Aside from the great impressions I got from watching both the Roarks play, however, was the indelible impression left by a player that was actually carried off the field on a stretcher.
It was Ty Gower, a junior at the time, both a starting outside linebacker and the back up QB. The impression he left was both figurative and literal to say the least. "I wish I could remember it, but I don't," Ty said of the collision that knocked him unconscious, Gower ultimately getting a free ride in an ambulance. "The only way I knew what happened was when I watched the film."
What had happened was pretty simple, but the results rather dramatic, but Gower stated it simply and almost in a way to make you think that the event itself was rather innocent. "The running back was coming up the middle and he zigged and I zagged and our safety zagged to and we ran right into each other, helmet on helmet contact."
"We didn't even touch the guy with the ball."
That impact knocked Gower out, but if you were to look at the helmet that he still has and will have probably for the rest of his life, it could have been much worse. "It's cracked all the way up from the bottom up to the top of the helmet," he said. "And, the safety, his facemask was completely busted in."
"I knew we hit each other, but when you look at the damage it caused to our helmets, I'm probably fortunate that all that was happened was me getting knocked out."
It'd be hard not to agree with that, but Ty would be the first to say that while he's not looking to bust his helmet up like that and get carried off every single game, that symbolized the kind of effort he likes to give every play. Sure, you want to hit the guy with the ball everytime, but for any player, everything starts with effort and on the defensive side, attitude.
"I think about how hard we hit each other and just imagine what it would have been like if we had hit the guy with the ball like that, both of us together," Gower said. "That's the kind of hit you want. You don't want to hurt anyone, but those are the kinds of hits you dream about making out there, something that just makes them never forget where they were when they got hit maybe harder than they have ever been hit."
At 6 foot tall, weighing in at around 190 pounds, Gower is bound to pack a punch. It's that physicality and the patented tenacity that every defensive player needs, that made him one of Ada's most lethal defensive players. Tallying over 100 tackles, including four sacks, adding to his three fumble recoveries and two interceptions, Gower was one of if not THE Ada defensive MVP.
That kind of success on a team that steeped in a winning tradition that makes a player proud of what they do. But, not too proud as success isn't defined by what you did, it's what you still have to do.
Also, there was a trip to San Antonio, Texas that didn't help.
It was the U.S. ARMY Junior combine, a weekend home to over 600 seniors-to-be, coming from all over the country to throw down and match their best against some of THE best in the U.S. That would be challenging enough, but the circumstances behind a lot of logistical issues when it came to the sheer number of participants, that put an already challenging situation into the arena of insane.
For example: Get up at 6:00 in the morning that day and wait until 1:00 in the morning the following day to run your first forty-time. Because of the situation that presented itself with the quantity of players, what was supposed to be four hours at the most for all turned into eight hours, ten hours and sometimes some of those players weren't finishing their drills until around two in the morning that following day.
Add to that the field at the Alamo Dome, which is more akin to a sponge than a football field, there was one almost unified statement from every player there: "I've never done this bad in my life."
Players that stated they normally ran mid to high 4.4s were churning out 4.8s. Players that said they normally jumped 36 inches in the vertical, now they were jumping 32, 31 and sometimes not even 30. Shuttle times, forty times, every single time that every player clocked, out of 600 kids, I'd say probably 5 of them were actually happy with their results.
Whether it was fatigue, the field or both, what most participants got was a little bit of angst, but for players like Gower who had similarly disappointing results, he decided to use it rather than look at it as an aberration. "When you look at someone my size, nobody wants to see them run a 4.8," Ty said. "I know that was happening with everyone, but when it happens to you, you take it personally."
"Yeah, we didn't get to do our stuff late and the field wasn't all that great, but that's an excuse and in sports, excuses are for people that just didn't get it done. I'm not like that. I used that and will continue to use that to get better, because I know that no matter what I did or didn't do down there, I will have to get better to be where I want to be."
Ty's motivations are obvious and shared by probably every teenager that takes the field for his team at the prep-level. Do as well as you can, possibly get noticed and hopefully play football at the next level, a scholarship rather than your parents footing the bill. For some players like Craig Roark, that was pretty simple as he was noticed all the way back to the beginning of his junior year, but for most others, it takes a little more time.
In that time, Gower isn't just working becoming a better linebacker as his assumption is that, that is what he'll be playing in college or possibly at the safety spot, but he's always working on his passing. Playing the back up role to Kerry Johnson last year at the QB position, Gower's duties weren't many, but he knew that eventually, Kerry's role would be his.
That's exactly what has transpired as Ty is now the starting outside linebacker for Ada in his last year, but he's also the starting QB. Daunting to say the least, but Ty himself is looking at this almost as a dream come true. "It's everything you want, because there's so much pressure riding on you to succeed," he said. "To play both ways, at two positions where you simply have to get it done, it's a big challenge, but that is what makes people better."
"It's those that rise to the occasion and take hold of things like that, that do big things in their future and this is my time to prove to myself that I have what it takes to lead on both sides of the ball."
If this were just some team that won only so much, did only so many good things each year or perhaps every now and then, that pressure might be more illusion than reality. But, when you are talking about a team that not only wins a ton, but expects to win them all, what Ty calls a gift, some might think it to be an incredible burden.
Their burden is his opportunity, however, because if having this type of challenge placed upon you does anything, it tests your mettle not just as a player amongst many, but one that is willing to lead those many down the field when you absolutely have to score. "It's fourth and two and it's on you," Ty said. "What are you willing to do? What are you willing to make yourself do and make your teammates believe that this is something that can be done every time you snap the ball?"
"That's my job to go out there, say to them "we've got this, so let's just go out there and do it" and make sure it happens. That's what a leader does and that's what I plan to do."
Within the context of his last season as a high school player, there are the wishes of doing exactly what he's doing now, but for another four years. It's those dreams that have a hint of reality, stemming from letters received from places like Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Missouri. It's not something that preoccupies the Ada standout, but he's certainly got his goals firmly in place. "You bet I want to play college football," he said. "Right now, I don't know how good I am or how good other schools think I am, so I don't know how to look at it, but my first wish is to play division 1-A and do the best I can."
The dream that he's had probably since he was a little kid, it was kindled somewhat watching his teammate and friend, Craig Roark go through the recruiting process. Being courted, offered and wooed to several schools, Gower looked at that as something he's hoping to go through himself, at least to a degree.
And, Gower wouldn't mind following Roark himself as the Oklahoma to Nebraska connection may be young and indeed, very rare, but Gower himself is definitely not one Oklahoman that grew up with a disdain for the Huskers. "Heck, I loved watching Nebraska when I was growing up," Ty said. "Guys like Makovicka (Joel) and Tommie Frazier, I love watching those guys play, because they are the kind of players you dream about being."
"And, I loved Barrett Ruud, because he's just one of the smartest football players you'll see. So, when Nebraska started recruiting Craig and he ended up going there, it wasn't like ‘hey, who's Nebraska?', because I had been following them for awhile before that."
"It would be great to be a part of what they have going on up there."
The contact from the Huskers hasn't been there as of yet, but contrary to popular belief, most players around the country aren't in possession of a fistful of offers right now. Gower probably fits the mold of the "normal" player, even those that make it to division `1-A, because schools are looking at just what kind of improvements they can make from their junior to senior year.
Changes that Gower said he's already working to make happen. "What makes a player great is when they never think they are great," he said. "When you never accept anything, you always keep trying for more and no matter how good someone says you are, you know in your mind that it's never good enough, because that makes you work harder, get faster, get stronger and become that kind of player you want to be."
"Now, if other schools see that and offer you, you've done something and that's what I hope to do, but even then, that's just more motivation to get even better than that. You just can't accept anything but more than what you gave the day before."
You'll never have to question the attitude of one, Ty Gower. It's obvious to anyone that if you are any team just looking for the right attitude, Gower's is a hard one to top. Add to that his 4.0 GPA and at the very least, the basic core of the desire and work ethic you want is there ten-fold. Now, Gower is just looking at the results, because while he's certainly enamored with the recruiting and how much it relies on individual achievement, there's always one bottom-line for him.
"If we win, we did our job," he said. "Yeah, I am hoping that I get a shot to play division 1-A, but you can't lose sight of what you are doing here, right now, every day as you prepare for your final season of high school football. We win here at Ada and we win a lot, so that's what everyone is focused on right now. You get better to make yourself better, but not because you want to get noticed, but because it will help your team win. That's we all care about right now."
"If I can help to do that, the rest will take care of itself and I'll be happy no matter what happens."