The Haughton football locker room was abuzz with players’ chatter, pads snapping and the multitude of questions directed to the nearest coach about everything from helmets not fitting to where certain pieces of practice equipment were hiding.
Most of the area’s football teams started spring practice Monday, but something was missing at Haughton – head coach Rodney Guin.
Guin, who finished his 15th season as head coach and 27th overall on Haughton’s sidelines, is still at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas after suffering a heart attack on April 26.
The beloved Bucs’ leader remains in critical condition. Even though his heart is beating on its own, Haughton coach and next-door neighbor Jason Brotherton said a condition called ARDS (acute respirtory distress syndrome), which affects the lungs and can be developed after a severe injury, is the main concern now.
“It’s up and down. We had six days of good news in a row, and (Sunday) it was bad,” Brotherton said, stopping himself several times to control his emotions. “I think a lot of us, myself included, we had heard so much good news that it was like I convinced myself he was coming home this week.
“They tell us he’s still (in critical condition), and to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. That’s scary as heck to hear.
“But on the (football) field, it’s kind of an escape from reality for a little while. That’s what football is for a lot of us. It’s two hours that we can forget about all the whirlwind of emotion of the past week.”
The excitement intensifies as players finished warmups and went through their first spring drills -the official start of football season.
Quarterback Will Haines, who will be a senior this coming season, said while it’s weird without Guin, he can feel the coach’s presence on the practice field.
“Everybody was looking forward to it … but it’s just a weird feeling without him being here,” Haines said. “Walking down to the field house, you can always hear (Guin) blowing his whistle, saying ‘Let’s go, let’s go.’
“He’s called me ‘Willie Beamen’ ever since my freshman year, and I can hear, ‘Let’s go Willie B.”
Willie Beamen was Jamie Foxx’s character in the football movie, “Any Given Sunday.”
Offensive coordinator Kyle Wilkerson said returning to the football field allows a return to normalcy.
“The kids have been enthusiastic because they know they are fighting not only for Coach Guin but for themselves. That’s how Coach Guin wants it,” Wilkerson said. “Guin is a great competitor, and he wants to win.
“The players know that, so I really feel like it will make them push themselves to work that much harder as a tribute to him.”
Rising senior linebacker J.T. Bledsoe said he and other players have shed tears this past week worrying about Guin, but he wants to honor Guin with hard work in spring practice.
“It’s hard because Coach Guin isn’t here to keep us going, but it’s up to seniors to step up and help Coach Brotherton feel his shoes, and those are big shoes to fill,” Bledsoe said. “You can tell in the locker room, it’s very emotional.
“We miss coach, and this is a family. I know he would want us to move on and not sit here and sob about it and have no hope. Because all we have is hope. We’re doing this for him.”