U.S. Grant faces an uphill climb in Class 6A
“I usually challenge ‘em, come on out, join us,” Morales said. “They see the results, they don't want to come out. It gets tough sometime.”
Retention is a constant battle for Grant coaches.
“When one quits, another quits,” senior running back Derrick Young said of former teammates.
So Burgess and his staff do whatever they can to recruit players and keep them. Burgess recruits out of his P.E. class. The coaches constantly give players rides home. “Put a taxi sign on all our cars,” Burgess said.
And discipline is a little different. Burgess can't demand the same from his kids as can a coach in Norman or Edmond. Different circumstances, different environments. The linebacker with the little brother, for example.
“You can't run guys until they quit,” Welde said. “We've got four or five seniors that have never played before. We can't lose those guys.”
Burgess has coached all over. Okemah, Choctaw, Little Axe, Tecumseh.
“There's a fine line in discipline,” Burgess said. “Do it too hard, they'll bail. Don't do it enough, there's no discipline.
“We're still going to get to do what we call a reminder. If they bow up, I guess they don't want to play.
“Some of these boys will respond exactly how you want ‘em to. Some will get all mealy-mouthed on you.”
U.S. Grant is approximately 70 percent Hispanic students. Burgess estimates half his squad is made up of Hispanics, which is a solid ratio, considering the lack of football history in most Hispanics' family.
Burgess said he asked his players: How many of your dads have played football? How many of your uncles? Two or three hands went up.
“They don't have that frame of reference,” Burgess said.
Burgess shakes his head at the spring sight of U.S. Grant soccer practice. One hundred boys strong out for the team.
So you have to sell the benefits, tangible and abstract, of football.
Burgess' staff has solicited local restaurants – Jake's Country Café and Oklahoma River – to help provide pregame meals for the Generals. Welde has shipped out DVDs to universities like Southwestern State and Southern Nazarene, trying to get his players college scholarships.
But the commitment to football you find in the other suburbs is harder to cultivate at Grant.
Last summer, the Generals averaged eight players a day at their summer workouts. Hard to play in the 7-on-7 passing leagues with just eight players, some of whom are linemen. And the summer camps, which have become so vital for team development, are cost-prohibitive for the Generals. Most families can't afford the camps; no booster club to pay the freight.
And so the Generals already are behind on this summer evening as they gather for just their third practice, on their field right off Pennsylvania Avenue, working hard, short in number and realistic chances, but long on hope.
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