Bring in the New Year by reading an excerpt from Hail to the Chiefs—Enjoy!

 The Chiefs size up their new teammates

It’s Monday, August 25, 1969, and the Chiefs, a group of five teammates from a championship high-school soccer program who are now freshmen at Bainbridge University, show up right on time for their college team’s first practice. While they’re warming up, the Chiefs and their leader, Andrew Paxton, get a glimpse of challenges that lie ahead.

The Chiefs formed their own group, making quick passes and traps while stretching. Andrew Paxton stopped to study the other players. Soon all the Chiefs were watching. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Players kicked the ball all over the place. For some, just hitting it in the general direction of another individual was a major task. They had to stop a rolling ball or risk missing it entirely. Heading was another adventure. Those wearing glasses jumped at the ball with stiff necks and closed eyes, striking it with the tops of their heads. Some worked hard on their form but lacked the years of practice necessary to control the ball.

Mercifully, there were exceptions. Scott Driver hailed from Ohio, a growing hotbed of soccer. He played for two years in high school, and he could trap and pass; he understood the game. David Nakano was talented and experienced, and his compact athletic body was well suited for the game. The seniors showed some proficiency, but some seemed more interested in talking than practicing.

It soon becomes obvious to Andrew that the team’s biggest liability might be some of its most experienced players: the seniors.

The seniors led calisthenics and stretching; then they broke into groups for heading, trapping, and passing. Next was pass and shoot. It was hard to decide what was more disastrous, the passes that went everywhere or the wild shots. The field was rough, but a third missed the ball entirely. After ten minutes, [Coach] Hancock blew his whistle.

“Let’s scrimmage,” he said. “Williams and Landon, pick up sides.” The Chiefs were the first five chosen. Williams’s squad, in red, included Paxton, Barrett, and McIlroy.

They lined up, and blue kicked off. Play was erratic, and Hancock was trying to referee, watch the players on the field, and make substitutions. At first, he shouted instructions: “Don’t bunch up … Move to the open space.” But after a while, he just let them go. It was clear who was in shape. The Chiefs, after playing all summer, raced up and down the field. Johnson, Sheffe, Randy Williams, Landon, and a few others were in the flow. The energy was generated by the underclassmen. The remaining seniors, some with developing beer guts, only ran when the ball was in their vicinity and played no defense.

Barrett and Paxton roamed all over the field, constantly stealing the ball from the gasping upperclassmen.

“Take it easy,” said Roush to Paxton, when play stopped for an injury. “You guys are making us look bad. You’re hustling for nothing. We’ve been here for three years. We get to play first.”

* * *

 

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