The Last Man in the World Ch. 02byMungoParkIII©
Amid reports of racial strife in a number of high school campuses across the state of Mississippi, the students of Stephen D. Lee High School went about their school lives as if segregation was a small footnote in ancient history. The football team on the other hand trudged its way day by day into a losing season. By the third game of the season the team had a lot fewer players as teammates not used to losing and the chaos that ensued quit the team.
After receiving the MVP trophy and now moving up to starting fullback and linebacker, Jim was gaining a bit of popularity around the school actually dating one of the cheerleaders. It did amaze him how a player on such a disaster of a team could draw the interest of anyone, much less a cheerleader, but he wasn't about to argue with the system. It seemed a small compensation for the tough practices and even tougher games, where there were two constants for the team. The first was bad and that was the constant change as the coaches flummoxed around trying to figure out how to win. The second constant was good and that was the ice cold Coca Cola (tm) each player got at the end of practice.
Besides playing fullback and linebacker, Jim spent a lot of time in the game as a punter. If there is one position that is always busy on a team as bad as Stephen D. Lee's it was the punter. No sooner than the offense hit the field it was fourth down and Jim got to do his solo ballet catching the snap, taking two steps and kicking the ball as far and high as he could. Fortunately, the punt coverage team was pretty good at stopping the other team's punt return and Jim didn't have to face being "the last man in the world" as he had earlier in the season.
By the fourth game of the season the offense was failing so badly that the coaches came up with an idea. "Hey if we can't do anything good with the football in three plays, let's just cut down on the misery and kick the ball on third down." Yes, the team was so bad that the coaches worked in the quick kick.
In theory the quick kick is an excellent play because the offense can fool the defense into thinking a normal play is called and then the ball is suddenly kicked. In a normal punt, the ball is kicked very high to give the kicking team time to run toward the guy waiting to catch the ball. While a high kick can go far, a low kick will go farther, especially when no one is there to stop it from rolling and try to run it back. By sneaking a kick on third down the ball will whiz just over the defender's heads and if kicked correctly simply roll forever.
For the punter, who is now disguised as the fullback who stands directly behind the quarterback, the play is fairly simple. The center, instead of handing the ball to the quarterback as on a normal play, will pass the ball back to the fullback. The fullback then turns and takes two steps toward the side of the field and the kicks the ball so it heads fast and low downfield.
The kick is a little tricky since the kicker is very close to the opposing players. In actuality the only way to get the kick away is to do it so quickly that no one has had time to realize the quarterback doesn't have the ball. The key element is surprise. In other words the play is so foolish that no one expects it until suddenly it works.
Unfortunately the element of surprise diminishes the more you use the play, so you may surprise a team the first or maybe even the second time you try it, but after that they have figured out what is coming. In all their wisdom Lee's coaches seeing how far Jim could kick the ball on a quick kick, started using the play six and seven times a game. Jim had to move faster and faster, even going as far as experimenting with a one step kick just to keep from getting killed.
In spite of the quick kick the team lost the fourth game of the season, but with a score that was no where near as humiliating as the thirty five to nothing loss earlier in the year. It was a moral victory and the few times the quick kick worked to perfection made Jim even more popular. Jim often wondered what it would be like if the team was actually winning.
The fifth game of the season meant a long bus trip to Greenwood, Mississippi. That's Greenwood as opposed to Greenville, the team that gave Lee its worst defeat of the season so far. Note the proviso: "so far." The Greenwood game went badly from the start, with the opponents scoring on the opening kickoff.
As the game went along and the score continued to build the coaches showed great restraint and held off calling the quick kick until well into the third quarter. They had a new found, through shortly lived, confidence in the offense when the team finally scored a touchdown. Whatever the score would be at the end of the game, at least Lee's had seven points.
Jim had been having a good game himself, not just punting well, but he had caught the opposing quarterback once causing a fumble and had made a number of tackles. This effort was diminished some as the other team continued to score in spite of Jim's defensive play. Jim remained confident, so when the coaches called for a quick kick with the ball on only the four yard line, he wasn't worried. It was the first time in that game the play was called so the defense would be completely surprised.
Standing about on the goal line Jim envisioned a ninety-five yard punt, with the ball finally rolling to a stop at the opponents one yard line, all he had to do was simply catch the ball, take two steps to the side and kick. In a normal football season the play may have gone that way, but this season it didn't.
Somehow the center managed to throw the ball so it passed beneath the quarterback's widespread legs and yet soared over the fullback's head, the fullback who was standing less than two yards behind the quarterback. Jim leapt high into the air and watched in disbelief as the ball soared just beyond his fingertips, landing in the end zone.
In the end zone! Damn that was a bad place to be, so Jim moved as quickly as he could and picked up the ball, keeping the other team from scoring a touchdown. He turned to his left, broke a tackle, took a step and then got hit by three other players. As the players climbed off him, Jim looked up to see the referee holding his hands together over his head calling a safety. Jim walked off the field watching the scoreboard as two points were added to Greenwood's total.
In spite of the center's bad snap the coaches called for a quick kick several more times in the game which did work for the team without incident. By the end of the game the final score was forty-four to seven, the team's worst defeat of the season and it was the two point safety that put the score over the top. And although later he would win a trophy for best defensive player in the game, once again Jim felt alone having given up the two points that made the difference between a 37 point loss and only a 35 point loss. Such was the life of the last man in the world.