Jay Hawkins

It is the first game of the season. We are twelve minutes from kickoff. The boys are on one knee and gathered in the end zone. We (the coaches) are standing in front of them. And, one-by-one, Coach Cook (our head coach) calls out the name of each Assistant Coach. And, one-by-one, each Assistant Coach steps forward and says something inspiring. I am unprepared. I did not expect to speak. It is my first game coaching JV football (ever) and I am scrambling for something (anything) to say.

Coach Cook says “Coach Humphrey.”

A line from the movie Gladiator pops into my head and I say:

“On the first blow of the whistle release hell.”

Not the best pre-game speech.

It is the second game of the season. And, this time, when Coach Cook says “Coach Humphrey”, I am ready. I have compiled and analyzed inspirational pre-game speeches all week long. I step forward, say what I have to say and the boys are like “Okay, okay!”


It is the third game of the season. We are playing a team that is just coming back from being suspended for a serious (and long-standing) pattern of locker-room hazing. I am not a fan of hazing. And, the night before the game, a pre-game speech comes to me in my sleep. I write it out the next morning and share it with Coach Cook for feedback. He informs me that I’ll be giving the last pre-game speech to the boys instead of him.

I did.

Here’s what I said:


Hey boys.

I have a name for you – Jay Hawkins.

Jay Hawkins was my middle school bully.

I was in 6th grade undersized and shy.

He was in 7th grade but should have been in 8th.

On my first day of middle school, he threw me up against a locker and yelled “Stop Smiling”.

He did that every day for a year.

“Stop Smiling!”

“Stop Smiling!”

“Stop Smiling!”

Fast forward a year.

I’m in 7th grade.

Jay Hawkins is in 8th.

No more pee-wee football for me.

I get to join the middle school team.

On our first day of practice, Coach Houchens has us do “The Ring.”

It was his way of weeding out the weak.

Here’s how it worked:

The entire team stood in a circle with one player standing in the center. If you were standing in the circle and Coach called out your name, your job was to run full speed and hit the guy in the center as hard as possible. As the player in the center, your job was to survive.

So, it’s the first day of practice.

Coach circle us up and calls me to the center.

I’m standing there with my head on swivel.

I’ve got to be ready.

Someone can have come at me from any direction.

Coach yells out “Jay Hawkins!”

That’s right, Jay Hawkins.

I did not wait to get hit.

I attacked him with full rage.

And, after I laid him out, I did not say a word to him.

I just stood over him.

Jay Hawkins quit the team.

He never touched me again.

I don’t like bullies.

Hazing is bullying.

So, tonight…

Do not say a thing.

Keep it clean.

But kick those boys in the teeth.


The boys went insane! And, after that game (which we won), they boys could not stop asking me questions about Jay Hawkins (not his real name by the way).

“Does Dillon (my son) know about Jay Hawkins?”

“Do I give motivational speeches to Dillon at home?”

At the end of the season, while a bunch of us were sitting in the back of my truck eating Cook Out (not the best hamburger joint by the way) and celebrating the end of a 9-0-1* season, the boys were still talking about “Jay Hawkins”.

Anyways, from that game on, Coach Cook tasked me with giving the last pre-game speech before each game.

PS I forgive Jay Hawkins by the way. I have no idea what he was going through as a kid. But I do know that only hurt kids hurt other kids. I told my boys that much.