A day in the recruiting life in West Texas

The high school recruits were crowded into a timid pack. Almost like curious deer, each of them peered about the hotel lobby's idyllic surroundings of natural garden pools, plants and luxury. The scene was the Ambassador Hotel in Amarillo, Texas.

By happenstance, I was staying there the last few days and was strolling through the lobby when I saw the recruits. They were high school football players being recruited by West Texas State University. I talked to the head coach for about five minutes (if that), and another person strongly associated with the program for about another forty. It was interesting to see the differences in recruiting venues for a Division II school inside the Texas Panhandle. It was interesting to mentally compare it to a bigger school with Rose Bowl aspirations, like the Washington Huskies in Seattle.

In the area immediately surrounding the towering Ambassador, the Amarillo landscape is bleak, flat and devoid of much color in the January chill. The "For Rent" signs posted upon the facades of empty buildings seemed to stretch for miles in every direction. The houses are in need of some attention from Bob Villa, or from those favorite do-it-yourself guys Tim Taylor and Al Borland - (hello to our own favorite son Richard Karn from your fans at Dawgman).

Paint seems to be peeling off most of them, and the carports are full of stuff that hasn't seen the light of day since the Nixon administration. Wandering around afoot in the late evening, one gets the feeling of being in Bremerton.

On the flip side, there is a warmth and hospitality of the people in West Texas, which is found in few places. Seattle is a friendly place, but there are cliques and people can be in a hurry and self-absorbed. By comparison, there is a slower pace and a kind of ease in the manner effectuated by West Texans.

In looking at the recruits in the hotel lobby, I was taken aback by just how awestruck the recruits were of the posh hotel surroundings. I tried the juxtaposition in my mind, picturing them being in a seaplane back in Seattle, splash-landing in front of Rick Neuheisel's home; Or being picked up at an airport in a giant Hummer with a big "O" on the side, and being driven around in a showboat manner; Or being dined in a glitzy LA restaurant, and "coincidentally" having Hollywood celebrities and athletes recognize them and come up to the table to enthusiastically say hello.

It was a different world and atmosphere, for a Division II team that went 0-11 last year and has had a tough run for about five years now. All of the recruits wore their Letterman's jackets with obvious pride and seemed to be chomping at the bit to get some face time with the coaching staff that hadn't won a game in 2002. Wins and losses didn't seem to matter to these young men who were queuing up for possible scholarships.

I was told emphatically that high school football in Texas is a whole different universe than in Seattle. "I just can't imagine it being more intense elsewhere in the country than it is here," stated an official from West Texas University on the condition of anonymity. With his disarming slow drawl, he had several interesting things to say.

"I think that our bands and drill teams place much more emphasis on being grand than elsewhere. On the other hand, I have been up where y'all live, up in Seattle… I tell you what; we can't compete with scenery like that. Such gorgeous mountains! It seems like you can't take a step backward up there without fearing that you'll fall into a lake."

He had heard of Reggie Williams and Rick Neuheisel, but couldn't offhand name any other player or coach on the team. He did have an interesting anecdote regarding a third Husky however. At one point he tilted his back in deep thought, then smiled wryly. "About sixty miles from here is the town of Dimmitt, Texas. About forty or so years ago there was great, great running back that came out of high school and left us, and I believe he went to Washington. UT and A&M wanted him something awful. His name was Junior Coffey. Do you know of him?"

I exclaimed that I did, that my Dad had told me stories about him from the early sixties. The WTU official continued on to say that in Dimmitt, they have an expression that goes 'its Dimmitt, Dammit!'

"There were certainly a lot of people shouting dammit! when Coffey went up there to play for y'all. He was one hell of a player."

Given my questions, and the purple UW sweater I was wearing, the official asked me if I was connected to the University of Washington.

"No, I am a freelance writer, and I write a small weekly article for a website called Dawgman.com". He looked confused, and in his West Texas drawl he inquired further.

"Dog whut-dot-com?"

"Dawgman.com." I proceeded to spell out the name for him.

"You mean D-A-dub-ya-G? Like in Georgia?"

"Exactly."

"I'll be. I didn't know that you were Dawgs too."

"Well sir, we are", I stated with a smile and a nod.

"Fair enough, young man."

Late in the evening I was heading back toward my room and I passed a hospitality suite with the door open. Several of the recruits were sitting there playing video games and drinking sodas. They were enjoying their trip to Amarillo and appeared very laid back in that setting. They talked of how they enjoyed seeing the campus and getting to know the coaches. When asked en masse what they knew of the Huskies, they had all heard of Reggie Williams, and the Michigan loss was mentioned twice. Surprisingly, they never mentioned Washington's less-than-stellar Sun Bowl performance.

I sure as hell didn't bring it up.

On Sunday mornings this fall, I will be sure to scan the Internet looking for the score of the West Texas State game from the day before. When I see that the rough losing streak has come to an end, I will raise a glass in tribute to our football brethren down in the Texas Panhandle.
Derek Johnson can be reached at djohnson@Dawgman.com

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