HUGO — Trey Johnson and his Hugo teammates are facing a win-or-your-season-is-over game.
Things didn't go so well last time.
If his name sounds familiar, that's because it is. Trey was the kid who scored the game-winning, buzzer-beating basket in the state tournament — for the other team. Millwood went on to win the title last March, and Trey went home in tears.
In the days that followed, media near and far picked up his story. It went from the front of our sports section to USA Today to Deadspin to England's Daily Mail on the other side of the ocean. Thousands watched the video of the play on YouTube, but plenty of folks refused. It was too hard to watch him break into the backcourt and drive to the basket.
We wanted to holler at him to stop.
But of course, he didn't.
We were happy that he was courtside at a Thunder game a few days later. It was great to see him high-fiving players and holding Russell Westbrook's shoes, but still, we worried about Trey.
How would he handle this?
Now, eight months after that wrong-way basket, Trey finds himself in another make-or-break game on the football field. Hugo will play Antlers, and the winner will get the fourth and final playoff spot out of District 2A-6.
The loser will be done.
Trey can hardly wait.
“I like the showtime,” he said as he sat in the deserted gym at Hugo High earlier this week. “I like the spotlight.
“I like to make stuff happen.”
What happened last March didn't cripple him, didn't send him into a shell. It did change him — for the better.
Trey Johnson wanted to take it back.
Oh, he didn't feel that way about his wrong-way basket right away. In the moment after he caught the inbounds pass, laid the ball into the hoop and heard the buzzer sound, he was happy. He thought he'd helped Hugo upend powerhouse Millwood. He even flexed a bit.
But when he turned around, he saw the Millwood players celebrating.
That's when he knew.
If only he could rewind 3.7 seconds.
“But you really can't bring it back,” he said. “It's already done.”
That reality settled over him like a dark cloud as he left the court at Yukon High, went into the locker room, then left the gym. It followed him back to Hugo, a three-hour drive that never felt longer than that Thursday night.
Trey has gone to school in Hugo since fifth grade. His teammates are also his best friends, guys who he'd go to games with when he was younger and dream about all they'd do when they got into high school.
That had planned on winning state.
And in the small town in southeastern Oklahoma — it's only 10 miles to the Texas border — a state title would've been huge. Empty houses and vacant storefronts have become more common since the timber industry took a turn for the worst, and the Campbell Soup factory could only provide so many jobs.
It took three tries before a bond issue passed a couple months ago to replace the old high school. Walk into the building, and you're stepping back in time. Hallways are wood paneled. Some classrooms have been shut off due to safety concerns.
Not everything about that step back in time is bad, though. Everyone knows everybody, and the kids think of each other as extended family.
No one feels that way more than Trey.
That made his wrong-way basket all the more difficult to handle.
“Trey takes things so personal, to heart,” said Karen Shoals, Trey's grandma and the woman he calls Nanny. “He was thinking that it was all his fault. He felt like he had let the team down.
“That really broke his heart.”
Then, the texts and the calls started coming. Coaches and teammates, family and friends were first. They told him to keep his head up, told him that they loved him.
But then came calls from strangers.
Derek Harper, the former NBA guard, reached out. He once made a mistake at the end of a tied playoff game, thinking that his team led instead and dribbled out the clock.
He wanted Trey to know that he learned from that mistake. It didn't define him. It motivated him.
Then the Thunder called. The team wanted Trey to be its special guest that Sunday during the Celtics game. The day became a reprieve.
“There was lots of support, and that helped so much,” Nanny said. “It helped. It really did.”
“It did,” he said.
But his toughest moment was still to come.
Walking through the doors at Hugo High for the first time after that game, Trey didn't know what to expect.
That was the hardest thing.
“Coming back and showing my face,” he said.
But he quickly realized that the way he felt about his teammates and his classmates — that they were like family — is the way they felt about him. No one gave him any grief about what had happened. Not then.
Maybe they realize just how much he's been through. His mom and his dad are part of his life, but he currently lives with his aunt Brenda Frazier. His great grandma and grandmas have provided stability.
But maybe the kids who Trey goes to school with also see the way he has reacted to what happened in that basketball game.
Sure, he was down for awhile. The first week or so was rough.
“But as days went on, I started doing my regular activity,” Trey said. “Once I realized that life is gonna move on, I kept going.”
The lowest moment of his life became his greatest motivation.
“Since the state thing happened, I've been pushing hard,” he said. “It made me push harder. It made me feel like I've got something to prove.”
He threw himself into baseball and track last spring, making the state finals in the 100 and 200 meters and winning bronze in the 200. Then over the summer, he dedicated himself to training for football like he never had before. He'd always lifted and run, but not with the focus that he had this past offseason.
Nigel Smith was Trey's ride to early morning summer workouts. The Hugo quarterback never had to call Trey to wake him up.
“He was waiting outside,” Nigel said.
Hugo coach Dana Bloedel said, “Trey's one of those guys that he's willing to do anything for the team.”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior is on every unit for the Buffaloes except kick coverage. He plays receiver and running back on offense and safety on defense. He returns both kicks and punts. He punts, too.
And Trey has done all of it well.
He's scored 14 touchdowns, seven receiving, five rushing, one on a kickoff return and one on a punt return.
“I would put it on him any time to make a play,” Bloedel said.
Trey wants that kind of pressure.
What happened at the state basketball tournament didn't change that.
“I think you should be on the field every play,” Trey said. “Anything that will happen ... I can do something about it. If I'm not on the field at the time, I can't really do nothing about it. That's why I like being on the field.
“I don't like to come out. Coach, he'll try to take me out when we're up and stuff.”
Trey shook his head.
“I like to be on the field at all times.”
As an overcast morning turned to a rainy afternoon earlier this week, Trey Johnson and his teammates gathered around tackling pads laid on the ground behind the end zone.
The coaches called out two groups of players, one for offense, one for defense.
The drill: the offense had four downs to go 10 yards but had to stay inside the pads.
Coach Bloedel told the guys who weren't in the drill that they had to pick a side. If you think the offense will make 10 yards, stand over here. If you think the defense will stop them, stand over there.
The winning side doesn't have to run.
The losing side does.
Most of the players, including Trey, picked the offense. But after three stops by the defense, some of them were starting to sneak to the other side.
Coach Bloedel told them that they had one last chance to pick a side, and a bunch moved to the defense.
Trey not only stuck with the offense but also walked up behind the kid who was going to be carrying the ball on fourth down. Amid the din of practice, no one but that kid could hear what Trey was saying, but the rest of the players could see that he was encouraging his teammate, that he was in his ear.
The longer he talked, the more players moved back to the offense's side.
Trey believed in it, so they did, too.
The whistle sounded, the pads popped, the kid took off ... and got tackled well short of the line.
But in that do-or-die situation, everyone believed in Trey Johnson.
Who knows how Friday night's game against Antlers will turn out? Who knows if Hugo will return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008? Who knows if the kid who scored the wrong-way basket will have a chance to impact the game?
But know this — everyone in Hugo believes he can.
More importantly, Trey Johnson believes it, too.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.