As a rule, when it comes to sports — especially youth sports — I try to give the kids the benefit of the doubt and save my sharpest criticisms for the coaching staff. The coaches understand this, it’s part of the job. If you win, everyone thinks you’re a genius. If you lose, they think you’re a bum. Tale as old as time.
However, Friday night’s wretched performance is more than I can bear. Against my better judgment I’ve decided to point the full force of my observation to what I believe to be the most grievous weakness about this team. All in the hopes that by publicly drawing it to your attention — and speaking for those who came before you — it might provoke in you the sting of shame that every proud man who wore the green and white now feels.
But first, a few words of praise.
That’s right — before I take you to task, I want set a few things straight.
I think you all to be strong young men. I believe you to be a talented squad. In fact, I think of you as among the more talented teams we’ve ever put on the field of play. I’ve been watching most of you play football since middle school, and a few others I’ve known since you were infants. I think very highly of you all and have the greatest hopes for the men I believe you will all become. I believe in you. You all are dear to me, and I only want the best for you now and in the future. I really can’t stress that enough! It is because of this that I will not sit by and let you be any less than you are.
Now, brace yourselves as men, because it’s time to take your medicine…
If you don’t have pride in your team, your town and your school, you will not feel the shame of defeat. If you are able to tolerate surrender in the face of defeat, you will never have the courage to fight for victory. The only way that a man can stand idly by as his honor is trampled, is if he does not feel it in the first place. To live in such a way is worse than death.
As of this writing, the Overton Mustangs are 0-5 in the regular season. The average score of the games you’ve played thus far is 45-to-9. Do you understand that? That means you are AVERAGING a blowout loss per game. It’s not bad enough that you’ve been beaten each week, but you are being owned in every game. Sure, our program has started 0-5 a few times in our history, but never by such a wide margin of defeat. Let that sink in. At the midpoint of this season you are now among the worst Overton Mustang varsity football teams to ever take the field. That includes teams that were severely depleted due to most upperclassmen leaving school early to go fight in World War II. If this doesn’t change dramatically, you will finish this season as one of the worst teams in school history — only a season after winning a share of a district title and going two rounds into the playoffs.
So… are you the worst team we’ve ever produced? Of course not. You’ve got plenty of talent. Y’all are easily bigger than the OHS teams of the 1980s who made consecutive deep playoff runs. You’ve got as much team speed as any of the playoff teams of the 1990s that I played on. In each of the last five games, you’ve matched up well to your opponent in both the strength and skill positions. So why are you 0-5 and being manhandled in each outing?
It’s very simple. In fact, I could narrow it down to two factors that are woefully absent — attributes that the teams of the ’80s and ’90s had in spades: heart and desire.
By “heart” I mean the courage to lay it all on the line, to play with such a reckless abandon and valor that you truly “leave it all on the field.” By “desire” I mean the will to win, the passion that consumes you to the point to where you simply refuse to lose. If a team has these traits it doesn’t matter how big or fast you are, you are always ready to stand and fight — to fight through pain, to fight back from adversity, to fight the good fight that leads to triumph.
If you want to know what this looks like, just look at a few of the photographs of our past teams after playoff losses. Look at pictures of all-state linemen Chris Davis and Ray Garrett taken after the 1995 Class 1A semifinal loss to Thorndale. Look at a picture of my younger brother Mark Prosser after our defeat against Bremond the year before. Look at the photograph of Jerry Luster in 1989 after losing to future NFL star Rodney Thomas and eventual state champion Groveton. And others! Shoulders slumped in exhaustion, tear-stained eyes, heads bloody but unbowed. Bodies busted up, bruised with broken skin, but their honor well intact, even in the face of defeat.
In non-district play your opponents’ records total 20-6. An impressive pre-district schedule, I’ll concede, but hardly an impossible task. Some of you have heard me say this, but I’ll say it again: I can handle being beaten, but giving up is inexcusable. Indeed, it’s not the 0-5 record that should provoke your honor, but the way in which that 0-5 record has come. By failing to take the fight to the opponent, you have stood by while he’s taken it to you. In short: you’ve given up.
Now some of you might say, “Whoa, Mr. Prosser, take it easy, brah! C’mon man, it’s just a game, and a high school game at that! Aren’t you taking this a bit too far?”
If you believe this, do yourself a favor: turn in your uniform, because you’re simply not cut out for varsity football. The lessons it stands to teach are beyond you. There’s no place for anyone like that on any football team, and certainly not one with our rich tradition. Save yourself for basketball, baseball, or other lesser sports.
Football is a singular sport in our culture. There’s a reason why it gets more attention in our area than any other. There’s nothing random or arbitrary about it: football, unlike any other, is the only sport that adequately encapsulates the virtues and experience of adult manhood. Again, if you don’t understand or agree with this, please, do yourself a favor and turn in your uniform today. If you don’t get it by this point, I daresay you never shall.
But for those of you who remain, this is your task at hand. All season long I’ve been hearing the excuse, “Yeah well, these games don’t count, We’ll see about it when we get to District.” While I find this defeatist mindset personally repugnant, I am willing to indulge you this much. So NOW is the time to prove yourself men or cowards. Do it NOW! It’s homecoming this week. The stands will be packed with has-beens like myself, sneering in disgust with what you are doing to the traditions we’ve upheld for decades. Prove us wrong… or prove us right.
Your non-district road was a rough one. I’ll concede that. So show me — show us all — what you’re made of. Show us that — when everything’s on the line — you can rouse yourselves and take your destiny by the hand. Show us that our belief in your talents and skills are not in vain, that our faith in your honor is not foolishly spent.
Show us that you are the men we all know you to be, and in showing us, proving it to yourselves as well.
Be the men we know you all are, and the men you were all born to be.
I wish you well… now, go beat the hell outta Cumby.
Matthew Prosser #42
OHS Class of 1995