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[ Harrold, Texas with 175 inhabitants (exaggeration, possibly...) ]
[ The graduating class of 2017 included six girls and three boys, a nightmare on prom night, and even worse if you're fielding a football team.]
[ STOREFRONTS DON'T CLOSE for Friday Night Lights in Harrold because there are no storefronts. ]
[ But even in small towns, there are hidden surprises. Coach T -- that's what everybody calls him -- went into the summer of 2016 with only six players. No bench. But he wasn't all that worried. ]
[ Harrold plays six-man football, which, in rural Texas, is about survival. The fields are only 80 yards long because the boys who play are generally worn out from lining up on both sides of the ball. ]
[ Six-man athletes are not behemoths engineered in million-dollar weight rooms. Often, they're small and lean because they're constantly running. ]
[ (Coach T: Templeton) He runs his football camps kind of like a track practice, with 60, maybe 70 40-yard dashes each workout to build the players' stamina. Plus, he had Brady Blakley, one of the area's best players, back for his senior year. They'd get by.]
[ But just before camp, one of the boys transferred, and Templeton knew the Hornets would not be able to play the season with five. ]
[ Half the team was composed of freshmen, and the battle for the starting quarterback job consisted of Templeton saying, "I need somebody to take the snap." ]
[ Creed Henry, blessed with an awesome name for Texas football but a body in need of a few hundred doughnuts, said, "I'll do it."
Creed's father is a cowboy, so Templeton figured the kid would be tough. Chris Henry was a late bloomer, too, but now he's nearly 6-4. In the summer time, Creed gets up around 4:30 each morning to help his dad. Part of his job involves throwing calves to the ground and holding them while they're branded.
Creed weighed all of 91 pounds. ]
[ So yes, Harrold was in deep bovine doo-doo. But the prospect of not having football seemed unthinkable, not just because of history but because of Brady. He was so devoted to football that he switched from his natural position on offense, center, to fullback and did not squawk one bit.
He loved it because it connected him with his father. Mike Blakley also played football at Harrold, a Hornet through and through. In the fall of 2015, Mike sat in a Ford Explorer parked as close as it could be to the football field. His brain and his lungs were full of cancer, and he had to know the end was near. He wanted so badly to get out of that SUV and lean against the fence so he could be closer to his boy. mauve color prom gowns
"He couldn't talk real good," says Mike's middle son, Josh. "He was trying to scream as loud as he could for Brady, but just like a little whisper came out.
"Brady scored three touchdowns, and I remember [my father] was happy. He was really happy."
A little more than a week later, Mike Blakley was dead. And football was about all Brady looked forward to. What would he do without it? ]
[ Olivia Perez, the team's all-district setter, actually had been pondering that very question. She'd been the student manager and water girl for the football team in past seasons, but more important, she was good friends with Brady. He'd told her that there might not be a football season, and she knew how desperately he wanted to play for his father. ]
[ Carla Kent, Harrold's volleyball coach, knew what Brady was going through. When Kent was in high school, she also lost her father. But here's the deal -- the volleyball team was also at the bare minimum of six bodies, so when Olivia told her coach that she wanted to moonlight on the football team, Kent's reaction was pretty much what you'd expect: "Are you serious?"
"I knew we had a good chance of winning districts," Kent says. "If she got hurt, our season was over." ]
[ Olivia had a minimal grasp of the game of football. She'd never seen a playbook, let alone been tackled by a boy twice her size. But she'd always liked watching it, and her mind was made up. In a Snapchat conversation with Brady, she told him she'd play -- for him. Kent and Templeton would devise a plan to share Olivia's time, and sometimes, it resembled a fire drill of uniform changes and venue sprints.
"She was scared to death when she got out there," Templeton says.
"You don't hear of kids doing this. It's so unselfish." ]
[ IT WAS EASY to spot the girl on the team. She was the one with the shoulder pads so big they nearly covered her face. But Olivia never complained. She had a couple of her volleyball teammates help her get dressed each game, sliding her jersey over the pads. ]
[ But the 2016 season wasn't much of a fight. Harrold lost its second game of the season by 59 points, then followed it up the next week with a 50-0 loss. ]
[ "Yes, it sucks getting beat. But you have to fight through it."
Despite all the losses, Brady had no regrets. He'll have a Harrold team photo, just like his dad, and no one will remember the beatdowns, or that these players were any different. They were just like every other school in Texas: THEY PLAYED FOOTBALL. ]