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Dear Coach...
Sunday, 19th August 2012 - 7:44PM
Dear Coach,

I've been fortunate enough to have played the game of football in this state, and yes, before you smirk, many years ago (late-70's) at Universal City Randolph.

As a military brat, I played for three high schools in four years with my senior year being in north San Antonio at Randolph High.

I loved the "Ro-Hawks" tradition and history. The program had one coach for nearly three decades, Bob Mickler, Sr.

I transferred in from Japan before my senior year and he did everything but question my manhood when I walked thru that old field house door asking about practice.

My father was with me, and I think that's about the only reason he didn't.

He had the offensive line coach, Jimmy Turnbow walk me into the locker room, which had an old Universal weight machine right in the middle. As we walked toward the lockers, I heard Coach Mickler in the background, "give him the locker in between the Varsity and JV, he probably won't be here very long."

I was already motivated by Coach Mickler's arrogance, and so that comment right then gave me super-charged energy.

I had an earlier taste of Texas H.S. football when we lived in San Antonio prior to our four-year tour in Japan. My older brothers, Robert, Jr. and Michael both played at Roosevelt High, the Rough Riders, a school not far from Randolph Air Force Base, about 20-minutes away down I-35. Back then, the only school in between Randolph and Roosevelt was a place called Converse Judson.

And, back then, Judson was just an average program with very little history. Well, we know that soon changed under D.W. Rutledge and Company.

My brother, Robert, played for Roosevelt in 1971 and I remember watching big-boy Texas high school football his senior year, when Roosevelt stunned San Antonio Lee in a playoff game. Yep, the S.A. Lee team had a QB named Tommy Kramer, a wide receiver named Pat Rockett (who would later play MLB with the Braves) and a TE named Richard Osborne.

Kramer was a record-setting QB at Rice and also played in the NFL.

Osborne went on to play with the Eagles in the NFL.

I had a really good taste of the bravado and passion of Texas High School Football.

I didn't need a grumpy old coach to tell me anything I didn't know.

Well, maybe Coach Mickler was just trying to push the right buttons and then again, maybe he didn't think I'd make the roster for the perennial power Ro-Hawks.

I made a statement during the first day of workouts, and then the next one, and the first scrimmage and eventually started both ways at right guard and defensive end.

Randolph once lost to Plano High School in the Class 2-A State Championship Game in 1967, and the Ro-Hawks made one playoff appearance after another, including trips to the quarterfinals and semifinals.

The program has never suffered a losing season, but my senior season tested that tradition with an ugly 5-4-1. We lost a great all-state linebacker Donn McCorkindale to a knee injury in the middle of the season.

We had some issues with leadership from the returning seniors, and since I was the "newbie" it was well into the season before I felt anyone was listening to me.

My best friends were actually juniors, including Greg Brodman, a great athlete who was forced to sit out his junior season with the Texas transfer rules. Greg would later become a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force and played a major role in Randolph's quarterfinal round team the next year. He played one year at Angelo State University before transferring to Trinity University. Greg was a great friend, and that's why the call I received in April 2005 crushed my soul when I found out he had suffered a massive heart attack and died.

Military brats don't have the opportunity to have too many life-long friends, so the one's we know, we appreciate and then, before you know it, their father is transferred to another state or another country.

Greg Brodman and I had a lot of incredible memories, some that only he and I will ever know, and some that I mentioned while having the honor of giving his Eulogy at Randolph Air Force Base that April Day in 2005.

Every time Coach Mickler rode me hard, I dug deep inside and kept scratching and clawing while wanting to lash out at the lack of senior leadership on the team. But, this was well before I started hosting an afternoon talk show, the opinions just didn't flow out of my mouth like they do now.

I did everything I could throughout my senior season, but I wasn't talented enough to make too much of a difference.

We finished 5-4-1, and lost to Hays Consolidated 46-20 on the final night of the 1976 regular season. I remember picking up a blocked field goal and racing into the end zone, and since I hadn't been there in a while, I don't know what got into me, but I started a Billy White Shoes Johnson/Elmo Wright dance with my knees going up and down.

The game was close at that time, but it sure wasn't much of a contest in the second half.

I remember how we prepared all week on defending this high-octane Rebels Triple-Wishbone offense, but, it's not like we hadn't seen it before...the option back then was like the spread today...most everyone was running it.

We actually ran a Pro-Style I-formation, which I always loved...it was what the pro's ran back then as if I ever had a chance to play past high school.

Hays Consolidated turned out to be a really good program too, Smithson Valley, now 5-A was a new school back then, and we crushed them 34-0. I'll never forget I threw a block that sprung then sophomore Brad Swanson for a 99-yard TD run early in the game.

I try and forget a lot of those games, but there are some that I try and hang onto a little bit.

No, I'm not one of those old guys trying to act 17 or 20, I'm as 53 as they get, I weighed 175-pounds in high school, I weight 260+ now. I'll let the + speak for itself.

Following our final game and loss to Hays, I was just lost. I didn't understand how it could end this way, I thought these Ro-Hawks were a "perennial" power, how could we go 5-4-1 and not even make the playoffs? Really?

Well, because we didn't have chemistry, we just never were as one as coaches like to say, we were very talented, but we didn't have "it" that season.

I regret that entire season, basically from the first workout until that last second ticked off the clock and I looked at the scoreboard, 46-20.

What the heck?

I was upset, angry, frustrated and lost.

My football career was over and I felt so useless.

I sat in that same locker room where I met Coach Mickler and Coach Turnbow, and by the end of the season, my locker was near the front.

I looked around at my buddy Rigo Santiago, who blocked that field goal.

I glanced at another really good friend, Pete Wesp, the left guard and a really good junior linebacker, who was a junior, and who is now the AD/Football Coach at "our" Alma Mater.

Dan Hargrove was to my right, Donn McCorkindale was up against the wall with a cast on his leg. Unfortunately, McCorkindale left us too early after after crashing during a fighter pilot exercise.

There was junior quarterback Eric Cox who was sneaky speed and a really good arm, but he just wasn't quite ready to shine...the next year, he did and made some of his doubters from our 1976 team look awfully silly.

You see, we were a fractured team, a group of seniors who were friends, but not "all in" in my opinion, and a junior class that was talented, but unable to take control of the locker room because of "tradition."

Frustrating...

I don't know how many minutes passed by before I heard some of the coaches talking and shaking the hands of each senior, one-by-one telling them good luck.

That's when I felt this large shadow in front of me, I looked up and it was my head coach, Bob Mickler.

The same Coach Mickler who questioned me, pushed me, called me a moron on more than one occasion (which I always deserved), and that man did that because he saw potential in me, he just wanted to find the right button to push.

He did, and I loved that man, I loved proving him wrong, and I loved playing for him.

He stopped in front of my locker as I refused to take off my shoulder pads and helmet, "Smoak, I want to thank you for everything you've given to this program, you were a God-send to us this season and I'll never forget you. You once had no clue about what or who was a Ro-Hawk, but you'll always be one of us."

As tears were rolling down my cheeks, upset with failing the tradition of being a Randolph football player, tears from losing a game, my final game, and tears knowing I would never again put on a uniform. I knew, I knew my time as a football player had ended and I was coming to grips with that right then and there...right at that specific moment.

Coach Mickler leaned down and just slightly tapped his hand on my helmet, and said, "It's time young man, you've done what you could do, it's time to move on and dammit, Coach English (another one of our asst. coaches) is trying to do the laundry and we need your jersey!"

I cracked up and laughed my butt off, because only Coach Mickler could have such a twisted sense of humor in such an emotional time.

He added, "You can keep that helmet, you deserve it, and you better never forget about this place, this locker room, this program."

As you can tell, I never did, and I never will.

That's why when my younger brother Philip had a monster game at linebacker in a district championship clinching victory over Medina Valley three years later, I climbed out of the stands onto the sideline, and as the clock expired, I ran onto the field and hugged him, and slapped his helmet about a dozen times, excited for him and for the program.

My brother would later tell me, "You thumping me on my helmet was the toughest hit I'd taken all night."

He was part of passing on the torch of that Randolph tradition.

Many of you reading this might reflect back on your last play, your last game, your old high school football coach or greatest high school football memory.

I loved that man, I loved Coach Mickler.

And, that's why, when I walked into the newsroom at my radio station in Tyler back in 1991, I fell to my knees and cried out loud, when I ripped a story off the Associated Press wire, "Texas H.S. Football Coach Dies in Car Wreck."

The headline caught my attention, the first sentence is something I'll never forget. It was the news that Bob Mickler, Sr. and his wife, were killed in a two car accident in the mountains in Mexico.

It was less than five-minutes before I was about to host my afternoon sports talk show...and as sad and emotional as I was at that time, I reflected back on what Coach Mickler once said about adversity and character and being mentally tough.

I somehow made it thru those three hours, because I brought up his death, his passion for coaching kids, and the impact a high school football coach, or any coach, or teacher can have on our children today.

Coach Mickler is still listed among the all-time wins and winning percentage in Texas high school football history, and it's still shocking to me he's not in the Texas H.S. Football Hall of Fame. But, you see, he wasn't a hand shaker and politician, he was a no-nonsense football coach who won games and turned young boys into men.

He was old school like I am now.

He was one of my heroes in life and had a tremendous influence on my life.

And, now perhaps more people can understand why I have such a passion for coaches and what they do for a living, win or lose.

As another season approaches, let's understand the role of a coaching staff and the countless hours they spend with our kids, being their coach, teacher, and in some cases, their guardian and father.

Thank you for your time.

David Smoak
smoaky@smoaky.com

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