Friday, August 21, 2009

Why high school football still matters

I wrote a column for today's paper about the glorious rite of passage that is high school football -- click here to read.

The column barely mentions something that a lot of yall probably missed in our paper because it was so long ago. But while I cover pro sports more than anything else, I love to get immersed in the prep experience from time to time -- some of my favorite stories ever have come from high school sports. (Here's one of them, about a guy named Kojak who was more or less adopted by the town of Lincolnton, NC.).

Another of my favorite high-school stories came in 1998. For one football season, I basically embedded myself at Kannapolis A.L. Brown, which was coached by the legendary Bruce Hardin (now at Providence Day) and had as its star player a dazzling running back named Nick Maddox, then considered the No.1 RB in the country.

A.L. Brown's nickname was the Wonders, and we eventually called this four-part series "The Wonders' Year." (A play on a title of the now-defunct TV show "The Wonder Years," which was one of the more underrated pieces of TV in the past 20 years, IMHO).

Anyway, it was great fun to do -- not just because of Maddox and Hardin, the two main characters in the story, but also because of the town of Kannapolis, which was really the third main character. It's a place where high-school football still matters so much (and still does today). There are lots of towns like that all over North Carolina and America, where the Friday night lights never dim.

As for whatever happened to Maddox, he spurned all of the major in-state schools to go to Florida State. But he never became a star there -- a solid player, an occasional starter, but not a star. He was on the Panthers' practice squad for awhile, but it turned out his true glory days came in high school (I've still never seen a better prep football player). He was a very smart kid, graduated from FSU and still lives in Tallahassee, Fla., where he works for Florida State.

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