Monday, August 11, 2014

Picture Day

On any level of football, tension enters the picture with the arrival of training camp. It gives the coaches about a month to find out if the individuals they've picked to start can cohere into an effective team, with effectiveness measured in victories. Head coach Buck McKinnon knows that his every decision from August through the end of the season will be scrutinized, debated and second-guessed. For players, camp offers the opportunity to advance up the depth chart or drop into scholarship limbo. Even sports writers and sportscasters feel their pulse rates quicken with the knowledge that each player move, the slightest limp by anyone, or a heated discussion between coaches can turn into a story that suggests or demands coverage, and most approach late summer resolving to improve their own speed and delivery of the news.

At Canyon State, camp begins with Picture Day, when the players debut new uniforms, and members of the news media in and around Canyon City turn out to photograph and interview them. For sports information director Marc Carter, Picture Day signals the start of his favorite time of year:
It was a golden afternoon, weeks before the autumnal equinox, but the leaves were nearly ready to turn. That would set the arroyos ablaze with a carotene cascade that meandered like molten shrapnel toward the city. It was time for football, a few months when life was good and a team called the Wranglers could be as popular as rodeos and fishing.
The current season's Picture Day carries more interest than most: The Wranglers have landed what the coaches believe may be a blue-chip prospect _ an unusual catch at Canyon State's level _ and head coach McKinnon can't wait to see if tailback Quintus LeClaire can provide the offensive punch his Wranglers have been lacking. LeClaire, a star in his native Louisiana, took a circuitous route getting to college: He enlisted in the Marine Corps out of high school, was nearly killed in Vietnam, and only wound up in Canyon City because he got arrested aboard a bus stopped there. Carter had to phone LeClaire's high-school coach to get the material for his eye-catching biography in the football media guide, which goes modestly viral by Canyon State standards.

Gifford Richards, the sports editor of the local newspaper, is a non-believer at first, making fun of Quintus' Cajun surname by calling him "Ee-claire." But Richards surprises Carter by waiting around until the end of the mile run which is McKinnon's traditional ending to Picture Day. The coach has assigned various groups target finishing times, based on the amount of running they're expected to do during a game. The offensive and defensive backs, the fastest players on any team, have to finish in 6 minutes, 45 seconds, to avoid McKinnon's wrath. All of the backs, including new quarterback Edison Green, beat the time easily, suggesting improved team speed, but LeClaire's 6:18 mark disappoints Carter.

He asks LeClaire in Chapter 18 if he got off-course, and the reply reminds Carter once again that LeClaire may be a different kind of athlete:
"It wasn't a track meet. All I wanted was to make it without pulling a hammy," says LeClaire, who came close to world-class sprint performances while in high school.
He didn't look angry, just serious. Carter scanned the answer in his mind and found it reasonable. Maybe that's a blue-chip approach to something like the Run. We've never had a blue-chipper here, so how would we know?
The SID notes that even the perpetually sarcastic Richards seems deferential around LeClaire, another sign that the Wranglers may need to be taken seriously for once.


No comments:

Post a Comment