In the book by H.G. (Buzz) Bissinger the Permian High School football coaches don't come across very well. Their handling of star running back Boobie Miles was questionable at best, bordering on criminal at times. The Monday after a game, Boobie would find an envelope in his locker that would contain the exact number of yards that Boobie accumulated during the previous Friday night's game. In one game he gained 216 yards in the first half alone. The head coach decided that if he were allowed to run in the second half, he might get a "big head" and begin thinking that he was something special. He never played a down in the second half. Miles received money for being good, but at the same time, his coaches wanted to humble him. Bissinger's new book "After Friday Night Lights" chronicles the relationship that Bissinger had forged with Boobie Miles and maintained for twenty-five years after the original book came out. Miles, who was a D1 prospect, was injured in a preseason scrimmage in Lubbock before his senior year and was immediately replaced by a younger running back who seemingly came out of nowhere. The young Boobie Miles, who had never really had to study prior to his injury (his teachers all gave him A's and B's or provided him with tutors who knew the answers to the tests he would have to take), suddenly was told by an assistant coach that "he'd better learn to study now". His test scores quickly dropped into the 40's, and he was failing everything. The school did provide him with a tutor who kept him afloat academically, a situation that allowed him to graduate. His diploma, however, meant nothing to him, because he could barely read it. Unprepared for the real world, he drifted from low-paying job to low-paying job and becoming a father five times over. Eventually securing a job as an oil-field worker, he made twelve dollars an hour, a wage that paid for his child support and little else.
Bissinger speaks of Boobie Mile's basic humanity, saying that Miles was, at heart, a good man. They became close friends with Bissinger providing occasional sums of money to a man who was obviously in need of it, and Miles providing a story of a man who seeks redemption for the callous way that he squandered his talents and opportunities. And, Boobie had a lot of people fail him. The school and his coaches failed him in not holding him accountable for his behavior and his grades. He thought that there would always be another chance. Life, unfortunately, doesn't work like that. In real life you honestly do run out of chances, often not getting a chance in the first place. That is why it is so interesting to me to see the number of people in life who fail to understand how incredibly difficult it is to get a chance to play football at the Division One level. Over the decades while working with kids, I have never failed to hear kids say that their main plan to earn money when they are older is by being a professional football player. Even kids who are small, nonathletic, failing their classes, and failing to make an impact of any sort at the middle school or junior high school level, believe that a call will come in one day from a talent scout who will sign him up for a huge contract to play football for the Seahawks, Giants, Eagles, or any of the other professional teams.
I even had a kid once who could not be convinced that he would not be able to play professional football. My conversation with him went something like this:
Me: Why are you not doing the work I just assigned?
Kid: I don't have to do this because I am not going to do anything in my life except play pro football.
Me: Football, huh? You pretty good? (He was pretty big, but it was the kind of size that comes with too many bacon cheeseburgers).
Kid: I think so.
Me: Where have you played before? I'm the freshman coach, and I know that you didn't play freshman football here, so where have you played?
Kid: Well, I haven't played on, like, a team or nothin', but me and my friends go to the park and play on Saturdays and that gets pretty rough, and some of the guys there say that I could maybe play if I turned out, cause I'm pretty good. That's what they say, anyway. Besides, if I don't make it in football, I'll play professional baseball.
It turned out that his baseball history mirrored his football history, except that I couldn't for the life of me figure where he would find a position to play on a baseball diamond. Picture Jabba the Hut at short or second turning a double play.
The chances of a high school kid making it into the pro's are one in 100,000. That is the number that Bissinger's latest book offered, and it seems reasonable. The kids whom I have worked with and who have, in my 37 years, made it to the pro's represent a minuscule .003 per cent. That's much worse than playing the lottery. That is also why the story of Mariner High School's KeiVarae Russell is so compelling. Would he like to play in the pro's? Sure, he would. In the meantime, however, he will earn a coveted degree from Notre Dame which will gain him entry to a world which will be exciting, challenging, and financially satisfying. He has known for years that he will get from life everything his talents, his personality, and his uncommon work ethic will earn him. He deserves it.