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‘Coach’ knew, and I did, too

‘Coach’ knew, and I did, too

Posted: Thursday, October 9, 2008 3:30 pm
By: By MIKE HUTCHENS, Messenger Sports Editor

I called him ‘coach.’
He called me a lot of things.
And there was no doubt where either of us stood with each other.
The Hitman will help bury his high school football coach Friday afternoon.
It will be the toughest thing that Charlie Akers ever asked me to do.
Tougher than those pass patterns across the middle that he called and berated me for with colorful language when I didn’t run full speed for fear of an opposing linebacker taking my head off. More difficult than trying as a 135-pound end to help double-team the other team’s defensive tackle so that our running back might get through the five-hole for some rushing yards.
And far harder than all the conditioning drills, the extra work after practice or anything else he put me through while trying to bring out the best in me and my teammates as he taught us the life lessons that the greatest game ever instills on every play.
You get knocked down; you get back up.
‘Coach’ made sure I got knocked down plenty.
Whether because of a relationship with my parents long before he became South Fulton’s offensive coordinator in the late 1970s, or due to the fact he recognized I could handle anything he dished out, his intent was for me to realize whatever potential I had.
Though I constantly pushed the envelope with the typical juvenile antics of a 16- and 17-year-old who’d had some individual success within the team realm, ‘coach’ never let my head get too big. He hammered me verbally on a regular basis. He knew I didn’t lack self-confidence and fell under the ‘kind you kick‘ to motivate, as opposed to the other group that needs coddling.
One of my most vivid memories is strutting up to him after a particularly productive game in the playoffs — one in which I had seven catches, including several on which I ventured across the middle, and also the game-winning two-point conversion with no time left on the clock. Figuring I had finally won his favor publicly, I asked him if he still thought I wasn’t tough enough.
His reply without hesitation: “You shouldn’t have dropped that one in the second quarter.”
It was vintage ‘coach.’
A few years ago, with his health declining, I went and picked him up one day to take him for a little ride. Our conversation invariably turned back to the good old days and he asked about several of my teammates and their whereabouts.
We talked of how the game has changed over the years, both for the good and the bad. And I playfully brought up the many times when I was his favorite whipping boy — both in practice and games. After we laughed a few minutes at some of those recollections, he got quiet for a minute.
And then he asked: “You know I didn’t mean any of that, don’t you?”
“Yeah, coach,” I responded. “I know.’
I always did.
And I always will.
See you at the game.
UNION CITY AT SOUTH FULTON — The only time SF has ever beaten Union City — 1922 — a 5-10, 130-pound quarterback named Leon Hutchens directed the Redmen to that 31-0 romp. The Hitman’s grandfather won’t be able to suit up to help the Hutchens’ alma mater 86 years later against the Tornadoes, however, though that doesn’t mean this particular South Fulton club isn’t capable of repeating history. Whether in the elite category or not, and against a soft schedule or no, the Devils’ grittiness is undeniable after they rallied from a two-touchdown fourth-quarter deficit to knock off their toughest opponent to-date last week at Greenfield. That intangible, the momentum from a 6-0 start and a raucous homefield advantage are all pluses for the Big Red as they attempt to validate their No. 10 state ranking. Union City, though, despite playing three winless teams themselves, does have a couple of feathers in its cap, most notably a victory over two-time region champ and then fifth-ranked McKenzie. And while not nearly in the class that they once were in their heyday, the Tornadoes are exhibiting some of the toughness and physicality that was prominent among those really good teams. Big plays win big games, and though the Redmen certainly will be cognizant of Twister QB Colton Speed, don’t discount the constant pounding of the UC fullback game inside and the effect that may have on a Devil defense sometime in the second half. — UNION CITY.  
OBION CENTRAL AT DYER CO. — If the Rebels could cut and splice portions of their first six games into one four-quarter game tape, all the losing streak talk would be replaced by legitimate hope for the program’s turnaround. And while the Hitman might believe that this and next week’s game against Covington are both matchups OC can be competitive in, until more frames on the film look like they belong together, Central’s movie experience afterward will still contain some parts that will make all involved close their eyes. Though hopeful of a better viewing experience, the pick here is — DYER CO.
In other games, it’ll be — Murray over Fulton City, USJ over Westview, Henry County over Brighton, Lake Co. over Bruceton, Gleason over West Carroll, McKenzie over Greenfield, Haywood over Covington, Crockett Co. over Ripley, Dyersburg over Bolivar, Gibson Co. over Dresden, Milan over JCS, Waverly over Adamsville, Camden over Houston Co., Huntingdon over Stewart Co., DCA over Fayette Academy, Manassas over Memphis North Side, Chester Co. over TCA, Liberty over Munford, McNairy Co. over Hillcrest, Trezevant over Fayette-Ware, Crittenden Co. over Ballard Memorial, and Mayfield over Fulton Co.

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