“Sorry, coach, I couldn't come back. My brother got in trouble.”
Burgess' attention returns to his team, a hearty band of 32 strong on this break-in-the-weather afternoon. A disappointing turnout, considering 42 showed up the day before.
“We ran too hard yesterday, so they took today off,” joked offensive coordinator Charles Welde.
Welcome to U.S. Grant football. The only Oklahoma City Public School (or Tulsa Public School) in Class 6A. A school with all the challenges of the inner city – large dropout rates, often lack of parental involvement, minimal community support – faces one well-established football program after another. Lawton High. Mustang. Edmond North. Westmoore. Putnam City.
The Generals last season went 0-10 overall, 0-7 in district play. Grant moved up to Class 6A in 2004. Since then, the Generals have gone 1-9 four times and 0-10 thrice.
Burgess is the fourth head coach for Grant seniors. Mark Ackerman in 2008. Terrell Love in 2009. Matt Miller in 2010. Now Burgess.
“It's the hardest,” said quarterback Carlos Morales. “You gotta learn a new system every year.”
At least Burgess was on Miller's staff last season, providing some continuity. And Burgess tells his kids he's in for the long haul.
“I'm going to be here for awhile,” Burgess said he told Grant administrators. “I don't know how other guys felt about this. I know how I feel about it. Unless you guys run me off, I'm going to do right.
“It's a challenge. I knew it would be when I took the job. But I like challenges.”
Jenks and Tulsa Union players dream big. The General dream bigger.
“I want my first 6A win,” said junior linebacker Jimmy Kiplinger.
Said Morales, “A district win. Make some history.”
U.S. Grant is without a district victory since it rose to 6A. The Generals were outscored a combined 535-24 in seven district games last season.
Such futility keeps some boys from playing and others from remaining. But you could argue that the devotion to football is greater for the Generals who stick it out than those who play on perennially successful teams.
“It's my passion,” said Kiplinger.
The hard part is not Friday nights. The lights, the aroma, the grass, the excitement, the hope. Friday nights are fine.
“I love being with the guys,” Morales said. “Being under the lights. The crowd. It's a rush.”
The hard part is Monday morning, when knuckleheads in class start their criticism, with no idea how noble a football team can be just by competing against impossible odds.
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