Tale of Two Teams

You would be hard pressed to find two coaches more engrained in their community and football teams that mean more to them than Fairfield and Eufaula. Both towns have somewhere between 12,000-13,000 residents.

Fairfield was originally founded in 1910 as a city to house workers of the Fairfield Works which became U.S. Steel.

Coach Vakakes once said of Fairfield, "If you live in Fairfield chances are so did your grandparents."

Eufaula is an antebellum town sitting on the Chattahoochee River in Barbour County. Founded in the 1800's to take advantage of the fertile farmlands and the ability to ship and trade along the river.

It has been said of Eufaula, if you plan a burglary do it on Friday night when the Tigers are playing in town.

Both schools have truly decent, good men at the helm. The kind of people that children are blessed to have impact their lives. Coach Jim Vakakes and Coach Dan Klages have a deep love of football and what the game can do for young men's futures is certainly not lost on them.

These two teams will face-off Friday night at Tiger Stadium. Fairfield is 5-5 this year, and Eufaula is 8-2. This is a rematch of the second round playoff game last season with Eufaula winning 34-7.

What seems like a whisper of time between the two games, has seen one of these men face tragedy and one face near catastrophe.

October 5th was the date for Eufaula's Coach Klages. The team had fallen to undefeated Charles Henderson (Troy) 27-24. The team was terribly disappointed to lose a region game and most likely the region championship. They had not lost a region game in the prior two years.

This is the point in the story where "perspective" arrives on the scene.

The drive back home on sleepy roads nearing the midnight hour afforded the kids time to let down after the loss and find themselves deep in their own thoughts. Some kids dozed off.

Assistant coach Andy Hinton was at the wheel driving the most precious of cargo, our children. They were traveling through Barbour County on State Road 51 when they topped a hill to find a pickup truck stopped just over the peak.

An intoxicated driver had decided this was the place to work on his truck instead of off-road. Coach Hinton reacted quickly and kept the bus straight, braking heavily. Quickly realizing if he jerked the wheel to one side or the other he would risk flipping the bus and causing even more injury to his charges.

When the bus impacted the truck, Coach Hinton had been hit with glass that went into his eyes. Two players were slightly injured.

"The frightening part was that we were in the middle of nowhere and help took time to arrive," Klages said.

During the wait an off-duty EMT was on the scene and calmed some nerves as they waited for the help to arrive.

Suddenly, a region loss seemed insignificant to coaches, team, parents and fans. The children were OK.

Coach Vakakes' story did not have a happy ending.

February 25, 2007 was the date a tight knit group from the football team had gathered on a Sunday to pass the time.

To understand what football means to this community and what Coach Vakakes brought back to the Fairfield program is to know when the winning started it transformed the town back into a football town.

The football program had fallen on hard times and took a long skid. The younger players couldn't remember a winning season for their Tigers. The neighborhood kids put their stock in basketball and spent their time at the neighborhood courts.

The Tigers started winning and once again kids were playing football in the streets in pickup games dreaming of the day they could also don the purple and gold on Friday nights to play for Fairfield Preparatory High School.

Marquis Storey played defensive end on the region champion team of 2005. He also played tight end continuing his dual role into the 2006 season. He was an up and comer with his senior year in front of him.

Among the group who had gathered was a 16-year old who found a gun in the street. They had taken the magazine out of the gun and were playing around with it when it accidentally discharged. The gun they thought they had cleared still had one bullet in the chamber.

The bullet struck Marquis in the abdomen and traveled through his aorta. He was transported to UAB's trauma unit where he died during surgery.

March 3rd is a date the players and their coach will not soon forget.

"They asked me to speak at the funeral, and I was honored to do it," Vakakes said.

After he spoke about Marquis and a sweet life cut too short, Vakakes took Marquis' jersey and for the last time placed it across the 17-year old's chest. Marquis would face eternity as he did in life. He was a Tiger.

"Being a parent," Coach Vakakes said with a pause. "You can't imagine how hard that was."

"He was a good kid, always here working. Everyone liked him. Just the wrong place at the wrong time."

It was once said, Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there, I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow.

Perhaps on Friday night on a football field just off the river in east Alabama you may feel the breeze. Think of Marquis and what it would have meant to put that jersey on one more time for his beloved Tigers. source for Alabama high school football.

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