Faith Christian football team in their sportsmanship and drive during their season and, most importantly, during the game against Gainsville State are what made them stars. As a reader, I felt as if I was actually a part of the team, and at times I could not put the book down. Through the leadership of Coach Hogan and the coaching staff, the Faith Christian Lions have inspired many, and their story is one that is likely to touch each reader.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 10, 2011
One+of+the+best+books+I+have+ever+read+detailing+how+a+great+coach+uses+his+faith+in+God+to+teach+life+lessons+through+football.+Fantastic+read.+I+recommend+it+to+all+my+players%2C+coaches+and+friends.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 28, 2011
Blurb: In November 2008, the Faith Christian Lions closed their regular season by playing the Gainesville State Tornadoes. Faith had already secured its slot in the playoffs. The Tornadoes were winless in eight games and had scored only two touchdowns all season.
The game should have meant nothing. It turned out to mean everything.
What Stephanie Thought: Remember Why You Play is one of the few books I've read that really make me stop and think about my life and count my blessings. David Thomas's page-turning prose has the ability to both make me cry, but also keep me at the edge of my seat. As a lover of football, I really sympathized with all of the players in this unbelievable memoir.
Stephanie Loves: "He cried on the field as he waited for the cart that would take him to an ambulance. That night he lay in his hospital bed, asking God, 'Why me? Why would You do that to me?' He later recalled, 'I was distraught because I felt like everything had worked out and God had just slammed me back to reality. I guess I had been getting too big of a head. God tends to do that.'"
Where Stephanie Got It: Tyndale Media Center for review.
Radical Rating: 8 hearts- Would recommend to lots of really good friends.
Posted January 5, 2011
Based on the back of the book (which had me tearing up within minutes of getting the book out of the mailbox!), I expected this book to be about an amazing high school football team with an amazing coach who was ultimately trying to teach kids life lessons and biblical truths that were more important than just playing sports. The back of the book describes an incredible game against a team of boys from a youth detention center. With no one to cheer them on, the coach asked parents of his players to "switch sides" for the night and cheer by name for the other team's players. The author, however, spends the majority of the book talking about the games leading up to a much-deserved championship game. It's obvious that the coach understands that there are greater things in life than football and uses his opportunity to influence his players to develop godly character. While I enjoy watching sports, the writing is a bit technical for my taste - talking about all the ins and outs of different plays and practice techniques. As much as I wanted to like this book, it fell a little flat for me. It was just different than I expected and only gave one chapter at the end to the story described on the book jacket.
I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my fair and honest review.
Posted January 3, 2011
Now you know us Southerns LOVE football. it's sorta in our DNA.So any decent book about football is gonna be on our reading lists as well! I had heard about this story and was curious to read the book about the events leading up to the pivotal final game, where Faith Christian embraced the Gainesville State School (a maximum security juvenile correctional facility). When Faith Christian fans realized the Gainesville students had no fans, half switched sides and rooted for Gainesville.What lead up to this is where the coaching and parental instruction showed through.
This book is more than just a book about football- it's a book about heart, and how a Christian act can have far reaching effects, much like a trail of toppled dominos. The book is a quick read and I recommend it for ALL team players in your household or among your family, as it teaches what it truly means to be a team (be it a football team, or god's team). It is a great book for family discussions as well.
Posted November 11, 2010
I just recently finished a book entitled: Remember Why You Play by David Thomas.
This book is about a High School football team called the Faith Christian Lions. It begins with their 2007 season & how they make the goal to win the State title & come so very close to doing so, but all the while maintaining their christian based beliefs & showing it wherever they went. David then decides to follow the team throughout their 2008 season. Again the boys, make the goal to get the state title. They again come very close, but no cigar. But instead of the state title game being the most talked about game of the season, it was a game against the Gainesville State Tornadoes, a Maximum Security Correctional High School. The boys from Gainesville didn't have a following, they hadn't won a game all season, & they had very low confidence. Coach Hogan got parents & students from Faith Christian High School to not only make a spirit tunnel for the tornadoes, but also sit on their side of the field and cheer them on. You had parents cheering boys to tackle their own sons! It was a great way to show that there were people who cared about them. Also a great way to show the true christian compassion for others.
I loved this book being a football fan myself. I loved how all through the season , The coaches wanted the boys to focus on getting the state title, but Coach Kris Hogan also never let the boys forget their true christian roots & beliefs. I love how he instilled those beliefs when he coached. The book was wonderfully written & very inspiring.
I think this book would be a great gift for any football fan or a young football player who believes in true Christan compassion for others.
*I got this book free from Tyndale for their blog network.*
Posted November 9, 2010
I recently signed on to review books for Tyndale Publishing. They sent me a free copy of this book and after I finshed it, I agreed to post reivews about the book. The best thing is I am free to post my opinion about the books even if I don't like them. Well, so far it hasn't been a problem. Remember Why You Play is an excellent read. If you or someone you know enjoys football then I would recommend this book. Actually, even if you don't like football, you would still enjoy this story. The story is very moving and encouraging. It follows the Faith Christian football team through the 2007 season game by game. That was very interesting for me. It literally took you game by game of their undefeated season all the way to the championship game. At first it was difficult for me to follow the play by play. But then it became exciting. It was as if I was watching a fast paced game in person. Even though almost the entire book centers around that one season, it's the final chapter that is the main purpose of the book. The Faith Christian 2008 season ended with a game against Gainsville State School which is a maximum security correctional facility. The students at that facility didn't have anyone on their side. Faith Christian changed that. The people of Faith Christian embraced the Gainsville team in a way that is rarely seen today. And because of what they did, it has had an effect not only on the students of Gainsfill State, but across the world. This book really shows how simple acts of love and kindness can be life changing. It also shows that anything can be used to show people God, even something like football.
Definately get this for any man in your life who is a football fan!
Posted November 9, 2010
Remember WHY You Play By: David Thomas
"The game should have meant nothing. It turned out to mean everything."
"'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' " Matthew 25:40 (NIV)
After reading Remember WHY You Play By: David Thomas, I'm not sure I will ever view sports in the same way. Not being a sports fan, I started this book with a bit of trepidation, however, even for a non-sports fan it was a very interesting book. The coach, especially, strove to impart more than good football skills. His goal was to impart lessons of faith. Seeing the development of the team, as they learned and grew both physically and spiritually was uplifting. The lessons learned were life lessons that will carry them far and beyond the football field. The lessons also spilled out into the whole school's student body as well as the student's families and ultimately into the whole community and beyond.
If you are wondering what doing something seeming small really accomplishes, read this book. It will open your eyes, hearts and minds to look beyond the simple and on to what that simple act accomplishes in the long run.
This book was provided by Tyndale House Publishing
Posted May 3, 2011
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Posted March 13, 2011
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