The Short History of an Oregon Seventh Grade Football Season (Part 2)

Twenty-seven players turned out. Almost none of them had played organized football so the first day was a walk/run through of all the various rules about blocking, tackling and scoring. The coaches also introduced and defined words and phrases such as “flat,” blitz,” “interception,” line of scrimmage,” “zone coverage” and “three-point stance.” There was a whole new vocabulary and it was essential to teach it.

The next day, players were issued helmets and pads, instructed how to dress, and then told to gear up in ten minutes and meet at the field’s 50-yard line. There the season would truly begin with a pit drill, where players actually had to block and tackle and couldn’t escape a circle. In other words, they had to hit one another. Grapple. Collide. Fall to the turf and get up. The coaches had to see who liked contact or who flinched. There was no other way. Collisions weren’t for everyone. There was always cross country. (Soccer wasn’t around yet.)

After a week of practice, it was clear to the coaches there wasn’t much athletic talent but the character and spirit of the team were outstanding, There wasn’t one bad egg.

Several Raiders stood out:

Casey Jones at quarterback and strong safety. Slow, couldn’t throw, but didn’t fumble. Loved to knock heads and was a fair punter (meaning 25-yard knuckle balls).

Fred Pudwell at tight end and defensive tackle. Decent speed but no change of direction. Mediocre receiver and blocker but could play every down and never got winded or hurt.

Jimmy Dickerson at tailback and free safety. Solid if unimaginative ball carrier. Excellent tackler in the secondary and never gave up on a play.

Ray Garbonski at fullback and middle linebacker. The undisputed stud and leader of the team, a maniac on offense and defense, a ferocious hitter and one-man wrecking crew. Would rather demolish an opposing quarterback than score a touchdown. A great football player with a great football name that harked back to the days of classic football names such as Dick Butkus, Ed Podolak, Sonny Sixkiller and Bronco Nagurski.

And then there was the bespectacled Tommy Eubanks, all four foot, three inches and 79 pounds of him. The coaches couldn’t find a jersey or pants to fit him so they improvised with cords and scissors. He apparently didn’t own any cleats or tennis shoes, and showed up wearing tan Buster Browns.

The Son noticed this and hustled to the locker room’s lost and found bin and rustled up some black Chuck Taylors a couple sizes two big. He stuffed socks inside and Eubanks was good to go. As for his helmet, the coaches couldn’t find one small enough to fit Eubanks’ head. Every one they tried looked like a diving bell on him. The Son checked the lost and found again and produced an Elmer Fudd cap. He told Eubanks to wear it with the flaps down and then put on the helmet. Snug as a bug with a single bar face mask to boot! Billy Kilmer would have been proud.

Eubanks roared out of the locker room like a madman, running in the most unusual form. He swung his arms quickly back and forth in a kind of punching motion, like a flyweight boxer going frenetically to the midsection. His hips swiveled, his knees knocked together. Twenty yards out the door, he fell down.

In the first pit drill, Eubanks fell down again and again, whether carrying the football, or trying to block or tackle. It wasn’t so much as he feared contact, he just was so uncoordinated he couldn’t stand up while moving any direction on a lumpy football field.

What Eubanks had in mind going out for a football team was mystifying to the coaches. Nevertheless, he seemed to love every minute of it. They had two goals for him: keep him alive and set him up for some kind of success on the field.

The Son also had another private goal for Eubanks: never allow him to be bullied or taunted by his teammates. During his eighth grade football season, the Son had participated in merciless bullying of an awkward and impoverished teammate that was aided and abetted by the coach. It was a disgrace that haunted him into adulthood and he knew he would cut any player off at the knees who mocked Eubanks or hit him unnecessarily.