The sun wasn’t even up when Trent Loter returned from the kitchen with another Diet Mountain Dew. He drank seven cans of the stuff a day, but this morning he was putting them back with purpose. That’s because it was the first week of August, the start of two-a-days, and for the equipment manager of the Pampa High Fighting Harvesters, that meant going back to work.
On this week for the past 26 years, Trent had risen before dawn and reported for morning practice. The last 13 of those years had been spent here at the “football house,” a tiny two-bedroom located half a block from the high school, where he and his parents returned each season. The rest of the year he simply endured at his family’s home in Pottsboro, near Lake Texoma, waiting for the whistles of August to blow and put him back in rhythm. He popped the top on the Mountain Dew and flipped to the Weather Channel.
Trent was a man of ritual and routine but also a man of obsessions. His older sister, Shannon, joked that his life revolved around three things: high school football, church, and the weather. In fact, he wouldn’t walk to the high school in the mornings without knowing exactly how the skies were going to behave. His mother blamed it on growing up in Tornado Alley—or, specifically, on June 8, 1995, when the biggest twister in Pampa’s history hit the west side of town. Trent and Shannon hid in the closet as the sirens wailed outside. The tornado ended up missing them, but to this day, the sound of thunder agitated him, and he refused to go outside if there was a hint of lightning.
This morning, he stared down the television until the local forecast scrolled across the screen: another sunny and windy day in the Panhandle. His eyes softened. “All clear, buddy,” he said.
Out in the living room, his mother and father were up having coffee. Ann and Lonnie Loter were both 73 and in good health. Lonnie had a mop of white hair and a slow, easy manner. For 35 years he’d pulled shift work at the local chemical plant before giving it up to fish. Now he busied himself with running trotlines for catfish on calm Texoma mornings—something that would have to wait another few months.
Ann was spry and full of energy, even at dawn. She appeared at Trent’s door to check on his progress. “How we coming along?” she asked, already knowing the answer, for how many times had she asked that question on this very same morning?
“Good, Mom. I’ll be out in a minute.”
He was shirtless, and the glow of the television threw light on his middle-aged body. He stood five feet four, with broad shoulders and a soft, pear-shaped stomach. His hair was dark brown, except for a splotch of gray just above his forehead. A thin goatee, peppered with white, added ten years to a round, boyish face. He had tiny ears that lay flat against his skull, a small nose, and a wide forehead.
His bedroom was a living museum dedicated to the high school he had graduated from, in 1992. Green-and-gold banners covered the wood-paneled walls along with varsity schedules and team photos of seasons past—with him smiling in the back row of each picture, surrounded by a different cast of characters. His letter jacket hung from a chair, along with a T-shirt that read, “Real Men Wear Green”—one of the 65 Harvesters shirts currently in his collection. He put on a gray shirt with “Pampa” spelled in green letters and carefully tucked it into his denim shorts. He placed a gold Harvesters cap on his head, then turned his attention to a Red Raiders duffel bag on the bed.
“I put my things in here for work,” he said, adding in the same breath, “Shannon went to Texas Tech. She takes me to games.”
The items for his bag were neatly arranged on the bed. The first was Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, the highly regarded preview magazine that over the years had become a sacred and holy text. The magazine featured four hundred pages of summaries, notes, and roster breakdowns for the more than 1,400 high school teams in the state, and its release was more anticipated in the Loter household than Christmas. Trent studied its pages for hours and carried the latest copies nearly everywhere he went. His closet was filled with boxes of back issues, dating to the eighties, when Ray Childress and Jackie Sherrill graced the covers.
During his 26 years with the game, Trent had memorized the mascots for nearly every high school in the state, from the Carthage Bulldogs to the Dell City Cougars, from the Demons of Dumas down to the Panthers of Weslaco. His talent was well-known throughout Pampa. Men approached him at ball games and in coffee shops to try to stump him, but few could. Along with the high schools and their mascots, Trent had memorized the counties where they were located in addition to their seats of government. So if you lobbed something at him like Slaton High, which Lonnie did that morning, he could tell you Tigers, from South Lubbock—which, of course, was located in Lubbock County.
“That’s a easy one, fishin’ buddy,” he said.
Since the latest issue of Dave Campbell’s wouldn’t hit newsstands for another two weeks, Trent was reading one from 2004, which he now placed in his bag alongside his tattered Bible. The giant-print King James Version was about fifteen years old and so thoroughly used that its spine dangled loose. Inside, Trent had marked 2 Corinthians with sheets of wide-ruled paper, onto which he’d meticulously copied chapters 1 through 23 by hand. He’d been copying the Bible for years. His mother didn’t know how long it took for him to finish the whole book. Just that when he did, he tossed the pages into the garbage and started again.
After packing his Bible and football magazine, Trent threw in a yellowed county map of Texas and two fresh legal pads, which he pulled from a cache in the closet. He then zipped the bag closed and walked into the living room. Ann and Lonnie were sitting down reading but leaped up when Trent appeared. “All set to go?” Ann asked.
Trent kind of grunted and pointed to his sneakers. Without looking, Ann said, “Let me give ’em a good tying.” After his mother had finished—“Ready, Freddy!”—his father tugged at the bill of his cap, smiled, then gently touched his son’s face.
“Have fun today,” he said.
Trent waved, tossed the bag over his shoulder, and stepped out into the dawn, where the crown of Harvester Field towered in the distance.
Trent at the “football house” with Ann, Lonnie, and Shannon. (Photograph by Wyatt McSpadden)
When Ann and Lonnie moved to Pampa, in 1965, they wanted a big family. “Five kids,” Ann said. “That was my dream.” They were in their early twenties and finally on their own. Lonnie had just given up cotton farming with his father out in Plainview, where he had grown up. On his uncle’s advice, the young couple moved 130 miles north for a job at a carbon black plant, where the pay was regular.
Their first child—a girl named Lisa—was stillborn. They tried again, and in 1966 they had Shannon, who made the tragedy of the first baby seem random. Then, three years later, Trent was born. One doctor used the word “mongoloid,” which back then was how people described Down syndrome.
The initial shock of having a child with a disability was quickly replaced with dread. Down syndrome carried elevated risks of heart disease, diabetes, and leukemia. Lives were often cut short. By then, penicillin was giving children a better chance at survival, but still, you couldn’t be sure. For Ann and Lonnie, there was no website to consult, no local support group to join, and nothing to explain what had caused Trent to be that way.
Early on, he suffered respiratory problems, mainly because his nose and throat were abnormally small, a common characteristic of the condition. Besides that, he was a healthy kid, and Ann and Lonnie raised him no differently than they did Shannon. Trent was a typical little brother. He annoyed his sister by messing with her stuff: he scattered the books on her shelves and came up behind her to knock down her block castles. But Shannon had a deep well of patience. She sensed that her brother was special, even though the only thing Ann ever told her about Trent was that “he needs a little more time than you.”
In the early seventies, trying to educate a child with Down syndrome was a frontier in itself—you used the resources available, then bent the rest to your will. Besides Trent, only one other kid in the area had Down syndrome. The local elementary school offered a decent satellite program for students with special needs, and Trent was fortunate to have a dedicated teacher, Stacy Jacobs Hall, who pushed him to learn to read. At home, Ann reinforced her instruction by drilling him endlessly with flash cards. But no real secondary education existed; when he was ten, the district transferred Trent to another school, where teachers gave him coloring books and crayons. Older kids were being taught how to make beds and wash dishes. “They were basically preparing them to wrap hamburgers at McDonald’s,” Ann said. “I wanted my son reading and learning math.”
She got louder at the school meetings, started bringing a tape recorder and writing letters. Finally, she and other parents helped push the district to revamp their special-needs program. Soon, Trent was at the high school with kids his own age, and his life seemed to flourish. He competed in bowling, basketball, and track with the local Special Olympics, while Ann, Lonnie, and Shannon spent weekends chaperoning the meets. One of their fellow volunteers, a favorite named Max Plunk, was also a defensive coach for the Harvester football team.
When Trent entered his sophomore year, in 1990, Plunk introduced him to head coach Dennis Cavalier, who was leading Pampa to some of its best years. Under Coach Cav, the Harvesters would win five district championships and make a trip to the state semis. That particular season, they would be getting future Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Thomas, who’d just transferred from White Deer.
Coach Cav put Trent to work folding towels. He rode the bus with the team and stood on the sidelines every Friday night. Even though the job paid nothing, it quickly became the centerpiece of Trent’s calendar and the capstone of his identity. As someone who’d always depended on others to live, and who might never be truly independent, Trent found his own place in the world with the Harvesters. In those years, the Loters lived across town and Ann would drive Trent to morning practice. He wouldn’t even wait for the car to stop to open his door. And once out, he was gone. “In all my life,” said his mother, “I’d never seen anyone run to work.”
Trent sorting and hanging jerseys for the team. (Photograph by Wyatt McSpadden)
As soon as Trent walked into the athletics building that morning, Sandy Clark, the longtime secretary, initiated their usual exchange.
“How you feeling, Trent?” she asked.
He pumped his fist and shouted, “Harvester good!”
The days of Coach Cavalier were long gone now, and Pampa was coming off nine straight losing seasons. Last year, they’d managed only one victory. The Harvesters had been losing for so long that Trent had developed a ritual around it. Whenever the refs blew another game dead, he pulled his cap off in disgust, slapped his knee, then sulked up the field and sought solace from the cheerleaders.
But this year, there’d been a change. Looking to end the bloody streak, the school had hired head coach Greg Poynor, who’d had some success at Lubbock Roosevelt. It was welcome news for Trent, although his parents had fretted about it all summer. As with any new coach, Poynor brought his own team of assistants. Ann and Lonnie worried that a new staff might not understand Trent or might impose some system that disturbed his tight sense of order. He could get cranky when that happened.
But Poynor and his staff had embraced Trent as part of the tradition. As he strolled down the hallway that morning, the men leaned out of their offices for fist bumps and rounds of trivia.
“How ’bout Springtown?”
“Uh, that’s the Porcupines.”
For the past quarter century his office had been a cheerless concrete room that held everything needed to field a freshman, JV, and varsity football squad. Floor-to-ceiling shelves were crammed with pants and jerseys, along with tubs and boxes of jockstraps, chin straps, cleats, socks, girdles, and every kind of pad in every size. Thick curtains of belts and shoelaces hung from giant hooks. A set of industrial washers and dryers occupied an adjoining room, stacked with jumbo bottles of Purex. It felt damp. Somewhere a cricket chirped, and the whole place smelled like feet.
Once inside, another ritual began. Trent said, “Need some fresh air,” and pushed open the back door, wedging it in place with a cart full of footballs. He stepped outside and glanced at Fairview Cemetery across North Duncan Street, craned his head toward the sky to check for any sudden changes in weather, then came back in. He slid his cap into a small cubby, opened a pair of concession-style windows that faced the hallway and lockers, then switched on the radio to the country and western station.
One of the assistant coaches stuck his head in and said, “Trent, here’s the equipment list for today.” Trent nodded. Another appeared at the window—one of the new linebacker coaches, handsome with a trim beard and wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Although the coach was not from Texas, Trent had memorized his school mascot.
“Truckee, California,” Trent said. “Wolverines.”
The coach slapped the counter with glee. “And state champs in ’93, don’t forget!”
“I won’t . . . ’93.”
Next came Kaleb Snelgrooes, a former Harvester who now coached the freshman team. “If you were a halfway-decent player, Trent will remember your jersey number,” he said and smiled a bit nervously.
Trent remembered. “Snelgrooes,” he said. “JV in ’97, varsity in ’99. Quarterback. Number seven. Birthday’s in October.”
The varsity was practicing out on the field and wouldn’t need tending to for another hour, which gave Trent some quiet time. At a long yellow table, he opened his duffel bag and removed another can of Diet Mountain Dew, along with a sleeve of strawberry Pop-Tarts. He took out his 2004 issue of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football and opened it somewhere in the middle. Some sections were underlined in ink; others were circled. He leaned over the table until his eyes were six inches above the page and began reading in a faint, wordless whisper.
Ten minutes passed, then twenty. Finally he straightened and said, “It’s seventy-two degrees, but tonight it might rain,” then turned back to his stats. I sensed an opening for conversation and asked a question, but I was mistaken.
“I’m reading this now,” he told me.
After about an hour, the team came rumbling into the locker room like a herd of wildebeests. Loud, thunderous hip-hop shook the concrete walls while the players showered and filed past Trent’s window. It would be easy to assume that somewhere in a pack of tough, small-town country boys, at least one would be stupid enough to start clowning on the guy with Down syndrome. But that would be a mistake too, because the young men standing at the window had once been boys in the stands, the ones who lined up every week behind the first-row railing to watch brothers and cousins under the lights of the main event. And for as long as they could remember, as long as their fathers could remember, standing on the sidelines was Trent Loter, as intrinsic to Friday night as the very green and gold.
“Trent!” they yelled from the hallway.
“What’s up, guys?”
They called out for socks and knee braces, new trunks and clean towels. Trent scurried from box to box and tossed the articles through the window, a couple of times feigning frustration when an order seemed out of the ordinary. The boys got sheepish and apologized. Trent smiled and put them at ease, then reached across the counter for a fist bump.
“Be good now!” he shouted as they left.
“Yes, sir,” they answered.
The only time Trent ever missed a Pampa football season was when he went to college. After he graduated from high school, one of Ann’s friends in Canyon asked if Trent might be interested in attending West Texas A&M (then called West Texas State). She knew the athletics director’s wife—what if Trent could get the same equipment job with the Buffaloes? It wasn’t long before Trent received a letter from the athletics director offering him the position, a letter he carried in his pocket for months. The university agreed to allow Trent to work for the Buffaloes and take courses—he took the same class, the Bible, with the same professor all four years—in exchange for an honorary degree. So that fall, Ann and Lonnie drove Trent 74 miles to Canyon and moved him into the dorms. Then, remarkably, they drove away. The memory still caused Lonnie to shake his head. “We must’ve been out of our mind,” he said.
For him and Ann, the college years are the only period in Trent’s life that holds any mystery. Even in high school, whenever Ann wanted to know what had happened in Trent’s day, all she had to do was eavesdrop outside his room as he sat on his bed and confessed everything to a pet parakeet named Tweety Bird.
At college, they entrusted his welfare to a group of Harvesters who were also entering their freshman year. Chris Didway, Jason Garren, and Heath “Beef” Summers knew Trent through football and from volunteering with Special Olympics. They’d promised Coach Plunk to look out for him, but little did they know that responsibility would mean structuring their lives around his myriad fixations, especially those dealing with food. On Tuesdays, they waited for him to say, “It’s all-you-can-eat-chili night, buddy buddy,” then took him to Wendy’s for the buffet. Every Thursday, Trent insisted they go to Amarillo, eighteen miles away, for cheese enchiladas at Abuelo’s. And in the dining hall the rest of the week, they averted their eyes while he mixed his customary bowl of black olives into his plate of cottage cheese, then spooned the gray sludge into his mouth without the slightest inhibition.
“And no matter where we ate,” said Didway, who lived down the hall from Trent, “we couldn’t leave until he finished his TV shows, which meant we all watched a lot of Golden Girls and weather.”
Trent was a prankster. He flushed the toilets while his friends were in the showers, turning the water cold. He waited until their backs were turned and executed one of his elbow drops—the signature move of his favorite wrestler, Hulk Hogan. And he especially loved it when the guys gave it back to him.
In Canyon, his family was never far away. Ann and Lonnie picked him up for weekends back home, and Shannon would drive over from Lubbock to be with them. And during the football season, the family took him to every Buffaloes road game—even when it meant flying to Houston—just so he could stand with his team.
But for all the fun of college, there came episodes of confusion and fear, when Trent’s friends couldn’t be there to stop the world from pressing in. A bully in the dorms kept picking on Trent, so much so that Didway and the others urged him to fight back. About a week later, Didway was in his room when he heard Trent call out from the hallway, “Stop, buddy buddy!” The guy was needling him again. Didway was getting up to intervene when he heard a loud smack. Outside, he saw the bully on the floor holding his bloody nose, but Trent was gone. Didway found him hiding in the bathrooms, stunned and terrified by what he’d done. “I’m in big trouble,” he repeated. But Didway assured him, “You did the right thing, buddy. That guy had it coming.”
Another time, Didway got a call from Coach Plunk. The professor in Trent’s Bible class had phoned saying that Trent had never shown up. Ann and Lonnie were worried. Didway swore he watched Trent walk to that class three times a week, so the next day, he went there himself. When he arrived, he found Trent sitting in the foyer just outside the lecture hall, notebook and pen in his hands. The class had long started. “What are you doing?” he asked Trent.
“Going to class, buddy buddy.”
Looking through the window, Didway realized what was wrong. The lecture hall was so full that there weren’t any empty chairs, and Trent was too timid to ask for a place to sit. He’d been in that foyer the whole time.
Trent’s job with the Buffaloes also got off to an awkward start. One day while doing laundry, he set the dryer too high on a load of pants. Garren, who was one of the trainers, smelled something and turned around to see smoke pouring out the doors. “The whole load was on fire,” Garren said. “People were scrambling around trying to put it out, and there was Trent just standing there with this look of disbelief.”
The team ordered new pants, the dryer survived, and Trent eventually settled into his job. One of his other duties was vacuuming, and on an afternoon after everyone had gone, Garren and another trainer returned and noticed the vacuum cord leading toward the lockers, yet the vacuum wasn’t on. They heard voices, then peeked around the corner and saw Trent standing alone at the front of the room. He was delivering the forecast—giving temperatures, precipitation—all the while gesturing toward turbulent, make-believe weather swirling on the screens behind him.
After Trent graduated, in 1996, Coach Cavalier offered him his old job in Pampa. The Harvesters were still enjoying their status as the giants of the plains, and Trent was eager to return. Cavalier and his staff were also glad to have him back and were happy to entertain his many quirks. Every Halloween they pretended to run scared when Trent entered the locker room dressed as Jason from Friday the 13th. And every September 5, after weeks of being reminded, they always ended football practice with the team singing “Happy Birthday” to him.
At first, Ann and Lonnie assumed that the job wouldn’t last very long, that it was only a matter of time before a new principal, coach, or athletics director came along and told Trent to leave. He was in his late twenties. Other people his age with disabilities were spending their days at the Sheltered Workshop, which offered training for part-time jobs as grocery baggers and such. But Trent had his job. He was a Harvester. By the time Lonnie retired, in 2001, the concern wasn’t when Trent’s job would end but how to keep it going. Lonnie and Ann bought the football house and made a commitment that the rest of their lives would likely center on Trent and the team. It’s where they returned in May 2003 when Coach Cav died suddenly from a heart attack, plunging the town into despair. It’s where Trent grieved alone in the back bedroom among his memories, then stood with his team on the field for a ceremony that filled the stadium.
By that time, the Loters were spending most of the year in Pottsboro. Lonnie ran his trotlines each morning, while Ann hunted down rummage sales. Trent enjoyed watching television, copying his Bible into the early hours of the morning, then sleeping till noon—a kind of prolonged hibernation until August, when football season arrived like rain on the drought-scarred prairie. Sometimes late at night, Lonnie could hear him down the hall, practicing pep talks.
Summers and holidays brought Shannon, who headed to the lake as soon as classes ended. Having grown up watching her mother take on the schools for Trent, she had majored in special education at Texas Tech and took a teaching job in Pampa, where she had remained for 25 years. Shannon had never married and had no children of her own. As Ann described it, “Trent’s as much Shannon’s as he is ours.” To show his affection for her, Trent kept Shannon’s school pictures stuffed in a jar on his bedside table, one from every year she had taught.
It was Shannon who took her brother clothes shopping and to the barbershop, combed his hair the way he liked it. She bought his favorite weather calendars each Christmas, laminated his county maps, and drove him to Hastings on those fever-pitched mornings when his football magazines appeared. Her brother had inspired her life’s work, and each day, a piece of him was reflected in the children she taught. And everyone knew that it was Shannon who would carry on for Trent once her parents were no longer able.
“We’ll never take this away from him,” said Lonnie. “If we reach the point when we can no longer get in the car and drive to Pampa, we’ll move back and live here until we die. Because Trent is never gonna retire.”
After the Harvesters filed out of the locker room, Trent spent the rest of the morning doing their laundry. When the clothes came out of the dryer, he placed each article on the counter and began to fold, painstakingly matching its seams and corners, running his hand across the warm fabric to smooth all wrinkles. Nothing was rushed; few words were said. For two straight hours, he dispatched every jersey and mud-stained pair of pants with almost Zenlike flow.
When Trent was finishing the last load, one of his old coaches, Scott Lewis, stopped by to say hello. Lewis joined Cavalier in 1992 and coached for seventeen seasons. He was retired now, and whenever his mind ticked over the time line of his career, Trent was the only constant. “He’s part of the job,” Lewis said. “And he’s never faltered. He’s an invaluable helper to any head coach.”
Lewis stood to the side and watched Trent fold towels, then began waxing nostalgic about the old days. He reminded Trent of the years when the laundry room was in another building and he’d have to push his cart through the snow. Or the time Coach Cav gave him a hard time for walking in several hours late, and Trent replied, “How can I be late? I just got here.”
Trent smiled through the stories and kept on folding. Lewis then said, “You better hurry up with those towels, or they’re gonna trade you to Borger.”
“Elk City, then.”
“Come on, Coach.”
The banter seemed to make Lewis wistful. In a minute he said, “You know he cries after the last game of every season? I’ll come in here after everyone’s cleared out, and he’s sitting in this room by himself, bawling his eyes out.”
He paused, then added, “You won’t find anyone who loves this program more. They’ll bury him in that letter jacket.”
Around two o’clock, Trent returned home from morning practice and set about making lunch. The meal was eaten in four cereal bowls. The first was piled with cheddar cheese, which Trent sliced from a five-pound block, then carefully cubed into identical pieces. He filled the next bowl with green olives, so high they threatened to spill over. And the third was for his picante sauce—thick and chunky—and a Ziploc of saltines, which he pulled from the cupboard and placed on the counter. At the lake house, the same side dishes were accompanied by a sandwich: ham on white bread with extra mustard. But the work season called for something more expedient, so he’d chosen microwavable Chef Boyardee, which he heated for two minutes and emptied into the fourth bowl.
Back in his room, he opened his top drawer and removed a green-and-white-checkered place mat, which he spread atop a TV tray. When each dish was neatly arranged, he retrieved another Diet Mountain Dew, flipped on the television, then settled in for a two-hour block of Grey’s Anatomy. The story sequence was a gut-wrencher. After the pill-popping grandmother broke down in front of Dr. Webber, saying she was unfit to keep her grandchild following her son’s accident, I heard sniffling and looked over at Trent. Tears were streaming down his face.
At the lake house, Trent always followed lunch with a private gospel hour. He’d switch off the television, close his bedroom door, and sing from one of the hundred or so hymnals he’d collected over the years. But football season afforded no such indulgence. When the credits of Grey’s Anatomy rolled, Trent threw on his Harvesters cap and announced, “Time for work, buddy.” In ten minutes, he was back in the equipment room for afternoon practice, starting the same routine again.
Trent joking with sophomore tackle Chase Brown after practice. (Photograph by Wyatt McSpadden)
Two weeks later, Pampa played its first game of the season. That morning, as on every morning of the first game, Trent’s first action was to shave his goatee. It was an attitude adjustment, meant to broadcast to the world—and in particular, to the River Road High School Wildcats—that playtime was over. The Harvesters were hoisting the reaper. Lonnie knew the drill and had the clippers ready when Trent emerged from his bedroom.
“Game day,” he said. “Ready to take that sucker off?”
“Let’s do it, fishin’ buddy.”
Once clean-shaven, Trent returned to his bedroom and scanned the Doppler for any potential disruptions. Seeing none, he picked up a yellow legal pad where he’d listed all the weekend matchups. The previous week had delivered a bounty: a new edition of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, plus the Amarillo Globe-News’s annual Pigskin Preview. Sitting on his bed with the Friday sports page, he flipped through his notebook and started scoring the Thursday night games: Sherman High versus Lone Star, Randall High versus Hereford, Amarillo High versus Palo Duro—the pages went on and on.
Game day lunch was always Subway—ham and black olives on dry white bread—which Trent took to go. He strolled into the equipment room wearing a coach’s uniform of black shorts and a white polo, just in time for the afternoon pep rally, held in the school gymnasium. It was loud and raucous and full of earnest vows from Coach Poynor and his players to return glory to Pampa, for it had been so long. Back in the locker room, the boys bounced and juked, howled and hollered, and searched for their beast-mode. Their bone-rattling hip-hop put Trent in a foul mood. He stewed around the equipment room—which itself was silent, no music on game day—and cursed under his breath. But then he seemed to relent. Because in the minutes before kickoff, after Coach Poynor fired up the team and left them bristling in their armor, Trent marched into the room like the chosen closer. He stopped squarely on the massive P painted on the floor and raised a lone fist.
“We gonna win tonight?”
“Guys, are we gonna win tonight?”
He then let loose an impassioned speech, no doubt rehearsed during those many nights alone in his room. It was all about playing “a good clean game” and “old Harvester football” and other things that were soon ignored. The guys had moved on, the moment had passed, and nervous clatter now reclaimed the room. But Trent didn’t seem to care. Even without an audience, he carried on—preaching, imploring, gesturing into the din.
Minutes later, he was in the stadium at the center of the huddle, ready to run through the inflatable helmet to the cheers of Harvester Nation, right in the middle of the dog pack, where the boys get animal—slobbering, smacking helmets, screaming.
“Can I get a hoorah?”
The huddle detonated at once with yelps and war cries, and the boys burst through the paper banner onto the field—but wait, where was Trent? Two seconds later he emerged, not with the warrior horde but leading a group of children, young summer campers who’d earned the privilege of running with the Harvesters on opening night.
“Stay with me!” he told them. “Let’s go!”
He then tore off across the field, elbows pumping, tongue sticking out, the flock of kids following close on his heels. And yes, the crowd went wild.
Three minutes into the game, senior quarterback Ty Hooper connected on a 32-yard touchdown pass to put the Harvesters on the board. Two possessions later, he did it again. The fans were on their feet. Trent was running up the sidelines, hugging cheerleaders, fist-bumping anyone he could find. This was what it was all about! Seconds before the half, Hooper hit Zack Gates with a 22-yard floater for another six points. Trent hugged the receiver when he came off the field, and Gates shouted, “That was for you, Trent! For you, buddy!” In the second half, Hooper threw four more touchdowns. Even the old boosters on the sidelines were misty-eyed. Something was happening. A little piece of heaven had returned to Pampa. Oil was up, cotton was green, and the Fighting Harvesters had a quarterback with a golden arm.
In the locker room after the game, after pummeling the Wildcats 63–13, the team was uncontained. They blasted music and danced atop the chairs and benches. At one point, someone raised his voice and said, “Hey, where’s Trent?”
But he had been there the whole time, like the painted P on the floor. Before Trent knew it, the boys hoisted him in the air and huddled round.
“Trent on three!” they shouted, and his face went slack with delight. How could he ever retire? How could he ever grow old?