Leila Rahimi

RIP John Outlaw

December 23rd, 2011 at 2:33 pm by under Sports

I had heard about John Outlaw long before I met him.

17 years ago while living in Denton, I’d heard about the coach at Sherman who helped the team who was second in the district to a Denison team that was a perennial State Championship team at the time; their biggest challenge of the year.  And rumor had it, the man behind the famous “indoor practice facility.” Sherman had it first, people. Even before Southlake Carroll. They call it the “Turf Barn.”

12 years later while living in Longview, I’d heard more about his legend while he was coach of the Lufkin Panthers, one of the biggest, baddest teams in the state. Home to Dez Bryant, Jovorskie Lane, Reggie McNeal, and athletes on every Big 12 roster.

This year I finally got to meet him, sideline reporting for his game against the Woodlands. In Lufkin at the Texas High School Football-famous “Abe Martin Stadium,” no less. It’s hard to explain football in East Texas until you are there. There’s a reason so many coaches in Texas recruit East Texas athletes. Not to take anything away from my home of North Texas or Austin, but it’s different. John Outlaw was a big reason why.

I envisioned this tough, somewhat sly man, because sometimes when you hear about a team you think of what a person leading would be like, before you actually meet the person. What I met was a wonderfully nice man in a sweater vest and tie, who smiled when he saw me each time, even before we spoke, during pregame warmups. On the cusp of his 300th win, a game that would decide the district championship, with some of the most intimidating athletes in high school football, he was kind. Calm.

That’s when I realized, they play for him. They are strong, fast, passionate and powerful about the game, but also respect their coach. He gave them a confidence. Just like he did in Texoma. The reputation of his teams isn’t just one of speed, strength and size, but confidence. And because he made you comfortable for being you, you became confident. Your best self.

It was a great game to watch. Just before the half his team drove down the field but missed a chance to get points on the board. I asked Outlaw how that would affect momentum going into the intermission. He told me that it was high school football. You’re not paying these kids. Stuff like this happens. Lufkin came out swinging in the second half and won 30-10.

Outlaw had done it. His 300th win achieved, and the district title in place, his kids soaked him with the Gatorade. We rushed over with fancy camera and microphone in hand, and I asked him how it felt. He got emotional in the interview. He was real. Appreciative. Happy. And honest with us enough to let himself go just a little. Before composing himself, of course.

This by the way, is why I do my job. To share a moment like that with someone and to show other people how rewarding something can be is why I do what I do. I had a pretty big smile on my face. After we were done, I walked away from “The Abe,” thankful for finally meeting the coach behind the Panthers and being a part of a historical game in his life.

I never imagined he’d pass away of a suspected heart attack just a couple months later. John Outlaw, dead far before he should ever be, at the age of 57.

So many athletes at so many levels of football owe so much to John Outlaw. He is a legend in East Texas and loved all over the state. Few times in your life does meeting someone become so pleasantly surprising, and I had that experience with him, as I’m sure so many other people did. John Outlaw is gone long before he should be, but his legacy lives on in the lives of so many people he touched.


How Longhorns NBA-ers “Spent Their Time Wisely”

November 29th, 2011 at 2:27 pm by under Sports

In the report card of how Longhorns in the NBA spent their lockout, check the box for “Spends Time Wisely.”

Kevin Durant:

1. Played Flag Football at Oklahoma State and didn’t get injured

2. Made various cameos at college basketball games across the country

3. Filmed Warner Brothers’ movie “Switch”

Tristan Thompson:

1. Took fall classes at UT

2. Hung out at UT basketball games and in the gym at Cooley to stay in shape

Royal Ivey:

1. Worked on finishing his degree in elementary education at UT

2. Was a student assistant coach on the Texas bench

Cory Joseph:  Traveled the world while playing for Team Canada

Avery Bradley: Played in the pro-am games and the Impact League in Las Vegas

So all in all, not a bad way to spend time for some of the Longhorns we know. And it explains why you may have seen them out and about in Austin. But that time has come to an end and it’s now time to get ready for some NBA. It’s great news for sports fans and even better news if you’re a Dallas Mavericks fan, because that banner can finally be raised. Bad news if you enjoyed seeing your favorite NBA players at your neighborhood coffee shop or at the grocery store, but it’s certainly been nice to see some familiar faces around town in the meantime.


Two-a-days may become an obsolete term

October 17th, 2011 at 10:08 pm by under Sports

The UIL Medical Board is approving schools seriously alter the way their football teams practice before the season starts. Per their release, here’s a list of their recommendations.

  • On days when more than one practice is conducted, the rest and recovery time between the end of one practice and the beginning of the next practice will be increased to two hours. Current rules only require one hour of rest and recovery time between practices.
  • With the exception of volleyball, schools shall not schedule more than one practice on consecutive days in sports which begin practice prior to the school year, and student-athletes shall not participate in multiple practices on consecutive days.
  • During the four-day acclimatization period in football, if more than one practice is conducted on the same day, the second practice shall be a teaching period or walkthrough practice only with no conditioning, contact activities or equipment permitted.

These haven’t been approved yet, but it seems like there are more than a few high schools in Central Texas who would have to change the way they practice.


When a Superhero Has to be Human

August 23rd, 2011 at 3:26 pm by under Sports

It would be a monumental task to be a woman who covers college athletics and to not appreciate Pat Summit.

What she has done for women’s athletics, the women who cover athletics and college athletics as a whole is insurmountable. Women like her, like Texas’ Jody Conradt and Chris Plonsky, Texas Tech’s Marsha Sharp and North Carolina State’s Kay Yao also built foundations for not just their schools. They have changed the culture of college women’s sports.

I would be lying if I said they haven’t made my job easier. To be who they are, to be respected, to have to deal with being “the woman” in a previously man’s world, and most importantly, to assimilate a co-ed culture in the previously un-co-ed athletic world has helped us all. These women inspired our respect and our appreciation.

So what happens when the resident rock of women’s basketball, the dean, one of the most visible faces of women’s college athletics tells the world she isn’t made of steel?

Women’s basketball’s Superwoman, Pat Summit, has early onset dementia.

Sympathy, support and prayers came from all over the country today, from fans, colleagues and media. Sadness crossed my mind when I saw her statement and read the news.

You never want to hear someone you look up to, someone who you only caught a few glimpses of in person, but still understood her fight and her presence, isn’t at least almost perfect. But then I realized, that if Summitt, who can sit atop the list of most wins in college basketball history, who made college basketball fans all around the country either love her or hate her, and gave us a face when you think of women’s basketball, can do all of those things, then she can likely prove conventional thought wrong again.

Because Summitt may not be made of steel. She may be made of something more durable. And as she enters a battle that is far more complex than a game, she has the support of people across the country. Except this time we can all cheer on her, regardless of what team we may root for.


Feelin’ the love (and the heat) at football practices

August 9th, 2011 at 1:29 pm by under Sports

Good times all around Central Texas these days as high school football teams are underway and practicing. Not just football by the way. The familiar tick of the band metronome was in the background of many of our trips around town. Cross country teams were braving the heat to get in shape. And I saw cheerleaders and drill teams all preparing for the fall as well.

Today our travels took us to Westwood and to Austin High. At Westwood we caught up with the team who went the farthest in 7-on-7 this summer out of our Central Texas schools. Just a few weeks ago they told me about how playing well in that tournament can help momentum into fall practice. Senior Ben Johnson said it’s still true. He discussed the need to focus on trying to go to the State Championship and “anything less would be a failure.” Johnson was also recognized as part of the Austin American-Statesman‘s “All CenTex Preseason Team.”

At Austin High the overwhelming sense we got from the seniors we spoke with was not only how much they were looking forward to the season, but also, the excitement of reuniting with friends. Coach L.D. Williams said this is a team who enjoys spending time with each other, and out of four players we spoke with, each one said something about the opportunity of enjoying the year with each other.

That included senior WR Cayleb Jones, who said he was looking forward to playing with his brother, junior WR Isaiah Jones. It was fun to watch those two in a formation at practice and then create some new handshakes along the way. Cayleb is a Texas commit, and said he got to go to the Longhorns’ practice yesterday. He mentioned how much he liked the new offense, and mentioned the speed and the motion he saw.


The NCAA is on “Lord of the Flies” Rules

May 31st, 2011 at 8:45 pm by under Sports

In order for the government to succeed, its constituents must comply with its rules.

This is the theme of that lovely novel, “Lord of the Flies,” that if you’re my age, you had to read freshman year of high school. This is also what is wrong with the NCAA.

Jim Tressell’s exit has sent another wave of discussion through media types and fans alike questioning the effectiveness of the NCAA, and its rules’ effects on its flagship programs, like Ohio State. Questions like: Why didn’t the NCAA further investigate similar allegations first surfaced in as early as 2004? Why was Tressell’s “ignorance” a way to abscond himself of the charges? Why is the NCAA a reactive organization, instead of a proactive one, when it comes to investigating wrongdoing? And of course…

If this went on for this long at Ohio State, is it going on elsewhere?

Yes, it’s going on elsewhere. And the reason it’s going on is because behind closed doors, boosters and program heads know the rules are questionable, as is the enforcement. If they really thought those rules were worth obeying, they’d be obeyed. Or at least self-policed through a compliance office which an institution as big as Ohio State certainly possesses.

This is the reason the NCAA is ineffective. Enough people are blatantly ignoring the rules because both the rules and the enforcement process are flawed. Example after example can be found. Cam Newton. Ohio State’s own Maurice Clarett. Reggie Bush.

Only when it seems the violations are so aggregious or the evidence is convenient does the NCAA flex its muscle. After all, it’s a business. A business that’s in the business of making money off of teams and student-athletes. And if a situation is not worth the time/money/cost/benefit to lose money, then why enforce all of the rules, all of the time?

What good is a governing body when its choice of enforcing rules seems to be selective? Why would constituents comply with those rules when many of them do not make sense, and the potential punishment comes years after the benefit of the violation does?

At least in the court of public opinion and shame the rule-breakers get punished. After fans react at the unfair advantage a school was giving itself over another school the process seemingly stops. But since enough schools are accused of breaking rules, many of which should be revisited and re-evaluated, rarely will schools call each other out. So the fans or the media does. The fans get upset. Then stuff gets done.

The schools which do comply with the rules, along with their fans, are the ones who suffer. This is the sign of a huge flaw in a ruling body. But like in that lovely novel, the conch, or the call to order, has lost its luster.

The NCAA should have the conch. It should be more effective. It can be. It would cost money. Many, many people would get upset at the result. Schools would be suffer. But at least obeying the rules would be the reward instead of the punishment.


The best signing day story of them all

February 7th, 2011 at 6:58 pm by under Sports

Forget bulldog puppies.

Forget pulling a hat out of a bag out of a box out of a bag on national television.

Forget the 1980s antics of renting a hotel suite for National Signing Day.

Forget complaining about Signing Day, because this will make you remember what this day is all about.

The Reagan Raiders won one game in the last two years. This year the team beat Eastside Memorial to complete a 1-9 campaign. Their average margin of defeat was 30 points a game. But time after time, when quarterback JaQuarius Daniels got knocked down, without complaint or frustration, he clapped, got up, and went right back to the huddle. Regardless of the score, regardless of the drive or down.

As many times as he was knocked down, he also succeeded. Daniels finished his career with 4,064 yards and 31 touchdowns passing, and 3,290 yards and 29 touchdowns rushing.

But what coaches loved about Daniels more than his stats, was what was immeasurable.

Daniels was told by some to attend other schools than Reagan, where he would be more visibile to both basketball programs and football programs. He is a talented basketball player as well, and was active in AAU. But Daniels chose to go to Reagan, where his two middle-school-aged brothers will likely attend in the coming years.

“To see a young man go to and be committed to a program when they’re not winning and put up his best effort every week and put up the stats he put up sometimes is amazing,” Reagan football coach Paul Darby said. “But with the hard work that you put in, it pays off in the end.”

It did.

The Austin American Stateman  reported while opposing AISD coaches were talking to recruiters, they also spoke highly of the level-headed and talented quarterback at Reagan.

What resulted was for the first time since Darby’s son Paul signed with the Naval Academy in 2003, a Reagan player signed with an FBS school. Big 12 to be exact. Daniels is headed to Iowa State.

And just when you think the story can’t get any better, here’s the first thing Daniels told us after signing his National Letter of Intent.

“It feels good because I’m the first person in my family to go to college,” Daniels said with a smile. “I’ve got a lot of responsibility going up there to represent me, my school, my city and my family. So it’s pretty exciting.”

Daniels’s mother LaDonna Cummings says her oldest son, who grew up without his father, is a role model for her family.

“As he’s grown, his attitude has grown with him,” Cummings said. “I’m so proud of him. He knows how to carry himself. He knows how to deal with a lot from just growing, and just learning. I’m just so proud of him for not giving up on his school, not giving up on his team, and I’m just really proud of him.”

It’s understood to sign the athlete from the famous high school program who has never lost a game. It’s expected to go to an athlete’s home and talk to his parents about going to a great school with a great football team.

But maybe, just maybe, thanks to a kid who inspires us all to try a little harder when the situation may not be nearly as difficult, the greater victory is signing an athlete with a tremendous sense of perseverance.

That said, I’ll steal a quote from one of my favorite examples of perseverance, a man named Charles Schulz.

And that’s what National Signing Day is all about, Charlie Brown.


on TCU’s move to the Big East

November 29th, 2010 at 11:24 pm by under Sports

Let it be known I am all for chaos.

As a reporter, it is what I deal in, my currency if you will. If there were no change, I would not be able to have a job. Everything would be the same and then current events would be chisled in stone tablets and such.

Why the manifesto? Because TCU’s move to the Big East is a good move. The Horned Frogs have positioned themselves smartly. The Big East now has the Dallas-Fort Worth TV market to diversify its media exposure portfolio and the Horned Frogs have an excellent platform to not only showcase their sports, but to also, finally, automatically qualify for a BCS berth. Questions no more for TCU in 2012. If you’re good enough for the BCS, then the BCS you shall have. That’s fair. And smart. On paper, this is a win-win-win situation, for TCU, the Big East and the BCS.

But it’s that third win in where it gets tricky.

As a Texan I like outlaws and TCU and Boise State have been the outlaws. Unfortunately for them it means playing each other in the Fiesta Bowl like they did in January of this year, but it also meant the BCS was openly flawed. It ignored good teams because of the conferences they were in. And then we as reporters could ask the questions, like, “What if TCU played an Auburn or an Oregon for the National Championship?” “Don’t they deserve to be there too?” or “Because of the conference, do they deserve to be there?”

By their shear existence we all knew what they were doing needed to be acknowledged. Theoretically, the only obviously fair way to do that was by a playoff. Playoff. The dirty word which we can not utter when discussing the BCS.

Enter the Big East.

TCU’s football program is a consistent, iron-clad lynchpin in the credibility of the Big East’s football teams. U Conn is no slouch but 7-4 should not a BCS conference champion make. This is an up-and-down year for the Big East. The same can be said for the Big 12. But TCU certainly helps the Big East’s credibility in the need to justify the conference’s automatic bid.

For now, everyone will continue to be happy in BCS-land. Well, maybe everyone except for Texas A&M, who is the latest victim of the Big 12 South tiebreaker system, but hey, we’ve been there before, haven’t we? Show some compassion!

Let the Horned Frogs have their day. Even if we know they also held the noble key to the answers we needed. They shouldn’t fall on that sword unless they had to. And thanks to a shrewd move by all, they won’t.


College Football 2010: The year of the “What If”

October 24th, 2010 at 8:38 pm by under Sports

It started the first week of the season.

Kansas vs. North Dakota State. You know some Missouri alum was thinking to his/her self, “What if Kansas lost to North Dakota State?” And then it happened. 6-3 of all things. On the way back from Houston after watching Texas vs. Rice, I was thinking to myself one simple word:

“WHAT?!?!?!?”

The results grew more dramatic from there. Days later, Boise State defeats Virginia Tech at FedEx Field. Outside of the 40 Acres, the juggernauts fell. Alabama. Ohio State. Oklahoma. And here in Austin, UCLA delivered the first blow, followed by Iowa State. And in their own way, the Longhorns traveled to Nebraska and delivered a “What If” moment of their own, taking out the then fifth-best team in the country.

All of this, in my sophomoric sports mind, is leading to the ultimate conclusion: Either Boise State or TCU will go to the BCS National Championship game. And the “old guard” of football shouldn’t be scared, because this is the only way we can stop the constant questions and the hypotheticals.

The only way to prove they’re supposed to be there is if they play. And don’t be cheezy about things and have them play each other in some sort of “consolation” game, like last year. Have one of them play another from the traditional “old guard” of teams, which is shaping out to be Oregon, Auburn, or something along those lines. Then we’ll know. Then we’ll know who the best team in the country is.

“What If” we actually saw a definitive outcome in college football this year? Or am I getting too close to demanding a playoff here? Which may be the only way teams can justify being in a major conference, if one of “them” wins.

But that’s another “What if” altogether.


In defense of Aaron Williams

October 3rd, 2010 at 2:42 pm by under Sports

Despite what could have been a sure-fire Texas loss, the Longhorns came back against Oklahoma, and showed what they called “a real effort.” Since we all tend to remember what happened the most recently, memories may dwell on Aaron Williams’s punt fumble in the final 90 seconds of the game. Kind of like many Longhorns fans thinking the 2008 loss to Texas Tech happened “because” Blake Gideon dropped an interception during the final drive.

It is in that vein that I ask for this:

Just think about what Williams (and Gideon, for that matter) have done for Texas. Or get a play-by-play wrap of the game, and realize there were many plays that led to this loss, not just the one. I’ve talked to enough coaches and broadcasters to wholeheartedly believe that a game is not won or lost on one play. Things still have to happen both before and after that to make it occur.

Williams kept Texas in the game. Mack Brown said as much. Williams is a game-changer. Need I remind you of his sack on Sam Bradford in the 2009 Red River Rivalry, which ended Bradford’s college career? Not that an injury was the goal, but a sack certainly was. Williams is on the Thorpe, Bednarik and Nagurski watch lists for a reason this year. Play after play, you see Williams extend himself to limits most people’s bodies won’t go.

Then he makes a mistake at a crucial time in the biggest game of the year.

It happens. I’m not saying it wasn’t bad for the Longhorns. But so were the nine penalties, the two turnovers, the 57 OU plays in the first half, and more. Oklahoma won that game yesterday. But Williams didn’t lose it.