At the start of practice Monday, Coach Bud walked to Drake, King, James, Samson, and Andy and motioned them to talk with him. ” Coach, I know we’re suspended, but we really want to be out here,” King said. ” I understand and respect your dedication to these team gentlemen. But I need to work with the guys who are going to be playing Friday. But if you guys want to help in the meantime, the local Youth Center has asked that we send a few players to talk to the youth there. I volunteered you guys. Can you do that?” ” Yes sir,” the five players said. ” Good, you guys go work on your weights for this practice and don’t worry. We’ll make the playoffs,” Coach Bud said.
Tuesday after school Andy, King, James, Samson, and Drake each showed up at the local Youth center to talk to the first time offenders. King spoke first, then Samson, then James then Andy. Drake took a deep breath as Andy finished to polite applause. Drake took his spot in front of the teens and looked around. ” Hey everyone. You may know me or you may not so I’ll introduce myself to be safe. My name is Drake Solace, and I play Quarterback and Defensive Back for the Panthers. And it wasn’t that long ago that I was where you are right now. Now I know you’re expecting me to say something like how I turned my life around so you can too, but instead, I am going to speak from the heart and tell you what worked for me. Every time I go into a big game, I keep the hard times in front of my mind. Like every time I step on the field, I say to myself ” okay, I was arrested and convicted for breaking and entering when I was 15, I saw an old man die that night, my family disowned me, I had to move in with my aunt who had Dementia who passed away last year. And I remember that to remind myself how far I have come.”
" And then I allow myself to think even further back, how I never knew my father, who was murdered by my mother and how my twin sister passed away when we were three. And I remember that. And I know you’re expecting me to say football changed my life, but that’s not true. Because I was playing football when I made stupid choices. No, what changed my life is I met people who believed in me. People like King’s family, people like Coach Miller, who is courageously battling cancer at the moment. And when someone believes in you, it gives you passion and emotion, and all you want to do is give those people everything you’ve got sick, tired or hurt as a way to say ′ I believe in you as much as you believe in me.′ That’s why I changed my life, but I got to say it wasn’t easy. I remember there’d be days I would ask God what he was doing, why I was still being punished. And he’d answer ” Son, I’m not doing this to punish you, I’m doing this to benefit your future. This is what I’ve had planned for you when you were in the womb.”
" And I don’t know if you believe in God here today, but I’m here to tell you that He hasn’t placed you here as a punishment. Life is a journey, and right now, you are just at a certain part. I’m here to tell you that you may have made a few mistakes, but everything is redeemable. And you may be saying, you don’t know what I’ve done, and I’m here to say that it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, nothing is unredeemable. I stand before you someone who is statistically speaking should be a repeat offender on his way to prison but instead will be receiving a full ride to PSU. I have full confidence that all of you will end up doing good in your lives. Thank you for your time.”
The following Saturday, Drake was at the trampoline park Touch the Sky when he heard his name a loud cry of “Draaakiiiieeeee!” Turning around, he saw Katrina jumping towards him off a trampoline with a big smile on her face. ” What the-” Drake said before Katrina crashed into him, sending them both into the foam pit. Katrina laughed and started tickling him ” I looked around for you everywhere and couldn’t find you, so I got scared.” Drake laughed and kissed the top of her head ” well you found me. But we have to get out.” ” No!” Katrina said, ” I want to stay in here forever!” Drake laughed again and started to get up, only for Katrina to prevent him ” No! You stay here so we can have privacy.” ” Katrina, you have to share the foam pit,” Drake said. She puffed her cheeks out and pouted, ” fine!” The two climbed out of the foam pit only for Katrina to push him back in. ” Hey!” Drake protested. ” You stay there! You’re in trouble!”
Drake reached out his hand to her, asking for her to pull him up. Once she extended a hand, Drake smirked and pulled her back in the foam pit. Katrina squealed as Drake tickled her and wrapped her arms around his neck ” Are you sure we have to get out?” she asked. Drake smiled, ” yeah, we do.” ” Fine.” This time they got out of a foam pit and sat down on a bench, ” are you over the loss yet?” Katrina asked. Drake sighed as he thought about last Friday night when they had lost to Kirkville 52-0. Now they had to win this Friday, or they would miss the playoffs. Katrina sat on his lap and smiled at him suggestively, ” I could help you forget about it if you want.” ” We should probably wait until we get home,” Drake said, ” I don’t want to be banned for life.” ” You’re no fun,” Katrina said. Drake grinned ” And you’re a trouble maker.” ” I am not! You are!” ” No, you are!” ” No, you are!”
Drake laughed and covered her eyes with his hand ” hey!” she protested. ” You haven’t been good; therefore, you’re not allowed to see. When you are ready to be good, I’ll let you see again.” Katrina folded her arms and leaned back into his body ” you’re mean!” ” You’re mean,” Drake said, removing his hand and wrapping his arms around her. Katrina tugged at his cheek, ” so are you over the loss yet?” ” I don’t think I’ll ever be over it unless we win this Friday,” Drake answered. ” You really want to go back to State huh?” ” It’d be cool to win it twice in a row.” ” Well regardless, at least next fall you’ll be playing Division 1. And then I won’t be embarrassed to be seen with you in public.” ” That was mean,” Drake said. ” Well, it’s like I’ve told you. You’re only good for playing football.” ” You brat.” ” I am not a brat!” ” Yes, you are!” ” No, I’m not!”
" Ladies and gentlemen it is do or die for our Easthaven Correctional Panthers as they take on the Black Hollow Beavers. Win and they are in the playoffs, lose, and they play basketball! Introducing first, the Black Hollow Beavers!” The visiting white and brown beavers received cheers from their fans, but they were quiet compared to the Panthers fans. ” And now the reigning, defending Texas Triple-A State Champions of the woooooorrrrlllddd, The Easthaven Correctional Panthers!” The Panthers ran out of the field to the cheers of the fans. Drake, Andy, James, Samson, and King were wearing their home jersey’s, hoping their team would get it done. The interim captains met for the coin toss, and Black Hollow won the toss, choosing to receive. The Panthers kicked off to the Beavers who returned the kick-off to the thirty-seven.
The Beavers made light of the Panther defense, scoring on their third play and making the extra point to make it 7-0. The Panthers returned the ball to the right-teen, and Mike Lutz who was the kicker jogged on the field to take Drake’s spot at Quarterback. The first play he threw an interception which Blach Hollow capitalized on by driving it in and scoring another touchdown and extra point to make the score 14-0. When the Panthers got the ball back, they fumbled the ball which the Beavers recovered. Again the Beavers had little to worry about as they scored another touchdown and extra point to make the score 21-0. The Panther continued to struggle as they turned the ball over on offense and scored yet again but missed the extra point to make the score 27-0 at the half.
Coach Bud was livid in the locker room ” Someone want to explain to me what is happening out there?” Silence followed for a few seconds before a lineman stood up ” coach, five of our guys” ” Sit down!” Coach Bud snapped. He glared at the locker room “enough of the excuses, enough complaining!” ” May I say something Coach?” Mike asked. ” Sure.” ” Coach with all due respect, I speak form all of us when I say I don’t care if we forfeit this game, I don’t care if we don’t make the playoffs, we need Drake, Andy, King, James, and Samson. Let them play.” The rest of the team voiced their agreement ” Come on Coach they didn’t do anything!” ” Enough!” Drake said ” You know we can’t play tonight but if you really want to help, win this game. Remember who you are. Y’all are State Champions. Act like it!”
The Panthers raced out on the field for the second half after promising they would win the game for their suspended teammates. They returned the kick-off to the twenty-two, and their offense ran on the field. For once they were able to get upfield but were only able to score a field goal to make the score 27-3. The Panthers then surprised the Beavers with an onside kick that they recovered and scored on the ensuing drive to make the score 27-10. The Beavers botched the kick-off, fumbling the ball and recovering it in their own endzone only to be tackled, resulting in a safety to make the score 27-12. The Beavers kicked off to the Panthers who returned it to the twenty-five. The first few plays went nowhere, and the Panthers got ready to punt until they revealed it to be a fake and Mike threw a pass that went for a touchdown. After the extra point, the score was 27-19. The Beavers were able to score a field goal on their next drive to make the score 30-19 at the end of the third quarter.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, neither team was able to score. Then with four minutes left, Mike had thrown a pass that bounced off a Beaver’s hands and into the hands of the Tight End who ran it for a touchdown. After the extra point, the score became 30-26. The Panthers tried an onside kick, but the Beavers recovered it. They started to drive it upfield as time ticked down. For a few minutes, all seemed lost until the Beaver Quarterback threw a careless pass which was picked off and returned for a Panther touchdown with a 1:11 left in the game. After the extra point, the score became 33-30 Panthers. The Panthers were able to hold on until the end of the game. The fans exploded in cheers as Deacon Paul was going crazy ” The Panthers are going to the playoffs! The Panthers are going to the playoffs! How do you do!”